Video Games; Epiphanies and Enertainment

Johnny  Owens

There’s nothing I enjoy more than to sit by the fire in my living room – a living room that smells of fine Corinthian leather and rich mahogany – leafing my way through Ulysses and contemplating the inherent beauty of the mundane. Later that evening perhaps I’ll sit down and try to finally make sense of Mulholland Drive or watch a few episodes of The Wire with a friend and discuss, over a glass of fine Rioja, whether true, black-and-white justice can ever exist in this world. Know what else I enjoy? The works of Robert Rankin, Zoolander ,and Gossip Girl. Those things are awesome. My point here is that sometimes you don’t want read/watch/listen to some groundbreaking work that forever alters said work’s medium and provides you with a fresh perspective on this funny little walk called life. Sometimes you want something loud and bright and stupid and, above all else, fun. So why can’t the same be true of video games?

   I suppose I’ll preface all of this by admitting that I am very much aware that I’m beating a dead horse by discussing the whole ‘are video games art?’ question, but I have a couple of fairly significant gripes about the entire debate that, from what I can tell, were mostly ignored. One of the most common  arguments – and one that was certainly used fairly frequently by the late, great Roger Ebert, who was himself pretty vocally opposed toward the notion of video games being considered art – was that due to the fact that video games are interactive and are fundamentally objective based (perhaps a balding scientist with an impressive moustache must be thwarted) then that made them, by definition, devoid of artistic merit. After this came the inevitable backlash, a lot of which consisted of calmly and rationally (just kidding) pointing out that Ebert, and most other detractors, knew very little about the medium itself and their understanding of it was shaky at best. Then the opposing side said something else which in turn coaxed a response out of the games-as-arts side of the argument etc. Look, you know how a debate works. What irked me about the debate was how desperate the video game industry seemed to proved all the naysayers wrong which eventually led to people trying to assert the artistic merit of what seemed like every game under the sun, regardless of how ridiculous they actually were. The question everyone seemed to fail to ask was this: why do they have to be? I’m not saying that certain video games shouldn’t be considered art, but when I sit down to watch a film, watch a TV show or read a book I’m not doing it to painstakingly analyse every element of it, usually it’s because I’ve had a long day and I need to relax. Sometimes I want to reflect on the lasting damage that capitalism has had and continues to have on our society, and sometimes I just want to pop some (computer generated) motherfuckers because the leak in my bedroom still hasn’t been fixed after four goddamn months.

   I apologised earlier for my beating of a dead horse, but in reality that’s exactly what everyone involved in this debate has been doing since the very beginning because the argument of what constitutes art is about as old as it is pointless. When I have a little internal debate over something’s artistic merit I usually ask if it manages to coax a grand emotional response from me. As far as video games are concerned, the event that springs to the forefront of my mind instantly, without hesitation, is when I encountered the first of the sixteen colossi in Shadows of the Colossus. After traversing the vast, seemingly endless expanse of the Forbidden Land – encountering no other life as I did so – and making my way through one of the many rock chasms, I turned a corner and was welcomed by the rumbling footsteps of a gargantuan lumbering behemoth. My jaw literally dropped and I held my breath for a just a brief second. I was truly in awe. I also once threatened to eat my best friend’s entire family after losing a game of Mario Kart. Is that a grand emotional response? Sure is. But I reckon you’d be pretty hard up  to find someone who considers Mario Kart an exemplary work of 21st century art, but I’m sure someone does, and herein lies the problem at the very core of the debate. Personal opinion is, of course, central to any work of art (I’m sure there are plenty of you who balked at me for liking Gossip Girl, and I’m sure there are those of you who balked at me daring to claim that it lacked artistic merit when I’ve clearly misinterpreted this scathing satire of the 1%), but what both sides of the debate often seem to forget is that art is subject to the way that our tastes evolve over time – I once thought that Fight Club was one of the most significant works of art of the 21st century, but I threw out that opinion along with my flame shirts and fedoras. So maybe that means that in a few years time video game’s greatest detractors will look back and realise their former opinion was ridiculous and was simply the result of their own misunderstanding  or naivety, or maybe their opinion won’t change in the slightest. Either way it won’t matter because I’ll still be playing and enjoying the same games, regardless of their artistic merit, or supposed lack of. Anyway, I’ll take this opportunity to sign off because I just saw a horse keel over right next to a conveniently placed baseball bat.


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