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You can tell that videogaming has come of age. On the one hand, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is selling millions of copies and appalling people with its brazen meatheadedness, and on the other, there was a recent symposium that took place at the Woodruff Arts Centre in Atlanta called ‘The Art History of Games’.
Games might have become a bigger moneymaking industry than movies or music, but they’re also enabling the bohemian elite to be provocatively radical and weird in ways that could not previously have been imagined.
Following on from the Woodruff Art History event, we thought it might be time to tweak our own fashionable haircuts, insouciantly slip a copy of Camus into our blazer pockets, and head down to the gallery to see what’s hanging on the wall of hip. No one today would dream of being so gauche as to ask “are games art?” – we all know they are. But which are the artiest? To find the ten most artistic offerings in PC gaming, walk this way.
From the same developers as the equally surreal Pathologic, The Void puts you in purgatory: a grey world of truly horrible creatures and weird ecosystems. It revolves around colour: you gather it from the world, process it in your body, then daub things with it to manipulate your surroundings. Since each game day brings with it a splash of a different colour, it’s an art game in both a superficial and a real sense.
Every hue has a different purpose, both when it’s inside your body and when it’s splashed onto the world. Then there are the characters and beasts you meet: weird amalgams of limbs, boobs, and spiky metal and nightmarish viscera. It’s the weirdest vision of a virtual world you’ll find in modern PC gaming.
Bringing a dead tree back to life by giving it some of your colour, then returning to find it thriving later. Then taking all its colour.
The gentleman (for he is a gentleman) in charge of the The Sims franchise at Electronic Arts, Rod Humble, also makes games that he says are intended to be art. Most talked about is The Marriage, an abstract game of shapes and colours. There are two squares, a pink one and a blue one. These represent the masculine and feminine elements of a marriage. The objective is to get these two elements to ‘kiss’, which they have to do to sustain the ‘marriage’. However, mousing over them to move them together also reduces them, until a square vanishes, and the marriage is over.
Humble says that this game is meant to represent “how marriage feels”, and if there’s an art-moment within this strange little game it’s the point at which you understand what he means. It makes you wonder what other abstract or complex feelings games could represent.
Tale of Tales, Belgian self-proclaimed art games developers, have been rubbing the games community up the wrong way for several years now, with comments about the lack of innovation and meaning in games. The Path is their most effective work: a sinister take on growing up, told through the activities of a number of girls who are walking to grandma’s house, down the titular path. Referencing Red Riding Hood, there is a ‘wolf’ waiting off the path for each of the girls, and meeting it changes the end of the game. Bleak and beautiful, this is a true art game with some deeply disconcerting themes.
The art moment in The Path comes when you experience the difference between Granny’s house at the end of the path before and after interaction with your wolf. Meet the wolf and things go very badly indeed.
An extremely low-res first-person adventure game about two couples: in the past, Judith moves into her new husband’s castle and explores its dark secrets by night. In the present, a man searches for his missing lover in the same now abandoned castle. There’s a steadily rising atmosphere of unease, a sense that the simple text and images are hiding something sinister. Sure enough, it gets dark fast. Each new room you explore in the castle’s dungeon is stranger and darker than the last, until the final ominous door. Controversially, the game wrests control from you at key moments, forcing you to deal with the consequences of actions you didn’t choose to commit.
Judith dreams of a man who’s lost his wife between each of her segments, and the dreams start to seem increasingly prophetic of her own probable fate.