Top 5 Video Games as Art

Mass Effect
Roger Ebert is a very angry man. The award-winning film critic and all-around grouch has been railing against video games as a style that "can never be art," and has caused a community of gamers and artists debating the artistic value produced for small and large screens.

The Smithsonian in Washington DC decided to weigh in on the debate rather heavily by hosting an exhibit on video game art, which focused on the evolution of gaming as a medium by featuring playable copies of Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. The exhibition is on display through September 30.

Here are the top five examples of video games that prove once and for all that, yes, video games are just as artistic as film, a medium that boasts classics like Delta Force and Gigli.

5. Mass Effect

Bioware's generic space-themed title casts the player in the malleable role of Commander Shepard, an intergalactic badass that saves planets and kisses aliens. The game's plot is relatively rigid. Within the plot, however, players are given a variety of ethical decisions that tilt a character towards the game's ethical binary of "Paragon" and "Renegade."

Many games attempt to shoehorn moral choices, but this is the first one where the only option is heroism, but it's up to the player to decide what kind of heroism they engage in. The paragon is a Luke Skywalker messiah-like figure. The renegade is Boba Fett, the hard-as-nails badass who has a morally ambiguous job to do and accomplishes it with glee.

Rather than filming a movie with two endings, Bioware produced a game that allows the player to affect their personality upon the game's narrative.  The resultant depth stems from the fact that the narrative is a result of something personal rather than purely the creation of an omniscient narrator.

Mountain Dew sponsorships only bolster the game's deep Marxist symbolism

4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Modern Warfare serves as a symbolic parody of war movies intercut with the harsh realities of human conflict. The player begins the game as a member of an elite commando unit with a mission to stop the terrorists. He does this by killing a lot of nameless bad guys.

The game shifts its narrative to an unnamed American soldier about a quarter of the way through, and then the opportunity to use English major powers arises. Eventually a nuclear bomb explodes, and the player is actually granted control of their character as he staggers and croons his death rattle. The immediate expectation upon receiving control was "Well, I've soaked a million bullets. Why not a nuclear bomb?" I was answered by a summary fade to black.

The rest of the game was experienced by killing lots of enemies, at least the player feels some sort of loss.  The closest comparison to be drawn would be a series like Band of Brothers, except the emotions of death are experienced internally as the player character is literally dying.

3. Rez

Rez is often lumped into the "games as art" camp, but it's one of those guilty-by-association titles.  The game feels like a Stan Brackhage experimental film except with fun. The game, thankfully, is not just meant to be played at a 90s rave while Tiesto makes an appearance on the ones and the twos.

Taking the role of a pixellated thing that shoots lasers and evolves, players navigate an acid world with weird impressionistic symbolism. Probably. The important part is it's trippy and obtuse while still being fun.

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Your list is bad and you should feel bad!

Skeezix Alabaster De Meo
Skeezix Alabaster De Meo

This list DESPERATELY requires a traditional RPG/JRPG that is strongly centralized around the plot, character development, and tactics (depends on the jprg i guess), rather than this action RPG bullshit that is hogging the list.  It is obvious you have a bias towards Mass Effect because I really don't believe it deserves a Top 5 spot.  Yes, an honorable mention, but nothing more.  Hmm... then again, I am INCREDIBLY biased towards JRPGs and nostalgic super nintendo games (for being less sell-out-y if you know what I mean and overall a pure transcription of creativity and thus Art).  Action RPGs can easily bore me, such as elder scrolls IV, which has dissuaded me from buying Skyrim (at the time I was playing WoW lol... plus ES-IV was NOT a hard game when I gave it a chance [prob gave it an unfair chance]...  idk.  Action RPGs are mainly fun when the story is exceptionally potent and/or the game has extraordinary gameplay, plus its challenging and not a fucking walk through preschool every boss encounter; like the sell-out vid games being produced today will do in order to be accepted by a larger demographic of people who would rather see the glittery graphics than something that is satisfying in some sort of human way rather than the primordial satisfaction of simply completing a task), despite all the circle-jerking that is rampant across gaming communities and the interwebz in general proclaiming Skyrim's unparalleled gaming experience.  I have yet to play Skyrim, and agreeably it looks pretty badass.  Fighting a fat dragon seems very appealilng haha, and the game is visually astounding which is always a plus. However, it just seems to be a semi-regurgitated form of ES-IV, and just another timedump of grinding pointless video game stats.

