Editorial: Halo 3 Isn't Art, and Other Useless Facts
Did someone actually need to say it? Or, in this case, write it?
Did a New York Times op/ed writer actually just declare Halo 3 a piece of escapist entertainment, as if it were supposed to edify and enlighten us?
Please, save the space for something worthwhile to write about. The only credit I’ll give Daniel Radosh, the writer of the column in question, is bringing up the idea that video games may have to engage the participant in a new, unique way other than by shoving in bits of interactivity between what otherwise would be a normal movie.
If games are to become more than mere entertainment, they will need to use the fundamentals of gameplay — giving players challenges to work through and choices to make — in entirely new ways. The formula followed by virtually all games is a steady progression toward victory: you accomplish tasks until you win.
It’s a novel suggestion, in the least. The idea that you might be able to come close to creating something as you are playing, shaping an experience using the game with no defined ending is intriguing. For the most part, it might be on par with the concept of a “choose your own adventure” book, but the point made goes along with the idea that we’re still waiting for a landmark game to change the perception of gaming as art.
Games are large enough and have enough detail to suggest that something else could come from video game design other than just multiple endings. There are games which peek beneath the surface, where the decisions you make will affect certain characters in the game permanently. But usually all it means in the end is getting a better or worse piece of armor or weapon which will make the ending easier or more difficult, depending on what you do.
Wouldn’t it be nice if those decisions players made in the game resulted in them questioning their humanity, or their political, cultural and spiritual beliefs? Maybe that could be the difference between what some might consider mediocre, and what some might consider great art.
In suggesting that Halo 3 isn’t a step-forward for gaming, Radosh isn’t alone. In fact, the original Halo was considered in the very same way. Here’s a bit from a paper written by Aaron Smutts arguing for video games as art on a number of theoretical bases in Contemporary Aesthetics:
Without masterpieces, arguing that video games can be art seems premature. “Max Payne” and “Halo” are two of the best games ever produced, but they are not great art.
The recent New York Times columnist ended his piece with an idea along the same lines, although he references film as a developing art form:
As cinema matured, films developed the power to transform as well as to entertain. Video games are poised to enter a similar golden age.
So, we’re waiting. Was Bioshock what we were waiting for? Not quite, but one could argue that it does the best job of bringing together more elements of what could make an artistic masterpiece than anything before it. It definitely has a lot more to read into than, say Halo 3.
But that goes without saying. Or, at least, it should have.