In previous articles I reflected about the meaning of the words “game” and “entertainment”. I concluded that art is not in opposition to entertainment, but emerges from it. It can be understood as the highest stage of a noble entertainment for the mind, elaborated, intellectual, cultural and sublime entertainment well beyond basic instincts. Also I stated that the word “game” is not at all simplicistic; it is often said that life is a game, playing is learning, and that even war is a game! And there is also a mathematical games theory applying in different contexts, such as financial, economic and social. We have to deepen and expand the meaning of the word “game”.
Game is an experience in which the player identifies himself, but different than his ordinary and everyday life. Playing means interpreting a role in a context other then the usual, with specific rules of its own. It is something that is intimately linked to human nature since this sort of projection or simulation is practiced since an early age and has a certain importance in growing and learning. We never stops to play, adults games just become only more sophisticated and serious, so that they can also degenerate, think of gambling and extreme sexual games. Even sports are games! We are wearing masks and playing roles also at work and in society…
Video Game is a contemporary form of game, where the player can identify himself in a virtual role and in a virtual environment created, managed and represented by means of computational output and optoelectronic systems. Especially in the past, but even today, video games have pursued immersion in virtual experiences by proposing challenges, puzzles, fighting, shooting, etc. situations where the player has to use manual and “gymnastic” skills, and sometimes even logical skills, to achieve objectives and avoid game over. Then, other elements were added to facilitate identification and immersion, such as avatars in first or third person and more and more sophisticated three-dimensional worlds with a more and more spectacular graphical representation. You know, a good story can seriously involve the player; so developers added long cinematic cut scenes with a lot of dialogues.
Are we satisfied with the virtual experiences given by today video games?
Not at all.
Great efforts have been made, especially in indie productions, but videogame medium has not yet exhausted its potential, everything suggests that it has expressed only a small part of it.
Interactivity offered by the most of video games is limited, often banal and monotonous, and almost never manages to find the square with the expression of mature content and engaging storytelling. As I mentioned before, even in today video games you find yourself doing the usual actions: exploring the game world, that often ends up being monotonous and repetitive; picking up and using items to solve puzzles; fighting or shooting, avoiding game over and gainining achievements; engaging in “gymnastic” skills like running, jumping, riding, etc. in order to win challenges or achieve certain goals. These are to be considered traditional and primitive forms of interaction. If we continue to understand the word “game” ONLY as challenge, race, competition, battle etc. it will be difficult to mix mature contents and deep stories able to raise the medium to the level of other artistic forms.
Instead we must rethink video games as virtual experiences where players could empathize thanks to a much more complex interactivity in just more complex contexts. The most complete and sublime immersion can only be achieved if the player gets involved in mature storytelling, deep expressive content and refined aesthetics; for comparison, video games should be able to reach and surpass the climax of the great cinema masterpieces , although with expressive and technical features and languages of its own.
To do this, WE HAVE TO BREAK AWAY FROM THE USUAL AND TRIVIAL GAME MECHANICS, or at least to go BEYOND them. We need a much more complex and heterogeneous gameplay, of intellectual and artistic nature, developed in game worlds offering a greater interaction. INTERACTION HAS TO CONCERN “OTHER” DIMENSIONS: EXISTENTIAL, SOCIAL, CULTURAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, PHYLOSOPHICAL, CREATIVE, VISIONARY, EMOTIONAL, RATIONAL, ARTISTIC, SCIENTIFIC etc.: INNER AND DEEP DIMENSIONS, EXPRESSIVE DIMENSIONS! Narration and content must be integrated into gameplay and not be confined to cut scenes or static documents. They must emerge in “real time” from the player experience and interaction in the game world; or rather, PLAYER EXPERIENCE and INTERACTION MUST EMERGE IN “REAL” TIME FROM CONTENT AND STORYTELLING! This is the key, a Copernican-like revolution!
To achieve this ambitious goal, first of all big development companies, independent developers and creative industry have no more to exclusively feed the players with the usual video games founded on the traditional meaning of game. It is necessary to build and use development tools, game physics, algorithms, AI etc, for the purpose. Even artists, designers and animators must be aimed to the goal. Only in this way interactivity in virtual world can be expanded to support mature contents and deep storytelling, reaching more substantial immersion, richer and more varied gaming experiences, unforgettable and intellectually exciting. In a word, art!
Some efforts in this direction have been made, also today, as witnessed by the games suggested in VG&Art curator list, but the road is long!
I avoided talking about virtual reality because it is an immature technology and not well known yet, but in the near future it could be decisive.
P.S.: Obviously i want not to refuse glorious hystory of Video Games as challenges or electronic toys. Art & fun, past & future can coexist. They could even coexist in the same title. Core of Video Games market will be always dominated by mass entertainment purposes just like movies production. I have so fun playing more traditional titles, just as i like from time to time to watch less demanding movies and not always artistic films. Art has to be intended as cultural nobilitation of the medium, a further step in its evolution, an enrichment, an addition, not a subsustition. Popular and academic recognition of Video Games as an artistic medium will bring to new virtual experiences and to enrichment of the games market and of products quality. It will introduce new techniques and languages, new possibilities. It will bring also cultural progress to society and important moral and educational consequences. Artistic games are addressed to a more mature audience searching for deep intellectual and emotional involvment but also to a young audience who needs to be educated in ethical values, aesthetical beauty, critical intelligence, social commitment, etc.