Are video games like BioShock Infinite the ‘Trojan Horse’ of future media?
The argument has been circling around for some time now: are video games art? As a lifetime gamer and gaming journalist, I have an obvious bias; my answer is a distinct and boisterous “yes.” When a single person or a team collaborates on something you can look at, hear, and interact with -- something that moves you and makes you think -- and can extract an emotional reaction out of you -- yea, that’s art. Here’s the thing about video games, though; it is the only form of media capable of performing all those aspects at once while adding a new, unique layer that no other form of media can touch upon.
These solitary elements, only found in video games, are interaction and exploration. In a novel or movie, you are never able to go where you want to go, can't diverge from the linear story, interact with strangers, eavesdrop on a pointless conversation, stare at an environment until you’re ready to move on, or find/experience something that someone else may have missed. In a book or a film, you are limited by the author or the camera. Sure you may pick up on subtext or notice something missed in plot during a second read or re-watch, but ultimately, it is the same exact text word for word or the same film frame by frame. In a video game, you experience the world as the player, change the outcome as the player, go at your own pace as the player, and focus on what you want to as the player. There is, of course, a limit of what the developers add to the game, but your experience is rarely the same as someone else.
In a masterpiece like the video game BioShock Infinite by Irrational Games and 2K, on a second run-through of the game, I can easily stumble upon two people I missed my first time around and hear their completely inane conversation, historically accurate racism, or even key plot elements. If I stand somewhere a take a drink of water, my companion in the game (Elizabeth) may skip stones or lean against a wall -- something that not all players may experience. These are just two examples of how video games offer more options to the participant than any other form of media.
A common counter-argument is that video games lack the narrative or depth as other media. Sure, we all like to cling to classic literature and claim that it is the best there ever could be. There are those basketball fans who say there can never be a player as good as Michael Jordan ever again. Just like that first time a Mozart sympathy sends shivers throughout your body and you declare that is the most moving piece of art you’ll ever hear -- you can’t ever know that for certain. Video games have come a long way from pong. The narratives, character development and plots of video games have surpassed what can be offered through literature and film; video games are simply standing on the shoulder of giants.
Through levels of interaction and exploration, the player is not only reading or watching the story unfold, but actually taking part in making decisions that shape the rest of the story. This suspense and engagement is truly unique to video games. By no means am I saying every game has this sort of experience; I’m saying there is an evolution happening right now, and the most recent and powerful example is BioShock Infinite. The combination of vision, script, voice acting, smoke and mirrors, programming, science, art, and narrative all added to an intensely captivating experience.