Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Games as Literature

For years now, debate has raged on about whether video games are art. I'd like to settle the debate. They are. Debate settled.

Games are a unique medium for telling stories. Sometimes the stories are simple. You are a yellow circle trapped in a maze chased by ghosts. Your girlfriend was kidnapped by a giant ape. You're trying to escape deadly asteroids. Other times the story is a lot more complicated. Video games can explore deep issues such as love, loss, and revenge, and the plot of some games would need a trilogy of books, at least, to adequately convey.

For me, games are like literature. They are telling a story, and we get to be a part of it. Sometimes we get to help shape the story, whether it's a single player experience that changes with our choices or a multi-player game in which the player's actions drive the narrative. Other times we simply follow along and simply experience the story and try to survive it.

Last year I fired up Plansescape:Torment, a PC game from 1999 that I never got to play the first time around. Playing this game is like reading a Dickens novel. It's a classic that everyone talks about, it's very old fashioned compared to modern works, and it sets a standard that few games today can surpass. Not to mention, Planescape is a pretty dire and depressing setting, what with all the stacks of corpses, and that's classic Dickens.

This past week I picked up the game Limbo a part of the Humble Indie Bundle. Playing Limbo is like reading a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. It's dark and creepy, full of big scary monsters, and depite its short length it stays with you for a long, long time. (That giant spider is one of the scariest things I've ever seen in a game. it will haunt you.) I predict this game will become another of the classics.

The game Deus Ex is like reading a complicated and sprawling cyberpunk novel. Katamari Damacy is like an interactive Shell Silverstein book. The Legend of Zelda is the quintessential hero's quest. I could go on and talk about games like the Final Fantasy series, Shadow of the Colossus, Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Braid, Beyond Good and Evil, and many more games that elevate and transcend the genre.

These games are more than just mashing buttons and explosions. They are a new way of experiencing stories and art. When I play these games, it's an interactive literary experience. I defy anyone to tell me that they aren't art.

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