We live in a time, where, for the first time in history, the trend to produce more realistic and better graphics slowly comes to an end.
Still, there are those who claim that graphics are the most important aspect of the game, while others claim them to be not that important or even not important at all. My take on this is the same as my take on the debate: Are games art? My answer to both: THAT DEPENDS!
First and foremost: Visuals =/= Graphics. What people in general understand as graphics are modern days realistic and whatnot dark and edgy visual styles, generally dubbed by me as “teh graf!xz”. Viusals on the other hand include the graphical style aswell as the presentation the game has chosen.
For instance, take Megaman 10. Would realistic HD graphics make the game any better? No. On the contrary. The visuals of the game are stunning and brilliant, but the graphics suck. Still, nobody would want it any other way, except you maybe who thinks of correcting me with a comment.
Same goes for Angry Birds. Would it be a better game if the game had realistic graphics? I doubt it. Again, the visuals are brilliant though.
I’d like to bring the example of Metroid Prime (Trilogy) in this favour. The visuals in this game are so stunning, they are hardly matched by any game released today. Still, I know people complaining that “the graph!xz suckz” or something like that. Those people clearly have no idea what they are talking about.
I mean, every single room in every single Metroid Prime game is not only unique, but also perfectly crafted. Retro mastered the visual style in those games. The chosen style is represented perfectly, and no HD or whatnot could ever change that. Take for example a game like Splatterhouse, where they have normal paralax bumpscrollinghdrlightingshaders and teh graf!xz and whatnot and still the visuals are bland and boring because the visual style sucks and the level design is boring.
That is where my stance on games as art comes in. It depends on the game. For instance, Wind Waker is Art. So is the Metroid Prime Trilogy, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and of course Bioshock.
On the other hand, games like Splatterhouse for instance are not art. So where is the difference?
The difference between visuals and graphics is the overall style and presentation within this style. For instance G.R.U.N.T.S. chose a black and white visual style and presents this style perfectly. So does Wind Waker with its visual style aswell as Serious Sam and Bulletstorm. And what makes those games art? It is the combination of the visual style with the effort of developing a compelling experience. Similar to movies. The Godfather Trilogy is art. So is Psycho. But movies like National Treasure or Drive Angry, although entertaining, are not art.
If we don’t stop categorizing the overall media, we might miss the opportunities this new age of gaming gives us. Visuals are important, there is no denying. But compelling visuals don’t need realistic graphics. And while some games definetely are are art, others are not. And it is up to us to show the world what games can be. An artform with unicue visuals that aid a new experience.