Hey. Before we get into this, Happy New Year guys. Hope it’s a good one for you!
It is my sincere belief that all forms of media have the potential to be art. That’s the whole point of this blog- a tribute to the stories that other forms of media have been able to share. This includes, as you might guess from the title, video games.
In the history of video games, we’ve gone from bouncing a ball across two paddles, to the creation of immersive, powerful stories with expansive universes. They’ve come a long way, to the point where video games are known to have the potential to stir emotion, contain symbolism, and create engaging characters. Video games have become a means of expression and storytelling, and while some are expressly meant for entertainment, others were created with deeper meaning behind them. For my final post of the year, I’ll be talking about my thoughts on the most artistic video games around.
Judging by a combination of level of complexity, thematic depth, and emotional impact, I’ll go through the titles that I feel deserve to be designated as pieces of art, unique from other video games. It’s all my opinion of course, and art is almost entirely subjective, so, again, this will not be a definitive list by any means, just a thought on some of the games that have become something more than just a game! That being said, let’s get into it!
This memefest of an indie video game, making it to a list of my most artistic games? Yep. You know it. Undertale starts off this list of artistic games for its unique ability to be self-referential in concept, providing interesting questions, and eliciting interesting emotional reactions.
For those who don’t already know, Undertale tells the story of an unnamed human falling into the depths of Mt. Ebott, and finding themselves in a world of monsters. However- these monsters, restrained under the Earth by humans a long time ago, are not exactly violent killers. They are unique in their almost universal empathy, making it so that you can go through the game without killing anyone, if you so choose. What will happen then, if you run into a killer who refuses to back down?
Undertale is a piece of art in my eyes, not just because of its ability to so blatantly reference common video game tropes, and disregard them, but rather, because of the moral questions that arise in-game. The disparity for many, between completing the game and seeing all it has to offer, and the price of doing so, provides a source of many intriguing reactions. Considering different universes, the morality of humans and monsters, and a game outlook that could be as positive or as negative as the player wishes to make it, I think that Undertale deals with enough interesting material to certainly be considered among the best of artistic video games.
4. The Stanley Parable
From one meta-game to another, The Stanley Parable, blowing up online around 2011, challenges the construction of games that confine you to their rules, and the limitations of the medium itself. Where Undertale pushed standard gaming assumptions and ideas to their creative limits, The Stanley parable criticizes them, making great use of a narrator in order to challenge the linearity that naturally comes with the medium.
One day, you, Stanley, are continuing to work in an office. You get up one day, only to find, *gasp* no one is in the building! An unseen voice tells you where to go, and what to do to reach the true ending of the game, without consideration of what you as the player wishes to do. You have choices at hand now- are you going to follow the directions of this mysterious narrator, or will you forge your own path, in a game that should only allow you to follow the specific narrative? In confronting this question, the game takes some rather interesting twists and turns, deceiving the player in a multitude of ways, using the narrative devices that other games feature so prominently.
The Stanley Parable is art, in the way it questions its own medium for the sake of expression. It asked a question of video gaming as a whole, and the result yielded an experience that rose questions for many about the way in which video games could tell a story, and the limitations of the medium. Just as words on a page, and live-action acting have their own limitations, so too do video games, for as immersive and in-depth they can be, they restrict the one experiencing it to its confines. The Stanley Parable may have been a very targeted game, with a very concrete theme, but the way in which it did so was extremely effective and prompted concrete conversation, where before, there was none. For a mod of Half-Life 2, not bad at all.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Now we’re getting into the heavy hitters. The Legend of Zelda series has been acclaimed for years, renowned for creating some of the best games of all time on a consistent basis. Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and of course, Ocarina of Time, all feature a similar epic story with great gameplay, but I wouldn’t consider any of them explicitly artistic. However, looking at Majora’s Mask, I was blown away by just how thematically deep and emotional this Zelda title could be.
Link, having been transformed into a Deku Scrub by a mysterious, powerful Skull Kid with a mask, finds himself in the land of Termina- a land doomed to destruction, thanks to a sinister moon that, in three days, will crash down and destroy everything. In three days, Link must find a way to stop this destruction by rescuing the Four Giants of Termina, or face imminent death. Along the way, we get to see the problems of the citizens of that world, dealing with tragedies of their own, their reactions to the overlooming threat at hand, and the sadness that permeates the land of Termina.
