Video Games: The Evolution of Art
What began as a rudimentary system of entertainment has become the host medium for several major art forms. Video games provide a fun and challenging escape from the mundane, but more importantly, they contain the capacity for interaction with self expression. When an artist conveys life through through a portrait or poem, an audience may exercise its imagination to reflect on its meaning and beauty. Traditional methods of art such as these have shaped cultures for centuries, but have also implanted a desire in people to connect with the inaccessible artwork on a deeper level. While admirers can read a poem or daringly touch a painting, they lack the ability to exist within the created depiction. Virtual concoctions of coding, graphics, song, story, acting, and community provide art enthusiasts the opportunity to participate within realms of pure expression known as video games.
A Unique Language
Written word, no matter the language, forms the foundation of all art that extends beyond visual communication. Musicians compose songs before a symphony plays them; writers pen a script before actors enter a stage; and computer programmers draft a code before any other artists can add their work to a video game. Though computer languages are based in logic and require a technical approach over expressive, they serve as the unseen art behind every digital outlet. Many approaches exist within coding to achieve a particular result, allowing writers the freedom to experiment with mathematical expression. While most players won't know what language was used or how it works, experience with multiple games can reveal the success or failure of a particular code. For example, two games of the same genre may both involve shooting mechanics, but one game's approach may lead to glitches while the other controls flawlessly. Computer language not only allows programmers to write code, but actually facilitates the existence of endless possibilities within every game. Without programmers and their languages, no other artists could implement their work into video games.
Every stage of video game production, from concept to final render, requires an assortment of visual artists to unite in creating a unique and compelling aesthetic. Based on genre, content, and mood, concept artists start off the process by expressing a game's identity through digital paintings. Fanboys go crazy at the sight of new concept art, both amazed by the displayed talent and excited for a game with such captivating visuals. The visual style of a game determines the atmosphere of an entire world; a world that players will spend anywhere from 20 to over 100 hours staring at. After a style has been decided, a team of graphic artists begin sculpting the characters, objects, and environment that will form the virtual world. In an age where carving statues has become a scarce art, its essence lives on in digital sculpture. Finally, animation artists add characterized motion to the objects, bringing the game to life. While the methods for creating these types of art have shifted from traditional to digital, they are firmly rooted in the same principles as their physical counterparts. As a result, the earlier mentioned fan of concept art can actually visit and explore a world of pure imagination.
Art of Sound
Nothing evokes emotion quite like music. Out of all the art forms, music provides its audience the most ways to interact. People can listen to it, sing along with it, play it using an instrument, or even express it through the art of dance. For anyone who lacks the talent or confidence to interact with music in those ways, video games offer a unique connection. As a player travels from one town to the next, crossing dangerous lands and dungeons in-between, a new melodic rhythm greets the character in each area. This feature generates emotion to match the task at hand, opening the player's imagination to what is possible. Additionally, certain actions such as starting a battle or opening a treasure chest can trigger temporary sounds that help capture the moment. In effect, music becomes part of a responsive atmosphere, reacting to a player's decisions and circumstance. Some games even simulate life, allowing players to use the controller as an instrument, or motion sensors as a dance instructor. Composers and musicians still create music in a traditional fashion, but technology lets them implement their audible sensations in exciting new ways. Years after having played a game, someone can even listen to its soundtrack for nostalgic pleasure.
Live the Story
From bards to playwrights to authors to screenwriters, and even in the daily lives of individuals, storytelling has allowed people to communicate personal and imaginative accounts of life. Through this most basic of mediums, a person can glimpse into the thoughts of others, fictional or real, and experience existence as they do. Life is too short, too limiting, and too demanding to experience everything firsthand, but a story intertwined within a video game grants people the opportunity to enter someone else's life for a brief period. Not only can a player witness a story through dialogue and cutscenes, but he or she can also affect the outcome of many games by completing certain actions or making pivotal decisions. This freedom to progress and impact a story sets video games apart from all its storytelling ancestors.
Plenty of games rely solely on written dialogue to convey a story, but many games use voice actors to make characters more lifelike. Since this technique is used in animated films and shows in the same way, players pretty much get the same experience with this performance art as moviegoers. Even so, it mixes with the blend of all other art forms included in video games to deliver a more satisfying experience. The range of intonation in spoken language offers more emphasis, and creates a more dramatic, personal conversation than text. However, when not alone and playing with friends or strangers online, other players' become the voice behind the characters.
We Are All Connected
Even with the talent and hard work invested into making a beautifully crafted video game, the best part is being able to play alongside or share memories with others. Great distances or adverse circumstances can separate or prevent friends from mingling in our physical world, but thanks to the internet, a player can surround him or herself with the virtual embodiment living people. While not ideal, this social connection allows individuals to meet new people or embark on adventures with friends. Not all games have this feature, but other games still provide a catalyst for conversation. When one person talks to another about a game they both have played, they can connect through the shared experience. This element of video games is true of all art. Art and conversation alike are both about communicating perceptions of life for the purpose of gaining understanding and feeling understood. Video games, then, not only provide interaction with self expression, but have bridged that service with interpersonal communication so that a person can actually communicate with another within an interactive form of communication.
Share Your Thoughts
Do video games make you feel more connected to art?
Still Just A Game?
Hopefully this article sheds some light on what video games have become and their significance for art, but it in no way condones the abuse of overplaying them. Even as an amateur artist, it took me years of playing video games to appreciate them solely for their artistic value – partly because technology has taken most of my life to reach its current climax, but mostly because I focused more on the gameplay than any other element. After all, gameplay experience is the core purpose of video games. Unfortunately, the addictive nature of video games, rooted in their false sense of empowerment and achievement, can spoil what should be a sensational experience. Too much time spent playing games can under-utilize time, diminish the imagination, and even reduce one's appreciation for art. A highly competitive market demands the very best from game developer's, so over time, exceptional artwork has become standard. People become so accustomed to the standard, they forget how much work it actually takes to reach the finished product. Therefore, each individual player must exert the proper discipline in his or her life to fully appreciate a game without it becoming harmful.
© 2014 Larry Williams