The Videogame Oscars – The Nominees

There are plenty of awards for the video game industry, but I want to approach this from a different angle. Much like how the Oscars rewards movies for their artistic merit, I want to honour games in the same way. Along with a team of the most esteemed gamers I could find (within walking distance), I’ve put together a list of nominations for the most artistic games of the decade. These nominations aren’t based on just graphics or gameplay, but also storyline, acting and creativity. I need YOUR help to decide the winners. Yes, YOU, anonymous blog reader! Screw the Academy, we’re the Academy of gaming. Simply click the link below and make your choice or even make your own nominations! Feel free to check out these videos of the nominees to help make your decision.

Click here to vote!

And the nominees are …

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Yaani Fisher as Riley – The Last of Us: Left Behind

Ellen McLain as Glados – Portal 2

Merle Dandridge as Alyx Vance – Half Life 2

Mark Hamill as The Joker – Batman: Arkham City

Stephen Merchant as Wheatley – Portal 2

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Ashley Johnson as Ellie in The Last of Us

Courtnee Draper as Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite

Nolan North as Nathan Drake – Uncharted 3

Troy Baker as Joel – The Last of Us

Rob Wiethoff as John Marston – Red Dead Redemption

Best Developer:

Naughty Dog – The Uncharted series, The Last of Us

Bungie Studios – The Halo series, Destiny

Irrational Games – Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite

Rockstar Games – The GTA series, Red Dead Redemption

Valve – The Half Life series, the Portal series

Tell Tale Games – Fables: The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead

Rocksteady Studios – The Arkham series

Best Game:

The Last of Us

Uncharted 3

Bioshock Infinite

Arkham City

Portal 2

Half life 2

Red Dead Redemption

Shadow of the Colossus

Results to come this week!

Advertisements

Games are Art: How Music Can Make Moments Matter

A great soundtrack can make a scene. The right song at the right time can elevate a mediocre scene to great or a good scene to amazing. Quentin Tarantino is one of my favourite directors who really uses music to its full potential. Take this scene from Kill Bill for example:

Now watch it on mute. Really, most of the scene is just the two characters staring at each other and the scene is honestly a little boring. But the music makes it one of the most tense and exhilarating fight sequences I can remember seeing.

Music can be just as important for a video game and while there are many games that have great soundtracks, only a select few have truly used music to draw an emotional reaction from the player and really enhance the storytelling of the game. One in particular stands out: Red Dead Redemption.

Red Dead is a love letter to Western cinema where you take control of John Marston, a man on a mission to return to his family. After a long, brutal and exhausting campaign across the Wild West, you are finally given the opportunity to reunite with your loved ones and “ride into the sunset”, so to speak. But while most Western movies cut to the credits at this point, by virtue of you being in control of John, you get to play out this victorious moment in full. Just as you begin to ride, without warning, the soundtrack changes (having been almost exclusively instrumental pieces up until that point) and we get this great moment:

The game never cuts away, it never pulls you into a cutscene for this moment, it just lets you ride, keeping you in control. Because this moment is the climax to everything you had been working for since the very beginning of the story. It’s triumphant and sombre at the same time – you finally get to return home, but only after doing terrible things to get there. The fact that you’re in control really lets the moment sink in, really makes you feel as if it’s not just John’s story, it’s your story as well. It’s a perfect example of how gameplay and music can work in concert (pun intended) to deliver an amazing experience. Games are art.

What are your musical moments in gaming or film? Sound off in the comments below!

Why Bioshock Infinite is Art

BIOSHOCK INFINITE

Welcome to Painting with Pixels! Each week, I’ll be picking apart exceptional games to show you why this newborn storytelling medium has evolved from a trivial pursuit to a legitimate art form much like the film or the novel. This week is all about the subversive and utterly mind bending shooter, Bioshock Infinite. This is the tale of a city in the sky where a furious and brutal civil war brews beneath the calm, cloud lined exterior. But is it art? Let’s find out. WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR BIOSHOCK INFINITE FOLLOW

WELCOME TO COLUMBIA

Bioshock Infinite takes revisionist history to a whole new level as they thrust you into the midst of colonial America. But it is an America very different to the one we know from the history books. You play Booker DeWitt, a  gruff gun for hire desperate to pay his debt. To do this, he must venture to the floating city of Columbia, a civilisation isolated from the ground bound America by its religious and fanatical leader, Zachary Comstock.  Booker is tasked with finding a girl named Elizabeth and together, they must try to escape Columbia as it is torn apart from the inside out by a war between the white upper class and the Vox Populi, a revolutionist civil rights movement so zealous that even Malcolm X might have taken pause. There are a hundred things I can talk about that make Bioshock Infinite great. The stunning, hauntingly beautiful setting. The multilayered, emotionally nuanced and morally ambiguous characters. The fast paced, frantic and exhilarating gameplay. But what I want to focus on is what makes the game stand out: The way Biotic Infinite makes full use of the medium of gaming to tell its story in a way that simply cannot be done through any other medium.

