Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Value of the Game

Something that I have been encountering a lot recently, more than ever before, is this question of the value of video games. This appraisal of value comes across in many forms: is it a legitimate form of art? Does it incur violent feelings? Is it good for the mind? Etc. I am a little amazed at the sheer volume of questions and varying opinions that are produced by this topic, and to that end I want to add in my two cents (and I want to be consistent at these posts), by attempting to procure my own view on at least two of these questions; the artistic and mentally stimulating value of video games. I dare not touch on the behavioral values of video games as I believe that the idea is mostly absurd and boils down to, in my opinion, parental disciplines and not the games themselves (as is true for any form of art).

Artistic Value

I wanted to touch on this one first as I feel it is the most passionate topic of the two for me. The short answer opinion is that I believe video games are completely and totally valuable as art.

Art is by definition meant to express something. According to art is defined as:

The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

If nothing else, video games have certainly become aesthetically pleasing. However, graphics are not the only thing that contributes to the art value of video games. I would even go so far to say that the most significant aspect is the principle of engagement. Every work of art has to engage the target (I say target because art can be heard and felt as much as it can be seen) in some way. More traditional art such as paintings engage the appreciation for beauty and engages the mind. When the person is looking at the painting, sculpture, etc. one thing that is commonly asked is: What was the artist trying to say? We ask this because we know that art, in any form is an expression.

What about music? There is no denial that music is beautiful and often thought provoking. Studies have been conducted that show how music affects us as a society, and it is surprising some of the results you’ll find. Music is completely an engaging form of art; to feel and understand the emotion behind any musical expression one must be engaged.

Story, either written or cinematic is also beautiful. How many times have you read a particular aspect of a story and thought, “Wow, I love how that turned out!”? Or how about when watching a movie and a particular nice angle occurs? Can you honestly say that you were not impressed by some cinematography? Same is true for still shots. Stories are engaging too in a very obvious way; they draw you into the world they are creating and make you a part of it, if only for a time.

So, what about video games? I think that video games are the epitome of these other venue of arts. Video games are often full of stunning and beautiful landscapes, incredibly interesting characters in a dynamic story, portrayed in perfect cinematography, and accompanied by astounding soundtracks. Are they engaging? I think that point argues itself. The very mechanics of a game demand that the player be able to engage and interact with the environment of the game. Then if you get into some of the mental stimulation that many games present through use of puzzles and dungeons and it is hard to argue that these works of art are not engaging or expressive.

Back to my short answer: should video games be considered art? To us a phrase my wife would say, “Most indubitably!”

Mental Value

I believe I have already touched on this a little bit in the discussion of the artistic value. Like I said, many games are very puzzle oriented and require the player to use problem solving skills to complete these puzzles. Some prime examples of larger games that require puzzle solving would be The Adventures of Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia, Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy just to name a few. Some others of course are more recognizable like Bejeweled and Solitaire. I guess what I’m getting at is that video games can be educational and good for any person’s mind even if the story is fantasy or otherwise. Even Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto (which I don’t really care for) require quite of bit of strategy from time to time as the challenges become progressively tougher to overcome. I’ve even played games that have taught me how to solve a few math problems that I had no clue even existed before I played the game!

A prime example is in a game called Knights of the Old Republic. It is a Star Wars game that allows you to travel and explore these different worlds in the Star Wars universe as a Jedi Knight. The story of the game is great, but the example actually has to do with a side quest. On the desert planet of Tatooine, there is an individual who has been trapped by his hunting droids due to his scorned wife. To save the man you have to deactivate the droids by figuring out the mathematical solutions to different algorithms. As simple as it sounds, some of these questions are not easy, and I’m pretty sure I only succeeded it by guessing correctly on at least 2 of the 4 or 5 droids that were there. That example is not singular to my own personal experience in any way either.

You could probably search for these things on Google. I know I am not the only one who believes that video games stimulate your mind. In fact, I read an article recently that stated that senior citizens who played video games tended to be more lucid than those who did not. This is evidenced even in my own life as my wife’s grandmother was a sharp woman up until the day she died, and this is largely in part due to the time she spent playing Bejeweled.

I think another important value that video games have is this ability to relieve stress. I place this under mental because many times our stress is started by, continued through, or relieved through mental activity.

What I mean by this relief is that, just like a good book, or listening to your favorite cd, or even watching a movie, a video game allows the player to –escape if you will permit the term –from the stresses of the day for a little bit and allow some time to rest. I believe that rest is essential to human existence, and I know very few people who might argue otherwise. Every form of art I have encountered can aid in resting from time to time, and I see why video games should be any different. This is why I say that video games have value.

I could even go into the “Evangelism” aspect of video games, but let’s be honest. No one plays games to get preached at, they play to relax; and, in all honesty, that should be a separate post if I really wanted to pursue that topic (which I don’t, at least, right now).

Grace and Peace

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