This is a list of features that allow you to identify video games with artistic and creative inspiration. The list is continuously updated.
The general criterion is the following: an artistic game has to ensure a unique, coherent and holistic experience where contents, interactivity, gameplay, aesthetics, storytelling, game AI, etc. etc., they must intersect inextricably so that the emerging result is greater than the sum of the parts. Masterpieces can also be recognized for innovation and experimentation opening new expressive frontiers. If it deeply touches human soul and intellect and represents a moment of social (de)construction, then it is art! You must not stop just at entertainment! See here for specifications about art.
A video game to be cataloged as a work of art should add some of the following features:
Able to launch sublime and complex messages, stimulate deep and mature reflections, explore and deepen the present, the past and the future, express emotions, psychologies, values, ideals, ideas, concepts, proposing intellectual, cultural, social, political, educational, existential contents. It must be able to intellectually and emotionally engage the player and to propose a unique and deep experience.
Gameplay has to be original, innovative, complex, rich, varied, not-repetitive, immersive, fluid, clever, highly interactive; and has to efficiently melt contents, story, characters, settings, aesthetics, etc. Game mechanics have to move story forward and not be aimed just at challenges. Challenges can be part of the experience, better if integrated in storytelling; but they cannot be the core of the experience. Interactivity has to concern expressive dimensions, inner dimensions, cultural, intellectual and emotional dimensions. It has to go beyond traditional and simple game mechanics (jumping, shooting, fighting, etc.). However when present, traditional game mechanics have to be smooth in order to grant the best experience. Players should be allowed to influence secondary narrative branches, or sometime to drive action pace and influence relationships, characters behaviors, game world, etc.; in other words, the player, even inconsciously, could be a bit like director, writer and actor of a movie in real time or like a painter in front of a canvas still to be completed in real time with a few different opportunities and alternative choices. This creates an unprecedented interlacing, although deferred, between the real authors of the game and the players.
In Video Games you act, feel, think and take a role in a different reality with different rules. You are not a passive spectator just as in Cinema or Literature, where you can only receive and process outputs, you cannot give inputs for influencing the artwork, you are not part of the artwork, you observe and are engaged in story from outside. In Video Games you are part of the artwork, you are immersed in story, you are acting in real time, you can partially shape time, space, forms, relationships, secondary plot, events, feelings, etc When you are shaping the artwork, you are changing what the artwork is transmitting to you and so on, in a continuous dialogue and virtous circle with no end. We could call it partial “mutual shaping” between artwork and player. But remember: art is expression and trasmission of contents, messages, visions, etc. from authors to audience. Interactivity has not to interfer with artistic expression, so player cannot write the story he like or do what he want. Player can act and think only inside the narrative and aesthetic structure organized by authors. It’s up to creators to allow for modifications of secondary events, relationships, etc. It has to be part of the author’s vision, optimized for transmitting contents, not be an arbitrary and uncoherent player’s choice. Main purpose of interactivity is immersing player in story, contents and game world, not to develop choose-your-own-story games! Even without flexibility of plot, relationships and events, a more traditional, preset and scripted game can give a high-level and peculiar artistic experience thanks to immersion.
It would be a mistake to aim interactivity exclusively to allow for partial variation of traditional preset patterns ( story, aesthetics, contents, relationships etc.). Not all games and game creators can aspire to that. More generally, the characteristics of Video Games is to drop the player into a virtual experience, even when games have stiffer structures. The verbe “to play” in English implies both the meanings of experiencing a game and acting in a fiction, more generally identifying yourself in a role in a specific situation. When you are immersed in a game, you feel the sensation to be there, to act in real time in a coherent fictional world that become your reality; also relationships with fictional characters become credible, they are perceived as real. Exploration of fictional world and relationships with its inhabitants make you feel to be there, present and participant in an alternative reality. Identification with avatars (virtual characters in first or third view) is called also “embodiment“. Immersion has a strong influence upon narration and expression of contents and viceversa; if you feel immersed in story, you are more sensible to contents and emotions. Traditional games create immersion through challenges, puzzles, battles, shootings, technical and athletical skills etc. But it is a weak immersion. In Video Games that want to be defined as artistic, strong immersion must be generated by contents (existential, social, cultural etc.), aesthetics, storytelling (moving stories forward through games mechanics), relational and psychological elements, visual and musical elements, etc. It must take place at a deeper and more complex level, intellectual and cultural. Videogames are interactive virtual experiences and not necessarily challenges or electronic toys! Immersion could be strongly enhanced by Virtual Reality systems or other innovative player-game interfaces in the next future.
– GAME AI
Complex algorithms able to make each game a not-linear, unique and personal experience, and able to adapt to the player’s choices and style. This is the main ingredient of interactivity. It could make complex and procedural dialogues, stories, behaviors, relationships, psychologies, game worlds etc. so that they are not only linear and predefined. AI could manage characters with complex behavior and personality. In a more traditional and preset game, it could help to achieve a deeper immersion. AI could also manipulate the action time perceived by player while immersed in game; you can expierence real time, accelerated or slowed time, continued or discontinued time, etc. The same for space: AI could shape places, environments, scenarios, etc. Manipulation and shaping of time and space depend on player’s inputs, AI is responsive. AI is programmed by authors, so both players and authors shape the artwork; players have an active and creative role in the artwork: that’s partial mutual shaping.
