Video games are art, too

A look at the evolution of the medium

Video games have grown since the 1980s.
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For far too long, video games have been critiqued differently than movies and TV shows despite having more similarities than differences—and it’s time we embrace them as art.

The argument against video games is firmly rooted in the past.

Before consoles blessed our living rooms, people went to arcades for pixelated entertainment that was one step up from carnival games. These games were designed as a fun gimmick. Few would make the case for them being considered art.

Nintendo changed everything with the 1985 North American release of their Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Bringing these arcade games into people’s homes birthed an industry that’s since grown bigger than anyone could have imagined.

Now, in the era of the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch, video games have reached unforeseen levels of immersion and interactivity. Elitists and gatekeepers are running out of reasons to exclude them from artistic spheres and conversations. 

Consider the plot of this story—after the brutal murder of her beloved guardian in a post-apocalyptic world, a teenager’s quest for ruthless revenge becomes an exercise in circumstance, teaching her the value of love, hate, honesty, and loyalty.

If this were the pitch for a new Martin Scorsese movie, critics would be foaming at the mouth to award it an Oscar. In reality, it’s the plot of The Last of Us Part II, one of 2020’s best games that took a wrecking ball to any misguided notions about the medium.

This game checks all the artistic boxes. It uses stunning visuals to tell an emotional story with mature, sophisticated characters. Players are left questioning their journey and what it all means by the time the credits roll—it’s art in every sense of the word.

Video game narratives keep getting better and better. From 2018’s heart-wrenching God of Warto The Witcherseries, these aren’t your parents’ video games.

It’s no coincidence Hollywood keeps trying to turn video games into big-screen flicks and TV shows. Many of the adapted franchises are established entertainment properties beloved for their artistic qualities, which include their stories, characters, and worlds.

However, video games’ uniqueness as a medium are why most adaptations fail.

Look no further than the mountain of discarded Resident Evil movies that failed to capture what makes the games such a visceral experience. Or, most recently, there’s Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg starring in a generic butchering of the Uncharted series.

Across all types of art, the best pieces often work within the confines of their medium to create something unique.

The best novels can only exist as books—the way their writers use words to tell their story makes them impossible to adapt in other forms. The best painters often use their materials to create something so timeless it can never be replicated.

This applies to video games, too. Many of them are powerful artistic statements like movies, books, and paintings, just realized through an interactive medium.

Video games have grown into art—they’ve earned our respect.

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