Video Games: Art or Pure Entertainment?

I remember going to my uncle’s house with my parents when I was 4 and I was very excited because they had a PlayStation. I would stay there for hours just to play video games. There’s something about it that captivated my attention. Shooting fireballs from their palms, doing fire uppercuts; it was so cool that I wished I could do those things too. After experiencing the fun and joy of playing video games, I begged my parents to get one at home. Since then, video games has become a huge part of my life.


As I grew up, I encountered more video games titles; ones that are more complex than just pressing a button to attack and deplete the enemy’s Hit Point (HP) to zero. Titles like 'Final Fantasy Tactics', 'Disgaea', and 'Fire Emblem' require me to be more tactical, which made me realize that there are consequences to every decision. A lot like chess, one wrong move and it’s game over, and I had to restart from my last save point.


It’s not just about how good you are at the game or how the gameplay mechanics work. During the PlayStation One era in the mid 90s, the graphic quality was not as great as today’s standard. However, those polygonal 3D models were groundbreaking at that time. Of course, relying on visuals alone is not enough to sell their products. Captivating stories were also created to complement the game. In fact, implementing stories into video games has been going on since 1981 in the arcade game 'Donkey Kong' by Nintendo in Japan.(1) The realm of imagination opened wider ever since. It would be an understatement for titles like ‘Final Fantasy’, ‘Dragon Quest’, ‘The Legend of Zelda’ to take the audience for a ride, when the right word to describe such experience would be “an adventure” as you play as heroes on a quest to save the world.


Source: The Verge


The ever-evolving graphic quality may seem like a given these days as technology continues to advance. However, the creativity to create a compelling story that blows everyone’s mind is timeless. Up until today, people are still actively talking about how amazing the story of ‘Final Fantasy VI’ is more than two decades after its release, just like how people are still talking about 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Tracy Chevalier from the 90s.


This is why video games is also a form of art. People may have overlooked it due to its most common purpose: entertainment. But it is art, nevertheless. It’s a combination of story, visual art, cinematography, music, and everything else in a beautifully packed experience. In this case, the developers are the artists. It can be an individual, a group of people, or even the whole company.


One of the best examples of portraying video games as art that I can think of is ‘NieR:Automata’. It’s a game created by PlatinumGames, a Japanese company, helmed by Yoko Taro. While the common story in most games is about good vs evil, ‘NieR:Automata’ challenges the idea of being human. “What does it mean to be a human” and other philosophical questions are being bombarded to the players. The game really makes you reflect on your life as a whole, and there aren’t that many games out there like this.


Source: medium.com/@anthonylwolf


Another example from the same game would be a certain part in the story where a well-developed character begs us to kill him in order to save the world. Players are given the option to spare him, of course. However, it’s a false sense of choice given by the creator of the game. Upon selecting the option to spare his life, the progress would be halted and forces the player to pick the other option, as if the players are the ones who pull the trigger. I remember being in this part of the story and experienced it for the first time. It was very heart-wrenching.


Music is not just a complementary element. A well-composed soundtrack juxtaposed with the gameplay is what makes a brilliant game. Look at how ‘NieR:Automata’ combines the music and gameplay to create a perfectly-orchestrated unison. Pay attention to the enemy’s attack pattern to the soundtrack.



Video games doesn’t have to be set in a fantasy or a post-apocalyptic world. Creators can create whatever kind of games as they desire. The possibility is endless. Take Hazelight Studios for example, a game company led by Josef Fares. The purpose of this company that he created is to push beyond the boundaries. This quality can be seen through the games that the company created such as ‘Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons’, ‘A Way Out’, and the upcoming ‘It Takes Two’. Through these games, he brought a new light onto co-op games unlike any other before.



As someone who had done 5 feature films before getting into the game industry, Fares could immediately tell the difference between the two. “It’s way harder to make a game. It’s almost like the audience has control of the pacing on the story, while in movies, it’s being paced for you,” explained Fares in an interview.(2)


The sheer complexity in creating a game is like creating a full CGI film on steroid. You have to get the visual, art style, story, physics, gameplay mechanics, soundtrack, sound effect, UI design, and everything else right for the players to enjoy a seamless experience.


As an avid video games enthusiast, I can go on and on for days just regarding this matter alone. But enough about me. Have you ever felt the same way as I do? Has a game ever felt so meticulously made to you? - HL


(1) ‘First use of cutscenes to tell a story in a videogame’, Guinness World Records <https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/first-use-of-cutscenes-to-tell-a-story-in-a-video-game#:~:text=The%20first%20example%20of%20a,by%20Nintendo%20in%20July%201981.> [8 August 2020].

(2) Josef Fares, ‘The Return of a Visionary – Josef Fares and Hazelight’, Youtube.com, uploaded by Electronic Arts, 19 June 2020 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blwlcwlAXwA> [4 August 2020].


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