Constants and Variables

At several points in the game, an odd couple will appear, seemingly out of nowhere and will offer you a series of choices. Heads or tails – the bird or the cage. Bioshock Infinite is more than anything about choice. This is where the BIG spoilers start, so read ahead if you dare.

Elizabeth has the ability to open “tears”. These are portals into parallel universes – some, almost exactly the same while others radically different. For every choice one makes, there exists a different universe – an endless number of variations – an “infinite” number of universes. In each universe, there exists variables. For example, a man being dead in one or alive in another. But there also exists constants. Things that must happen and will always happen within each universe. Early in the game, the Luteces wonder whether Booker will row a boat. He doesn’t and they remark that “He doesn’t row”. After a pause, they realise that “He doesn’t row“. It’s a puzzling line but comes together once the parallel universes are revealed. In that instance, across all universes, Booker will never choose to row.

This is a commentary on gaming as a medium. Even in games, that give you the option of variables – choices you can make, things you can change each time you play through it – there will always be constants. More often than not, whatever choices you make will lead to the same outcome.The Luteces approach you again and present you with a choice – heads or tails. No matter which one you pick, the outcome will be the same. No matter which outcome you pick, the game will end in the same way.

On this same vein, they give you the opportunity to choose between two pendants: a bird which represents wild, unrestricted freedom and a cage which represents control, safety and security. It doesn’t make a difference which you choose and there’s no real impact on the story or the ending. There’s a reason for that. These represent the two conflicting ideologies presented by the extreme political leaders of Columbia: The all powerful, all controlling dictator, Zachary Comstock and the violent militia leader, Daisy Fitzroy. You clash horns with both sides as they vie for control of Columbia, cutting a bloody swathe through the populace as they do so.

As both groups commit seemingly try to outdo one another with the atrocities they commit, Booker, Elizabeth and the player themselves finally come to the realisation that it doesn’t matter which side is chosen: they’re both as and as the other. The dictatorship of Comstock was cruel, racist and made life a living hell for those who he deemed as unworthy of God’s grace. But Fitzroy’s revolution resulted in total anarchy, bringing out the worst in people as they revelled in the violence they were free to commit. The bird or the cage, it didn’t matter which one because both resulted in death and misery.

It’s an illusion of choice, an illusion of freedom. You control the characters, but really, you don’t. They will always end up in the same place, no matter how many times you play. The game asks the question of the player: Are we bound to our fate? Do choices matter in the long run if we all end up in the same place? It’s heavy stuff and more than a little morbid.

But after playing the game through,  one may realise that even if they’re bound to the same track – it’s still one hell of a ride.

Have you guys played Bioshock Infinite? What did you guys think? Are there any other games you want me to take a look at? Let me know in the comments below!

Why the Last of Us is Art: Ellie

Welcome to Painting with Pixels! Each week, I’ll be picking apart exceptional games to show you why this newborn storytelling medium has evolved from a trivial pursuit to a legitimate art form much like the film or the novel. This week is all about the 2013 smash hit, The Last of Us. Can this harrowing tale of post apocalyptic America be considered art?

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE LAST OF US FOLLOW

Article-II[1]

Last time, I picked apart why Joel was such a great protagonist. He was emotionally complex, morally ambiguous and fundamentally flawed, but still relatable, allowing us to connect with him as he learned and developed throughout the story. But while Joel was a great leading man, much of the success of The Last of Us stems from Ellie. In many ways, though we control Joel for much of our playing time, the game was more Ellie’s story than Joel’s and she has quickly become one of the most beloved characters in gaming.

Perhaps the main reason why Ellie resonated with the audience was the fact that she was so relatable on so many levels. People understood why she did things, people understood and sympathised with her actions and her struggles. Even though Ellie grew up in a world completely different to the world that the audience grew up in, the echoes of our world still linger with her. She’s not so far removed from our reality that she’s alien and it makes sense to us that this is the kind of girl that the post apocalyptic world of The Last of Us would produce. She’s tough, smart mouthed and quick witted but thankfully she manages to stray away from the “strong female character” trope that so many games and films abuse so gleefully. What I mean by this is a female character whose entire existence and entire personality revolves around the fact that she’s “strong”, the fact that she kicks ass and takes names (Resident Evil’s Alice being one of the main culprits) with no semblance of any real character traits beyond being a bad ass.

