Monday, November 19, 2012

Games Are Serious Business

Are games a mature enough medium to tackle serious subjects? Gamesindustry International's Rob Fahey doesn't think so, but says we should keep trying anyway, in his article from earlier this year.

It's articles like this that continue to inspire me, and push me ever toward the indie scene. Innovation and tackling risky and difficult subjects seldom happens in the AAA market. It's simply too risky, and big businesses are beholden to their investors. But independent developers have so much freedom to make truly interesting games that challenge what the industry is capable of.

My good friend Merrit Kopas is a hobbyist developer in Seattle, whose free to play web-based games have garnered some notoriety in indie circles for tackling complex and vitally important topics. His game LIM deals with the idea of "blending in" - whatever that might mean for the player. Without any words, with only squares for characters, LIM communicates emotions and violence in a visceral, powerful way that can be felt far more deeply than any cutting edge graphics ever portrayed.

Other games which display this level of maturity include Loneliness, another browser based game. Dear Esther is often hailed as a masterpiece of beautiful storytelling, though personally I found it rather boring and pretentious. Games do not have to be all about "fun" anymore - these games show us this.

The existence of these games tell me that Rob Fahey was wrong - if you know where to look, games are already tackling difficult issues and handling them well. They are portraying powerful and deep emotions, and eliciting emotional responses from players. These may not ever become as fully integrated into mainstream gaming as pure entertainment games are, but even now AAA titles are tackling issues like this and receiving praise for it - take Spec Ops the Line for example, with it's startlingly dark and complex take on the typical modern military shooter. There's not just hope at the end of the tunnel - we are already here.

In an art course I took back in the USA, we were taught that art is a creation made with the purpose of eliciting an emotion from the person experiencing the art. If that person feels the desired emotion, the art was successful. Given this definition, games as art are not a thing of the future. They are all around us. If they can pull our heartstrings, make us laugh, cry, and truly care about the results of our actions in the game, then they have succeeded as works of art. There will always be games that aim only to entertain, and that's great. But games as art, games as mediums for difficult topics and platforms for discussion of important issues - yes, we are mature enough for this. More please!

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