Creative aesthetics research, sophisticated and original scenarios, poetic and imaginative environments; they have to be functional to interactivity and able to create a special atmosphere, to convey an emotional state, to sustain environmental narration and to be consistent with contents, gameplay, plot and characters. Research and attention for graphic composition, drawings, lights, colors, animations, etc. Dynamic and procedural painting or drawing embedded in gameplay.
Marked authorial inspiration, usually by Game Designer or Creative Director or by a development team, who put titself in all game aspects and make the work holistic, mixing all aspects in relation to contents; the following are the main features to blend: graphics, gameplay, game mechanics, AI, art direction, storytelling, characters, psychologies, dialogues, scenarios, architectures, ideas, thoughts etc.
– INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
Original script and plot and innovative storytelling: complex, layered, not-linear, engaging, immersive, able to convey deep contents, well blended with gameplay, and not only a shallow flavoring confined to cut scenes. Narration should be the central core of the experience, putting aside challenges. Storytelling has not to be confined only in cut scenes, game mechanics have not to be disconnected from narration. Player has to move story forward through game mechanics. The choices and the interactions of the players could influence secondary plot and characters relationships, but in a limited way, not interferring with artistic expression and trasmission of messages and contents from author to player. Player is not meant to do what he like or want, but to be immersed in the narrative structure organized by authors. Some narrative elements could also emerge from interaction with the environment and exploration of the same (environmental storytelling) or through a clever and finalized use of game mechanics: narrative game mechanics invite to perform actions that support the construction of engaging stories and fictional worlds in the embodied mind of the player. Other important narrative tricks are: dialogues, monologues, voice-overs, interactive or floating texts, scripted scenes, QTE, etc. Some narrative elements could be also told by graphic and aesthetic elements.
In order to provide maximum empathy, any characters you play must be described in detail and enriched from all points of view. The following are the main avatar characteristics to deepen: graphic, design, style, iconography, dialogue, acting, voice, visual (pov), maneuverability, movements fluidity, body interaction, psychology, inner character, interiority, personal history, way of life, abitual places, family, relationships etc. etc. The same for the supporting characters. Relationships are really important. Player should be allowed to control several characters, even not-human avatars. Third person view is good for stimulating empathy with characters, while first person view is good for immersing players in game worlds.
– ARTISTIC REFERENCES
Quotes, tributes, reminders, inspiration and fusion with other languages and other art forms: cinema, literature, comics, poetry, music, dance, sculpture, architecture, painting, theater and so on; provided that it is not reduced to a casual jam of ideas borrowed from other art forms, and that everything is always functional to contents and gameplay.
Video Games are synesthetic media!
– VIDEO ART
Strong cinematographic style with great virtual camera movements and perspectives; harmonization of contents, writing, directing, acting, dialogues and action, as in movies. These features are very important for obtaining immersion. Virtual camera could be controlled by algorithms in order to improve players control. Cinematographic cut scenes are a good narrative expedient but too many cut scenes could interrupt, fragment and weaken gameplay; narration embedded in gameplay is a better choice.
Fluid and coreographic movements, detailed faces expressions, aesthetic quality of textures and shapes, perfect and adaptive timing, coherence and harmonitation with interactivity.
– SOUNDS & SOUNDTRACK
High quality environmental sound, refined compositions and original timbres. Musical pieces have to fit to atmospheres, graphic elements, action, narration, dialogues, characters psychology and contents; musics and sounds have to be synchronized with gameplay and therefore to be interactive.
Games have to be able to interpret with originality, innovation, complexity and involvement any register and genre: drama, comedy, adventure, sci-fi, horror, etc.
– GAME DESIGN
High-quality design that avoids downtime, incoherence or frustrations, but not too simple nor repetitive or monotonous; it has always to grant high involvement and interactivity, and at the same time it has to be functional to plot, characters, atmosphere, aesthetics and especially contents. It has to grant learning curve through adaptive algorithms. Game design of game world can be compared to architecture and must grant the better environmental conditions for storytelling.
– VIRTUAL WORLDS
Virtual worlds have to be original, coherent, complex, believable, with great aesthetics and design, responsive and procedural, in order to grant an immersive and unique experience. It could be modeled in real time in a complex way, depending on the player’s style, choices, and actions, not forgetting the inextricable links with story, contents and other creative features.
Connecting more players within the virtual gaming world, to ensure a complex storytelling and collective emotional experiences with high intellectual contents and reflections.
Art is strictly related to the expression of sublime contents through aesthetical and linguistic research.
Games in order to be considered as artworks have to be built around some deep and mature contents about human experience and knowledge (social, historical, scientific, educational, existential, intellectual, cultural, political, psychological, etc.) expressed through aesthetical and linguistic research and advanced narrative techniques. Artistic games are to be considered as virtual interactive experiences aimed at creative expression of deep contents through aesthetical and narrative research. Obviously games have their peculiarities in respect of other artistic media: interactivity, real time processing and immersion above all. Other peculiarities could be borrowed from other artistic forms such as cinema, drawings etc. With no doubts, Video Games are synesthetic media, hypertextual multi-media.