This is a rant. It will not be a popular one. I do not care. There will be no pictures.
I am sick and tired of the hypocrisy surrounding "art" games. As if every other video game isn't art. Last I checked, they're all made by artists. People draw concept art. Animators take that art and reimagine it in the space of a video game.
EVERY SINGLE VIDEO GAME IS A WORK OF ART.
It is not a mutually exclusive term used to describe stuff that is barely a video game.
This is directed mainly at thatgamecompany. The irony in their name is incredible, considering that nothing they've ever made could even remotely be categorized as a "video game" in my eyes. They would've worked better as some artsy independent silent film. But this isn't limited to them.
But to the point as to why I think there's hypocrisy behind how art games are received, it's how reviewers talk about these "games'" mechanics (and I use the term "game" very loosely here) versus other, bigger games using the same mechanics.
I am sick and tired of seeing "art games" get praised for basing their entire "game" on a concept that gets shit on when it's a part of a bigger game.
Using Journey and Flower as an example, the entirety of those "games" (if you can call them that; I choose to call them a walking simulator and a screensaver, respectively) revolves around an unknown character in the middle of a desert (in Journey) and... I dunno who or what you're supposed to be in Flower (a sentient flower? The fucking wind?) trying to traverse the land in order to get from point A to point B. There is very little else to do in between point A and point B (and in Flower's case, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING). And yet, these two "games" are actually regarded as two of the greatest experiences in the history of video games. And my question is "WHY!?" Especially when COUNTLESS other games get absolutely blasted for doing similar things with their overworlds?
Take, for example, No More Heroes: the entire point of that game is to illustrate how Travis Touchdown, the main character, basically lives his life as if it were a video game. To drive this point home, the game's overworld was intentionally made to be as barren and boring as humanly possible. There isn't anything to do in the world outside of going from point to point to do boring, tedious jobs, hunt for t-shirts in dumpsters, train, beat up on people, upgrade gear, and drop off money in an ATM to lead you to the next part of the game. This was intentional, and it was to show that the entire point of the overworld (or going outside, to a gamer) is to do just enough mundane crap to get enough money to get to the next part of the game (or to get a new game).
There was a message there. But reviewers didn't get it. They complained about how empty it is, that there was nothing to do, and in response to this, it was cut out entirely in the sequel. And then some people actually complained about the LACK of an overworld. Suda couldn't please anyone.
Flower is built completely on motion controls. Motion controls that are not perfect. If Nintendo made a Wii game like Flower, they would be accused of "killing the industry with waggle crap". They could never get away with making a "game" like Flower. So why does it get a pass on PS3? Because you're tilting a standard controller and not a remote? Because the graphics are in HD? Because as far as I know, that's the ONLY reason why Flower gets praised. If it was a Wii game, people would talk about how terrible it is, and for all the reasons I just outlined: It's a Nintendo game in SD that forces you to use motion controls. Lovely.
So to recap, that's but two of many instances where thatgamecompany gets praised for doing something that another company got dumped on for doing.
Speaking of Nintendo's inability to please anyone, next up is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. This game gets a metric fuckton of hate, and one of the (admittedly many) complaints people have about this game is (guess what?) how unbelievably large and empty the overworld is. Never mind that there is plenty to do in this overworld, both with scripted events and in all the hidden items you can find. I never once found Twilight Princess' overworld empty and barren, and I bet that the same people who complained about this had absolutely NO PROBLEM with either Journey or Shadow of the Colossus, which is another game that is BUILT on minimalism. Now, I like Shadow of the Colossus. It's fine for what it is. But I think it's pretty damn hypocritical to call out Twilight Princess for having a barren overworld when SotC's overworld is BIGGER, there's LESS to do in it, AND you're fighting the horse who may or may not do what you tell him to do. Not to mention the whole "there's only 16 enemies to fight in the entire game" thing. Nintendo could've NEVER gotten away with doing ANY of this in a Zelda game. Sure, some people might've liked it, but most would've complained that "that isn't what Zelda is all about".
More importantly, all the feedback Nintendo got on Twilight Princess (namely, how much everyone hated that game's Hyrule Field) had a direct result on how Skyward Sword's game flow was ultimately structured. So to all of the people who complained about how the lower worlds were structured in that game (some said they were like corridors), well, I hope you weren't bitching about the field in Twilight Princess, because Nintendo got rid of the openness JUST FOR YOU.
