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Virtual Reality or Art?
Written By: Josh Fishburn

It is my belief that nature is beautiful.  It is also my belief that many video games are art.  The word art has become so devalued over the years that it can now be applied to anything seemingly passionately conceived.  I will here make a distinction between videogames as art and videogames as a simulation of reality, followed by some pseudo-philosophical bullshit (or is it?) that I will contort to make my point.

I have seen the top of the graphics mountain many times, and as I climb it only seems to ascend it, ever pulling away from me.  First it was the cinematics in Ninja Gaiden, then it was the pretty polygons in Starfox, then a whole new dimension with Super Mario 64, then a living, breathing world in Zelda: OOT, then Gran Turismo 3, then Final Fantasy X…the list goes on.  These games do not necessarily have much in common aside from raising the bar for graphics at the time of their release.  That the bar seems to be continually raised is great and also very natural.  But which of these games is art?  Which of these games has the spark?

The easiest games to remove from the list are sports and simulation games.  These games do little to nothing to venture outside of their target audience.  Fortunately their target audience is gigantic, and I make no claim that they do not have a place in gaming, as I am a racing game fanatic.  However, there is indeed a substantial gap between the awe I feel when gazing at the latest Gran Turismo 4 screenshots and the elation I felt playing Frequency for the first time.  I could ramble on and on about how perfectly represented the cars are in Gran Turismo 3 or how amazing the graphics in FFX look, but my point lies in gameplay.  After all, we are talking about videogames.  In this realm, art is innovation.

A beautifully conceived idea makes a game with a lasting impression.  Sports games and reality simulations can always be replaced with something better, while a true work of art is an unforgettable experience.  It is the innovation that makes the experience, the new-ness of the whole thing.  The game strikes a chord in you that have never been struck before, it burns its image into your head.  Frequency is an especially poignant example for me.  Playing its sequel Amplitude was a good, albeit familiar, feeling.  I thoroughly enjoyed the game but at the same time I felt cheated in a way, and that is without mentioning the things they changed for the worse.  I could talk about sequels all day, but innovation is really about making a more-than-memorable game.  This game is completely irreplaceable, both in history and your mind.  That is art!

Posted: 10-11-03
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