Games as Art – As seen by Trolleydude

May 26, 2008 § 5 Comments

Before you read this article any further, download this small game, and play it at least twice. There’s no install and it’s only 2 megs. Don’t read on to see what I’m playing at, just do it.

I’m serious. There’s no point even reading this bit until you know what I’m talking about.

Okay, until this morning, I was extremely skeptical about the entire “games are art” argument. I reasoned that real art can’t come from the same medium that brought us both Gears of War and Euphoria Physics. It’s tempting to assume, while you’re using a chainsaw to mutilate your fellow gamers, that there’s nothing more to it than gore and camera-splat effects. I hope that Execution changed your mind about that.

Execution was created by a single person, working with a free utility. Independent developers like this don’t have access to the incredible technologies afforded to game companies today. As I touched upon in my World in Conflict rant-review-thing, this can be a great incentive to innovate. With only their imagination to set them apart, indie developers need to come up with new advances in gameplay, rather than mechanics. Take, for example, Cortex Command. Now, as anyone who knows me will testify, I think Cortex Command is awesome. I’m not going to go into detail here, as I’m saving that for when I can do it justice. My point is, the creator of CC had next to no access to new technology when he started, so he had to invent a new way of playing games. He implemented, into a 2d shooter, gameplay that hasn’t been seen since Lemmings. Pixel physics allows the player to deform the terrain in real-time, and adjust strategies to go with it. I know what you’re thinking, it’s been done. Red-Faction style. But this isn’t a simple “Ok shoot at the wall for an hour and encounter nothing but brown rock” idea. Burrowing towards your opponent’s custom-made bunker while angry robots scurry down the shaft you’ve constructed to tear you apart is a delightful and refreshing experience.

All this is a frustratingly roundabout way of saying that Execution has brought forward a new and surprising concept. No doubt the savvier of you have attempted to redownload the game to reverse your mistake, and found out, to your consternation (and hopefully your anxiety), that this time, death is the end. The brilliance of this game is that it toys with human psychology, by upsetting your core understanding of how games work. It provides you with a single piece of general advice, and leaves you to your own devices. The problem, which you immediately notice, if not consciously, is that you have, for the first time in a game, been given a real choice. The choice being; do you do immediately what comes naturally, or do you stop and think? Now there’s a word that hasn’t appeared in.. how long since Deus Ex? ..eight years.

I apologise if the last (and following) paragraph was a bit.. gay .. for you, but this game gives me a big ol’ game-design stiffy. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, you can either kill the man, resulting in a you-lose screen, or – get this – press Escape to get a you-win screen. Of course, most people will kill the man simply because they haven’t been presented with an alternative. In real life, your commanding officer wouldn’t say, “okay, you can kill him or click the tumbleweed to spare him”. You have to find your own way, and, by forcing us to find our own way, Execution scares us. This is because in all other games which offer an illusion of choice (Mass Effect, GTA IV, Bioshock), we are told what we can do, so we are still safe, secure in the corridors set by the designers; which dictate how games are played, and which practically forced you to fire, just because you hadn’t been coddled and pushed towards a certain action.

Before I get up to go lift weights and work the woman out of my system, I just want to say that this game is art. It has a message, it forces us to think, it’s truly innovative (nintendo take note) and it wasn’t created by EA. Which is the most important of all.

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§ 5 Responses to Games as Art – As seen by Trolleydude

  • Here is what I said on Facepunch forums: “To me, this project simply doesn’t work. No effort was put into making the character a human, he doesn’t beg, he doesn’t cry, he dies in a single bullet to the foot. You just can’t feel remorse for a simple sprite.”. Also, pointless homophobia is awesome.

  • Trolleydude says:

    Not exactly what I was going for with the homophobia, but thanks for the input.I think that the simplicity is there to lure you into a false sense of security. You assume that something so primitive couldn’t possibly evoke any emotion, so it’s all the more unsettling when it does.Then again, if it doesn’t, I guess the guy just didn’t feel like putting in any detail.Eye of the beholder, dude.

  • Huggles says:

    I played Execution.On my first run through i decided not to kill the guy. I just waited in hope for anything to signal that I had made the right decision. Eventually i got bored and hit escape…apparently I “win”.Whilst i see the message of this game, I don’t think there was much to it. The concept was neither clever nor was it great art. I just seemed rather shallow. Now im not saying that video games cannot be art, in fact i believe that some are art. For instance I “Shadow of the Colossus”. That game affected me far more than this. What separates Execution from SotC, was that in Execution the message was clear and plain as day. The choice is given to you and it is not hard to see which is “right”.What made SotC more meaningful was the fact that for the whole game you are killing these Colossi. Not once did i question what i was told to do, I did what i was told to progress the story. Once I had run through the game and had time to contemplate the experience, I realized, why did i kill them? Now this gives you a choice in which the answer is not clear. Do I, or do I not kill these seemingly innocent monsters to bring back this girl I love. It makes the decision difficult.What i do like about Execution however is that you have to work out things for yourself, to win you have to do something that is not plain, set in stone on page 4 of the instruction manual. It takes some thought/bordom/trial and error.Well theres my thoughts :)All done. Epic comment is epic.

  • SparkiJ says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • SparkiJ says:

    I’m going to say something extremely shallow and unwanted here but here goes..I played execution just now re-reading like all the posts of before I arrived at the scene and before I continue, I think this deserves the best post award for having a unique individual viewpoint brought across to us. You can tell as it seems other people other than the three of us have commented lol. So yeah, thoroughly enjoyed reading that.What I will say is I think execution is done in a very lazy way. I really do think it was some fat 40yr old in bed who suddenly had an idea and so pixelated it in a short space of time. I’m going to be honest and honestly on my first run through, I won. I didn’t even know why I didn’t kill him but I can tell you. It wasn’t any of this thinking of choices or consequences, I personally wanted out so hit random back buttons unti I got to escape and finished it. The simplicity or whatever isn’t to lure you into a false sense of security, rather a lazy straightforward idea. I think the concept is original though however boring it may be..That’s not to say I disagree with the article. Games as art probably effect is in different ways, namely SoC for Huggles there. Personally for me, decision making isn’t what makes games seen as art, its messages. Any developer can introduce a die or not die system, as you see from GTA IV and that’s interesting but not really original.Two games really made me think and they couldn’t be more different for my examples of games as art. Final Fantasy VII being the first RPG, I played and not only did I thoroughly enjoy it, when I played it again last year I saw the subtle yet scathing attack on right-wing industrialism and dominance seen in the “Shinra”. Take out the magic and gayness of a JRPG and there are original characters that react to situations as we do as the story goes on. I’ll ruin this for everyone who reads my mammoth of a comment but at one point a member of your party dies and you only find out at the end why. Combining how expansion of greedy right wing world combats with human nature is something I took away after playing this game and for that I see it as art.The second game is David Jaffe’s God of War, which I see as art for reasons completely different to the above. The storyline, combat is all there but Kratos seems to have no human nature in him and the end result is that he is rewarded with something he doesn’t want in the form of being a God. It’s not the best game in the world and only see it as art because of it’s simplicity. Whilst murdering innocent people he doesn’t cry or discover at the end what a terrible person he is. He does the bidding of the Gods for his personal peace of mind and when he couldn’t have that, attempted suicide. I guess the shallowness of such a character is what hits me and the fact that never does the game add emotion for Kratos and that in itself is beauty in simplicity.Guess what I’m saying is games as art doesn’t lie in decision making, rather how a game makes us all feel different towards it even though we play through it all the same..Absolutely fantastic original post which has kept me thinking in today’s early hours.

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