Thursday, May 5, 2011

Beauty in Video Games

Throughout my life I've really come to appreciate many artforms and the beauty that they display. I love beauty in all it's forms, in all forms of media. Beauty is an artform, and it is something that can be shown in many different ways, including art, music, and story-telling. And it is in videogames where all three of those forms come together into the beauty that is videogames.

What's so great about games is how well they bring together different forms of beauty into one central form. Of course, there's what we see: the graphics. I love when a game goes beyond just simply making polygon "dolls" in order for them to simply be enemies or a means to an end. It's when developers stretch their imaginations and really create a visual medium with which the player can interact and become immersed into the videogame experience; that is art. Such visual strength goes back to games like MegaMan and Final Fantasy, which used the graphic medium that they had to create a world the player could truly get immersed in. And, of course, we come to the modern day which has graphical gems like Okami, Odin Sphere, and Valkyria Chronicles.

Visual beauty isn't all about graphics, its also an element of style. Creating one's own unique visual style and execution is the mark of a true artist. Games like Jet Set Radio and The World Ends With You come to mind, where the visual direction is so unique and stylish that it almost creates its own entity. Not everyone needs to use the same canvas, sometimes its fine to go paint on the street, or the walls. And, not everyone needs the same execution; paint with dirt, nature, or even blood. The beauty of violence can be seen in many videogames. Fighting games and stylish action games really show the best of the art of violence; for it's not simply the act of killing someone (that is ugly), it is the "force" behind their death that creates a picture of beauty. For example, the struggle between light and dark in Bayonetta sets the stage for a pantheon of beautiful kills, and the red-hot revenge behind the violence of No More Heroes 2 really creates the atmosphere of violent beauty. It ties strongly into story-telling, but there can be beauty in violence and blood; it's powerful presence paints a strong picture.

Then there's music, which, as I've said before, is truly a muse that pulls on our heart strings. A game will always get attention when it has a great soundtrack, and when someone wants to reminisce about an older game, it's that games music that is usually the best method. Look no further than the Chrono and Final Fantasy series to hear art in the form of music.

And now we come to storyline. A truly passionate story with lovable characters can truly paint a masterpiece in one's heart. The story-telling execution of games has gotten easier over time with the vast improvement in graphics, but many would argue that the art of story-telling itself has not improved. Despite the side one takes in that argument, many cannot doubt the strength of a great story in a videogame. This strength stems not simply from the art of story-telling itself, but from the artform unique to videogames: gameplay.

Gameplay as an artform is something that can easily be argued, but I see it as evident. It is the way gameplay ties into the visual, aural, and story-telling forms of art that gameplay itself becomes an artform, or, at the very least, a bridge between the gaps of visuals, music, and story.

As an example, I'll use the final fight in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. The final fight has the main character, Zack, fighting a pointless battle that both he and the player knows he is going to lose, but because of everything he fights for, he continues to fight (meaning the player is going to fight). The visual art lies in the physical damage of Zack we see as we play, it lies in the cold, and desolate wasteland we fight in; the music is sad and slow; and the story has reached it's sad end; but what makes this battle truly beautiful, is how the game uses the roulette system. A game mechanic that has been in the game the whole time, but is now showing something unique. As Zack is dying, we see this in the roulette wheel breaking apart, and showing all of the people that Zack holds close to his heart "breaking" apart as they give him strength to fight just a little longer. We also hear snippets of memories Zack had with these people, all while fighting this battle. It's a truly beautiful moment, as it brings the sadness of the story, the visuals, and the music and puts it right in the players hands; until finally the roulette breaks down, and it's over. It's just the most beautiful moment I've played in a videogame.

As I've played more and more videogames, I've come to expect more and more beauty out of the games I play. Mainly because I've come to really see how truly beautiful games can be. Even a game series I wouldn't have really considered too beautiful (Super Mario) pulls out all the stops and creates Super Mario Galaxy, one of the most beautiful games this generation. Beauty can come in so many forms and different styles of execution, that it's really exciting when a new IP or idea comes along, because it makes me wonder just how beautiful the game will be and just how its going to execute it.

I also believe that, among other things, the fact that I don't really enjoy western-developed games is because I don't find much beauty in them. Bulletstorm I liked because it had some really satisfying gameplay and executed "the beauty of violence" quite well.