Are games more than entertainment?

May 3, 2012 Off By Chris Hinton

If you’re a fan of the Geek-Speak Facebook page (and if not, why not?) you might have noticed that I posted this video the other day. If you haven’t seen it, or want to watch it again, here it is again. Have a look, and come back for some additional thoughts.

It’s been a long debate… are games entertainment? Well, yes, but are they also art? Are they, perhaps, bordering on literature? I would find it hard to classify a game like Oh Mummy as anything other than a bit of fun (although I did love it as a child), but as the technology has improved, so the game playing landscape has changed.
Games nowadays are capable of compelling story lines, realistic characters you connect with on an emotional level and, with online multiplayer, genuine social interaction. So what are games these days?
I think the most compelling games are those that suck you in. They involve you in the story and engage you mentally, emotionally and, dare I say it, spiritually. Sure, some games are still just fun… Hexic is a great puzzle game, and I don’t see a deeper meaning here, but others are much more about storytelling than gameplay. In fact, I think a top notch storyline can rescue mediocre gameplay, so long as the game mechanics aren’t so bad as to keep dragging your attention away from the story.
There have been times when games have genuinely caused deep emotions in me. Take that controversial airport scene from Modern Warfare 2  (spoilers coming, if you haven’t played it) – the one where you are caught up in a terrorist attack on a civilian airport. That was hard to play… not because of the difficulty level, but because it elicited deep emotions. I remember playing through that scene and, towards the end, letting out a breath of relief that it was nearly over. To then be betrayed and killed was a real shock.
I’ve read books that do the same thing to me. I’ve watched films that do the same thing. So I come back to the original question, “are games art?”.
I think, done properly, they can be. They can connect with us on an emotional level. I think, as Andy was speaking about at TEDx, they can help us explore what it means to be human. Or they can just be a bit of fun.
I’d love to know what you think – please share your thoughts in the comments. What are games to you?