Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Video games as art (And Splinter Cell: Conviction)

Meant to post something on Splinter Cell yesterday, didn't get around to it. That'll be at the end, so you can just skip to the big heading if you want to.

Yeah, wall of text. Come on, read it, it's only like 10 minutes. (Depending on how much I DO ramble.)

Anyways, Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun Times posted an article responding to a presentation responding (partially) to his original article, saying that games can never be art. (Important difference from ARE not art) It might help if you read the article, and maybe watch the presentation. The video was 15 minutes, but it wasn't that bad.

I disagree. My opinion is that video games can be art, but often, even most of the time, aren't art. Go play a flash game, just any random old flash game. First random one on Newgrounds, armorgames, whatever your preferred site. Was that art? I doubt it.

Anyways, the definition of art that stood out to me was something that tried to elicit particular emotions. Now, games have always elicited emotions- you think this era was the first time people started throwing controllers at their TVs? Not so much. I mean the deeper, more elemental emotions. Love, sadness, triumph, wrath, vengeance. I also think that art can make you think. Do you think that Ayn Rand's Fountainhead, or Atlas Shrugged, is art? Their main point is to get her philosophy across. (And that communism is bad and we will lose our individuality, but w/e)

There have been a very few movies that make me do either of these, but books, a much more established art form, do it pretty often. For example: Starship Troopers. Read it, it's a lot better than the movie. (at least from what I've heard.) Heinlein makes some very interesting philosophical points, from democracy is stupid and idealistic to what happens if people settle on a planet without enough radiation for evolution. (This from a book written in like the 50's. Golden age of Science Fiction.) Next example: Harry Potter, especially the later books. NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, has made me feel the way the later ones do. If you don't feel something at the end of the sixth book, (no I won't tell you) YOU HAVE NO SOUL (or heart, whichever). People have told me this about shows and movies, but this... man.

OK, back on topic. Have you played any games that make you do either of these things? I have. Sure, most of them don't. The most emotion Halo (MP) makes me think is a fleeting anger, (WTH man, you can't do that!) or an equally fleeting triumph. (DID YOU SEE THAT!!!) Personally, I don't think that qualifies as art.

But some do. Horror games make their money on it, but it's debatable that fear is really an emotion. RPGs the most, but that's their nature, and mine. Bioshock, Mass Effect. I haven't actually played Bioshock, but from what I've heard, it's defining characteristic, is loneliness and oppressiveness. Oh, and there's that heart wrenching cry the Little Sisters give.

Mass Effect. I could go on and on.. I'll try not to. There's a few instances I'd like to point out first. (More experience with ME1, so I'll stick to that... maybe) Anyways, when you first become a Spectre and take command of the Normandy, you make a speech. It can be toned in different ways, but along with the music, it is very stirring. (BTW, in my opinion Bioware's best moment of writing. Probably at least a dozen different possibilities, and it still sounds awesome) Second, Virmire, the STG commander's speech. "We Will Hold the Line!" It wouldn't work nearly as well without the believability and consistency of the universe Bioware had crafted throughout the rest of the game. Next, the end of Virmire (favorite part of ME1). You have to choose between two of your squad members. It feels weighty, it makes sense, it makes me so mad, so sad, and it's just awesome. (This reminds me of a discussion I had contrasting ME1 and ME2, but that's for another time.) Lastly, the final battle, and scene. The sheer TRIUMPH I feel when I down the big bad, the feeling of "oh ****" when you see the piece of debris heading for where you are, the disbelief when it hits and you think Shepard died, and then the relief and... I don't know what, when he climbs the rubble and poses. (Accidentally, but he does.) Your emotions ride the roller coaster, and it leaves you wanting more. (Games do that. It ends just when it's gotten AWESOME. Can we make a petition for better middle parts in games? Scratch that, in all forms of entertainment?)
(Oops. yeah, that was long.)

In conclusion, I believe that games are their own form of art, and that when people come to appreciate and believe that they will achieve things they had only imagined. For now, they are an incredible bridge between sports and other games, and true art.

... Now for a segment that needs a title. Not a review, or I could say that... ANYWAYS.


Main thing I've heard: This isn't Splinter Cell. Personally, I prefer that, but I think that's a bad thing. (no, it's not a contradiction. Think about it.) Series have a certain feel, and changing that DOES NOT WORK. Change the gameplay radically, and you will pay. (there are exceptions, it is true.) There are people that loved splinter cell for what it was, stashing bodies and long stealth parts included. You should respect that, and your own games, and continue on in that tradition.

Now why I (extra caps) would prefer it. To be blunt, I didn't like the small parts of previous Splinter Cells I played. I kind of sucked at it. Stealth is good, but I prefer it as to how it relates with combat and individuals- stealth kills, sneaking past a guard room, etc., as opposed to the ENTIRE BASE. I don't WANT everyone to know I'm coming if I don't carefully strategize who I'm going to kill first so no one hits the alarm, as well as avoiding the cameras and various other traps. Conviction seems to hit that sweet spot: plenty of awesome stealth kills, but accepting the inevitable firefights, and also accepting the fact that you WILL DIE if you fight a dozen people with machine guns using a pistol. It sounds and looks fun, and I'll probably give it a rent some time.

Now, off to play Braid. Maybe I'll review it in a few days or so. Not sure how long it is... Yes, I will do reviews, it just kind of helps if you've actually, you know, PLAYED THE GAME! (You just lost it, and so did I.)

P.S Comments are helpful. I suck at titles, so if anyone think of any ideas for segment names, or even the segment itself, please tell me! Thanks in advance.

P.P.S Don't worry, this was a really long post. I had a lot to say, and I wanted to get the Conviction part out today.

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