I wanted to do a post last week about E3 and the exciting things that came from it. But then E3 sucked, with really only Microsoft showing off exciting stuff. Nintendo pretty much gave gamers the middle finger and Sony asked us to remember the good times with PS2 and bear with them. Comic-Con is going on right now and the Leipzig game conference in little less than a month, so we should see some cool things soon. Hopefully.

About three months a little game known as Grand Theft Auto IV came out. It pulled in about half a billion dollars in it’s first week. It’s the first game to be given a perfect score by Gamespot since 2001. It also stirred up controversy, not by the content, but by how much it paid voice actors. Quiet a lot of news swelled up around an illegal immigrant from the former Yugoslavia. One of the biggest questions to come up around this game was “Is it art? Had video games finally reached the point where the medium could be considered art?” If your definition of art is something that tells a story, then sure, I guess it is. But I’m looking for a little bit more. I want to be connected to the characters, I want my emotions to be aroused. With that, I am here to give you my opinion on this, which is a definite no.

*SPOILERS BEGIN*

I was one of those people who went out and got the game on the very first day it came out. But being around finals time, it sat un opened for about two and a half weeks. By the time I could play the game, this question about it being art started to come up. I was excited by it, the game looked beautiful, it had a great story from what I had been told and it was engrossing on every aspect. In my experience, those qualities put it in th category of art. With that all in mind, I sat back and began to play.

Our hero (or anti-hero) in this game is Nico Bellic. He has a troubled past and has come to Liberty CIty (New York City) to find a new beginning with his cousin Roman. Things start off well, helping Roman with his taxi company, but we soon discover Roman has a gambling problem and loan sharks are after him. This pulls Niko back in violence and he is quickly embroiled in the organized crime world of Liberty City. He kills some Russian gang leader, then another, only to be betrayed by the man he was helping. He goes to the Italians for help for protection and to find someone from “The Old Country.” He finds them… blah blah blah. The engrossing story didn’t seem to hold on to you once you got about 3/4 of the way through the game. In most book and movies, the end is what is supposed to grab you the most leave you thinking about the story that was told to you. GTA seems to miss that and phones in the last quarter. On that alone, I can’t call it art. I read a little analogy for this somewhere, it goes “You could have a sandwich where one half is the finest meats and cheeses in the world on it. The other half is shit. Yes, part of it is great, but in the end, you still ate half a shit sandwich.”

A big part of stories are the characters, and how you connect or feel for them. They almost had me connected, they almost had me feel for them, up until the part where after I had just killed a bunch of drug dealers to steal back some heroin, I then shot a bunch of cops to escape. At this point, Niko runs into some crack addict on the street who wants to go back home to Kansas, so Niko helps by paying for it the trip. Did I miss something. My psychotic mass-murderer (over a 1000 kills by the end of the game) has just decided out of the kindness of his heart to help some crackhead (whose dealer he may have just killed) escape Liberty City. Had the dealers been killed to clean up the streets, I could see this happening. But they were killed to get heroin back for another dealer. These sorts of acts happen through out the game. In fact, Niko’s ‘drug raid’ gets on the radio news. He gets asked about it by his girlfriend and he just turns it off. I need a consistent character here. Rorchach, from Watchmen, is a violent killer as well, but does it in the name of cleaning the streets. Niko does it to make a buck.

Niko isn’t the only character issue. The supporting cast is a group of extreme stereotypes. From the ‘roided out man’s man Brucie, the drunken Irish thug Packie to the stoned Jamaican you can barely understand, Little Jacob. They’re either so extremely stereotypical you can’t stand being around them or you see them so little that you can’t connect with them. The biggest example of this is Niko’s final girlfriend Kate. You see her so infrequently that when she is killed in the end, you are left apathetic. “It’s just another body on the Niko kill count” I thought as the Italian Niko betrayed kills her. Niko is distraught over this, but I just could find it in myself to care. This is after about 40 hours of playing. Movies, shows and books manage to form these sort of connections in much less time.

*SPOILERS OVER*

So if I feel that GTA isn’t art, do I feel like there are games that are art? Possibly. I felt very involved in Mass Effect and was sadden when I had to pick on the team mates I had just played with for 30 hours to die. Shadow of the Colossus is apparently also a very good game that draws you in and builds a connection. Okami, which I still haven’t played, might be considered artful in a different manner as it requires you to paint the world around you. But these are just three examples in a sea of games. There might be more out there or coming, but I don’t feel as though it’s enough to call a whole medium art. It’s getting close I feel, but at the same time distancing itself. I think storytelling is very important part of art, but as games become more open-world and sandbox, it becomes harder and harder to have a linear storyline. Alone in the Dark recently bucked the whole linear story by adding in a feature that let you skip around the story without having to actually play it, much like DVD chapters.
Well, that’s my take on the subject right now. Who knows, in a couple months something new and breakthrough will come out to change my mind, I’m looking at you Left 4 Dead. I keep forgetting to add this bit at the end, you can find me on Xbox Live under the gamertag WildRile. Send me a message or game invite, always looking for someone to game with. Next week, we’ll look at the Nintendo Wii and if it’s gimmick or game.

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