Monday, August 16, 2010

Metro 2033 as art?

I wrote and posted this at the youthrights blog  ( and am reposting it here.  Add your voice and defend all of our rights of free speech.

The topic here is proving that videogames, violent videogames included, have any intrinsic value, artistically and/or culturally.  It suprises me that during this conversation, as well as the earlier conflict involving Roger Ebert, everyone has failed to metion Metro 2033.

I will no debate the merit or quality of it as a game, but it definitely has merit as a work of modern interactive art.  The style of the visual and sound design is realistic, with the setting being as realistic a representation of post-nuclear war city (in this case Moscow).  There is an air of oppressiveness and claustrophobia that the fidelity of the setting manages to hammer home to the player.  Sure, there are times when the player is able to go out into the city, but it ends up both eerily beautiful and totally scary at the same time.  You realize that the claustrophobic underground is dangerous, but its safe compared to the outside.  The first time playing through the game, before the player realizes the amount of scripted events in the game, the feeling of loneliness, claustrophobia, and danger created by the setting, lighting, and sound is ever present.

Evocative of a feeling, visually artistic, those are two things that, when applied to other mediums, make a work artistic.  So why not here?

Now here's the real reason this game can be considered art.  It is an adaptation of a book.  Now I realize the term "adaptation" is a bit loaded, as most adaptations of written work are less than the work it came from.  Many times written adaptations of visual art, such as movies and television, end up being superior as the the written work can commonly do more with the work than the visual medium.  But Metro 2033 is a rare case in that is was made as an interactive adaptation of a book, as opposed to a videogame adaptation of a movie based on a book.  Also, the developers, many of whom are refugees from the studio that produced S.T.A.L.K.E.R., are proficient developers, but it was obvious that many gameplay concessions, mainly in terms of scripted events, were made in service of telling a story.  That's right, the primary purpose of the game is tell its story in an interactive way, as opposed to making a more proficient game and simply telling the story along the way.

And that is one of the truest, yet most subjective, part of the test of artistic merit: intent.  The intention was not to build a game, and then place the story within it, as many people seem to forget (and is the problem with Bioshock, despite how many people use it as the test of art).  In this case the story came first, and someone decided that they wanted to use the interactive medium, videogame, to tell the story to a greater audience, and as I stated earlier, this adaptation was made in service to the story being adapted as opposed to being in the service of the game.  That was the intent, and the intent makes this videogame art.

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