Famed movie critic Rogert Ebert recently said that video games will never be works of art. Overnight, he and his thumbs became major objects of ire for gamers across the globe. And although he later apologized and retracted his statement -- no doubt due to internet trolls bombarding his website and uploading hate videos to YouTube -- Ebert raised an interesting question: Can video games exist on the same cultural level as movies or literature?
Many developers tend to focus on creating a game that feels good on the fingers and see the narrative as nothing more than a way to move the action forward. Luckily, though, there are visionaries out there, pushing the boundaries of what can be done with the medium.
Check out the jump for five video games that ditch the clichés.
Bit.Trip.Beat, Bit.Trip.Core., Bit Trip Void, and Bit.Trip.Runner (Wii): These deceptively simple games are available as digital downloads on the Wii. They are rhythm games that start out with individual pixels, then ratchet them up to an unholy intensity, driving you into either a zen- or seizure-like state. Although the games have only a loosely shared narrative, each one presents a new kind of mechanical language that must be mastered to complete each stage.
Rez HD (PS2, Xbox 360): When discussing artsy video games, Rez, originally released on the PS2 and later re-released for the Xbox 360, tends to be the first one mentioned. This on-rails shooter combines a vector-based aesthetic with the ability to create music as you hunt down enemies. The narrative: Your character is created inside a computer to eradicate a mutating virus. As the game goes on, you are reborn, over and over, evolving into more and more complex beings. This process peaks when the player becomes a meditating baby Buddha. Now, if the story isn't strange enough, I should point out that when this game was originally sold in Japan it came with a "Trance Vibrator" attachment. It eventually came to be known as the Rez Dildo.
Bioshock (Xbox 360, PS3, PC): Bioshock was one of the first games to herald the new era of narrative complexity in video games. Set in an alternate past, the player must explore an underwater city created by a megalomaniac while living by Objectivist principles based on the philosophies of Ayn Rand. This utopia eventually becomes a dystopia as its inhabitants become addicted to gene modification drugs, and later try to suck the drug from the body of any living being.
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Katamari Damacy (PS2): Katamari Damacy took a simple play mechanic -- roll things onto a ball -- and took it as far as it could possibly go. You play the part of an intergalactic prince whose father asks you to roll up things on Earth so that he may transform them into heavenly bodies. The sense of scale is what really makes this game shine, your Katamari begins picking up objects the size of a coin and soon you become large enough to collect entire continents. When it was first released, Katamari Damacy was the king of quirky Japanese game design.
Alan Wake (Xbox 360): If Stephen King made a video game, Alan Wake would be its name. The story follows a famous horror novelist as he vacations in a quaint town in the Pacific Northwest. Shortly after his arrival, the novelist's wife is abducted and he blacks out. When he finally wakes up, the entire town has been enveloped in some kind of dark energy, and manuscript pages found throughout the town seem to indicate that your own writings are creating the chaos. If you dig things like Twin Peaks or the Twilight Zone, this game will definitely get you off.
-- Bryan Barcena