Okami or Are Games Art These Days?

Remember that recurring discussion “are games art”? Well, these days, they’re clearly not … mostly. It is not artistic vision or “artistic integrity”, it is not about finding a way to express yourself, it is not about elevating entertainment to more, oh no. 9 out of 10 times, it’s all about money, cash, and stock prices.

Admittedly, it is unfair to say today’s gaming world is devoid of art; there are games like FEZ or Journey, there is the subtle approach of using well-known patterns and then ripping the layers away as in Spec Ops: The Line, and sometimes, games dare to ask big moral or philosophical questions (think of Assassin’s Creed’s questioning of freedom or Mass Effect’s big dilemma “is synthetic life actual life?”). And yet, Spec Ops, Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect are way to gutless gutless; at the end of the day, there are some aspects of transcendence beyond entertainment, but ultimately, they are AAA blockbusters, easily digestible for mass consumption, “enhanced” by multiplayer and easily accessible genre conventions. While this is not a bad thing per se, it clearly diminishes the aspiration of the video game industry to finally become a serious form of art. On the other hand, we have Journey or Dear Esther – they might truly be art, but they are not traditional games in a way playing FIFA is not real football … mimicking an idea might resemble it but it’s not the same.

Now, let’s have a look at Okami. This gem is definitely art – and it does not compromise its Japanese approach and outlandish gameplay style by catering to the biggest audience possible. The vision is pure. This is what games must be if they want to be considered art. And this is a game which is fun to play, fun to watch, and fun to think about. Okami is a true masterpiece of gaming design, of including all those important little details, it is childish and mature, playful and thoughtful, and it immerses you into its colourful world with ease. Sadly, Okami is one of the last Japanese games with a focus on their local strengths – instead of leering at the wallets of Western Markets and blindly copying trends instead of relying on its own rich fountain of ideas.

Now, the big question arises: Was gaming healthier back in the PS2 era? Not from the monetary perspective, and not from the publishers’ view, of course! Let’s talk about developers who were free to do whatever they wanted to. Let’s talk about gamers who could be sure to get a complete game. Let’s talk about variety – where is the Okami, the Final Fantasy XII, the Freedom Fighters, the San Andreas, the Onimusha, the Beyond Good and Evil, the Ico or the Shadow of the Colossus of this generation (which is already riding into the sunset)? Where are the games full of uncompromising ideas, where you can feel the amount of lifeblood injected into them?

Rabidgames contemplates: Is the pinnacle of gaming a thing of the past? Are games declining again? There is a glimmer of hope hidden away deep between the piles of cheap Michael Bay special effects, marketing lies and PR blunders. The only question is – will the flame of creativity, of uncompromising ideas be allowed back into the hearts of all of us – meaning, will there be big titles which dare to go unbeaten paths?

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