Can games be art?
Self-flagellating gamers have been debating this for decades. Begging the approval of stuffy art and film critics has left them dejected and torn. With their advances repeatedly and thoroughly rebuffed by the professionals, the unwashed mass of gamers has been forced to retreat to the shadowy corners of the internet to debate amongst themselves. In their dusty forums, surrounded by all manor of vagabonds, autists, trolls and the ever present faint smell of urine... they have yet to reach a solid consensus.
Videogames require craftsmanship sure, but do they belong in a gallery?
Can a videogame elicit deep thought and/or emotion through gameplay, without resorting to soap opera level melodramatics?
Can we compare a videogame to a great painting?
To be honest I don't have all the answers. In fact I don't even have one of those answers... my guess would be maybe. Games like RiME that purport to be an emotional story tend to make me sleepy and cranky when I try to play them. So generally I would say I'm not a great test subject for these experiments in narrative. I do however play a lot of shoot-em-ups. Now as much as I appreciate Dodonpachi or DeathSmiles aesthetically, I would have a hard time trying to convince anyone of their status as "art" (although I'm sure I would try if the FBI asked me how old the girls were in DeathSmiles obviously).
"So what is the point idiot?" I can hear you asking. "And what is this I clicked on accidentally?" OK OK OK.... I'll get to the point. Stay with me.
Are games art?
I present for your consideration... Gaijin Charenji 1 : Kiss or Kill (from here on shortened to GCKK)
Self described as "A Punk Narrative Shoot-Them-Up" GCKK is a twin stick shooter which explores the relationships between the player and the game designer, and the player and the game itself. Are our in game actions benevolent or genocidal? Is Lara Croft supposed to be an archeologist in cutscenes and a psychopathic mass murderer during gameplay? Do the designers give you a choice in this dichotomy? Well no... and all the feedback and progression is tied to slaughtering your enemies because simulating war is a proven formula for success. What if you had a choice? Sure some games let you avoid encounters, GCKK takes this to the next extreme.
What if the real enemy was the game designer? Finding ways to put the player in danger, goading you on to conflict? The story of GCKK is not one of many words, interspersed between worlds are FMV clips of the masked game designer in various stages of bloodlust for the player, supplemented by quick flashes of hateful dialog during gameplay. Where things get strange is in how you, the player factor into the story through gameplay.
GCKK features a simple mechanic. You have two shot types that you can switch between with the press of a button. First is "kiss" which is an extremely ineffective short range attack, that after training on an enemy for a short time will cause them to fall in love and become peaceful... and also obviously you have a "kill" shot type which is far more effective, and basically turns you into a death machine.
Using one or the other will move the Karma gauge at the bottom of the screen, in essense the more you use on shot type the more you effect your karma, which powers up your matching shot type. Filling the gauge also has another effect. If your karma is positive and loving, soon the sides of your screen fill with lewd images of anime girls in various stages of undress. When in the negative you will be bombarded by horrible images of war death and genocide. Thus no matter the choice, creating for yourself an uncomfortable mirror into your actions, and contrasting wildly with the fun simple gameplay.
It is strikingly bizzare, experimental, unique, memorable and stands in the company of giants. The little game that could. One of my favorite experiences in the medium this year, and in quite a long while.
Will it offend sensibilities? Perhaps.
Does it deserve your time? Definitely.
Is it art?
As close as I can tell, yes.