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5 Things Video Games Do Better Than Any Other Forms of Art

#2. They Can Trick You into Learning Something About Yourself

The worst I've ever felt about myself was the time I let that dude fall to his death from a bell tower when I so easily could have pulled him to safety. I found out something about myself that day -- I was willing to decide that someone I didn't like should die, and I was mad at that dead bastard, but I was infinitely madder at myself. Fortunately, most of this took place in a video game (2012's The Walking Dead), and it's a prime example of something games can do but passive media cannot: They can set you up to do things you assumed you weren't capable of, in a manner typically reserved for evenings at Stanley Milgram's place. A novel or film can show you someone else's descent into oblivion, but it can't make you do evil.

Recently in games there's a mini-trend of examining traditional game protagonists and the way they unquestioningly scythe down waves of enemies because the back of the box says they're The Hero. 2012's Spec Ops: The Line directly confronts this with chilling consequences for the psyche (how to play Spec Ops: The Line, Step 1: Return game to store); The Walking Dead tests the limits of how far you would go to protect one implausibly cute kid (pretty far, it turns out); and even Dark Souls is a game where half the enemies you face inevitably turn out to have some heart-breakingly noble reason for trying to dismember you (you who have unknowingly wrought so much evil because you assumed you were the hero of the game). Why is all this worth it? Because evil starts from assuming that you can do no wrong, and games genuinely have the potential to remind us that we can and will do evil if we're first told how good we are. Plus games keep you off the streets, killing virtual giant crabs instead of real ones, and that's the way to be.

#1. They Can Actually Attract an Audience

In the damn-near-impossible-to-make-a-living/impact world of the arts, you often have to go where the audience is, and that's the biggest advantage of video games right now. Like it or not, that's definitely where the audience is. Even entry-level indie games can get attention not available to other mediums. 2011's low-tech To the Moon is basically a short story infused with a frankly microscopic amount of gameplay, but it's a good short story, and it's one that thousands of people would never have read if it hadn't been in game form.

That might sound unfair, but every medium exists merely to fill the unending need for entertainment and stories, and games are in right now (have faith, erotic limerick writers, your time will come again). Most games are not 3D paintings. Artistically speaking, the majority of video games don't do anything better than a brick, let alone literature or HBO, but most of them are at least fun, and some are legitimately beginning to demonstrate games' unique potential to be equally fun AND thought-provoking (heaven forbid). An actual diversity of voices, attracted by this potential, is maybe all that's needed to take things further. And then 30 years from now when games come full circle and become what Hollywood is now, we'll at least have a golden age to look back on wistfully.

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Winston Rowntree

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