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Gamercamp: The Artistic Comeback of Games

Watching a new art form grow


This is a digital version of a story that appeared in the print publication of Gamercamp Magazine. Dork Shelf is Gamercamp’s official media sponsor. Gamercamp takes place in Toronto from Nov. 3-4. For more details, click here.

Video games began as an emerging technology but have mostly been perceived as a toy. Pixel by pixel, however, games are making a huge cultural comeback. They’re reaching new players young and old and achieving status as art: we now see them as new modes of expression.

Like other media, video games can stand as a method for social commentary. Dys4ia, which shares the journey of developer Anna Anthropy’s hormone replace therapy, disrupts the video game scene by showing how game development is political. It is often cast aside as a ‘non-game,’ particularly telling since it was made with free tools intended to be accessible to people who don’t have the programming knowledge or the funds. The game is upfront and unashamed; it shows that games can be about persona stories instead of ones set in space.

Better yet, Dys4ia presents subject matter that is often dismissed in politics and allows players to personally involve themselves. Triple-A studios have trouble producing respectable depictions of women, and would be hard-pressed to make a game about transgender issues. As a political statement, it shows there currently isn’t a place for minorities in game development, and that must change.

Along with the ideological, there is also the aspiration for games with more emotionally resonance. One of the newest questions in design is how do games uniquely tell stories? Charged with the personal story, Papo & Yo sets out to answer that. Many games borrow methods from literature and film to show narrative to players, but Papo & Yo communicates the protagonist Quico’s relationship with his alcoholic dad through the rules of its world: how you interact with the monster representing Quico’s father and Lula, a faithful, helpful toy robot, shows you a first-hand glimpse of the tension involved.

Games have hit the ground running. With development tools becoming available to more people, the medium is malleable, a literal frontier. Creators are asking questions and taking video games to a new place where nothing can be too creative, too vital. They create a conversation that allows us to express thoughts and feelings we don’t have words for.

To ignore video games would be to miss out on the birth of a new art form. And how many people can say they were around to witness that?