Every game is about choice, but some games are more about choice than others. BioWare, among other developers, has built their reputation on allowing gamers to (somewhat) choose the path to follow throughout their titles. Other games, even as simple as the most basic of edutational titles, put the gamer in the driver’s seat. It’s the principal difference between video games and other methods of narrative: technology allows for interactivity in narrative.
This essay has a spoiler for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I shouldn’t need to give anyone a warning about that, but just in case, here it is. In addition, one could probably infer a spoiler or two from my description of Mass Effect 3 if you put your thinking caps on. You have been warned.
With the way that fans reacted to Mass Effect 3’s ending, you’d have thought that its developer, BioWare, implanted a virus that destroyed a console’s hard drive and replaced it with child pornography. The internet exploded into a frenzy of wrath within days of release, once the hardest of hardcore gamers got to the ending and then—armed with tar, pitchforks, and Professor Lawrence’s Home Exorcism Kit—vented their wrath upon all manner of forums, social networking sites, and petitions. Creators engaged them on the front lines before eventually issuing a retraction (of sorts). All was right with the world… or would be, once the creators released the patch.
We are currently engaged in the adolescence of an art form. Not in that there has been a discovery of pornography or cars, no. What I mean to say is that video games are no longer in their childhood. They gross more than Hollywood’s theatre release, develop mainstream celebrities [insert your favorite/most attractive], have developed a studio-like system (for better or worse), and have begun to return to their indie-roots with direct-to-consumer distribution. This evolution implies that games are important both economically and aesthetically to a large number of people. Games are as significant to our cultural landscape as baseball and misguided wars in the Middle East. The conversation about whether they are “art” entirely misses the point.