Even if never found hanging in the Louvre, certain video games are art. No amount of argument can overpower this fact. If evidence is necessary, one only need to look at, and play, Machinarium by Amanita Design.
Without spoken or written dialogue, Machinarium tells the story of a robot, Josef, as he struggles to rescue his girlfriend and foil the machinations of the three robots forming the Black Cap Brotherhood. The artwork straddles a thin line between the hard, cold metal of its environment and denizens and the life beneath it all. Through a point-and-click interface, the player navigates the puzzles put in Josef’s way.
The Whispered World
Hand-drawn and animated, Daedalic Entertainment’s The Whispered World follows a similar formula while embracing a wildly different aesthetic. Taking place in a surreal dream world, The Whispered Wind tells the story of Sadwick, a young (coulrophobes beware) circus clown, as he tries to save his world from an impending disaster. Sadwick is not alone in his quest. A shape-shifting caterpillar named Spot helps the little clown through his puzzles by changing into useful forms, which grow in variety as the game progresses.
Regarding dialogue, The Whispered World is far removed from Machinarium, but both share beautiful artwork integral in telling wonderful stories. The Whispered World is sold by online, available in hard copy at Amazon.com for and at digitally at Gamersgate.
Jakob Dvorsky’s Samorost 2 is, unintentionally, a synthesis of both Machinarium and The Whispered World. Samorost 2, and its predecessor, combines the mechanical with the biological aesthetic. Imagine a warmer, less fetishistic H.R. Giger. Samorost 2 seems the most mature in its use of contrast between light and dark colors.
Like Machinarium, there is no dialogue as the player points and clicks the white-clad character through a series of puzzles between him and his kidnapped dog. While not the most epic of storylines, the gnome-like character can’t always save his world from a collision, as in the original Samorost. Available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, and can also be purchased on the Steam website. You can get started by checking out the first free chapter on the website.
Not a fan of bright colors, but still want a surreal story told through moving works of art? Playdead’s Limbo is the answer. A side-scrolling puzzler as opposed to point-and-click, it is no less beautiful in its stark, minimalistic black and white rendering than the abovementioned games. The monochromatic palette is striking enough, but the use of stark focus and blurring is at once disorienting and enthralling as the player moves an unidentified boy through a nightmare forest that soon enough gives way to a collapsing, desolate city.
As gruesome as it is beautiful, Limbo sets aside niceties as players can expect to watch the mysterious boy die many times while solving Limbo’s deadly, bizarre puzzles. In its simplicity, the developers of Limbo have succeeded where a regrettable number of horrible Tim Burton movies have failed; creating emotional depth and beauty through darkness and mortality. Like much of art itself, Limbo’s storyline is as unique as the individual interpreting it.
Limbo can be purchased through Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, but extra special edition can be had on Amazon.com for both PC and Mac, coming with some nice bonus goodies. It supports the PC, Mac OS X and OnLive Cloud.
Tales of Monkey Island
Before even more gamer money lines therapists’ pockets from prolonged exposure to the surreal and dour, Telltale Games attempts to balance the dark with a bit of cartoonish light with Tales of Monkey Island. Released as chapters instead of a whole game, Tales of Monkey Island is a traditional point-and-click puzzler in which player’s use the 3D environment or stored items to solve the conundrum in their way before progressing through the storyline and onto the next puzzle.
Not wanting to strand players, or leave them in untenable situations, the developers included a hint system to push players in the right direction and continue the story. Playable on Wii and PlayStation 3, Tales of Monkey Island is also available for Mac OS X, Windows, and iOS. You can pick up a copy at Amazon for instant download.
The Walking Dead: The Game
Also from Telltale Games is The Walking Dead: The Game. Released in chapters as well, the storyline follows an alternate set of characters from the graphic novels and television show. The game uses a point-and-click system, but the choices are less about the environmental puzzle solving and more about character decisions and consequences.
The player’s choices about story and characters determine outcomes as opposed to directed actions. Included is a rewind feature that permits players to try different character development choices. If you haven’t tried it out, it is worth playing. It was in the running for best game of the year for 2013.
Video games may never reach the same level of respect as Pollack, Warhol, or Basquiat, but there are some that deserve it.