Are video games art? That question comes up often and while a lot of intriguing discussions have come out of it, this is probably one of the most controversial topics in the field of entertainment (film critic Roger Ebert, for instance, was a famous detractor of considering games art.) Personally, I believe that video games will become art eventually, but they aren’t art now. But regardless of the question at the beginning of the paragraph and regardless how everyone feels about it, there are some games that are so special that some people think have artistic merit. Below, you’ll find ten titles that definitely belong to such category and if you want to be challenged intellectually or play something that’s more than simple entertainment, be sure to check them out.
A quick note before moving on, I know some games are included in museums of modern art and others are considered the best games of all time for challenging the genre to which they belong to. For this list, popular opinion and review scores were overlooked in some cases. These aren’t good games necessarily, but games that offer unique experiences that only video games (and their unique interactive qualities) can offer. I definitely missed some games, so make sure you mention them in the comments below.
Like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (a novel in which Spec Ops: The Line is based on,) this game tells a story of a man’s descent into madness. The Line deconstructs the first-person genre as we know it and uses it to tell something bold, novel, thought-provoking and unique and it uses every mean necessary (violent imagery, dream-like qualities and so on) to convey its unconventional story.
9. Deadly Premonition
If you look art and video games online, Deadly Premonition is likely to come up in any web search. This is a survival horror that was influenced by Twin Peaks, but it’s also an interactive experiment of surrealism that usually ends up being funny and bizarre. Like most of the games on this list, Deadly Premonition is not for everybody, but take into account that this is considered one of the most polarizing games ever made, so approach it with caution. Fans of cult fiction might find it charming and fascinating.
Valve’s short puzzle experiment presented some innovative mechanics, compelling characters and fantastic writing. There have been dozens of games that tried to clone this formula, but none of them have been able to replicate that feeling. One of Portal’s triumph was that the game encouraged you to think of your surroundings in a completely different way and once you start thinking in “portals”, the feeling of satisfaction you get in return is incomparable.
7. Gone Home
Have you been following video games for some time? Then Gone Home probably came up while you were reading reviews, listening to podcasts or checking out :”Game of the Year” lists. In Gone Home, you play as a girl who’s just returned home after spending some time in Europe. It may sound simple enough, but the game has been praised for its unique narrative, gameplay and storytelling. It may not be for everyone, but if this game clicks for you, it’ll remain in your head for years to come.
Episodic point-and-click adventure Kentucky Route Zero elegantly combines gameplay, graphics and music. But don’t be fooled, the focus of this game is its remarkable storytelling, which uses surrealism, self-referential narrative, deep characterization and non-sequitur as main resources. At no point during my playthrough I knew were the story was going and that’s definitely part of its charm.
This colorful puzzle platformer with time-rewinding mechanics shares elements first introduced by games like Super Mario Bros and Prince of Persia. Look a little deeper though and you’ll find a deep title that explores a relationship gone sour using a philosophical narrative and unique game design. Braid is an indie title that no one should miss.
Irrational Games’ magnum opus. BioShock is a work of art no matter how you look at it. It can be overwhelming when you play it for the first time because there’s a lot to take in, including ideas taken from objectivism and references to the works of George Orwell and Atlas Shrugged. This is a mature and unique video game that’s based around fiction and philosophy and while that combination shouldn’t work as well as it did, BioShock is the living proof that Irrational crafted an intelligent, scary and beautiful universe.
ICO’s spiritual successor has it all: a majestic world that’s harsh and violent, an epic story that makes no sense at the beginning but deconstructs as you progress and a heartbreaking tale of love and loss. The first time I played Shadow of the Colossus, I didn’t understand what the game was trying to communicate through its story, characters and gameplay, but the second time it all made sense. It doesn’t matter if you think games are art or not, but I challenge you to play this game and call it anything but unique.
The mind-numbing number of characters, convoluted narrative and action-oriented gameplay make Metal Gear Solid 2’s inclusion in this list questionable, but there are a couple of reasons why this game deserves to be here as much as any of the other contenders. Video games have tried to be Hollywood Blockbusters for years and this is the first title that truly caught that feeling in interactive form. Metal Gear Solid is the perfect combination of cinema and interactivity and there’s also a detailed universe, cinematic cutscenes, orchestral soundtrack and weird twists.
1. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII did the unthinkable. And no, I’m not referring to the fact that it convinced Americans and Europeans that JRPGs were worth playing. I mean that the this title, single-handedly proved that video games were capable of evoking emotion. Aeris’ final demise in the hands of Sephiroth brought tears to the eyes of thousands of players and this defined the medium as something more than entertainment. But that’s not the only department where Final Fantasy VII triumphed. The message of environmental awareness, the deep characterization, the vast world and fantastic soundtrack made the seventh entry in the Final Fantasy series outstanding and irresistible.
Honorable mention: Proteus
In Proteus, you play in procedurally generated environments where everything reacts according to your actions. Actually, your actions are somewhat limited, since you can only walk through the different environments and that’s pretty much it. But it isn’t until you see everything unfold before your eyes that you understand how picturesque Proteus’ world can really be. By the way, this is a musical journey where everything around you (flora, fauna, buildings, lakes and so on) produces a different sound. Proteus is both hypnotic and dazzling in the best ways possible.
Other games that were considered for this list include: Her Story, Brothers A Tale of Two Sons, Proteus, Papers, Please, The Last of Us, The Walking Dead, BioShock Infinite, LA Noire, Dear Esther, Grim Fandango, ICO, Okami, Half-Life 2, Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time, Elektroplankton, Resident Evil 4 and Amnesia.