February 13, 2014

Games as a Medium

Over the past couple of decades, video games have become a popular form of entertainment that millions of people enjoy daily. They allow us to experience wonderful worlds, interesting characters, and overcome obstacles that create a feeling of accomplishment.

In this post, I would like to briefly look at games as a medium of human interaction and expression. This post is primarily targeted at those new to video games and/or consumers but I feel that it may be useful reminder to those in development as well.

What Are Games?

Games are an interactive form of entertainment that allows individuals to actively engage with someone on something in order to create an experience.

Games Engage

What makes games powerful is their ability to engage through play rather than passive observance.  Unlike other forms of entertainment like books or movies, games are interactive in nature and thus engage with our senses and minds directly. They also provide agency, which makes us feel like we are making choices that matter, unlike other mediums where agency is minimal or completely nonexistent.

Games Teach

Games can traced as far back as the dawn of man and can still be seen in animals as a way of learning tools for survival.  They allow players to learn problem solving skills, language, and even about the world around them.  They also provide safe spaces where players can explore concepts and tools without fear of judgment or getting things “wrong”. Rather than learning how to learn and apply concepts in a rote fashion, we can actively learn new things and reap their intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Games Offer Perspective

Games can give us insight into roles or views that we may not see or think about in our every day lives. By placing us in certain settings and playing certain characters (whether through role play in real life or via controller in a virtual world), we can explore a perspective that may not be our everyday one. Through this we can explore anything from high fantasy to world issues affecting real people.

Video Games

As man has evolved, games have evolved. Video games are an interactive form of entertainment that allows individuals to actively engage with someone on something in order to create an experience using modern technology.

Video Games as Art

Because video games are a result of human expression through time spent mastering various disciplines, I believe that video games are art. As long as a person is willing to put forth the effort into learning how to code, create art assets, and/or pick up design principles they have the power to create. And if they’re lucky, they can present their creations to a receptive audience. But like the mediums before it, it does pose one potential problem: creative freedom.

Creative Freedom

Since games are a product of human expression, they can potentially offend people. And much like in the past, there are many people that want to censor, belittle, shame, and shape creative works to their liking. These kinds of people are afraid of works that explore, create, or discuss subject matter that they don’t like unless to them it’s okay.

I believe that this is wrong.

By not allowing human beings to express their vision freely through any medium and making them responsible for a highly subjective ruleset of implicit standards and values that change from person to person, you are destroying and devaluing the medium. You are restricting expression to a closed box filled with preapproved topics that no one can step out of. With this attitude, video games will never be taken seriously as a medium and their power will never be tapped into.

Our Right to This Medium

A medium is an interface that allows human beings to express thoughts and perspectives in a way that can be shared with others. This act is precious and allows us to examine and understand the social and cultural aspects of people we may never meet in the past/present. Therefore as observers and consumers, we must observe two core rules:

  1. We do not have the right to tell people what they can or cannot make.
  2. We do have the right to critique, discuss, analyze, agree, disagree, engage, and not engage with things we don’t like.

As consumers, we tend to blur the lines between these two rules often and it’s disheartening. No one has the right to tell creators what to do with the skills they developed, especially if they aren’t willing to dedicate the time to develop the skills to express themselves.

When you’re on the path to becoming a game developer or are in a field unrelated to games, it’s easy to say what’s wrong with a game. But it’s much harder to offer meaningful feedback with solutions that could actually be implemented. Not to mention that people in creative fields work tirelessly behind the scenes to develop their skills and make products that will reach an audience.

If you think that there is something missing in video games, pick up a book. Find a teacher. Learn how to express yourself and see what you can present to the world. The great thing about any medium, especially video games, is that if you put in the time to learn the process, you can make whatever you want. Heck, you’ll probably find people that share your views and will help you develop your piece to show the world.

And if for some reason your heart is elsewhere and you would like to enjoy games, at least offer constructive criticism. Please understand the difference between critique and shaming, spend your money on things you would like to see more of, and take it from there.


In order for consumers to be held responsible for following their core rules, creators must ask themselves one simple question: what’s this for?

As long as there is a reason for your work to exist the way it is, a creator has the right to create whatever they please. Please make me happy, sad, scared, frustrated, or even enraged if you’re aware of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

But if your answer is fuzzy or unclear, it shouldn’t be a surprise when others feel the same way and tear into your work.

Do not create ignorantly. Game developers, especially game designers, must always ask themselves “Why?” Why are my characters the way they are? Why is this level designed in this way? Why did I pick this art style, theme(s), and mechanics?

Now there does not need to be a profound reason for making development decisions; just don’t implement blindly. If you expect consumers to respect your right to create, you must take responsibility for everything you create. Don’t cheapen the impact of your voice; not out of ignorance, pressure, or social commentary unless you didn’t think about the “why” driving your decisions. If you mess up, it’s fine; no one is perfect. But own up to your mistakes and try not to make them again.

What Games Are

So to wrap up, games are a way for human beings and animals to learn in an active and engaging way. Games can engage, teach, and offer us insight into other perspectives. Video games have taken from traditional games and mediums in order to create worlds fueled by code, art, design, and human expression. Therefore, video games are art.

Since video games are art, we must allow creators the freedom to make what they want to. The observers must respect a person’s right to create, as the creators spent the time developing their skills and have a right to their voice. The creator must respect critique, examine why they are creating, and take responsibility for what they create.

With these things in mind, play, create, and explore this medium to the fullest.