The weird thing about “games as art” debate is that everyone agrees that games are an art form, but when you really think about it, it’s hard to say what really makes games a form of art of their own.

Games have the distinct feature that they are interactive. They have some sort of definable gameplay, and that is just about one of the distinct features of games, now that we really think of it. Games are an art form that stand on top of other art forms - motion picture, visual arts, music and literature, to mention just a few things.

But is there an excuse to call games a form of art that is truly separate from others?
Let us consider the proposition that games are just a combination of existing forms of art. That sort of proposition is the same sort of critique that you can level at modern notion of creativity; “people aren’t creative these days, they just recycle old ideas”. Obviously, this sort of thinking is false, and we all know why.

In my opinion, the fact that games are a separate form of art is easily evident in the way they transform other media, the same way that “recycling old ideas” produces end results that look nothing like the “original” ideas.

One could argue that, for example, film is a completely useless art form too: all it does is take theatre, music, and visual arts, and produce something that could be done on the separate mediums individually. Oops! In fact, film transforms other forms of medium and breaks away from those shackles. Not being confined on stage will make it possible to set scenes in places that are difficult to replicate on stage in front of the audience. There are distinct visual and musical styles that are employed in film. Writing screenplays for stage is different from writing for film and for television.

One of the good common-sense definitions I can come up with for defining what constitutes a form of art is actually pretty simple:
<ol><li>Do people actually create things for this segment?</li><li>If so, do they have to do something differently than when they’re creating things for other media?</li></ol>Games are a very good example of a medium that is quite creative in nature (easily satisfying point 1) and the creators have to have special considerations in mind when creating things (point 2).

One of the big stumbling blocks when trying to convince people that games are different from other forms of art is in forms of narration. People will probably take a simplistic view and say that games are either games or just another form of cinema; you’re playing a game and, in the middle, watching gigantic non-interactive cutscenes.

My favourite contrary example, it seems now, are the Metroid series and Thief series. Both of these use narration in a distinct way.

Save a few exceptions like Metroid Fusion, in Metroid series, cutscenes are rather rare, and often unnarrated. One of the big points in this is that the player has to make sense of what they are seeing, because the game isn’t trying to force-feed you one easy official explanation. Most often, you have to observe what things are happening in the game itself. In the game, you may see a new interesting place where you should probably go, but you can’t get to yet. The place might even have some clues on things that are yet to happen, like a new weapon. You may see things that are played out by the enemies; you have to react appropriately.

What Metroid and Thief have in common is the reliance in collectable information. Most of the details of what’s going on isn’t actually happening in the game. Metroid Prime employs logbook scans: You find information about enemies and information gathered from the computers and other information sources in the environment. You find information on what, say, the Space Pirates were doing in a certain area, and how it turned out - and that tells you something you will find handy or need to know to proceed.

In Thief series, most of the information comes from people who have conversations, and from books and papers that are lying around the levels. Not just clues on how to proceed, but also bits that tell you something about the world.

The big point is that the stereotypical view of gaming is that there’s Gameplay and then there’s Narration, and the two never meet. It’s a regrettable part of some games these days; I greatly enjoy, say, Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy series, but those series are not good poster boys for “games as storytelling devices” - which is regrettable, because they are such high-profile examples.

Thief and Metroid series, and even games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Arena and Deus Ex and - well, a lot of games, really - are good examples of games where deep, though-provoking narration is intermingled in the gameplay. You have the choice of following the story - you can play the games as straight-up action experiences and only pay attention to the plot when it suits you, but you can also spend time looking for every last bit of trivia and information that could help you or make you understand the situation better. Following the story doesn’t interrupt your gameplay experience, yet at the same time, it doesn’t prevent the story for being deep, fascinating, thought-provoking, even beautiful.