Pick up the crowbar of research scientist Gordon Freeman, who finds himself on an alien-infested Earth being picked to the bone, its resources depleted, its populace dwindling. Freeman is thrust into the unenviable role of rescuing the world from the wrong he unleashed back at Black Mesa. And a lot of people, people he cares about, are counting on him.

Post feature Report content RSS feed Games As Art? Are We There Yet? Part 1

Discussing the Popular and successful games of 2007 that really are Art.

Posted by bugsport on Nov 26th, 2007

Every film reviewer stuck in the 1920's stating that games can never be art, I politely, yet angrily wave my middle finger at you. This year of two thousand and seven has seen some of the single most inventive and artistic games ever. From the galaxy of Mass Effect to the dead metropolis of Rapture, this year's slew of games have single handily managed to change our perception of how games affect us. We have come a long way from the blips of the Atari consoles of old and entered a new era of storytelling and believability. Five Titles stand out amongst the scores of games this year; Mass Effect, Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, Ratchet and Clank Future, Orange Box, and Bioshock. These titles have pushed the boundaries of ingenuity in games and gaming as a total...

Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

Ratchet and Clank are known single handily for their Pixaresc art nuveaux de Flash Gordon style, but this has not truly been understood until the glory of the next generation breathed new life into the series. This game singlehandedly manages to maintain a cohesive universe while providing such a mindboggling variety of levels it hurts the brain. But what really pushes this title is the style. This style feels fresh once again in a market clouded by depressing brown locals with lots of bloom. Even the darkest and most evil of areas feel wonderful and adventurous. To enhance this effect, this story pushes the boundaries of kids adventure games. By incorporating enough deft humour and hidden mature themes to entice older players and a roving adventurous story that drives us to an astounding (if not a little sequel driven) conclusion, the result stands as one of the most compelling cartoon experiences I have encountered since a Pixar film.

Closest Film Approximate: a Pixar Film

ratchet and clank

Mass Effect

Mass effect is unique in the game industry, as it stands as a horrendously hyped game that, to me, actually manages to live up to it (one of only 3 and all are on this list). It is also unique in its aesthetic choices. Instead of clinging to the modern conventions of bland and grey are for the win. Instead it quite literally takes from the sci-fi novels/films of the late 60's and 70's. Employing a shiny and truly futuristic approach to sci-fi (gasp! impossible!), Mass Effect's style and look are totally different from the modern conventions of a dark and mechanically focused universe that feels plausible. To accomplish this style is a story of galactic adventure, power and conflict. It is the modern love child of Larry Niven's stable but always deteriorating galactic community of Known Space, David Brinn's Uplift Wars, Heinlein's take on classic space adventure (see Have Space Suit, Will Travel) Clark's acerbic take on ancient alien gods in his odyssey series, and even has a bit of Battlestar Galactica thrown into it for good measure (play game, see Quarians). This marriage of truly perfect sci-fi elements push the operatic tone of the narrative. Furthermore, the amazingly handled cinematic effects push a very Blade Runner or Stanley Kubrick feel to it.

Closest Film Approximates: closer to classic sci-fi novels of the 60's/70's but if I had to choose it would be a throw up between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner

Mass Effect

Half Life 2/ Orange Box

First thing, I'm discussing HL2 as a total, not just the original game. Half Life 2 stands as one of the most compelling narratives in a game ever. Why, frankly because it feels so relatable. Everything in this game feels relatable and real, from the fears and frustrations of the key players to the bitterness of such a destroyed world. Instead of employing a dark and grey look, Valve used the oppressive atmosphere and depressingly bleak outlook on the fate of humanity as its clear source of drama. And as thus, the decayed and abandoned world of Half Life 2 are never grey and lifeless. Colour and a deep sense of suppressed life fills this world, and as thus feels as if it has been killed, instead of never alive. To enhance this effect is possibly the most emotive and realistic digital actors this side of a video game. Its addendums, Portal and Team Fortress 2 hold on their own as being art. Portal's dark humour and witty writing feel almost like what if HAL 9000 and Tim Burton had an evil computerized love child and Team Fortress 2 is the first game in my opinion to capture the feel of being in a Saturday Morning cartoon.

