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The world of video games is a varied and often breathtaking landscape encompassing elements that easily transcend “game” to “art”. Many independent studios, freed from the constraint of having to meet vigorous sales numbers, are designing games that reach new visual heights, and are proving that video games are, and can be, used as an artistic medium

one which inspires and creates long-lasting impressions on the participant, much like traditional forms of art. Most notably, mainstream art institutions such as The Smithsonian American Art Museum, which is currently running “The Art of Video Games” through September 30th 2012, have finally acknowledged what many gamers have known for years with this groundbreaking exhibition.

With video games gaining more of an audience that appreciate a uniquely styled gaming experience, studios such as PlayDead and Capybara Games, are a few of the indie studios that have created side-scrolling 2D platformers that take their design cues from cinematic styling and old-school pixel games. PlayDead’s “Limbo”, follows the story of a young boy who must rescue his sister and survive the perils presented within a lord-of-the-flies type environment. Other than the bright, blinking points of lights indicating eyes, falling water, or the dreaded “brain slug” the entire game is a miasmic world of misty grays and silhouettes. Working within this limited palate, PlayDead evokes a sense of desperation, oppressiveness and an unsettling creepiness that lingers after finishing the game.

Limbo ©PlayDead

Capybara Games Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP harkens back to the 8-bit video games of the 1980’s with a pixilated world featuring a heroine The Scythian, and her adventures. This reboot of pixel art is refreshing… layers of colors enhance the simplicity of the characters and a soft background compliments the hard edges of the characters beautifully. With an April 13th release for both Mac and PC (besides available on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) you can enjoy this visual delight on your favorite platform.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP © 2012 Capybara Games

Since its mid-March release of “Journey”, a 3D Playstation 3 game, ThatGameCompanyTM has firmly planted their flag and staked its claim within the video game world as a valid medium for art. Building upon the success of previous games “flOw” and “Flower”, ThatGameCompany once again presents us with an interactive adventure that is both aesthetically immersive as well as meditative in its design. Traveling across shifting sands, through caves and ruins, your character’s goal is to reach the bright mountaintop that looms in the distance.

The purpose of the game is to enjoy and reflect upon the journey your character takes instead of focusing on the goal (this journey can be made with others, should you choose). With such lush visuals, TGC makes it easy to get lost within the game. The range of influence is widespread—from Japanese Noh masks to Persian architecture to Peruvian textiles, these visual nods can be felt throughout— from the pared down facial design of your character, to the gently fluttering scarf you acquire and lengthen as you progress in your travels.

Journey ©ThatGameCompany

ThatGameCompany’s previous creations, Flower and flOw, are featured alongside other masterpieces such as “Shadow of the Colossus” (developed by Team Ico), in the The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition “The Art of Video Games”. With a record-breaking crowd on opening day (23,000 visitors), the exhibition seeks to explore 40 years of video games with a focus on “on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies.” Featuring 80 games, they run the gamut of 8-bit oldies to today’s releases (To view interviews with some of the game designers, developers, writers and artists featured in “The Art of Video Games”, follow the link here). Visitors can interact with several exhibitions while reliving childhood memories — and share those treasured moments with their own children.

Video games as an artistic and designing platform is difficult to dispute… their impact on how we experience art will only continue to grow as game developers continue to stride forth into new exciting territory, both visually and thematically.