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    Default "Art House" Video Games

    This is a thread for what I am calling "art house" video games, for lack of a better term. You know, experimental games that have something profound to say. My favorite art house game is Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. I absolutely love everything about it: the soundtrack, the aesthetic, the exploration of psychosis and trauma. I also think that there should be more short games like this. Hellblade has such a nice tight story, and can be completed in less than ten hours. I think narrative focused games like that should be short, personally, because I tend to lose interest with longer games

    I also own a little game called The Void which is supposed to be interesting, but I haven't played it yet.

    What are all of your favorite games in this genre?
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    Default Re: "Art House" Video Games

    My other three favorites that have a strong emphasis on the artistic aspect are Shadow of the Colossus, Mirror's Edge, and Portal. They don't just have pretty visuals and music, but these serve to express something that does a lot more to communicate the story of the games than what limited dialog is in them.
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    I think at least some part of the indie arthouse "subgenre" might have been jumpstarted (or reinvigorated) by the success of Braid back in 2008, which was good but also maybe a bit overblown. Then came Bastion et al, which was also pretty solid to say the least.

    It's also pretty arguable what constitutes as an arthouse game and whether having pretty solid mechanics voids that tag or not; but I'll just name some games off the top of my head, never mind their gameplay: Hotline Miami, Firewatch, Katana Zero, Oxenfree, Papers Please, Return of the Obra Dinn, Ape Out, Kentucky Route Zero, Night in the Woods, etc.

    If we stretch it a bit further, maybe The Longest Journey et al, Planescape: Torment, Life is Strange, Disco Elysium, etc. might count too.

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    Default Re: "Art House" Video Games

    I wouldn't have considered Return of the Obra Dinn to necessarily be on this list, because I played it a lot more for the mechanics and the mystery than for the aesthetics, but it is one of my favourite games of the last few years and definitely extremely well crafted.

    Night in the Woods is at the very, very top of artistic games, not just aesthetically, but in its message too. Also, in its pretty dang unique mixture of genres. (Drama, Psychology, Absurd Comedy, Satire, Psychological Horror, Gothic Horror and Existential Horror.)
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    I was considering Planescape Torment too. It does a good job of transfering the pencil sketches of DiTerlizzi into 3D environments (as 2D backgrounds) and the music complements the environments very well. But I feel that's simply good art direction. The game also has a lot of depth and intellectual content, but that is all in the dialogs. It's good, but you don't have the environments and atmosphere carry a bigger artistic vision. Planescape is an outstanding game because of the text that is in the game. But I feel that the "fancy pants art games" really communicate what they have to express through visuals, audio, and gameplay even through long stretches with no words at all. Outside of the conversations, Planescape is an visually interesting game with fitting music. But walking through the streets and fighting enemies does not feel light a highly artistic experience.

    Hotline Miami would definitely be on my list, though. The pieces of dialog give very important context that enhances the rest of the game, but the visuals, music, and gameplay alone have great artistic depth just by themselves as well.

    When Roger Ebert famously said that videogames can't be art, I believe he meant that having good visuals, music, and writing does not make the game as a whole a work of art because gameplay can never be art. But somewhere in the 2000s that changed. We now have more than just a few games in which the gameplay itself is an important aspect in the artistic experience. Riding the horse across the plains in Shadow of the Colossus and taking it into narrow canyons is a much bigger experience than just watching images of the environment while listening to the music. You experience the giant creatures very differently when clinging to their fur while they are trying to shake you off 50 meters above the ground than just seeing them from a distance.
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    Default Re: "Art House" Video Games

    I think this one it's ok ''Stealth'' because this is my favorite

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    When Roger Ebert famously said that videogames can't be art, I believe he meant that having good visuals, music, and writing does not make the game as a whole a work of art because gameplay can never be art. But somewhere in the 2000s that changed. We now have more than just a few games in which the gameplay itself is an important aspect in the artistic experience. Riding the horse across the plains in Shadow of the Colossus and taking it into narrow canyons is a much bigger experience than just watching images of the environment while listening to the music. You experience the giant creatures very differently when clinging to their fur while they are trying to shake you off 50 meters above the ground than just seeing them from a distance.
    The best response to that statement I saw was that games are not like art, they are like art galleries. They contain moments, sights, activities and events, that are meant to evoke certain emotions, but the player can find their own way through them and choose when to interact with what.
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    I played a somewhat lesser known platformer called GRIS recently. Dialogue-free yet highly focused on its story, allegorical, and damn beautiful. I'm a sucker for artsy and atmospheric low-pressure platformers à la Knytt - in this one you can't die, though the downside is that if you miss a jump, you will have to climb back up again. It's thematically appropriate, given the story the game is telling.
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    Default Re: "Art House" Video Games

