The current generation isn’t the only generation to have games that strove for intellectual meaning. To my right lies Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, a game whose big ideals dealt with capitalism run amok, environmentalism, commercialization, and not being ashamed of who you are. In fact, all the Oddworld games have messages to them partially obscured by kooky almost kiddie art design. Which brings us to aesthetics!
Surely no one will doubt that Grim Fandango, Psychonauts, Okami, MadWorld, Shadow of the Colossus, Black & White, and the like are visually arresting pieces of art. And then there’s the well-written video game, which is rare. As a comic and video game fan, I just accept the over the top utterly blunt dialogue. In a film or book you wouldn’t stand monologues about how a character feels, but in comics and video games? It’s par for the course. The best written games I can think of right now are: Mass Effect, Psychonauts, and Grand Theft Auto IV. So does that means video games can be art in that respect?
Yes, I believe they can be and have been art. Does that in turn mean that video games can successfully tackle the tough subjects? No. Bare with me a little longer.
So what’s this about me demanding more from video games if I believe they’ve already achieved art form status and there have been a handful of thoughtful games? The problem is presentation and gameplay. While the above games have reached for a lofty goal, and we’re certainly all better for it, none of them mastered the way to go about it. Again, I believe BioShock got closest but your mileage may vary. For instance, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath suffers from a key mistake — when you attack the commercial culture perhaps it’s best to not sell your game for 60 dollars. Of course gaming is a business, and I don’t begrudge a company making money, but when you attack the very culture you profit from... then that’s hypocritical, is it not? Stranger’s Wrath also gets derailed along the way, becoming awfully preach, which one never would have picked up from the advertisements. Personally, I dug the game throughout but more than a few gamers disagree. Grand Theft Auto IV‘s storyline about searching for redemption, revenge, and the American Dream feels fatty. Large portions of the game feel completely unnecessary, which is not what you want when it aspires to be a deep personal story about one man’s emotional downfall. It should be riveting and deeply moving where we feel every setback and cheer for every victory! And it’s hit or miss in that respect.