Closest Film Approximates: Children of Men, 1984, A Scanner Darkly.

Halflife 2 Orange Box

Uncharted: Drakes Fortune

Believable, humorous characters? Check. Amazing, deeply realized game world? Check. Compellingly ham-fisted story? Freaking awesome double check. The first game ever to make really feel like 'just a bad day for a normal guy' Drake's Fortune's Award worthy tale draws from the 40s adventure serials of old and the first and third Indiana Jones films. This tale really pulls you and makes you feel for the characters, even the bad guys. It stands above the others as simply being so captivating in its scope and gawking beautiful at the same time.

Closest Film Approximate: Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

uncharted drakes fortune


Bioshock. That's all I have to say. No tale pushes the boundaries of dark and intimidating narrative as Bioshock. Simply put, Bioshock's decaying world is beyond a doubt the most compelling, darkly realized narratives ever. Its 40s/50s era acting, Art Deco aesthetics, blindingly compelling tale of consumerism, morality, free will and the implications of destroying innocence bleed into and will never leave. Unlike no other game or movie have you experienced something like this. And at the end, it is pushed in the stratosphere by maddening cries of its insane residents, beating their heads on walls, begging for forgiveness. Nothing can compare to the art pushed by this title, through its story or its look. Nothing will ever hold you in its grip as this game will. Nothing!

Closest Film Approximate: NOTHING, but if I could conceive a very remote source of direct influence (the whole work being chosen and not just various fragmentary parts), I would probably choose Metropolis.


Next time I'm talking about the games that, as amazing as they are, did not make the cut as art.

Post comment Comments
Crispy Nov 27 2007 says:

Put this through a spellchecker please.

+1 vote     reply to comment
INtense! Staff
INtense! Nov 30 2007 replied:

spellchecked ;)

+3 votes   reply to comment
CrowbarSka Nov 27 2007 says:

Define art.

+2 votes     reply to comment
zombieOnion Nov 27 2007 replied:

Lets not start flaming each other here, mister!

+2 votes     reply to comment
TerranUp16 Nov 27 2007 says:

Art is impossible to define (shrugs). It's different for everyone, but perhaps the best definition for that which is impossible to define is just that something is art when a majority of knowledgeable people (therefore, to be considered a knowledgeable person when debating whether or not a game is art, a person would need to have fully played the game) agree that it is art.

Bioshock, I feel, simply screams- "This is art"

+2 votes     reply to comment
Mr.Graffitti Nov 27 2007 says:

The games you listed are hardly artistic. Get another console other than a toaster oven... Umm, I mean, an Xbox 360.

-3 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord Nov 27 2007 says:

Visuals are art, not a problem. The problem is that games "per se" are nowadays still not art. Games are art once we stop beyond the "shot this shot that... ah yeah, and there's a story somewhere but who frankly cares". This happened so far only in a handful of cases. So yes, games are in general not art yet, they are right about this ( unfortunately )

And don't start articles with a blatant scratch in the face of a reader. Makes you look like a retarded rant-boy instead of somebody with a serious and founded opinion ;)

+2 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord Nov 27 2007 replied:

Correction ( damn you can't edit ).

"once we stop beyond" should be "once we step beyond"

+1 vote     reply to comment
joker_mx Nov 27 2007 says:

I would also put Crysis in there. The voice acting is superb. The graphics are incredibly life-like (specially the characters). The action parts rival those of a high budget, well made Hollywood movie, as well as the sound effects. And what makes it even better? YOU play throughout the movie, not just watch it.

+2 votes     reply to comment
EPIC_TROLLFACE Jan 18 2011 replied:

sorry for say this, but crysis has a horrible story line, example: you are fighting with koreans and them, from nothing you are fighting with aliens, also the engine can superate only in graphics haf life 2, half life 2 is a 2004 game! sorry for my bad english :P

+1 vote     reply to comment
ambershee Nov 27 2007 says:

Not to try and offend the article poster, but this isn't really much of a discussion of the topic at hand, more of a 'I like these games!' rant. I think as advice 'part two' should attempt to include references, quotes and research, other than one-directional opinion.

+2 votes     reply to comment
AJ_Quick Nov 27 2007 says:

where's Psychonauts?

if you ask me, anything created with the intent to be expressive or allegorical in any way falls under "art".