    Hollow Knight is incredibly atmospheric.

    Ib is set in an art museum. Sort of.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eldan View Post
    I wouldn't have considered Return of the Obra Dinn to necessarily be on this list, because I played it a lot more for the mechanics and the mystery than for the aesthetics, but it is one of my favourite games of the last few years and definitely extremely well crafted.
    Yeah, Obra Dinn was a bit of a stretch but it just was a pretty unique experience, so it came to mind.

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    When Roger Ebert famously said that videogames can't be art, I believe he meant that having good visuals, music, and writing does not make the game as a whole a work of art because gameplay can never be art. But somewhere in the 2000s that changed. We now have more than just a few games in which the gameplay itself is an important aspect in the artistic experience. Riding the horse across the plains in Shadow of the Colossus and taking it into narrow canyons is a much bigger experience than just watching images of the environment while listening to the music. You experience the giant creatures very differently when clinging to their fur while they are trying to shake you off 50 meters above the ground than just seeing them from a distance.
    It's cute that Ebert thinks he can decide what's art or not, but he has a well-known name, I'll give him that.

    And about gameplay: especially in contemporary art of the last decades, interactivity grew up to become the big thing, and there are examples of it even way further back. It's almost as if people know that interacting with something creates an experience not found in other, passive art media. So actually, even the argument that "gameplay can't be art" begins to not hold water.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silfir View Post
    I played a somewhat lesser known platformer called GRIS recently. Dialogue-free yet highly focused on its story, allegorical, and damn beautiful. I'm a sucker for artsy and atmospheric low-pressure platformers à la Knytt - in this one you can't die, though the downside is that if you miss a jump, you will have to climb back up again. It's thematically appropriate, given the story the game is telling.
    Ah, yeah, GRIS was a pretty little Knytt-like as well. Enjoyed that too.

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    Default Re: "Art House" Video Games

    Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery is a decent example, in my mind. The key design decision is that the world itself does not get harder - instead, you become less capable of dealing with the world as you progress.

    And we can't forget Emily Short's Galatea.
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    Man. I’m so glad this thread was made. So many games to look into, exactly my style.

    I’d also suggest The Way. Not the RPGMaker one (though that’s very good, just not this genre).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amechra View Post
    And we can't forget Emily Short's Galatea.
    Wow, that's a blast from the past. Yeah, most well-written IFs can be solidly put into this category, though I wonder if there is anyone left playing them.
    Last edited by Cespenar; 2019-11-21 at 07:31 PM.

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    Fract OSC is a fantastic Portal-like, where all the puzzles are music based, and between the music and visuals, the game is very much an experience over being a game.
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    Quote Originally Posted by danzibr View Post
    Hollow Knight is incredibly atmospheric.
    Hollow Knight is an excellent game with a fantastic story and world, but I'm not sure it falls into the concept of an "art house" game as the OP is presenting it. Its gameplay, while great, is something of a derived combination of Castlevania (exploration and acquiring new travel abilities as you go) and Dark Souls (difficult combat, pattern-dependent boss fights, rogue-lite elements, minimalistic storytelling). Very good, but nothing in it is quite a novel concept.

    Agreed with the posters who mentioned Night In The Woods. That's a great game with a very unique art style and gameplay loop. I still need to finish it, since the very slow (some might say artfully slow, but I dunno) pacing eventually led to me getting distracted by other things.

    I'm a little surprised nobody's mentioned Undertale yet, though I understand this forum's overall opinion on that game is somewhat lower than some other corners of the internet that I frequent.

    I'd add to the list Celeste, no-one has to die, and as a maybe edge case, Monaco.

