Mauren: Video games, the under-appreciated medium for art and storytelling


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Columnist Jacob Mauren explains why video games are an important medium for intricate and detailed storytelling and art. 

Jacob Mauren

When people think of treasured art and masterful storytelling, they likely think of the traditional mediums: books, plays, paintings or an acclaimed movie or television series. But the emergence and advancement of the gaming industry in the last decades has provided a brand new stage for this art to flourish.

You may initially think of the classic shooters and sports simulators when you hear “video games,” and that is not a surprise. Franchises such as “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield,” “Madden” and “NBA 2K” often dominate the industry with massive sales and near-yearly releases. But if you look just a bit deeper, you can see the creative effort that goes into more story-based titles.

Games like “Fallout 4,” “Skyrim” and “Red Dead Redemption 2” (RDR2) feature detailed art and complex storylines that take years to develop, with the last mentioned game taking a full seven years to create. The environments in which these games take place are all handcrafted, designed and painted by a dedicated team of artists and developers with amazing results. Those who have played these games will never forget the first time they walked into the glimmering Diamond City of “Fallout 4,” witnessed the Aurora Borealis of “Skyrim,” or walked the muddy streets of Valentine in RDR2. 

Some of the newer games out there such as RDR2, which was released in 2018, can approach photorealism and create a picture so detailed and immersive that one feels like they are getting a taste of the real Western frontier. There is even an online community of 4,000 people that find enjoyment in taking in-game photographs.

The storytelling within these games also reaches impressive heights. RDR2 puts you in the shoes of a man who begins to question his own morality and mortality as he fights for the survival of his gang in a world that no longer wants them. “Fallout 4” has you play as a man out of time searching for a kidnapped child in post-nuclear war Boston, and I believe the thing that sets the storytelling of video games apart is the fact that you, the player, often get to affect it. Many games, such as Bethesda’s multiple role-playing games (RPGs), provide multiple different endings that are determined by the players’ choices along the way. Even the more structured and linear games have you progressing through it yourself, rather than just watching as an outside observer.

So the next time you think of video games, I would ask you not to brush it off as a platform for chaotic shooters and cookie-cutter sports games, but see it as a place for detailed art and intimate stories to be told. The possibilities here are endless, and the personal engagement is unrivaled.