Daily Lists, Video Games

5 Video Games that Prove Video Games are Art

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By Rob Bricken

It?s an old debate: Can video games possibly be art? Old white people say no, young people who infrequently bathe say yes.

We at Topless Robot don?t bathe, at least in terms of this argument. We firmly believe videogames at least have the potential to be art, and we think we?ve got proof. Admittedly, many games exist simply to be won, much like Clue or Sorry?even games with a neat plot or setting, like Halo. But we still say videogames certainly have the ability to be aesthetically beautiful, like paintings, or reveal something about the human experience, like cinema. Video games might not have its Citizen Kane yet, but here are our votes for five games that have come close.

1) Okami

We?ll start simple. Most folks consider sumi-e?the old Japanese ink-and-wash painting style?art. It dates back to the 14th century, after all (although the Chinese were doing it way before then). Now, the PS2 game Okami is also sumi-e, as created in a videogame?as the Shinto sun-goddess Amaterasu (in wolf form), you have to defeat the demon Orochi and remove a curse upon the land. This involves basic videogame platforming but also using a virtual sumi-e brush to do almost anything?make the wind blow, slice through enemies, create a bridge and much more. This game certainly falls in the ?beautiful? rather than ?thought-provoking? art categories, the stunning design, vivid colors and incredible composition honestly makes Okami worthy of sitting next to the sumi-e of old.

2) Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater

The Metal Gear Solid series has always been known for using the interactive nature of video games to truly fuck with players? minds, beginning with the original PlayStation classic. The latest PS2 game lets players, as usual sneak around the multitudes of bad guys, or kill them stealthily. Most folks choose the later, indulging the fantasy-fulfillment that make videogames so popular, because there are no consequences. Right?

Wrong. Director Hideo Kojima sends the main character/spy Snake (and thus the player) into a psychological nightmare brought on by a boss villain, where Snake encounters every single person he?s killed in the game, as he?s killed them. Hapless soldiers walk by, throats slit from Snake?s knife, or bodies riddling with bullets, bemoaning their orphaned children, crying for their mothers, and generally screaming in pain. It?s fucked up. It?s also an incredible examination of morality and its consequences?and more over, a particularly effective self-examination about how you play the game.

3) Final Fantasy VII

Accept no substitutes! Although the game part of the classic PS RPG isn?t anything special, the epic tale told in the game is. Disgusted with humanity, the evil Sephiroth wants to destroy humanity by crashing a meteor into the planet. The hero Cloud, along with his pals, tries to stop him. But complications set in when it?s revealed that Cloud is no standard fairy tale hero, but a loser who stole an actual hero?s clothes and started having delusion; plus the planet might actually be on Sephiroth?s side; and half the stuff you do in the game is actually helping Sephiroth, and Cloud is under his control!

That?s not to mention an incredible cinematic ending which leaves it totally up to the viewer to interpret, and determine for himself the meaning good, evil, heroism and fate and cost of humanity (pay no attention to the CG-movie sequel Advent Children). FFVII is simply telling a story, but one as deep and thoughtful as the best sci-fi and fantasy. It also gets points for making over half its players cry when killing off one of the main characters mid-way through (the creation of that kind of emotional attachment to count for something).

4) Portal

This PC first-person-puzzler (where you shoot connecting doorways instead of bullets to get through test rooms) was one of 2007?s most popular games, mostly for the astoundingly hilarious writing of GLaDOS, the possibly insane/malevolent/loving computer running you through the tests. But near the end of the game, you are put on a conveyor belt to a fiery pit, to die per GLaDOS? orders and by all appearances the game?s design. But players can chose to ignore fate and use the portal gun to not only escape, but find GLaDOS herself and destroy her. If Portal?s not an stunning test and examination of free will versus authority, well?never mind. It is.

5) Rez

This Sega rail-shooter (once on the Dreamcast, now available for PS2) is deceptively simple ?your dude travels on a prescribed course through a computer world, shooting various ships and being. But each shot fired not only affects the mind-blowingly beautiful light show on the screen, but the stage?s environment. More impressively, it helps create the sound and music occurring simultaneously. Designer Tetsuya Mizoguchi has used the classic rail shooter to create and a visual and musical masterpiece, which the players themselves co-create when they play. It might not be a lesson on humanity, but as gorgeous as most art currently hanging in museums?and it?s an artwork that is only possible through the medium of video games.

About Author

Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.