What do you think of when you hear a game being coined as an art game? Do you think: ‘Eugh – pretentious fools’? Or how about: ‘Hmmm, that means no gameplay then. It’s not going to be fun’.
You couldn’t be more wrong.
A little known genre in the mainstream games market, art games – or art house games, as is the proper title – means games of an artistic nature. They generally have a strong story, explorative gameplay, stylish visuals and are sometimes games that aren’t necessarily games at all. Not in the traditional sense anyway.
There’s thousands of games currently on the market that could be referred to as an art game – yet people don’t like to tag their work as such. But why not? Art games are compelling, expressions of speech, generally beautiful to see and hear. They quite often have a message, or look to get an emotional response from the player. Most games at some level have an element of this.
As the games industry matures, so do the types of games being made. I couldn't ever have imagined that 20 years ago we would be playing the movie-esque games that you see these days.
I grew up playing Doom on my first PC many moons ago. I believe it was an Amiga with Windows 95 and I named it Oscar... Oscar the Amiga (I still have a habit of naming my belongings). Back in the day, there was no understanding of what kids should or shouldn't play as it wasn't seen as anything other than a form of light entertainment.
There’s thousands of games currently on the market that could be referred to as an art game – yet people don’t like to tag their work as such. But why not? Art games are compelling, expressions of speech, generally beautiful to see and hear.
I'd play endless hours of Doom, a Bomberman-style game called Fracas and that game that came pre-loaded with Windows that had you capturing flags while you floated around in a little spacecraft. I think it was called Hover.
All awesome fun when you are 11, but then a few years later I got a proper taste of what eventually led me onto pursuing a career in the video games industry: Final Fantasy VIII.
It wasn't the gameplay that initially got me hooked, it was the opening cutscene. I remember turning my PS1 off and on and off and on just so I could watch and re-watch. It was like a little movie and I couldn't believe it came from that little grey box. I'd never seen anything like it before. It was from there I knew I had to make something like this. Not necessarily the cutscene per se, but something that gave me the same warm fuzzy feelings. And by warm and fuzzy, I mean truly epic and beautiful, of course.
I've been on the hunt ever since to find games that leave me with some kind of feeling. This is all sounding a bit pretentious, I know, but hear me out. I get serious heart-eyes for games that deliver something stunning. To me, that is a number of things: beautiful visuals and sound (an obvious first choice for me) followed by simple but intelligent gameplay and last but not least – an awesome story that ties it all together.
This can be from triple-A multi-million budget games or tiny little indie masterpieces. It doesn't matter about scale, but what does matter (to me) is: did that game affect me in any way? What can I take from it? What can I learn? And obviously, every single scene could (theoretically) be screen-captured and hung and mounted on my sitting room wall. That's the idea anyway, and why I love art-house games as they generally deliver on every level.
When I've finished playing a game I tend to mull over it for a few weeks and refuse to play anything else until I have had my grieving process. Unfortunately, in my opinion this is getting less and less as games are getting bigger and franchises are growing. I'm just not feeling 'it'. Where's the love?
I waste entire weekends shooting people online. But it does make me sad about all these little gems that people need in their lives, people outside the industry – sadly, there just isn't the consumer confidence or knowledge to purchase.
It's leading to a trend in 'soulless' games. Don't get me wrong – I waste entire weekends shooting people online. And I'm good at it. But it does make me sad about all these little gems that people need in their lives, people outside the industry – sadly, there just isn't the consumer confidence or knowledge to purchase. They are too hidden, not marketed correctly and not reviewed in mainstream media, or worse, they don’t even make it past pre-production as they’re not seen as a big enough money spinners.
This obviously leads to some publishers backing the big money makers instead. Although this isn't always the case, luckily.
I know as I'm getting older that finding games that genuinely 'move' me is a tough find. But I remain ever hopeful.
Let me tell you a wee story...
One evening a while back we had a gaming session: myself, my partner and my mother. We played one game for the whole evening and finished it. We all sat together while my mum played this game, who I’d like to add is a complete novice, and by the end of it she was in tears. Not little tears, actual sobs.
On the walk back home, I knew that I needed to make something that would have that kind of reaction – not necessarily the tears, of course. It was akin to the feeling I got all those years ago from FF VIII. It was the emotional response I was looking for.
I had played the game twice before on my own – but this time it was different as my dad had just passed away. It gave the game a whole new meaning. I understood it so much more. And mum – who is not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination – also 'got' it. How rare is that? To get such a diverse group together and they are still all on the same page. And not only on the same page, but taking their own story/past and applying it onto the game to shape their experience. It's like the mythical unicorn of game design.
I believe the market for art gaming is growing every year. There's so many more people out there, crying out for new and interesting forms of entertainment. Sometimes you might not be in the mood to shoot people in the face.
I believe the market for art gaming is growing every year. There's so many more people out there, crying out for new and interesting forms of entertainment. Sometimes you might not be in the mood to shoot people in the face. Or mess about with super-complicated controls and gameplay that has you doing a finger version of 'Twister' on the gamepad. If this is what games are (and the majority are to the general Joe Blogs) then no wonder the public doesn’t see what the fuss is about. No wonder they are quick to judge and blame for all matter of atrocities that they sadly link to gaming.
Why should video games only cater to the 'hardcore' and 16 to 35-year-old male? Yes, that may be where all of the serious money is currently spent. But there's so much more that developers can do if given the chance. There's so many more potential customers they could reach if given the backing. There's so much more understanding the games industry will benefit from, if these avenues are explored more.
I'm a firm believer that art house games will come into their own over the next few years. We have already seen a huge shift of PSN and XBLA games offering up more interesting IPs than, say, five years ago.
I hope we, as an industry, continue this trend and keep the torch lit for many more awesome new games. Whether it's motion captured triple-A budget movie star-studded blockbusters, or indie Steam-based works of art. That's the beauty of the games industry and why many of us love it so much. The sheer scale of what we can achieve is truly infinite in possibility and every story can be told in more ways than one.