Final Fantasy XII and (I'm sure) Xenoblade have similar issues. The worlds in these games are MASSIVE and there's lots to do. Admittedly, I haven't played Xenoblade (because NoA was dragging their feet with it and as of this writing, it hasn't been released in the US yet), but I know FFXII was dogged at points for the sheer size of its overworld. At least FFXII is never boring. There's always something around to keep you on your toes.
A bigger point that I want to make though, is about how cryptic these "art games" are. About how it's okay to be cryptic in an "art game", but you better spell out every fucking thing there is in a regular game. ICO, as an example, teaches you absolutely nothing about the game's mechanics as you play it. If you've never played the game on PS2, and you only played it on PS3 (as I did), you might be a little confused about where you are supposed to go when you first rescue Yorda. Well, I was, and do you know why? Because AT NO POINT in the game, OR in the instruction manual, was I ever told that Yorda had the ability to open the statues strewn about at certain parts of the game. And even knowing that bit of information, it STILL wasn't enough, because I also wasn't told that Yorda is completely incapable of doing anything on her own unless Ico was literally dragging her by the hand. And this applies to EVERYTHING, by the way. She can't climb ledges on her own, either. Hell, the very concept of WALKING seems incredibly foreign to her unless you call for her, or you just hold her hand and drag her everywhere because she can't do a goddamn thing for herself (as I did). To make things even MORE cryptic (because it wasn't confusing enough), Yorda speaks a foreign language that not even THE GAME translates to the player. So you never have any idea what she is trying to tell you. It is, without a doubt, the WORST ally AI I have ever seen in a video game.
Yet, this is one of the reasons why ICO is so good to other gamers. A game that, at its core, is the longest escort mission in the history of video games. So why then does every other game that has an escort section in it usually derided as being the absolute worst part of that game? I've yet to hear one good thing about Resident Evil 4's escort mission. I hear all the time about how useless Ashley is, but at least I never have to drag her around by the hand because she's incapable of walking on her own like I had to do with Yorda. The ENTIRETY of ICO is an escort mission; why is that okay when it isn't okay to even have a small section of that in other games?
But I got off track.
The original point I wanted to make was that how I had to look up on GameFAQs what I found out about Yorda, because neither the game's manual or the game in context explained to me what I had to do to get Yorda to do anything I wanted her to do. I walked around the front room for a goddamn HOUR before I gave up and looked up on the internet as to what to do, because the game didn't even give me as much as a hint. I mean, yes, it's nice to have a game respect the intelligence of the player and not spell out everything, but guess what? GIVING THE PLAYER NOTHING IS JUST AS BAD. I don't see anyone saying how genius Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on NES is for not explaining anything about how that game worked, do you?
And yet, most NES games were built on confusing the crap out of the player. For example, Zelda II had more than a few characters that flat out admitted that they didn't know anything about anything. Konami flat out admitted that most of the townspeople in Castlevania II LIED to you. Now, I like Zelda II. I like Castlevania II (to a point). However, Zelda II and Castlevania II, in most circles, are considered to be the absolute worst games in their respective series (though Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess aren't far behind, because of "forced motion controls" and "empty overworlds", two things I already covered). Why is it bad for them to be cryptic, but it's okay for an "art game" to be? Because "you're supposed to figure it out on your own"? Then why do you need every non "art game" to spell everything out for you?
I understand that there is a space for "art games". I really do. My major beef with them is the hypocrisy surrounding their reviews. The shit those games get away with is appalling, especially when other games get shit on for DOING THE EXACT SAME THING. Don't tell me how barren Twilight Princess' overworld is, and then tell me there's some kinda artful message about why Shadow of the Colossus or Journey can get away with having LESS to do in their overworlds and then say THIS, this right here, is ART, while invalidating every other video game that doesn't fit your narrow view of what "art" is.
ALL VIDEO GAMES ARE WORKS OF ART. And it doesn't matter if your game involves shooting Nazis or walking around in a desert trying to get to Heaven (err, a mountain). IT IS ALL ART. Judge all of them the same, do not hold them to completely different standards. An empty world is an empty world, regardless of any context you wanna attach to them. Do not give one category of game a pass you'd NEVER give to another.
If No More Heroes and Twilight Princess' overworlds are barren, then so is Journey's. Don't justify Journey's with some stupid "message" about what "art" is.