Majora’s Mask is different from any other Zelda series- retaining an air of mysticism and constant tension, we get a huge focus on the personal problems of the citizens of Termina, while knowing the entire time that it will all come to an end. The atmosphere, as a result, is ominous, imposing, all while the people of Termina deal with problems that mean the world to them. This emotional contrast results in world that treats all its characters as important, prompting thoughts by themselves about how to deal with loss, with romance, with sadness, even death, while providing solid gameplay as well.
2. Shadow of the Colossus
Art in gaming can be disputed to be many things- is it purity of gameplay mechanics, a gripping narrative, a powerful message? I think that there can be a case for all these things, but what must not be disregarded is the feeling of the one experiencing the art- does it have the capability to evoke emotion, thought, a human reaction? In this case, I feel that Shadow of the Colossus was a HUGE step forward in the ability of video games to evoke emotion, and remains as one of the greatest examples today.
Shadow of the Colossus features a young man named Wander, in his quest to bring back the life of a “cursed” girl named Mono. The mysterious entity Dormin, rumored to have power over life and death, offers Wander his services in the matter, in exchange for one favor: to kill the sixteen Colossi which wander the Forbidden Land. It’s a vague story, shrouded in mysticism and intrigue, a stark contrast to the emotional nature of games like The Last of Us, which features its narrative so heavily. Instead, we are treated to the quest of Wander and his horse Agro across a barren landscape, with character relations being vague at best, and only a rudimentary idea of “why” the player has to do what they do.
It all works due to a combination of factors- music direction, artistic design, the vagueness of story, and a careful distinction between the player’s knowledge of the goal of the game, without much knowledge as to why. The game is silent, save cutscenes and boss fights, and the world is vast, empty, and beautiful, evoking a profound sense of melancholy loneliness. On top of this, the few story details provided give the player increasing concern, as to whether or not they’re doing the right thing. What is Dormin? Why do the Colossi exist? Is killing them really worth Mono’s life? These questions influence the mind of the player to a huge degree, and combined with the tense, consistently melancholy atmosphere, and the artistic quality of the game, almost certainly put Shadow of the Colossus among the artistic greats of gaming. However, I believe that one game surpasses it.
1. Mother 3
Mother 3 to me, without even a shadow of a doubt, is the most artistic video game of all time. I haven’t had the chance to talk about the plethora of things that I personally love about this game, personally, technically, but I digress.
This is the story of a scared, yet powerful psychic boy named Lucas, and his quest to save his home, the Nowhere Islands from the mysterious Pig Mask Army. On the way, his home changes drastically, he makes new friends, and ultimately, is responsible for a decision that will change the world forever. However, Mother 3 is far more than that. It’s hard to really condense, but the game, besides being technically strong, has so much thematic complexity that it’s actually mindboggling- reminding me far more of classic literature at times, than a video game.
Through the growth, and slow industrial corruption of Tazmily Village by an outside force, the symbolism and tragedy that surrounds Lucas’s family, and the sad history of the Nowhere Islands as a whole, Mother 3 sets up themes that transcend the actual game. It provides commentary on the state of humanity, a blunt look at a broken family, and feels almost apocalyptic in nature by the end of the game. Apart from its extraordinary narrative, it is also very unique for the world it builds, and the actual mechanics of the game. With strange creatures like the Cactus Wolf, Cattlesnake, hell, the Cuddle Bomb, Mother 3 creates a whimsical, memorable environment for the narrative to evolve in. Compound that with a music-based fighting system, unique HP mechanics, great atmospheric music, and a colorful background, and Mother 3 stands out to me as the most artistic video game of all time.
That was a fun list to end off the year. Thanks for sticking around if you’ve read the whole thing, and I hope you enjoyed! There are many games I have NOT played that I hear amazing things about, Firewatch, Braid, The Last of Us, so I’m sorry if I missed a potentially better entry! Do you have any favorites as far as artistic games go? Let me know in the comment section!
That all being said, I wish you a belated Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. I’ll be taking a break for a bit, but I’ll still be posting. See you in 2017! (☞ﾟヮﾟ)☞