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The Videogame as Art

I let a few days of incensed Nerd Rage pass before I put fingers to keyboard to muse on the missteps of two of my heroes. I didn't want to give you the same reaction I had when I read that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas spoke out about videogames, inferring that they're "not art."

  Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (Image from blastr.com)  

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (Image from blastr.com) 


According to the article (linked above) from SyFy's blastr.com, the two movie moguls (whom I credit for giving me the creative spirit and fostering the lifetime of wonder and adventure I've enjoyed since 1977) recently spoke at the opening of a new School of Cinematic Arts building at USC.*

After going on about how storytelling is a "complicated process," George Lucas—The Godfather of Star Wars—said this: "[Telling a story] is a very complicated construct and very carefully put together. If you just let everybody go in and do whatever they want then it's not a story anymore. It's simply a game."** He went on to describe a "divide" between games and stories before his buddy Steve stepped in.

Spielberg—The Godfather of everything from E.T. to Schindler's List—said, "And the second you get the controller something turns off in the heart. And it becomes a sport."**



Presuming The Masters actually meant what the blogosphere is saying they meant, that videogames are not art, I'd like to present as Exhibit A as an argument...

  Advertisement image for  The Last of Us.

Advertisement image for The Last of Us.

The Last of Us, by Sony and Naughty Dog, is a mature videogame produced exclusively for the PS3. Not your typical "zombie shooter," there is actual science behind the infection described in the game, an infection that turns part of the population into mindless flesh-eating monsters. Take a trip down the rabbit hole of the making of The Last of Us and you'll be amazed at the thought that was put into this title (There's a link at the bottom of this missive).

"Believability" aside—and that's a zombie of a different color—let's center on Steve and George's alleged assertion that games are not art, using The Last of Us as a test subject. 

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A REVIEW... I only played the first 25 minutes or so of the game, but I'm extremely familiar with it following several Q&A sessions with my son-in-law who devoured the title like Spielberg's Bruce devoured swimmers around Amity. Keeping that in mind, I repeat, this is not a review of the game.

  Philadelphia, as imagined by Naughty Dog and Sony 20 years after a horrific virus decimates humanity.

Philadelphia, as imagined by Naughty Dog and Sony 20 years after a horrific virus decimates humanity.

Put simply, Steve and George, open your eyes to what's being done with graphic design, video production, motion capture, characterization, modeling, 3D animation, voice acting, facial emoting, coding, musical score, pacing, scripting and—yes—storytelling—as all of these elements are combined to give audiences immersive experiences.

The Last of Us is just one example of a game that immerses players into a story where we actually care about the characters. When one of them dies within the first 15 minutes of gameplay, I found myself tearing up because I was already drawn in and actually made to care about what happens. I didn't feel myself "racking up a score." I actually felt my heart pounding and my mind straining as adrenaline shot through my body and my survival instincts kicked in.

Yes... From a videogame.

  The character of Ellie in  The Last of Us.  Look at her expression. Then tell me this isn't art.  

The character of Ellie in The Last of Us. Look at her expression. Then tell me this isn't art. 

The first thing that struck me as I watched (excuse me, "played") was the level of expression from the animated characters. The way eyes moved, nostrils flared, lips twitched all made these "people" come alive just as much as a character played by Daniel Day-Lewis or Jennifer Lawrence (2013 Oscar® Winners in their respective accolades of gender). They paused dramatically, they laughed, they cried, they spoke with articulation, inflection and emotion (very much NOT like a certain portrayal of your own Anakin Skywalker, Mr. Lucas) And just like a well-acted character in a movie, I cared.

As I played through the start of these character's lives, I became interested in their story. I wanted it to go on. I wanted to help them succeed. Shooting infected monsters or other survivors who tried to take what I had didn't feel like "racking up points." It felt like a story. It felt real. It felt like I was part of it.



All of that aside, I think a punch at the end of the blastr article missed something. Spielberg concluded by saying, "Whether it's a movie screen or a computer screen, we gotta git rid of that [square]. We got to put the player inside the experience, where no matter where you look  you're surrounded by a three-dimensional world. And that's the future." 

It sounds to me like these guys are actually looking to (or hoping for) a future where the deep kind of immersion I described in The Last of Us becomes even more immersive. Now that's something I can get behind; truly the next level of artistic expression.

Not that it's needed just yet. I think the ART is doing fine as it is. 

Official Site for The Last Of Us.   * n4g.com  ** blastr.com