Prompt 1: Dear Esther Review
Imagine that you are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. You stumble upon an exhibit which displays three paintings, each with a long caption underneath. The first is a painting of mountain, covered with a mist. You can see the red light of a radio tower in the distance. The second painting is a beautifully crafted cave. The cave is so vivid that you can almost feel the water around your ankles. The third picture is of the sea. On the sea there are twenty-one tiny paper boats which appear to have writing on them. Each caption is an excerpt from a letter to a woman named Esther. You don’t know exactly what to think of the exhibit, but you can’t help being interested by it. In this context, this exhibit would obviously be considered art. What if instead of viewing the paintings, a machine allowed you to temporarily live in the world of the three paintings. Would this still be considered art? To me, this form of art (video games) is no different than the paintings.
Many people in our culture today are extremely reluctant to accept video games as an art form. Few would argue that storytelling, music, and drawing are art forms. However, when these three art forms are combined into a well-designed video game, the video game is not considered to be art. This argument is especially troubling to me because many role playing video games are no different than movies which are widely accepted to be an art form. The video game critic from Destructoid argues with good cause that the game probably should have been made into a film. With that being said, the interactive experience these games provide is fresh and should be embraced and expanded as an art form.
While it does have many flaws, Valve’s video game Dear Esther is an art form. It is an art form because it is a manmade medium of conveying ideas or emotions to the player. IGN’s Keza MacDonald sums it up well as “a piece of visualized fiction.” Just like many of my favorite art works, the obscurity of the game is what makes it so interesting. Even with the help of the narrator and the visuals of the island, it is extremely difficult to sum up exactly what the game is about. However this obscurity does not stop the player from feeling the damp, coldness of the island and the caves. (Image 2) It does not stop a chill from running down your spine as a haunting piano piece starts to play as you approach the paper boats. (Image 3) Another element of art we see in the game is acting. Acting is considered to be one of the oldest forms of art. The narrator of this story does a nice job of conveying the desperation and hopelessness of the tormented protagonist. His voice guides you through the game by being a check point in your progress of the game and in your understanding of his story.
Although I consider this game to be a piece of art, I do not consider the terms video games and art to be mutually exclusive. Think of it this way, if you place a crayon in a three year old’s hand will their scribbles be considered art. Not to most people. Just as a mindless sports game is most likely not considered art by most people. To me video game becomes an art when it ceases to be merely a form of entertainment. In fact, I didn’t find Dear Esther to be entertaining, or fun. As both the reviews read, the game isn’t much more than holding down the “w” key and walking through the landscape. Often times I became lost or confused along the way. Not to mention the fact that the interaction between the player and environment was minimal and misused. However, the several artistic aspects of this game force the game to be taken seriously as an art form.
If video games are an art, is Dear Esther a masterpiece? To most people, it is not. With that being said, most pieces of art that are created are not hung in a museum or played on the radio. Dear Esther is ambitious and makes us think and feel for two hours, much like a movie. In conclusion, if storytelling, music, and visual art are all different forms of art, it is extremely difficult to say that video games are not.
MacDonald, Keza. "Dear Esther Review." IGN. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.
Pinsof, Allistair. "Review: Dear Esther." Destructoid. N.p., 2 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.