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    For gits and shiggles, I’d like to mention a game whose creators thought was a bold artistic statement but was actually unplayable garbage: The Quiet Man.

    The Quiet Man was a 2018 beat ‘em up put out by Square Enix about a deaf man who basically serves as a mob enforcer. It alternated between live action scenes with human actors and stages where you beat up waves of ethnically-diverse gang members. (Being kinda racist was the most mild of its sins, however.) There was some nonsense thrown into the plot about a dead mother, an abusive father, a fake kidnapping and a bird mask that inexplicably grants the protagonist super powers (despite this being an otherwise mundane setting).

    While the fighting mechanics were terrible, what made The Quiet Man stand out was that for 95 per cent of your first playthrough, all sound was muted and there were no subtitles, ostensibly to put you in the shoes of the protagonist. That means you have to finish the game at least once before you have any idea what the hell is actually going on. (And even when the sound was turned on, the plot was at best mediocre.)

    For good reason, it topped a lot of Worst of 2018 lists. Now it serves as a reminder that a game being “artistic” isn’t necessarily the same as being good.
    Last edited by Giggling Ghast; 2019-11-25 at 06:37 PM.

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    Default Re: "Art House" Video Games

    Sexy Brutale might be a good example, I dunno.

    On the subject of The Quiet Man, it's actually worse than that. If I'm remembering correctly, they released the version with sound as DLC. It's more entertaining to come up with your own plot, honestly.
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    Default Re: "Art House" Video Games

    Sext Brutale is great, and probably counts. Obra Dinn and Hollow Knight are also incredible, though the former is the more innovative of the two. How about Gorogoa? Weird, artistic puzzle thing. Quite neat, really.
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    A few of the odder puzzle games might work, especially older ones. Myst and Riven seem at least close. Generally though video games don't really seem to have the sort of arthouse tradition that produces movies.

    Quote Originally Posted by KatsOfLoathing View Post
    Hollow Knight is an excellent game with a fantastic story and world, but I'm not sure it falls into the concept of an "art house" game as the OP is presenting it. Its gameplay, while great, is something of a derived combination of Castlevania (exploration and acquiring new travel abilities as you go) and Dark Souls (difficult combat, pattern-dependent boss fights, rogue-lite elements, minimalistic storytelling). Very good, but nothing in it is quite a novel concept.
    I'd probably cite Metroid more than Castlevania (mostly because a lot of the stuff cited as Dark Souls influence was there first, starting with minimalistic atmospheric storytelling), but either way Hollow Knight is a conventional metroidvania that's absolutely within the genre. It's just a really good one, and one that has some unconventional visual stylings. Insect-gothic isn't a particularly common aesthetic, but I wouldn't call it arthouse.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    A few of the odder puzzle games might work, especially older ones. Myst and Riven seem at least close. Generally though video games don't really seem to have the sort of arthouse tradition that produces movies.
    Bear in mind that video games are a much younger genre, and that they have to be playable.

    Honestly, people don't do as much with the medium as they probably should, even if the end result isn't really a game (maybe call it a video toy?). To pick a simple example, you could make a "game" that was one extended cutscene... but you got to pick whose perspective you saw it through.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amechra View Post
    Honestly, people don't do as much with the medium as they probably should, even if the end result isn't really a game (maybe call it a video toy?). To pick a simple example, you could make a "game" that was one extended cutscene... but you got to pick whose perspective you saw it through.
    You could - but given the hostility and dismissal that come up when you go anywhere near that space (see: "walking simulator") it's not surprising people tend not to. Film culture is way friendlier to an arthouse movement than gamer culture is, and I suspect that's the main reason there's not really much of an arthouse movement.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    You could - but given the hostility and dismissal that come up when you go anywhere near that space (see: "walking simulator") it's not surprising people tend not to. Film culture is way friendlier to an arthouse movement than gamer culture is, and I suspect that's the main reason there's not really much of an arthouse movement.
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    I'll second the mention of Goragoa. Destro watched me play through some of it, I think, and watched Nerd cubed's short intro to it.

    I loved that game. It was short, but that kinda of worked for me. You could play it in one sitting if you wanted to and there's this overarching story that all comes together in the end, and the visuals are just beautiful. It won a BAFTA award, actually.

