I was recently hanging out at a party drinking wine with a bunch of brilliant musicians and writers from L.A. when the topic of video games came up. There was a general consensus among the partygoers that video games weren't really that artistically interesting. I happen to disagree.
My passion might come from a place of bias though since I write about rather obtuse topics relating to the intersection of art and video games for the wonderful site Video Game Tourism. And let’s be honest, other than the fancy writing stuff, my girlfriend would certainly confirm that I waste plllleennnntyyyy of time playing video games/yelling at my computer screen (I like RTSs and MOBAs). But I started telling the folks at the party, ad wine-lubricated nauseum, about my forthcoming article about Impressionism and Proteus and they quickly perked up at the mention of Ravel being a musical inspiration for the game.
I ended up having an e-mail conversation where I spent some time recommending video games for people that don’t like video games. Though this might seem weird, with MoMA including of video games in their collection and the National Gallery doing a show about video games, but by and large, I’ve found that most folks in the art world either haven’t played a video game in a couple of decades or actively dislike video games - which curiously includes folks in their 20’s, a demographic which mostly grew up with video games!
While there isn’t time to go in to my many guess why the art world is a bastion for anti-video-game thinking, I do know there are a slew of amazing changes happening in the video game world which might cause folks to rethink their reticence, particularly amongst what is dubbed “indie” games (even though that term is about as useless as it is in regards to movies and music these days.)
Without further rambling, here’s a selection of recent video games which artistically minded folks might enjoy checking out:
If you are indifferent to games but love art, the game that spawned my upcoming article, titled Proteus, should be your first stop. It is an impressionistic meditation of time and loss with a heavy emphasis on music and exploration. It's a truly beautiful experience that might challenge your notion of what constitutes a video game. http://www.visitproteus.com/
Next, if you’re one of those people who really hates games because you've watched your nephew yell curse words at strangers in Call Of Duty, I would highly recommend the much more dada-ist (and hilariously belligerent) "Stanley Parable" which co-opts the language of 3D first person shooter games to speak rather directly about what we do and don't like about games. It's really witty and subversive in the same vein as the film Brazil and worth playing through many times. http://www.stanleyparable.com/
I should note that, lest ye fear loosing your weekend to yon abyss of video games, both of these first two games, along with most of the rest of the list, are games that are fairly quick to play though. You can get through a reading of Proteus in about the same time as a short essay. Forty five minutes to an hour, tops. Same with Stanley Parable. Additionally, these games mostly don't even require that you be "good" at video games to get their full artistic impact.
If you come from a literary background, I’d say your next stop should be to check out Porpetine's work which is sometimes called a game and sometimes called interactive fiction. She predominately is known for her DIY-style work with the freeware program Twine, which is basically a notecard-style editing system. Howling Dogs is a great place to start since it touches on many of the topics of violence and identity that fill her portfolio. http://aliendovecote.com/howling-dogs/
Papers, Please is another amazing piece that messes with game conventions, and our desire to master them, to explore what it's like to be a faceless low level Eastern European bureaucrat. http://dukope.com/
Gone Home twists the haunted house exploration genre into a deep exploration of identity and family relationships. http://www.gonehomegame.com/
Cart Life is a phenomenal use of the video game format to look at the banal brutality of living at the edge of poverty. http://www.richardhofmeier.com/cartlife/
Unmanned is a fascinatingly ironic but view-point expanding game where you play through the daily life of a drone operator for the Air Force, complete with a mini-game where you play video games with your son... http://unmanned.molleindustria.org/
All of the above games are available fairly easily if you have a computer, but I would like to recommend two more games which might require hijacking your friend’s/children’s Play Station 3. The first is the sumptuous and melancholy Journey, http://thatgamecompany.com/games/journey/, which pairs two strangers to explore the ruins of their civilization, without any way to communicate with each other. Second, The Unfinished Swan is a look at artistic process and how it creates the world, and is dazzling looking to boot! http://www.giantsparrow.com/games/swan/
Finally, if your interest has been piqued, and you want to learn more I would say that the community called Critical Distance is probably the most concentrated hub of activity regarding the rise of a critical discourse around games and game culture. They do a weekly roundup of the best stuff that usually has a few real gems. This is the list of their favorite articles from 2013: http://www.critical-distance.com/2013/12/30/this-year-in-video-game-blogging-2013/
If you have recommendations for folks who don’t really like games, but like good art, post them below!