So i never could understand any of this "fight for a voice" bullcrap. If film buffs think that video games aren't getting across moral, emotional, philosophical statements through their medium they probably havent played video games. period. It's been going on for as long as I've been a gamer in some form or another.

+4 votes     reply to comment
Toblerone Nov 27 2007 says:

I think games are particularly difficult to call art, compared with other, more traditional mediums. A painting, for example, is simply visual. Music is simply audible. A novel may spark ones imagination of both the previous but it is simply a story. Games can be all these things.. and more.

A game may be absolutely unrivalled in visual quality and art direction, does that make it art, simply for that fact alone?

Can a game with the most basic visuals, basic music and no story be classed as art? Perhaps the gameplay is unrivaled, its the most fun ever. Does that make it art?

I'll stop asking questions. But 'art' is one of those things that is so difficult, perhaps not possible to define even when it comes to simple mediums, so it gets even more difficult when it comes to games.

I'd have to put Psychonauts, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and Okami up there.

+1 vote     reply to comment
DeadlyContagion Nov 27 2007 says:

Let me be the only disenting voice here on Bioshock. Bioshock looks pretty, and the art direction is superb, but, the game fails on its plot. Let me be frank, Bioshock took a fairly average plotline, and simply glued Atlas Shrugged and some quasi-political commentary onto the back. I won't spoil it for anyone, but the problem comes because there are no CHARACTERS. The splicers have the emotional impact of zombies, none of them talk to you, they even run at you with no concern for their personal safety. There are no normal people in Rapture, because apparently, everybody becomes a drug crazed looney when the **** hits the fan. Moreover, if plasmids are wont to make one a raving lunatic, why arent you insane too? Unfortunatley, this does not give one the sense of being entirely alone either, because there is always someone leading you by the nose all the bloody time. Any characters that do exist, <spoiler>just end up being bad guys or dieing except for one at the end, and she's a nutcase too</spoiler> meaning that the player doesnt connect with anyone, therefore becoming aloof from the game world. There are no symbols, or metaphors, only what is, and to answer Toblerone's question, art direction cant make a game art (paradoxically enough). Bioshock may have had all the bits in place, but it had no soul.

PS: Psychonauts should definitley take Bioshock's place there.

+2 votes     reply to comment
sbnewsom Nov 27 2007 says:

People don't understand the article. Games have been known for being formulaic and generalistic. By art, one means that total creativity is realized in the product. Art is not a robotic clone of another idea.

Also, by Art one can say art direction. I don't know why everyone here is bitching about what is art. This article pretty much sums it up perfectly.

@DeadlyContagion: About your PS, you do realize this article is based on new games right?

+1 vote     reply to comment
sbnewsom Nov 27 2007 replied:

To add to this, Art can also be a form of creativity with no limitations. Like before, games were struggling to r3each the age of which realism can be achieved. Now we have total creative control with the current level of technology. That is art.

Everyone here is making a simple idea into a complicated mess. Just take it with a grain of salt.

+1 vote     reply to comment
DeadlyContagion Nov 28 2007 says:

But then again, the ability to have full creative control neednt necessarily determine what is art. If one can look back at some of the old SNES/Playstation 1 RPGS, some of those games have way more style than any of these games up here (see Chrono Trigger). Games like these had to rely on plot and art direction to sell, not fancy graphics. I will admit new games have more potential to be artsy, but that doesnt mean they actually are.

+1 vote     reply to comment
sbnewsom Nov 28 2007 replied:

Agreed, but this article is aimed at modern games. Sure old games can be considered art. Maybe not because of the graphics, but as said, it was through its story and art direction. That is clearly why games can be considered art.

All games said in the article are pieces of art, sure not like some of the past games that were considered art, but for the fact we are officially reaching the stage in technological evolution that gives us the ability for full creative control. Again, games like Chrono Trigger didnt have full creative control. It was only limited to 2d.

Again, this Article aims at explaining the stage of our technological feats that allow us Full Creative conrtol. Everyone can point out other games, but people don't understand through a developers point of view at how creative one can get.

I remember the days when devs had to focus on trying to get something to look 3d over make something artistic. Doom 3, Deus Ex 2, and others which I can't put my finger on.

