The Hot Medium (and the EarthBound Fuzzies)

1 Jul

I understand that there are multiple definitions of ‘art.’ The one I will be discussing in this post is the following:

the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

The emphasis is mine as that is the specific aspect of art that I’d like to discuss: significance.

People often ask whether or not video games should be considered art. I personally think this question is rather silly, but I can understand where it comes from considering how incredibly young the medium is compared to the other major mediums.

What I think most people overlook is that video games should not be compared to movies when discussing their artistic merit. This should be obvious. Games are not movies and vice versa. You cannot judge whether or not a game is art based on its plot alone. Sometimes the plot is irrelevant to the subject all together.

What is relevant is how the game functions as a game. The interactive and immersive properties that are unique to the medium of video games are what matters when determining what is art and what is just a game. When interactivity plays a back seat to a game’s more movie-like elements, it doesn’t matter how well those elements were directed or how good they look. Unless they’re tied to the gameplay in a synergistic way, they work against the game, pushing it towards a colder medium.

So, what is an example of video game art? I’ll try to contain my fanboyism as I describe the climax of EarthBound as vaguely as possible, since I urge everyone to play the game and don’t want to spoil it for them.

The final boss of EarthBound is like nothing you’ve encountered at any other point in the game. Not only does it look and sound strange, but it’s theme introduces you to one final genre of music amongst the many the game has employed thus far: metal. While you fight, you wonder what the heck the boss even is, but those thoughts eventually leave as you begin to wonder how to defeat this seemingly invincible thing.

Eventually, you discover what it is you must do, but even that isn’t enough. You grow frantic, hoping that you don’t die because the path to the boss was littered with the game’s most ruthless enemies and you don’t think you have the patience to face them again today.

You desperately continue to try the method that worked before, but this time, you get a different response. It’s vague at first, but it becomes clearer and clearer what’s going on. Your mind races. Oh, yeah! you think to yourself. I remember now!

In EarthBound, you save the world. It’s not the hero you’ve been controlling since the beginning; it’s not some character you met along the way. It’s you, the player. You defeat the ultimate evil and save the world. What’s more, the game makes it totally clear that it’s you who defeated the enemy and thanks you for all you’ve done.

This is art in the way that it takes something that seems so wastful to some, spending hours playing a game, and turns the entire experience into something significant.

The ending isn’t the only remarkable thing about EarthBound, but it shines a light on everything else and makes the entire game even better. EarthBound wasn’t terribly innovative in its physical mechanics. Yes, it did away with random battles by placing enemies on the field. It did away with the world map and connected each of its modern day locations directly. And yes, it added the rolling HP-meter to an otherwise generic battle system.

None of those things are what EarthBound is remembered for, though. People remember the game’s charm that oozed out of every pixel; its bright colors, its memorable themes, its wacky enemies, and its bizzarre sense of humor. For many, EarthBound represents that part of our childhood when we were still innocent and ignorant of the world at large; a time when our biggest concern was how we would spend our time away from school.

I always say, good games transcend time. EarthBound takes me back to my old house, to my old school, to my old friends, to my old family…

Guess I rambled a bit too much about EB. 😛 That tends to happen a lot with us MOTHER fans; just have to get used to it I guess. Anyway, I’ll try to touch upon games as art again throughout this blog, but just keep this in mind:

Anyone who plays games should be able to say that games are most definitely capable of being art. If you disagree, I think you’re just being too strict with your definition. I’m the first guy to say just because you took a picture or mashed some words together, doesn’t mean you created art. But I’m also the guy who knows just how moving games can be. Be a little open minded. 🙂

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