Opinion | Defending video games as an art form

Triple-A companies dismiss video games as being capable of artistic expression through player exploitation, but it is a medium capable of great feats of expression.


Elena Alvarez

Junior Teresa Mora plays Black Ops 2 in her room at Currier Hall in Iowa City on Monday, February 18, 2019.

Chris Klepach, Opinions Columnist

Over the years, video games went from a 1958 experiment to a $195 billion industry.

But currently, the video game industry problematically undermines the value of videogames as art. Blockbuster gaming franchises like Call of Duty, FIFA, and NBA2K use monetization systems that are less for the player’s enjoyment and more to empty wallets with randomized cosmetics.

Recent installments in video games contain monetization techniques such as randomized pay-outs of virtual cosmetics, or packs, that players receive through purchase or repetitive gameplay.

Video games as a medium are greater than that.

When one imagines video games as an artform, you may think of video games like the critically acclaimed, highest-selling video game Minecraft.

However, video games can be works of art themselves, even when they aren’t an outlet for others to be creative.

Video game developers have to create art or hire artist to give visual and audio representations for the player. Much of a video game’s identity can come from its art style and soundscape.

Many video games also come with a written or visual story to provide context for what is happening. Game design is the process of configuring how the player interacts with the world of that story. This itself can be put to creative use.

My favorite example of the creativity expressed in video games is Strange Scaffold’s 2021 release Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator. It is an indie game that was developed and published outside of the mainstream market.

In this game, you play within a sci-fi universe buying and selling various organs for a profit in a world represented through a monochromatic green interface and pink beating organs on an animation loop.

In the middle of gameplay, the music goes to a high tempo as the player scrambles to buy items before the game does. Organs themselves are represented as ‘90s-esque pre-rendered gifs, while the rest of the game uses pixel art to represent text and characters.

It is a satire by nature, putting players in the position of an exploitative organ seller and offering players  multiple endings to lengthen the experience.

My experience in video games has been personal. Video games have become a favorite pastime for my family and me. When I was younger, my father had a Nintendo Entertainment System console that we would play Super Mario Bros. and Dr. Mario World on.

I have been intrigued with them ever since, going as far as to develop my own in a high school class. I saw firsthand how labor-intensive it is.

Many assets of a videogame must be prepared in advance and to cooperate with the programming. It is challenging to determine what sounds can be attractive to a player, what colors work for an interface, and how the gameplay meshes with the graphics.

To see video games as just data is like calling a painting just dye on paper. A video game can take on many forms and is unique in its ability to be interactive, which transcends it above movies, sculptures, and drawings.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.