The late film critic Roger Ebert once said that “video games can never be art”. He then moved on to defend this point of view in an article where he discusses some artistic games, namely Braid and Flower. In the article, Ebert makes one thing clear: he has never played the games he is talking about, and he never will.
Ebert was never qualified to talk about the artistic merits of games. He lacked first-hand experience, completely resistant to even trying a video game. Otherwise, he might have known that yes, games can be art. Of course they can. Games elicit emotion in a unique way, immersing their audience in a particular role. And while games like Red Dead Redemption or The Last Of Us can sometimes be emotional, smaller indie titles often resonate emotionally. Take a look at these games which are, without a doubt, emotional works of art.
10/10 Emily is absent
Emily is Away
This change represents the protagonist’s anxiety around the changing world. High school is over for them. Themes of love, friendship, transition, and nostalgia are explored through the game’s beautifully written characters. There’s also “YouToob,” an immersive HTML website created just for the game. old meme videos and listening to music from the era really adds to the bittersweet atmosphere.
9/10 papers, please
This well-known game is the story of an immigration officer in the fictional communist country of Arstotzka. The player must bow to bureaucracy, maintain perfect performance at the risk of his own remuneration. And because they have a family to feed, the salary is paramount.
Papers, Please illustrates many of the difficulties of living under authoritarianism, but one in particular. Some have wondered why revolutions are not more common under authoritarian governments. It’s because revolutions come from below, and sometimes people from below have to fend for themselves. In Papers, Please, the player is at the bottom. Even bending the rules for a small favor means their family doesn’t eat. It’s that simple.
8/10 Outlaw of Hypnospace
Hypnospace Outlaw is another novel-style interactive game that takes place on a fake computer. The player character has been hired by the company Merchantsoft to act as a freelance moderator for their web service: “Hypnospace”.
Hypnospace Outlaw explores themes of belonging, nostalgia and capitalism. It’s a charming and hilarious experience. The characters and their web pages are extremely lovable, and the care taken in creating them is evident. Even the villain is well written. Also to the game’s credit, it contains hundreds of original songs. Some songs are amazing and all of them are worth listening to at least once.
Celeste is a challenging platformer that requires lots of trial and error. The game’s main character, Madeline, struggles with anxiety and self-doubt as she scales Mount Celestial – a representation of life’s hardships. Celeste seems to resonate, in particular, with those who suffer from depression. When you’re depressed, every aspect of life can feel like an uphill battle. The simplest tasks become grueling, such as mountaineering.
Celeste contains touching and useful lessons for all who play it; not just those struggling with mental illness. It also resonates with the LGBT community, as its protagonist is transgender. Unfortunately, anxiety and self-doubt are common foils for many trans women, hence the relevance of Celeste’s uplifting message.
6/10 The beginner’s guide
The Beginner’s Guide is the second game published by Davey Wreden, who also developed The Stanley Parable. Davey is also the game’s narrator and one of the two main characters.
The story seems to contain elements of Wreden’s own life and his own struggles with game design. In the game, Davey guides the player through several half-completed games made by a friend named Coda. As they play the Coda games, Wreden asks the player to imagine what kind of person he was. Without getting into spoiler territory, the game has some nice things to say about game design, creativity, and personal insecurity.
5/10 Back home
Gone Home is a storytelling game. It has light gameplay elements (known to most as a “walking simulator”), but it’s still a great game. It also prominently features LGBT characters, being one of the first video games to do so. . The game’s beautiful story revolves around romance, prejudice, and acceptance.
In Gone Home, a woman named Katie returns from a trip abroad. She arrives at her family’s new home, only to find it empty. As Katie investigates the house, she pieces together the story of what happened and why everyone disappeared. It’s hard to discuss the plot of Gone Home without spoiling it, so we won’t.
4/10 Lisa: the painful one
Actually a trilogy of games, the second game in the series (“Lisa: The Painful”) is generally the most recognized and discussed. Lisa: The Painful puts players in the shoes of Brad Armstrong, a drug addict. Just as a warning, it also contains depictions of abuse.
Gameplay-wise, Lisa is basically an Earthbound clone, but done well. In terms of story, oddly enough, it’s a lot like The Last Of Us. Yet it explores its themes deeper and with much better comic relief. At some point, parenthood becomes overwhelming. He crosses a line. It is less about the child and the rules are imposed by the parent mainly for their own satisfaction. Lisa asks the question “Where is that line?”
In Firewatch, a man named Henry gets a new job as a fire watcher in the Shoshone National Forest. He soon begins chatting with another fire watcher named Delilah, and what appears to be a simple romance soon turns into something else.
In life, we are often our own worst enemies. It can be easy for us to get stuck in our own heads. We like to dwell on our imperfections and the things we think should be done differently. This is Henry’s main struggle in the game. His journey of overcoming guilt surrounding his ex-wife and paranoia about his place in the world is utterly captivating. Aided by top-notch art and voice acting, Firewatch is a classic emotional game.
Undertale is another Earthbound clone, the most well-known game in this subgenre by far. In the game, a child (“Frisk”) falls deep underground, into a world of monsters. It’s an extremely heartfelt game that explores themes of friendship and game design itself.
One tool Undertale uses exceptionally well to elicit an emotional response is music. It’s completely littered with leitmotifs and other recurring melodies. Associated characters have associated theme songs. This often goes unnoticed by players until their second playthrough, adding to the emotional reaction when they finally notice it. It also helps that Toby Fox is a talented songwriter. Expect goosebumps listening.
1/10 Disco Elysee
Disco Elysium is an absolute masterpiece of a crime RPG. Along with its stellar humor, the game has moments of poignant beauty. As an examination of culture and politics, it asks its players to wrestle with meaningful questions. How would you handle the rigors of police life? How far could you fall into drug addiction? Who really benefits from our political systems? Can you handle criticism of your own ideology?
In this 20-hour game, most of which is dialogue, almost every line is funny or poignant. And that’s good because as storytellers know, both are necessary. As audiences, we compare emotional moments to moments of levity. It’s like a roller coaster – a good story has ups and downs. Because Disco Elysium has both to a great extent, it’s extremely satisfying.