[Briefly] On Video Games As An Artform and As Literature

As a young writer who thinks too highly of himself–and as a self-loathing capitalist eager to find the next market that will put a dollar in his bank account–I am intrigued by possible career path of writing for the video game industry.  I imagine that the backlash the gaming community has received from literary elitists mirrors the hate mail sent by the old guard to the first filmmakers who picked up cameras in an effort to capture the human mind rather than the human wallet.  Hideo Kojima, writer/director of the Metal Gear video game franchise famous for twists and conspiracies that would leave David Lynch spinning, has famously stated that video games are not so much art as they are a “service”, despite the fact that his own creations are often held up as prime examples of video games as art and/or literature.  I can understand where he’s coming from, his belief that a game should engage through interaction rather than through introspection; but in the same way that the best novels have inspired generations of young men and women to pursue writing, the best games–paragons of interactivity–have also spawned thesis-papers’ worth of reflection.  And, drawing on another example from my gaming life that has fostered my belief in video games as literature, I wonder how one might watch the opening 15 minutes of Naughty Dog Inc.’s The Last of Us and not believe in the narrative and provocative power contained therein, the artistic and literary nature of the piece.

For examples of how Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series can be examined in a literary / artistic light , check out the community-driven study “An analysis on genetics, evolution and information regarding Metal Gear Solid 2:Sons of Liberty” (try to overcome the poorly formatted html scripting), as well as Chris Zimbaldi’s essay “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty as a Post-Modern Tragedy.”

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3 Comments

  1. I appreciate your acknowledgement that a majority of the public does not realize the intense creative writing process that goes into video games, but what I appreciate more is your understanding of just how deep these visualizations within the gaming industry can go. While I myself am not an active ‘gamer’ I have quite a few friends from both college and high school who are, and they have spent a majority of time trying to explain their world to me. From what I’ve heard, most video games make some sort of social, political, or even economic statement. One of my friends was hooked on a game about a zombie apocalypse that was actually set in the time of WWII and Nazi Germany, which the game gave a brief description of in its introductory scenes. Basically the point I want to make is how writing creatively and creating stories is not a single market for novels and screenplays; the world of publishing extends far beyond that of directly handing a story to a reader.

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  2. Despite the honest truth that I’m no longer in touch with the current expansions/redevelopments of video games (not through choice, more through time management) I cannot help but feel compelled to agree with you here, as an advocate of such downtime; their story narratives, creative production and public perception/responses lend only to notion that we’re experiencing an alternative artistic format allowing expression. You only have to reach out to online forums provided by your IGN’s etc to understand just how much groundbreaking games have assisted people; millions of responses intertwine with user interactions to create a whole new world within their own rights. I’ve even heard of World of Warcraft fan fiction members getting married! (Although I can’t locate it right now, as evidence). I’d question anybody to engulf themselves in a fictional RPG styled game – a WoW, or an Oblivion – and not credit the pure imagination involved and required by video game makers who are providing hours of content.

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  3. I think that there certainly are opportunity’s for video games to produce great story lines. I love the story line of Kingdom Hearts and your piece definitely got me thinking. I would totally buy Kingdom Hearts if it was a book however what I love about it being a video game is that I get a clear picture of what everything looks like. I am grateful that technology can offer this as a way to follow a story.

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