One of the last big statements that the late-and-great Roger Ebert made before he passed away was that “video games could never be art.”
While I respected Mr. Ebert more than anyone, I completely disagree with his assessment on video games. For starters, Ebert made it clear that he had only played one video game, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time” for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, released in 1991.
Since then, video games have made leaps and bounds in being both interactive and thought-provoking works. What were once systems with very limited hardware and capabilities have now become a type of entertainment that is on-par with the movie industry. Video games now can captivate the player just as much as any movie or novel can, if not more with it’s ability to be interactive. Many games change and evolve as the player makes decisions and alters the playing field.
There are many examples of video games that just as much an art piece as they are entertainment, including “Shadow Of The Colossus,” “The Last Of Us,” “Heavy Rain,” “Portal” and “The Walking Dead” game. All of these games seem to transport you to an entirely new world and feel as if you’ve taken just one step into a much larger role in this new world.
The reason I bring this up now is because I recently completed the longest game that I’ve invested time in, “Fallout 3” and I have a few things that I wish to say about the game.
Now, my experience with video games has been rather limited when it comes to style and approach of “Fallout 3” which is a role-playing game. The longest game I had played up to that point were the Pokemon games, which typically take me about 22 hours to finish the main story. “Fallout 3” on the other hand took me 97 hours to complete everything, including the main story, side missions, random quests and the downloadable content that adds in extra missions in all new locations. This is unlike any other game I’ve played.
The story follows our protagonist, who has spent his entire life in a contained underground environment, known as a Vault, after a nuclear holocaust in the late 2070s made living on the surface.
Now, roughly 700 years later, your father (voiced by Liam Nesson) has somehow escaped from the Vault and made it to the surface world, known as the Capitol Wasteland. Now everyone else in the Vault wants to capture you before you decide to do something stupid like chase after your father.
So you decide to do something stupid and chase after your father.
After escaping the Vault and possibly killing dozens of helpless people with a baseball bat, you have now reached what remains of the Washington D.C. area and now must begin the search to find your father.
You find out over time that the place is now filled with mutated creatures who survived the nuclear apocalypse, such as roaches, naked mole rats, bears and scorpions. You also find fellow Wastelanders who have lost all sense of reason and compassion and only wish to kill you for your supplies and loot. Not to mention you discover two different races of people, the Ghouls and the Super Mutants, who were once humans but were irradiated by the nuclear bombs and became monsters.
There are many different branching paths you can over the course of the game. You could be the nicest guy possible and help everyone you see, with your praise and attitude reaching all the Wasteland. You could also kill everyone you see without hesitation and possibly face the repercussions of your actions with more bullets and lasers. You could be somewhere in the middle, being kind to those you think deserve it and kill the ones you hate.
Honestly, there is no one right way to play this game.
You can play it fast. You can play it slow. You can skip all the side missions and quests, or you can play every one and forget all about the main story of finding your father.
There is also many different kinds of weapons and tools you can use along your journey. From blunt objects, like a baseball bat or a sledgehammer, to the subtle yet satisfying guns, like an assault rifle to a shotgun, to just letting your fists to the talking. Over the course of the game, it becomes possible to be a master at more than one kind of weapon and surprise your enemies by switching to a different kind of weapon in the middle of a battle.
What makes this game stand out though is the ability to interact with the world in a way that I’ve never seen before. Whenever you talk to anybody in this game, you’re given unique dialogue options, some of which are heartfelt and kind, while others are rude and funny. Choosing a bad dialogue option could cost you dearly if you’re facing someone with a bigger weapon than you.
As you making those choices through just your words alone, the landscape of the game changes. New or better places become available to you, unique weapons and loot is a possibility and it can increase your karma and lead to other people respecting you. It was always satisfying to receive an option to ask about places I had never heard of before and suddenly know right where I was going.
Like most video games do, as the game progresses further in, the more difficult it becomes. Stronger and faster enemies are introduced, strong locks and computers are added which are increasingly difficult to pick and hack and new type of guns and weapons are given to your enemies.
The good thing about this gradual difficulty increase is that, because the world is so open-ended, you can immediately skip to an area with a fantastic gun or armor build and run rampant through the game. Basically, the game is about as difficult as you want it to be. Going for great armor or weapons will make the game look easy, but you can skip on that option and go for a Leroy Jenkins style character who runs into everything unprepared.
Overall, “Fallout 3” is an experience that I won’t soon forget and I’m glad that I played the game for as much as I did. The game felt like nothing I had ever played before and moved at a good pace to keep me interested in what I was doing. Fighting enemies never got boring or tedious and there was enough variety too keep me going. For the experience, “Fallout 3” was unlike anything I had ever watched or played.
So to answer the question of video games being art, I feel that while video games are more about the experience and interaction than anything else, there are those rare video games that are able to take that interacting and experience to a higher level and make you feel like you are one with the character in the game. Those games aspire to something higher and become not just a game, but an art form.