Monday, March 15, 2010

The Art Of Gaming

I really don't talk about this often enough, but I'm something of a huge gamer. Mind you, this is the 21st Century: Saying you play video games is pretty much like saying that you enjoy wearing pants or that you don't stone a woman every time she has her period. But that's beside the point.

Despite massive mainstream success, both commercially and critically, gaming tends to be seen as something of a lesser art form. Despite the media of film, television and music being composed of about 90% pure, unadulterated shit, these have all been accepted by mainstream audiences whole-heartedly. Video games however are still usually seen as being quarantined to a niche market, presumably one compromised of geeks, nerds, social lepers and various other schmucks stuck in a case of arrested development.

But the thing is, if we're basing it solely on a purely innovative standpoint, gaming is by far the most evolved form of art available today. Not only that, but it continues to evolve in a way that film, television and music can and will never be able to emulate.

In simple terms, it means that in the space of 38 years, gaming has evolved so rapidly that past titles, though still classic, are obsolete by today's standards. Compare this to film: In 1972, The Godfather was released, and is widely seen as one of the greatest films of all time; Comparing this to 2010, Hurt Locker just (deservedly) won Best Picture, and despite being a perfectly good movie, really doesn't compare.

Contrast this to gaming: In 1972, Pong was released, and people fucking shit themselves because they could make a little rectangle go up and down to keep a little square from flying off the screen into non-existance. Fast-forward to 2010: We have games with full on physics engines, graphics that have gone from little white blocks to almost life-like human models, and an even greater level of difficulty.

Unlike films, gaming is based on the skill that there audience brings into it. The highest level of functioning that you need in order to properly enjoy a movie to it's full potential is the ability to see and the ability to hear. That's it. Gaming, on the other hand, not only requires a greater set of reflexes and hand-eye coordination than the previous generation. It's an art form that actually requires you to be able to grow with it and vice-versa.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of shit games. And there are games that really only serve as to rehash well-trodden territory. Take, for instance, The New Super Mario Bros. on the Wii. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. Will I ever buy it? No. Why? For the simple reason that Super Mario Bros. Wii represents artistic stagnation; I mean Christ, Super Mario Galaxy had you running around entire goddamn planets and universes using an engine meant to replicate gravity. It recreated gravity and instead you're going to go back 25 years to "Go left and jump until you get to the end"?

If we're going to pinpoint the exact moment where gaming (in my mind at least) could be considered an art form, it would have to be with the release of Portal back in 2007. It was original, the humour was whip smart, and the entire thing ran off a physics engine so finely detailed it could have been written by God himself. It was the moment where gaming became art; a rapidly shifting and changing form of art that grew with it's audience. One that looked back on its past for the sole purpose of expanding on it rather than ripping it off. One whose value could accurately be measured by its audience, rather than the other way around. If art is meant to be a living, breathing thing, meant to evolve through time, than Gaming is as close to that definition as possible.

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