Video Games Can Be Art

While on a recent flight i finally got to watch a documentary long on my list of “things to watch”, and in seeing “Indie Games: The Movie” I’ve found a whole new appreciation and reasons to enjoy gaming again.

Personally, in the last 5-6 years I have developed an internal alarm that fires off whenever I play a video game.  It basically is the “You’ve Got Better Things To Be Accomplishing” alarm, and it’s rendered me into a guy that just doesn’t play much anymore.  That’s a far cry from my youthful days way back in the 1900’s when I spent 99% of my meager allowance at a 7-11 playing any and all the old school greats: Asteroids, Defender, BattleZone, Donkey Kong or Pac-Mac.  That led to my obsession with home consoles starting with the Atari 2600 and leading to current day where I embarrassingly own all three of the major consoles.  My point being, my history is not one of lazy video game playing or a lack of hard core status.

“Indie Game: The Movie” came out last spring and immediately garnered well deserved praise and attention.  It won an award at Sundance, and has a meta-critic score of 96%.

It tells the story of three different developers and their independently made games.  These are guys working from home, sometimes their parent’s home, for little to no pay to create video games they want to make, and certainly aren’t intended for a mass audience.

Following the story of Phil Fish and his struggles to complete “Fez”, a game he wins an award for long before its ever released, is like watching that really annoying nerdy guy you knew in school.  Fish takes five years to complete a game and runs the risk of losing any and all interest that his award created, not to mention that he’s maybe grabbed the fame part a little to hard and rubbed people the wrong way.  But you can’t deny his passion and genuine fear when his game crashes, and crashes at a gaming expo.

If I realized anything from seeing this doc (and I’m certainly way late on this realization), it is that video game development is a form of art that has developed in our lifetime.  In the same ways that people make movies, music, paintings or sculpture – video game development takes elements from all of those and melds them into something that didn’t exist before the 1970’s.  When you watch Ed and Tommy work feverishly at what would become one of the best-selling indie games of all time, “Super Meat Boy” and then literally sweat it out on the day of its release on XBLA, you see that it is no different than when any other artist reveals their work to the world.

The doc also helped me realize that playing video games isn’t a dead end waste of time.  In fact, when you pick the right games you are no less following the journey that an author, musician or artist wants you to live in their work.  Even better with games is the idea that you are interacting with that games creators in this beautifully silent, disconnected communication.

Indie Game: The Movie is now available on Netflix and iTunes. You can also download it directly from the movie’s website, and there is a BluRay version in production that will expand on the story by delving into the more than 300 hours of shot video and stories of other developers.  You don’t have to like gaming to find this story compelling, but if you do have a love for the joystick this certainly will be something you enjoy.