Anyways, I lost myself in my own rambling, and will be surprised if anyone reads this----my personal and high-as-fuck rant about how I dislike this list and dislike many modern video games.


 I'm surprised that Shadow of the Colossus didn't make the list. The fact that the artless Modern Warfare is included in the main list over so many other perfectly apt titles is surprising.


Red Dead Redemption might not be a challenging game, but it sure as heck is artistic as heck. You can just wander around and watch gorgeous sunsets without shooting anything.

Alex Weiss
Alex Weiss

 Well, part of my reasoning with adding MW3 to the list was the fact that even the most mundane plots have a direct parallel with modern filmmaking.  I don't really like the series, but looking at it from an analytical perspective does show some sort of an attempt at a deep narrative and that's worth something.

JRPGs are cool, but they tend to compare more to novels.  They're about arbitrary numbers going up so you can see a cutscene.  That's a totally acceptable method but part of my theme was the belief that interactivity is what makes video games a unique artistic medium.

Shadow of the Collosus felt the same to me.  It's a pretty game, but there isn't really that much to look at other than themes of predestination also evident in games like Bioshock (what with the whole "would you kindly" thing).  I take the same issue with a lot of Japanese art games, as they just tend towards either minimalism or hyperviolent irony (I'm looking at you, Suda51).

I originally just listed Bioware's repertoire for the Mass Effect entry, but decided to hone it to one game.  I think their titles show the importance of a static plot with the player imprinting their personality on the narrative.  Also because the New Times audience is more likely to know what the ME series is.

Also I really don't like Skyrim or any of the Bethesda Fallout titles as it seems like they lose the open world ideal.  The point of an open-world game is that I'm moving from place to place and having an effect, and the only thing that changes after I kill a marauding horde of barbarians attacking a town is I don't get the dialogue option to stop the barbarians from attacking the town anymore.

In hindsight, I should've said something about how budgets actually limits the game's ability to allow the player to function creatively.  Thanks for your thoughts!

Skeezix Alabaster De Meo
Skeezix Alabaster De Meo

Seriously.  MW3 is fun, but it doesn't even deserve an Honorable Mention here.  It hits the least bases when talking about "Art".  The graphics are incredible; check-mark.  The game-play is crisp and well-formulated; check-mark.  The music is good enough lol; check-mark.  The plot is poor, at best, but it is interesting how this game imitates reality, more specifically realistic and modern fatal conflicts; check-mark.  That's all though...  As I said an RPG (a true RPG not this Mass Effect bullshit) desperately needs to be here somewhere.  A quality RPG hits all the bases (except arguably gameplay because the gamplay of a classical turn-based RPG can be pretty dull depending if tactics need-be employed).  The major bases being literary allusions, realistic parallels, philosophical plot agendas, [sometimes] the best music in gaming (very biased, I know, but once the plot of a game is good, the music is glorified and proportionally inflated in value depending on how well-made the musical compositions are.  A simple exception would be Final Fantasy games with Uematsu--a genius and master of composition I'd profess), extremely appealing emotionally.

I love both action and story heavy games, but they must be GOOD.  And, these days, it doesn't seem like a lot of these games deserve my $60, plus the absurd console prices and $40 controllers, or more.

For example, I played WoW arena fairly seriously for about 2years, which has absolutely no appeal to my emotions.  It is purely an injection of adrenaline to the dome and an overall thrill to compete.  It is exhilerating, period, not much art there other than my personal techniques employed against my opponents.  The game itself, more specifically PvP Arenas, is NOT an art form, nor is most/all of WoW's end-game content.  Yeah im done here im ranting to a blank audience or probably one that doesn't know wtf im saying.

Alex Weiss
Alex Weiss

That's an interesting point.  The idea of just wandering around a virtual world and appreciating its fake fauna is a trip by itself.

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