Video games haven’t always been considered an art form. Far from it: Roger Ebert made a famous proclamation not too long ago that games could never be art. But as time marches on, computer processing power improves, and the very definition of video games expands to encompass digital experiences of all kinds, it’s harder than ever to make the case that we’re not looking at a young art form finding its place in the world.
Perhaps art is in the eye of the beholder. If a game has something to say and it puts that idea across in an interesting manner, exhibiting mastery of the craft, then that’s art in my book. Here are five games that check all those marks and do it with style.
This lovely, time-bending puzzle platformer basically kicked off the indie scene that has become such a big part of gaming over the past few years. You play as Tim, a well-dressed fella whose princess has been abducted by a monster. That Mario-like premise is stretched well past its breaking point thanks to the dreamy watercolor graphics, classical score, meditative texts between worlds, and the ways you can manipulate time to reach the end of each stage.
Braid was unlike anything else on the market when it launched in 2008, and it continues to hold its power today.
2. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers does something I’ve never seen in any other game: It makes the controls an integral part of the narrative.
In most games, you control a single character onscreen. If another character joins you, they’ll follow you around automatically. Not so in Brothers, a game that gives you control of two characters simultaneously. You control one with the left analog stick and left trigger, and the other with the right analog stick and right trigger. The sticks move the brothers around onscreen, and the triggers let them grasp items in the environment.
The two boys are on a journey through a somber fairy tale world to find a cure for their father, who has become incapacitated with illness. The game is gorgeous and fantastical, yet dark and serious, too. The characters are so affecting that by the end, you just might find yourself moved to tears.
Journey is a game that doesn’t explain itself. You start the game as a mysterious cloaked figure standing in a blazing desert. It becomes apparent that you need to make your way to a mountain in the distance, and as you travel on foot, you pass what appear to be gravestones and ruins that speak to some long-gone age of prosperity.
The environments change considerably as you progress, and you gain the ability to glide through the air, giving you new perspectives on your surroundings. From time to time you might find yourself joined by a companion, an unknown visitor who also happens to be playing the game at the same time as you.
Journey doesn’t explain itself because it doesn’t have to. It packs a slow-building wallop without offering any concrete meanings, just like much of the great art in other mediums.
4. Shadow of the Colossus
The game world of Shadow of the Colossus is barren, desolate, and completely devoid of any human presence aside from you, the “hero.” You’re on a quest to resurrect your recently deceased friend, so you must wander through the strange land, seeking out 16 gigantic, awe-inspiring creatures.
When you find them, your job is to kill them, although you’re not sure why. No other enemies exist in the game, just those distinct, powerful, and strangely beautiful giants. It’s dark stuff, and it’s not very fun to contemplate. But once you finish, you probably won’t be able to get it out of your head.
5. Monument Valley
Video game graphics don’t get much more distinctive than this. Each spare, colorful structure in Monument Valley is a puzzle for you to solve. Much of the architecture is made of optical illusions that would be impossible in the real world, but that’s no problem for your character, who can walk on walls as you twist and manipulate the structures to create a path.
Each level is completed when you make your way to the exit, but there’s a lot more to this game than just that. By the time you get to the end, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to play it all over again.
Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
Check out Tech Cheat Sheet on Facebook!