    Also what about things like Journey? That was pretty revolutionary when it first came out, I recall. There was also a lot of hype around this really pretty game called Flower I think? I remember seeing it in an actual museum at one point, as part of an exhibit about art and video games. Pretty, but not much game play in Flower.
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    How about Stanley Parabel and What remains of Edith Finch? I have not played them, but from what I heard they do very unconventional things as a form of artistic expression.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    You could - but given the hostility and dismissal that come up when you go anywhere near that space (see: "walking simulator") it's not surprising people tend not to. Film culture is way friendlier to an arthouse movement than gamer culture is, and I suspect that's the main reason there's not really much of an arthouse movement.
    Eh, it's a mixed situation. The gaming culture at present sometimes seems a lot more resistant to an arthouse movement as opposed to film culture, yes, but as mentioned somewhere above, gaming is too young of a medium as it is. And to that respect, it also evolves in a much faster degree than films do as well. So I'm of the opinion that things will only get better from here on out.

    Also unrelatedly, seconding 99% all of the other suggested titles (on account of not having played the other 1% ) as well. Great mentions.

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    You also have to acknowledge that film started with weird artistic expressions before it grew into a primarily storytelling medium like literature and theatre.

    In contrast to that, videogames began as pure gameplay challenges. Film had abstract artistic styles from the very beginning, for videogames this is something that started showing up much later. Videogames began in the 70s, but I think artsy games even as a small fringe phenomenon only started appearing in the 2000s.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    You also have to acknowledge that film started with weird artistic expressions before it grew into a primarily storytelling medium like literature and theatre.

    In contrast to that, videogames began as pure gameplay challenges. Film had abstract artistic styles from the very beginning, for videogames this is something that started showing up much later. Videogames began in the 70s, but I think artsy games even as a small fringe phenomenon only started appearing in the 2000s.
    Wikipedia actually mentions some from the 1980s... but yeah, it looks like the real push only happened in the early 2000s.

    Another thing to consider is that there's also an impulse by a lot of small indie creators to make derivative works. My impression, at the very least, is that when you have a high-profile artistic indie game (Ume Nikki, Undertale, Off, etc), you get a bunch of "fan projects" that try to capture what they liked about the game. If you were charitable, you could look at them like artistic movements...

    ...

    Something I've noticed quite a bit of - there are a lot of indie games that are based off the creator's gender/sexuality. More specifically, I've seen quite a few games that were at least partially based off of the creator's experiences with coming out. I wonder if that's a zeitgeist thing or if something in that experience lends itself to the video game format?

    Because I'd very much classify games that are trying to convey something¹ as art games.

    ¹ Silent Hill 2 is an art game because it's actually about the experience of caretaker fatigue and survivor's guilt.
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    +1 Portal, Stanley Parable, Undertale, Life Is Strange. I haven't played Hellblade but I'd be comfortable with it here.

    I'll even add things like Spec Ops the Line and Bioshock that are more action-oriented but no less artistic because of it.

    You definitely don't need to be a walking simulator to be art. We've got a lot of games that make a strong case for gaming as a true artistic medium rather than purely entertainment (though of course, games can easily do both as we see above.)

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    Bioshock is also an interesting thing, because the devs kept trying to catch that lightning in the bottle again (Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite did not have the same impact).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amechra View Post
    Bioshock is also an interesting thing, because the devs kept trying to catch that lightning in the bottle again (Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite did not have the same impact).
    I don't think you CAN have the same impact. It would be like trying to do the Crying Game or Sixth Sense a second time. (Actually, Shyamalan is a good case study here.)

    But I think Bioshock Infinite was impactful for other reasons, so I would actually feel comfortable listing it here. (The less said about Bioshock 2 the better, though.)

    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    But really, the important lesson here is this: Rather than making assumptions that don't fit with the text and then complaining about the text being wrong, why not just choose different assumptions that DO fit with the text?
    Quote Originally Posted by gogogome View Post
    Cheers to Psyren the MVP "naysayer".
    Plague Doctor by Crimmy
    Ext. Sig (Handbooks/Creations)

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