A Change in Perception: ‘Bioshock: Infinite,’ Video Games as Art


Matt Mersel
Staff Writer

When I was 3 years old, I played my first video game. I remember it well; 3-year-old me walked in to find my then 6-year-old brother playing “Super Mario All-Stars” on his Super Nintendo. I sat down, picked up the controller, and still haven’t put it down. Video games are a huge part of my life and my personality. I’ve seen all the greats, from the “Mario Bros.,” “Final Fantasy,” “Pokemon” and “The Legend of Zelda” series to newer classics like “Half Life 2,” “Metal Gear Solid” and the original “Bioshock.” I’ve played gems like “Kingdom Hearts,” “Bastion” and “Portal,” and believe me, this list would be hundreds of games long if I didn’t have a word limit. In my 16 years of gaming, I’ve pretty much seen it all. I like to think of myself as an aficionado. If they had a video game major here at University of California, Santa Barbara, I could teach it. So I don’t take it lightly when I say “Bioshock: Infinite” is the greatest game I’ve ever played.

This game has it all: interesting, comfortable, and incredibly fun gameplay that gives the player tons of freedom, a setting that needs to be seen to be believed, engaging and creative characters, and a story that rivals any I’ve ever experienced—be it in a game, book, film, or TV show. It’s brutal, brilliant, and beautiful. It is truly a work of art.

You could say my praises for this game are…infinite.

As you can imagine, I’ve been telling damn near everyone I come across about how amazing this game is. However, whenever I get to the arguments about it being just as good as any film or book and how I consider it art, I’m usually met with scoffs and skepticism. Thus brings up a question that has been nagging me for years: why aren’t games ever truly seen as art?

Answering this question is so far the most practical use I’ve found for what I’ve learned as a film major. Back in the early 20th century, society never really deemed films “art.” To many, film was just a passing phenomenon, nothing that could be considered groundbreaking. It was all just a gimmick. However, theorists like Sergei Eisenstein, Andrew Sarris, and François Truffaut had a true passion for the medium, and their writings that defended film as an art form are now considered seminal works in the establishment of film as a studied craft in the later half of the century. Their texts all point out how the art of film comes from the best, most essential use of the form, or what they called the “ontology” of film. Eisenstein liked disjointed, montage film making. Truffaut was all about realism, and so on.

Now keep in mind that “film” as we know it began even before the turn of the 20th century, with the first renowned works appearing in the 1890s. It took several decades for society to consider the medium art. I like to think that video games are going through this same cycle. Home gaming in its current form only really came to prominence in the late 1980s, and the same goes for games that could adequately convey a story. It wasn’t until the 90s that a game could legitimately be about anything besides “defeating an enemy,” which I personally think is partly responsible for the nasty, violent reputation that games are so often afforded. It takes a while for any medium to mature, and while some of the more worthy games of the past have been written off as exceptions to the stereotype of games, with a title like “Bioshock: Infinite,” it’s time to take notice.

Developers understand how to fully utilize the form of games and the immersion they can provide. The first-person perspective in and of itself is a marvel, engaging the spectator in a way that other mediums just can’t. Franchises like “The Legend of Zelda” and “Grand Theft Auto” present large, open worlds that can be freely explored, and with current technology can actually feel like living, breathing places. Games like “Portal” have created some of the most devious puzzles and brainteasers in recent memory. Some works have even begun to acknowledge the perceptions of violence around them, with titles like “Spec Ops: The Line” and to a certain extent even “Infinite” forcing spectators to recognize the cost of violence and the toll it takes on humanity.

Without a doubt, I believe that video games can easily be considered art. It may be a product of nostalgia—or maybe I’m just being a nerd—but it’s an opinion I will staunchly defend. For the readers who have written games off as a shallow and unremarkable, do me a favor. Find a friend with a copy of “Bioshock: Infinite,” open your mind, and just give it a try. Pirate it from online if you have to, I don’t care. If anything can change your mind, this may just be it. I think that one day, society will look back on how we treat gaming now as strange as how films were treated in the past. Mark my words: games can be art. Just give them a chance.