+1 vote     reply to comment
DeadlyContagion Nov 28 2007 says:

True enough, games have reached the point at which anything that we want to represent, we can. Which means, in my opinion, that devs have to step it up a bit, there is no excuse for a bog standard plot and uninspired art direction, with modern technology, there are no limits, short of how high-resolution you want it.

+1 vote     reply to comment
AJ_Quick Nov 28 2007 replied:

And of course the endless droves of toiling "creative technicians" you have to employ to see that "high resolution" realized. Money, publisher interest, deadlines, and projected reception tend to govern what gets made, how, and why.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Toblerone Nov 28 2007 says:

I'd agree, we are coming to a point where the games can fully realise the initial creative vision desired for them. Not simply in the visual/audio sector. But in the player interaction with the game. Take the Wii and eye toy for example and the types of games they have helped to produce so far.

+1 vote     reply to comment
SirMordred Nov 28 2007 says:

I have to agree with you -- and the film critics are so bias against this industry: how do I know? THEY are the ones who keep running the "How Does The Violence Affect People in Games?!"

And hey? Film critics -- Halo is art as well...Half Life 2 is art in its own right...So is Bioshock! What about Assassin's Creed?!
Now name me one new film that boasts as much of a good story as Halo 3?
Then -- notice they "canceled" the film...due to budget problems...

0 votes     reply to comment
esfumato Nov 28 2007 says:

How could be something called "Half Life 2/ Orange Box" considered art?
That's pure merchandise, buy 2 pay 1!!!!

0 votes     reply to comment
Crispy Nov 28 2007 says:

Here: Worldofstuart.excellentcontent.com is a better discussion of the subject in question. Although I'm not sure I totally agree with Stuart Campbell's assertions, I'd say he at least makes a good case.

+1 vote     reply to comment
bugsport Author
bugsport Nov 28 2007 says:

wow, i never thought this would make the front page.
I can say that while you have your disagreements, and i laud you for them, i can see that what i write is not generally well regarded. I'm going to take a long time and actually compile a full argumentative essay style article next time, starting from the beginning and make a better case for what I say
I left out assasins creed for one reason and one reason alone. its plot disjoints instead of flows. this may be for the purpose of actual plot progression but it can not be excussed when i'm running around and then it actually and deliberately skips to a more interesting moment in the plot. but other than that it is art. oh and the fact that it is completely sequel driven
and games like breakdown, ICO and psychonauts i did not list because they are not from 2007.
ive learned my mistakes and i hope not to make them again.
also I put this damn thing through spell checker and remember that I am canadian so several spelling and a few (I actually looked this up)writing conventions are different.

+1 vote   reply to comment
sbnewsom Nov 28 2007 replied:

I applaud to you for making a good article in my eyes. Agreed that you shouldve been more clear about what you mean by art. Remember, Art is a generally large term, but if you explain what art means in Film and Games, people will have a better understanding of your intentions.

I suggest stating the that art in Video Games is the state of being able to reach your creative intentions without any technical limitations.

Look at the game doom. Great game, great concept, but suffered for being the first of its kind. What do I mean by suffered? Well there are plenty of gameplay limitations, graphical limitations, and technical limitations. The original game, you can't jump, nor can you set screen resolution and such. There also are no true cutscenes, nor voice acting. This is the kind of thing that was limited during the time.

I only wish to help you further your understanding of what you probably meant and how you can improve.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Owenz Nov 28 2007 says:

The opening to Bioshock truly is artistic.

+1 vote     reply to comment
fatiboombati Jan 12 2008 says:

Yes, the visual style, the story, the characters, the music can be considered art in their own right. For me however, the whole interactive process of allowing players to engage with characters and objects within a virtual universe, is a fascinating part of any computer game.

In general, computer interaction is used as a practical application, and its only games what makes it fun, enjoyable and perhaps even artistic. I enjoy the fact that when I play a game; make choices and randomly prod it, it responds in a way that is custom to my senseless prodding… Hoorah for prodding, erm… I mean gameplay.

P.S. Good article btw, and i didn't have time (or couldn't be bothered to read all the comments) so I don't know if the point I mention has already been covered.

+1 vote     reply to comment
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