Thursday, March 05, 2015

Are Video Games Art? Part 3: The Best Productions in Video Games


    Video games have the same basic creative elements as movies. Mise-en-scene and music are just as integral to the experience of a game as they are to a film. A game might have a great story, or a fun gameplay idea, but without a worthwhile production it isn’t going to make much of an impression outside of its niche target audience. Blockbuster games are the work of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dedicated craftsmen and often work with sky high budgets comparable to the biggest Hollywood films. Whether or not the game nature of a title supersedes its artistic value, there is no denying that gaming has produced some of the most stunning and memorable visual and audio productions over the last few decades.

Call of Duty

    Once upon a time, Call of Duty was a relatively modest franchise targeted at history buffs  and the kind of kids who grew up playing with army men figures. Then, with the advent of competitive online gaming and the release of the “Modern Warfare” sub-series, the franchise exploded into the most popular title in gaming. Since that rocket like ascent, each entry has strived to outdo the last by making itself more of a spectacle and ratcheting up the production values to ever greater heights. The series has become known for its over the top scripted moments that usually play out like a Van Damme or Bruce Willis movie. Call of Duty is the popcorn blockbuster production of video games and shows no signs of slowing down in its quest to be the “wow” experience in home media.

Final Fantasy

   In a lot of ways, the Final Fantasy series is the alumni of games taking themselves seriously. These imaginative epics began as ordinary enough fantasy fodder but over the years have carved out an identity entirely their own. Taking pieces of science fiction, anime, cyberpunk, and usually featuring themes embedded with politics and religion, the Final Fantasy series is one of the most distinct (and copied) brands in gaming history. The series is also greatly renown for its outstanding music, which are probably the most beloved scores in gaming not in a Nintendo franchise.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

   The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is everything that someone who grew up reading (or watching) The Lord of the Rings could want in a game. Playing this massive, sprawling, fantasy behemoth is like stepping directly into the world of Tolkien or Rowling. The gigantic game world is so big, that to just walk from one side to the other, without stopping for combat or any other distraction, could take more than an hour. Skyrim is a “free roam” game, meaning that while there is a central storyline to follow, players can explore the world at their own leisure, perform sidequests, and experience all the wonder packed in every deep forest and hidden cave as they like. This element of freedom means that no two players will ever have the exact same experience with the game. And if you don’t think the production is something to be marvelled at, just wait until you hike one of the highest mountains and look out across the limitless landscape below that you can actually explore every nook and cranny of.

Journey/ Limbo/ Braid

   Great productions aren’t limited to astronomical budgets. A strong trend of “Indie” games has been gaining steam over the last few years, thanks in large part to the digital marketplaces on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. Clever and creative games like Journey and Limbo utilize artistic sensibilities to craft experiences more concerned with expression and emotion than explosions or epic scale. Many of these games are essentially puzzle games but their unique and inspired presentations have moved those gamers keen enough to have undergone them as well as any mega franchise could ever hope to.


   Building on the studio’s previous work with the Halo franchise, Destiny is the penultimate pinnacle of science fiction in video games. While the game’s narrative has rightfully faced its share of criticism for being bland and unoriginal, the game world of Destiny is as jaw dropping as anything  anyone can experience in and up to this eighth-generation of video game consoles. Every component of the production oozes with professionalism (and money). Anyone who loves Star Wars or Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars owes it to themselves to experience the world of Destiny at least once.

   Gaming has come a long way in just the last decade and nowhere is this more apparent than in the production value of the titles. The 8-bit pixel Mario and his dial-tone theme song will live forever but the true potential of games as mainstream media has only recently been unlocked. As the technology continues to evolve, production capabilities will only improve. Anyone who has been in the same room as a PS4 or Xbox One knows how close graphics have already come to reality, so the opportunities going forward are even more exciting and limitless. More than any other media, video games have the capacity to change and grow, so there is no saying what groundbreaking directions the medium may embark down in the future. 

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk