We're going to start the proceedings with a little thought experiment. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then let's begin. Think back to why you started playing videogames in the first place. If you're being honest, you'll start to glaze over with fond memories of stolen lunch hours and afternoons playing with your friends (virtual or otherwise) and having a laugh. You didn't get into gaming to immerse yourself in an emergent form of high art. You played games because they were a fun toy that every kid coveted and enjoyed. This, dear reader, leads us on to one inescapable conclusion.
Games are toys. Not art.
Games, by their very definition, are things that you play... and this classification is absolutely fine for the overwhelming majority of our medium. Most developers design their wares to be disposable pleasures: like the latest Mattel craze, airfix kit or jigsaw puzzle that can be enjoyed, completed and discarded in the fullness of time. Most of us game simply because it's fun, and there's nothing wrong with that. Our focus, as gamers, ought to be to revel in this fact as well as the wondrous entertaining baubles that we can eventually throw out of the pram when their inevitable sequels hit the shelves... rather than stubbornly (and incorrectly) insisting that our entire industry represents high art every time someone stands up and challenges us.
But don't scroll down to the comments just yet, folks. Here's where things get interesting. What of the tiny minority of titles that strive to be infinitely more than just mere playthings? I'm sure that you're raring to name a few, because the likes of ICO, Braid, Flower and Every Day The Same Dream speak to us on as as many levels as a Rembrandt or a Mozart symphony. They are works of art. Many are nothing less than true masterpieces. But so long as these titles are classified as "games," they can only aspire to be the shiniest toys in the toybox as far as the mainstream media and critics are concerned.
So here's the thing. Maybe Roger Ebert actually had a point. Maybe "games" can never be art... but something else could. Maybe we need to rebrand.
As discussed above, there's nothing wrong with games being games and being recognised as such. But there's a growing call for a highbrow segment of our medium to carve out a new niche- free of the association with toys and playthings. Names like "virtual experiences," "simulations" or "Interactive Media" don't quite do it justice, but a consortium of like-minded artists (yeah, there's it is) can come up with a description that adequately conveys what they're striving to create. 'Games' just doesn't cut it. An entirely new brand would allow even mainstream critics and audiences to appreciate and critique their work relative to their peers. It would require some serious graft and probably some decreased revenue in the short term... but artists seldom get rich straight away. They deliver great works because of the love of their medium.
At the end of the day, it's important to never lose sight of the fact that gaming's primary objective is to make money and provide a fun toy for adults and children to enjoy. There's no denying it. But by letting developers willingly rebrand a portion of our industry, we could free them from this classification and allow them to explore higher concepts that can be judged on their own merits. For the sake of it. And for the sake... dare I say it... of art.
Okay, it's time for you to get involved. Do we need a rebrand? Fancy crushing my argument like a plastic cup and laying waste to my musings? I'm looking forward to a lively debate in the comments!