Video game software has evolved relentlessly in the past two decades. The science of coding computer-animated graphics has reached a level of photorealism never seen on home gaming consoles before. This new level of graphical clarity allows stories to be told in unexplored ways.
Writers for the development companies are no longer constricted by electronic limitations. The technology that forms the foundation of the gaming industry has reached a level where moving pixels on a screen can relay any genre of story with the fervor necessary to evoke an emotional response from the player.
Despite the evolution of the industry, there are people who refuse to label video games as “art.”
Critics define art in many different ways. One of the most common definitions is that art combines form and function. Form is the visible elements of an object – its color, depth, shape, etc. Function refers to the ideas that inspired the object – what it is meant to portray as well as what the viewer’s reaction to it is.
Critics that subscribe to these boundaries generally agree that while video games have an abundance of form (high concept art direction, advanced graphics, quality voice acting, etc), they lack substantial function (inspiration and the ability to stir up emotion from the player/viewer).
To test the validity of this opinion, Mike Musgrove, technology columnist for the Washington Post, took a copy of the recently released sci-fi game BioShock to the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda.
After playing the game for two weeks unassisted, Dirda wrote that while BioShock definitely had “artistic value” in the art deco design and moody atmosphere of its underwater world, called Rapture, he wouldn’t go so far as to call it a work of art. He went on to say that the key threshold for games to cross before they become an art form is the ability to evict emotion from the viewer – depression, happiness, jealousy, hatred, etc.
It’s one thing to say that BioShock did not evict a response from the reviewer. It’s quite another to say that there has never been a game that has evicted an emotional response.
In 2005, a 13-year-old Chinese boy jumped to his death from a 24-story building. The boy’s parents claim the reason for the suicide was because their son wanted to meet and join his his heros from the Warcraft video game series.