Why Dark Souls is the Perfect Art Game
Remember when I said that we’d be talking about games as art until you were sick of it? Well, there’s no reason not to start now.
While I can’t personally speak for how many gamers believe games are art, it’s generally true that when you do find a proprietor of games as an art form, they believe one of two things–that games have the potential to be art, and only a few existing games realize that potential (Usually indie games, such as the works of Thatgamecompany), or that all games are art in their own way. And usually, when this split in beliefs is exposed, a qualifying statement follows–namely, what either of these two schools of thought consider “art” to be.
In the former school, there’s a belief that there has to be artistic intent and common artistic elements in a video game for it to be a contender for the highly sought after title of “art”. Artistic intent in that it’s creators made it with the expressed purpose of it being art–very few developers of Lollipop Chainsaw would argue that their first objective was making something with artistic merit. Common artistic elements include things like striking, unorthodox visuals, narrative ambiguity or a openness to interpretation, and mentally challenging or confrontational themes. Just as most would call Frankenstein literature but Twilight garbage, it’s the presence of depth, interpretive elements, and a brain-twisting ending that makes Braid an art game, and the lack of those things that makes The Urbz: Sims in the City trite.
In the latter, we have people with a much more loose standards for what constitutes “art”. These are the people who think that any media object–painting, TV show, movie, video game, song–that inspires or invokes some sort of emotional response. They would say that the quality of the piece, and the intent of the author, is second to it’s ability to invoke said response, and that even the trashiest games, like, say, Duke Nukem Forever, qualifies as art because, through it’s artistic “merits”, it causes players to feel something–anything, be it frustration or depression or what have you. The qualities that qualifies something as art aren’t strictly the same merits that make a game ‘good’, although good game deigns usually causes people to have fun, which is a form of expression, so it’s more desirable.
Of the two, I tend to align myself more with the second school more so than the first, although I do believe The Urbz is trite.
Now, understanding these two schools of thought, I present Dark Souls, a 2011 game and spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls. It’s one of my favorite games of all time, so I suspect I’ll be writing about it often, but today, I’d like to submit that, no matter which school of thought you attend, Dark Souls is the quintessential art game, and should be held up as the standard by which all other art games are judged.
When you think of art games, as I mentioned earlier, your mind first probably goes to the big Indie classics–Braid, Limbo, Flower, Flow, Journey, maybe you know of some obscure indie game, like The Path, that would also qualify. Games designed to be artistic and expressive and creative, just as the first school would expect them to be. However, I’ve noticed that most all of these games become artistic at the cost of engaging gameplay, and without expression, by it’s own merits the game would be very weak. For example, Flower, while beautiful, is in actuality a very terrible game–all you do is move around a field. It’s through a sacrifice of the gameplay itself that it becomes art, and no hardcore gamer would pick up Flower for any reason OTHER than to experience that artistic virtue.
Dark Souls mends this problem because not only does it have the elements of a strong artistic game, as defined by the people in the first school (Ambiguous narratives, striking visuals, openness to interpretation, challenging themes), but it presents these elements without interfering or simplifying the gameplay. You could experience Dark Souls either as art, a triple A action-RPG, or both, and not find yourself disappointed or wanting for more depth in either area… unless you really just don’t like the game.
The specific elements that makes Dark Souls a art game would qualify as a article on it’s own, so if you were interested in that, just say so in the comments. Although I’m not holding my breath on that one.
Either way, the final point remains: by being both a fun, hardcore GAME, and fusing that seamlessly with the merits of elements associated with art, it’s the kind of art game we need more of–the kind that’s fun, engaging, and that anyone can play, even if they’re not looking to experience a ‘artistic vision’. It satisfies both schools qualifications for art, and what’s more, it’s not so overt with it’s artistic elements that it interferes with the player’s desired experience, or the gameplay itself. Nor are the artistic elements so obscure that you have to look very hard for them. It’s a balancing act, and Dark Souls nailed it perfectly. So if you have the game, pop it in again and find out if you can see what I mean.
- Dark Souls
- History of video games
- PlayStation 3 games
- Role-playing video games
- The Sims
- Windows games