21 Video Games that are Art (Part 1)

As of 2016, the value of the gaming industry is almost 2 trillion globally. Further, while a generation or two ago games may have been regarded largely as the domain of young kids spending their summer nerding up, playing a Game Boy at the back of the bus – or even challenging someone (anyone!) to beat their high score at Donkey Kong in the arcade – with the 18-35 year old demographic now the largest group of gamers, the popularity and accompanying purchasing power of video game’s largest demographic affirms it’s staying power in pop culture.

Just as the old adage goes ‘when did car racing begin? When the second car rolled off the line!’ so too has this growth of video games increasingly seen a shift in the way they are appraised, and this has led to the ‘video games are art’

Art is subjective. One person’s masterpiece hanging from a gallery wall is another person’s ‘that is so overrated – let’s go home now!’. Yet, with popularity of video games today, the contention held by many that videogames are and can indeed be art is altogether credible. This is especially so as the statistics on video game use are astounding.

So, In just a generation games have gone from peripheral to foundational in our entertainment culture. Here are 7 games that drove such a movement.

Disclaimer: care has been taken to ensure all writing that follows is spoiler-free. As the linked videos are produced by others, watch with caution is yet to play the titles listed. E


From indie game to blockbuster. The freewheeling creativity and diversity of tasks, trials, and outcomes is what makes Minecraft so popular, and also such a strong contribution to the video games is art crowd.

Launched in just 2011, the sandbox game (that just like a kid in a sandbox allows you to create and construct whatever you desire with materials on hand) has fundamentally taken the world by storm for its originality and seemingly endless choices for how to spend an hour or two in-game. At its core though this is a title unquestionable built upon creativity, the very core of art, and so is a very fitting first entry for the list, and surely a must-play for those yet too.


The notable feature about Journey is it unashamedly puts visual experience before gameplay. In fact, there is really little gameplay at all, with levels, enemies, ‘boss battles’, and all other aspects often seen in gaming absent. Instead, per the game’s title, Journey encourages players to just go through the game professionally, and do so with a focus on the broader experience over immediate goals.

For those fans of Super Mario that have long loved a game where you hop on turtles and fight your way towards a castle, this may seem an unappealing title at first. Yet, not unlike a MC Escher painting, the many aspects and layers a player encounters as they go through the visually rich experience of the game makes it eminently worthwhile. What’s more, Journey is by no means a visual-only experience, as it is notably the first video game to receive a Grammy nomination for its excellent soundtrack.

(warning: some spoilers in video)

Just like Journey, indie game Braid is rich in visual flair. At first appearing as a traditional platforming game in the ilk of Mario or Sonic, the game quickly strikes out a unique angle for itself not only offering the player a chance to wind back time (and thus undo their mistakes or misses in the game) – but also outright requiring it.

A game that asks a player to reflect not only on the steps forward they’ve taken, but also asks them to sometimes move back in time to go forward, Braid gave players a gaming experience based on thought and precision. Further adding to Braid’s claim to be considered among the great games/works of art is its ending. Without giving anything away for those yet to play it, a game that is otherwise seemingly cheery and sonorous in its soundtrack certainly moves towards a confronting (but compelling) ending.

Metal Gear Solid

When first released in in 1998 Metal Gear Solid was a revelation in gaming. Though 2 entries in the series had existed in the 8 bit era prior, it was with the launch of MGS on the PS1 that technology finally began to offer a full and fair realisation to creator Hideo Kojima’s vision of a video game.

A unique title nonetheless thoroughly informed by the blockbusters and pop culture that came before it – from the lead character Solid Snake taking his name from Kurt Russel’s Escape from New York character Snake Pliskin to his appearance resembling Mel Gibson from the Lethal Weapon era – MGS was at once something completely new and yet an affectionate homage to the 80’s Cold War blockbusters of yore.

Super Mario Sunshine

(warning: some spoilers in video)

Just because a game is a blockbuster doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful. Super Mario Sunshine is the kind of game one can easily imagine noted Australian artist Pro Hart as well as the surrealist duo Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso just going to town in.

What’s more, the game has a heavily artistic throughout its imagery. Alongside the rich contrasts provided by its tropical island setting, the plot involves a villain Shadow mario ‘polluting’ the island with graffiti, a term many in my hometown of Melbourne aka the street art capital of the world would contest. Nonetheless, Mario sets out to eradicate the graffiti from the island, and do so with a special backpack dousing device, which he uses to himself paint colours across the island, and in doing so provide a glorious and vivid litany of colours reminiscent of the technicolor era of film.


(warning: some spoilers in video)

Envisioned to be an epic that would play out over 5 volumes, the inaugural title began the story in a rural Japanese village as Ryu Hazuki, the game’s 17-year-old protagonist saw his father murdered by the mysterious Lan Di, and vowed to set off on a journey of exploration and revenge. 

Even today, the game still stands up as hugely ambitious and eminently significant in pop culture. As a title that allows the player to wander through the bars, shops, and streets of the coastal Japanese city Yokosuka – as well as interact with everything from pet cats and vending machines alongside other characters – the game also features a intensive combat system that affirmed this was not only a visually rich title, but one that sought to provide significant challenge to mastery.

With Sega announcing it would fold its tent as a console maker with the Dreamcast in 2001, the Shenmue series though acclaimed went into a state of perpetual limbo following Shenmue II making it out just before ‘last call’ on the Dreamcast (though later ported to Xbox). Yet, with the advent of a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, it was announced Shenmue III would indeed be made and the series revived with a tentative release date of 2017, news much to the delight of game and art fans all over.

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger has the distinction of being a game that created an eclectic world of ambiance and atmosphere all contained within just 16-bit graphics and 16-bit sound.  A role playing game [RPG] built within a world where travelling back and forth in time on the hero’s journey would come to be widely praised as holding one of the greatest gaming stories of all time.

Chrono Trigger encapsulates so much of what gamer’s found so endearing and fantastic around the 2D era of gaming, with a deep story, rich visuals, and a soaring score enclosed but nonetheless faithfully represented within a technology many may have otherwise regarded as limited. Just like a painted with just 2 colours producing a gorgeous black and white, so too did Square Enix create a masterpiece in full compliment (rather than constraint) of 1990’s game technology.

It may be sad Part 1 is at an end but here is Part 2 and even Part 3 to keep you amused.

Ed Kennedy is a journalist, ghostwriter, and web developer from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via enquiries@edkennedy.co on LinkedIn or Twitter@EdKennedy01

#Art and Design

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