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August 8, 2011 | by  | in Arts |
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Press Not to Die

Interactive art. Whoa, don’t drool over the page there, handsome. Think about it—a medium where the person participating is actively involved in the creation of the experience. A medium where an active role is required of the player to cause a decision, and that decision dictates where the experience leads them. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a participatory art medium where a person can shape their own experience, instead of having one heaped at them a dime a dozen?

I’m loathe to say that video games can fill this gaping Nirvana, but I’m not going to piss on the motion. As an avid gamer I can see the potential of video games being considered art. People adverse to this idea will instantly slap me across the jaw with rebuttals claiming Call of Duty is nowhere near artistic, but these people are somewhat absolutist. It is akin to a comparison between Ulysses and The Da Vinci Code. There is always a medium’s magnum opus and, in turn, a medium’s retarded burlap sack. It seems unfair to judge a medium’s artistic merit based on one example.

Of course, we’re using art as a humdrum definition of art—that is to say, a standalone, completed piece of painting, literature or cinema that people haughtily critique over another spoonful of baby seal canapés. We can’t quite do this for games. In fact, games are, by necessity, incomplete. Hell, the protagonist is all but absent in some games until you sit down and finish the game, the lazy bastards. They need the player to put in the hard yards to fully appreciate the impact of a work of video game artistry. But, if we backpedal and agree that games are in fact a standalone, complete piece of art, it stands to reason that the player is just as valuable to the completeness of a game as anything else.

Now, obviously if you give people absolute freedom to paint their own experience, there is a risk of things going bat shit bonkers, so the amount of input a player has in an experience can vary. In RPGs, the canvas is laid down for you to finger paint your imagination all over it, while in games like Call of Duty you merely put the cherry on top of aspects that aren’t quite complete. In any case, the player is the artist and the catalyst to the game’s events. This is true for all games, from Pong to Mass Effect. Participation is mandatory, but not forced—it invites people to tinker with the experience to get the maximum benefit from the game.

So now the receiver works for their experience.
The question is, what does it do for the medium? Well,
as much as we have all looked into how much a story can affect the listener, we have somewhat neglected the importance of the storyteller. In games, the player works overtime, being the writer trumpeting their own horn and the listener taking it all in. Everyone knows how awesome it feels to have personally completed that one project you’ve been grinding at for years. To integrate this into a deckchair afternoon and still achieve something through hard work is a feat that no other medium has come up with yet.

Alas, the medium hasn’t quite clued in on this advantage yet. It still acts like the angsty teenager in the schoolyard of media slapping its bum in an attempt to please the big boys, trying to stick to a standardised definition. And true, some game companies like Square Enix are just screaming for film licenses with their finished products. But games hold a power that no other medium can and that needs to be given more recognition – the power of choice, and its effect on experience. After all, what ends a game of Pac Man—those technicolour, whirring ghosts from hell, or your own screw ups? *

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