Ellie isn’t just a “strong female character”, she’s just a good character. While she may be tough as nails, she has a personality. She has a wry, decidedly goofy sense of humor (“I used to be addicted to soap … but I’m clean now”) and a love for reading. She’s brave, but has her vulnerabilities. She confesses that her greatest fear is being alone as everyone she has ever cared about has died or left her. She is fascinated with the relics of the old world such as comic books, magazines, videogames, toys and approaches these with a child-like wonder that seems at odds with her usual hardened exterior. What I’m getting at is that she’s not just a bad ass cardboard cut out like so many heroes, she is complicated, multifaceted character that actually feels like a person, complete with her own likes, dislikes, fears and aspirations.

One of my favorite scenes in this game or any perfectly sums up Ellie’s character and why she’s so appealing. After a rough couple of days, Ellie and Joel have almost reached their goal. But there seems to be an impending sense of dread, as if they both know that once they get there, things will not go as planned. You take control of Joel and watch as Ellie seems to withdraw into herself as you travel through the ruins. All of a sudden, she perks up and runs off, leaving you to dash after her. This leads to a scene that is both uplifting and melancholy, one of the most emotionally resonant sequences in gaming history. You’ll notice that this particular scene was the inspiration for the whole decor of this blog.

We’ll have more more on Ellie and The Las t of Us as well as other great games in the next few days!

Why the Last of Us is Art: The Prologue

The Last Of Us

Welcome to Painting with Pixels! Before we begin our journey into the twisted and beautiful world of the Last of Us, let me make one thing clear. This isn’t a videogame review blog. I’m not going to be handing out stars and gushing about how great the graphics are or how smooth the controls are or how great the online is. I’m afraid I have to be far more pretentious than that. Yes, this is one of THOSE blogs. Sorry.

If I haven’t scared you off yet, what I aim to do is tell – and show – why videogames should be considered art.

What do I mean by “art”? Various scholars and lunatics (with these terms being anything but mutually exclusive) have been poking at this for years.  Which means that finding a definition is a thousand year old bag of snakes that would need a whole other blog to unravel. To save you the time (and the sanity), what I mean by “art” is a work of human expression that can instil an emotional or psychological effect on the perceiver in such a way that it challenges their own perception of themselves and the world around them.

Thomas Merton, a significantly smarter man than I managed to put it in significantly prettier words: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”.

In other words, I view “art” as something that makes you think and feel, not necessarily in that order.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at our game of the week, the Last of Us.

The Prologue

Warning: Spoilers ahead

The Last of Us was released in June 2013 for the Playstation 3. You take control of Joel, a grizzled survivor in a world where most of humanity has been wiped out by a fungal virus that turns them into mindless, flesh eating monsters. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Joel is forced to look after a teenage girl named Ellie as they travel through post apocalyptic America. Sounds familiar? Despite the new bells and whistles (they’re not zombies, they’re infected by “corduceps”, a real life fungus that infects ants), let’s be real, it’s essentially the set up for every zombie movie ever. But there’s a few things that set the Last of Us apart in a major way, which you’ll soon find out.

You start off the game not as Joel, but his daughter, Sarah. She wakes up to an empty house and you take the reigns, manoeuvring her around the eerily quiet halls as she tries to figure out where her father has gone. You’re given little information. You know just about as much as Sarah does, fed scraps of exposition through phone messages and television reports until your dad comes bursting into the house and murders your neighbours.

Sarah is driven away from her home by her father and you control her as she shifts from window to window, watching the horror unfold.  But even though you’re in control of her, it’s a completely on-rails experience. When you see your best friend’s house on fire, there’s nothing you can do. When you see the entire neighbourhood tear itself apart from the inside out, there’s nothing you can do. Even though you’re in control, really, you’re not. You’re just as helpless as Sarah is. This is the trick the Last of Us employs that sets it apart from another zombie flick like Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later. It’s a trick that all good games of this kind use.

When you play a story driven game like the Last of Us, you’re given a sense of agency that makes you truly part of the story. You’re not just watching characters running around on screen. By controlling the characters as they experience these horrors, on some level you are these characters. On some level, you feel what they feel. The best works of art take advantage of their medium and games are only just starting to explore the potential of this connection inherent to the art form. The Last of Us takes full advantage of this connection by the time the prologue draws to it’s shocking conclusion.

 Bummer.

What do you guys think about the prologue? Was it effective? Or is this just Walking Dead with mushrooms?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!