‘Mario Kart’ to high art: Games deserve respect

Matthew Ashman

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Matthew Ashman

Illustrated by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea / Visual Editor

How often have you caught yourself afraid of answering the question, “What do you do in your spare time?”

If you are anything like me and play video games, I bet you are not readily able to admit that to a stranger in fear of being harshly judged.

Perhaps more of us should admit to playing games though — video games are becoming more widely accepted each year, and the sales speak loud and clear.

In 2008, the video game industry hit $21.3 billion within the United States, beating out both the movie ($9.5 billion) and music industry ($10 billion).  And this is before “Angry Birds” even came out! Granted, it isn’t quite up to snuff as compared to book sales ($40 billion).

According to the Entertainment Software Association, 72 percent of American households play computer or video games.  But don’t be fooled by the popular teenage gamer image; the average game player is 37 years old, and has been playing games for 12 years.

So, why is there still a stigma surrounding video games when they seem to be more popular, if not on par, with movies and music?

To me, video games are just like movies and books. It’s a place for people to escape the norm of their everyday life. And just like everything in life, moderation is key.

There are a few that ruin it for the rest. Nobody wants to read in the news how video games kept someone from blowing a gasket. No, they want to read about how two parents in China finally got arrested because they were selling their children and using the money to play “World of Warcraft.”

One such game known for its negative (or positive, depending on your view) qualities is “Grand Theft Auto.” It has always been surrounded by a lot of controversy.  It has been used as a tool against gamers because it is one of the first games to let people fully explore a world and let the gamer do almost anything he or she wants.

Because of this, gamers have not wanted to be a part of what the general public finds to be so unsavory. The more video games are used as a scapegoat for other people’s ignorance, the harder it will be to shake the stigma that video games are bad.

Some video games need to be thought of as art, just like movies and music.  But don’t tell that to film critic and screenwriter Roger Ebert. Ebert thinks that video games can never be art, but upon much criticism, expounded on his point in his blog on the Chicago Sun Times website.

“Perhaps it is foolish of me to say ‘never,’ because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time,” Ebert wrote. “No video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

But how can that be? Don’t movies tell a story? Doesn’t music usually have some sort of message to be heard? What’s so different about video games?

I get that not all games have substance to them, like “Angry Birds.” However, games created by video game company Bioware have created several games that have stories that need to be heard.  They have created the next generation of storytelling through gaming. Within most of their games they have stories within stories and choices among myriad choices; every detail changes the story, almost forcing you to play through again just to see “what could have been.”

One game that anyone who owns a Playstation should check out is “Heavy Rain.” This game was a great detective game and thriller. It has received numerous game awards for storytelling and visuals. The game takes place from three different viewpoints that cross paths throughout the game. Depending on how you play (making the right/wrong choices), one or all of the main characters can die.

Usually, when you’re playing a game and the main character dies, that is it and the story ends. But with “Heavy Rain,” it can continue, you just don’t get to see the different scenes with those characters or get the extra clues to solve the case. And between the voice acting and the visuals, you actually care for the characters on-screen, and it makes you want to see what else you missed. You won’t see the plot twist coming at the end either.

So, will video games still have that stigma attached to them in a couple of years? Or will they become more socially acceptable to talk about in public without getting those judgmental looks?  My guess is, video games are becoming closer and closer to what we call “high art.”