It seems preposterous to think that video games are not more widely accepted as an emerging art form. I myself identify with the subculture of retrogamers, those players so deeply in love with the classics that everything new-age just doesn’t compare. I love my N64 and my NES, in my opinion two of the best consoles of all time. Yet, there are so very few of us left who play platforms such as NES or Genesis, or, reaching even further back, systems like Atari, ColecoVision, and Vectrex (most of the younger readers probably don’t even know those last two).

We all know the Overworld music from Super Mario Bros. for NES, without a doubt, the most widely-recognized game music in history. Talk about classic. Not only classic, but so hugely influential that this one game literally saved the quickly dying industry of video games during the famous Video Game Crash of 1983. After Mario was released for home platforms, the entire culture of gaming, from economic and social standpoints, was revolutionized. Super Mario Bros. was, is, an will forever remain the standard by which all games are measured.

Throughout the history of the video game, many titles have been released that have become instant hits. Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong, Tetris, Metal Gear, Sonic, Mega Man, Mortal Kombat, etc. These are all recognized as some of the most classic, timeless masterworks of gaming ever. So why are they brushed aside in 2010, not to be considered art?

A large majority of my friends from college have at least one member of the reigning trifecta of game consoles: the Wii, PS3, or XBox 360, and play them substantially more frequently than any other systems, especially older ones. (As I am not terribly well-versed in these newer systems, I can’t speak with much authority on the subject of Call of Duty, Halo, or other hot new games. I can say without a doubt that the graphics and gameplay are truly superb, but for now I’m going to stick to retrogaming, because it’s what I know and love.)

Let’s think for a moment of what a movie is. Basically, if broken down to the bare bones, a movie is a cinematic representation of a story, right? Roger Ebert obviously considers movies an art form (at least I hope so, because if not, he’s out of a job), and yet, in his eyes, video games cannot be art. What is a video game exactly? Is it not a similar concept? The visual, moving picture representation of an epic story, the only difference being a dose of interaction on part of the audience. Be it the adventure of an Italian plumber traversing colorful worlds to rescue that damn Princess who is always getting kidnapped or the mindless slaying of a massive zombie hoard, is it not essentially the same thing?

I love my NES. There is a certain beauty in it’s simplicity. Simple graphics, catchy 8-bit synth music, and the need to beat the gray box with a baseball bat while it cycles through a whole rainbow of screens just to make it play? Beautiful. It is art at it’s finest. Some of the most incredible art is interactive. Look at any piece of public art! Viewers are not only welcome but encouraged to touch and interact with it, so how are video games any different? Interactive movies? Anyone who has ever played Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty knows that it is a movie with a side of game. With literally hours of cinematic interlude between stages of play, there is certainly a movie aspect to this and other games! So why, Ebert? Why, closed-minded critics? Why is gaming not an art? Tell me, please.

Perhaps we are looking at gaming the wrong way. If an 18 year-old in 2010 has only been exposed to PS3, then the idea of a Magnavox Odyssey is so radically different, it is almost incomparable. In the eyes of someone who just bought Halo: Reach (which, by the way, is sweet), this and other so-called “blinking dot” games are about as interesting as the label on a tube of toothpaste. This young person would be much more likely to play Resident Evil 4 than Duck Hunt. Why? Because they are looking at the classics through PS3-colored glasses. At present, technology is at its finest (that seems to be the case most of the time). Wireless, motion sensitive, portable, touch screen, 3D–these seem to be the direction gaming is headed. What if that 18 year-old could time travel to 1985? Duck Hunt would be the most incredible thing they had ever seen. I have heard stories from adults about endless hours of the fascinated enchantment of Pong. I’m sure that to the average gaming-age viewer back then, Pong was truly amazing, and yet, to play Pong today for more than about 15 minutes may lead gamers to the brink of insanity.

The NES alone was WAY ahead of its time. Some of the accessories that were available for the system were extremely advanced (though most of them had their certain quirks about them). Just to name a few, a robot (actually, it was more than likely just an electronic companion to make up for the friends that gamers of the time didn’t have), a light gun, a piano (yes, a piano, look it up), a voice-activated headset that was advertised to respond to the vocal command “FIRE!” (although it really responded to just about any profanity you could throw at it), even a DDR-style floor mat compatible for Konami workout games! These are just a select few of the plethora of accessories that were extremely innovative. Keep in mind, also, that I have only included one single system here. There are plenty more, believe me.

Some of the most widely recognized artistic movements began because someone was not okay with the norm. Claude Monet decided that he wanted to evoke an emotional response from viewers through use of soft, blended brushstrokes, calming colors, and the idea of capturing a singular moment in time. Enter, Impressionism. Parmigianino decided that the Renaissance art of his time was becoming a thing of the past, so he innovated. Hence Mannerism. Pablo Picasso thought the world looked too normal and he wanted to depict the world in a new way. So began Cubism. People began to notice that the movie industry was well developed, and becoming (I say with caution) stale. Someone saw a market for interactive, living room, controlled movies. Thus was born the video game.

Even within the subgenre of gaming as an art, there have been numerous breakthroughs, countless innovations, and in a mere 30-40 years, debatably, we have witnessed a number of “movements.” Gaming has progressed from a blinking blob of pixels on a tube TV to high-definition action so real it can take a while before a spectator realizes it’s just a game. Continuing the argument comparing games to movies, movies never change. I can watch Transformers all day, but the plot line will never change. What about Marvel Ultimate Alliance? Do you save Jean Grey or Nightcrawler? Okay, bad example, that’s way too obvious. But let’s take the sequel, for instance. Do you side with Iron Man or Captain America? The plot changes depending upon your choice. This makes the replay value very high, seemingly higher than the rewatch value of a movie. While it’s always fun to watch Troll 2 again, I already know what happens. At least, I think I do. I’m still trying to figure out the corn scene…

Anyway, this is starting to become more of an essay than a blog, so I’m going to cut it off now. But, as Arnold would say “I’ll be back.”

Let’s hear what you think!

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