Video Games as Art?

I haven’t blogged in awhile, partly due to schedule and also partly due to not feeling compelled by anything gaming related. All of that has changed after purchasing L.A. Noire for the Xbox 360.

The game itself is set in 1947 Los Angeles in a time when police corruption is at an all time high and many G.Is are returning home from the war and trying to acclimate themselves. Players are put in the shoes of Traffic Cop, Cole Phelps and by solving cases rises up through the ranks of the police department. This game itself was a bit of a dark horse for me personally, I was feeling very ambivalent towards it but a couple of well placed ads and the lack of something to play brought me to the point to give it a good look.

The game tells a compelling story with believable characters who don’t fall into the typical Rockstar pit of being overblown stereotypes of common characters. The mission design is superb, placing reflection and keen observation above twitch reflexes. The game has some downsides and if not played correctly will ruin your enjoyment, but I’m not here to reflect upon game itself as there are better written reviews already out there. Adam Sessler‘s review on G4tv.com is a beautifully written piece and I suggest you go and read that before continuing with this post.

What this game has caused me to think about is the long standing debate about whether or not Games could be considered art. This question has always nagged at me as I am a Fine Art Major and even with all my fancy college education I could not come up with a definitive answer on the matter. It is true that with a short search on wikipedia and google anyone can come up with a good argument for or against as that is typically the case with any art form. I can now say without a single reservation that, Yes, video games can be art.

Let us consider one of the most widely recognized pieces of art work by Van Goh, Starry Night. Starry Night has a wealth of information encoded in everything from the subject matter to the particular brush strokes, but boiled down to its basest level, Starry Night communicates something to the viewer. That is how I choose to roughly categorize art, something created with the intention of communication with a potential audience.

L.A. Noire is most definitely a work of art, from the start the player is pulled into a compelling and believable world full of shades of grey. What is most striking about this game and the primary reason I have for considering it art is that while there is action it isn’t the emphasis of the story. Our Cole Phelps isn’t a Bruce Willis wannabe roaring through 1940s L.A. shooting everything in sight. This game weaves an interesting story and allows the player to experience it in a way not possible in any other medium. In short it communicates the story in all its nuance to the player even if subconsciously.

My other argument for games as art, specifically this game is that an artist considers an idea, theme, religion, or whatever else strikes their interest and begins to break it down into its core aspects and then presents it a new and interesting way. Rockstar has taken the concept of the open world game with all of the implied style choices (most standards already created by Rockstar themselves) and present a new and interesting take on it which will redefine how future developers can approach their open world games. The longest standing issue with open world gaming is that with such a free form world, a strong storyline is difficult to prove off. Rockstar began to change this with GTA4 then with Red Dead Redemption, and this evolution has reached its apex in L.A. Noire. I could rattle on about all the intricate ways in which L.A. Noire redefines what I look for in a game and what makes me consider a game art, but the best argument I could make for the game is to buy it yourself and experience the joy this game has to offer.

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