Five Video Games That Visually Redefine The Medium As Art

Whether or not Roger Ebert wants to be an ass about it or not, video games ARE art. There is no question there. They are. I will not engage anyone in debate about it, because it is not a discussion open to debate to me. And not only are video games art, in them, you will find some of the most staggering artwork and art direction that you will ever see anywhere outside of a Tara McPherson gallery or the newest Bond film (come on, the visuals in that movie are stunning).

And certain games have truly pushed just how artistic games can truly be. The following games on this list are games that, to me, made it feel like not only an evolution for the medium of games, but an evolution for the medium of art itself. I know Paul talks about a few of these here, but please allow me to delve a little deeper, if I may?


I will be completely honest when I say I prefer Rapture, splicers and all, to my neighborhood.

I find myself wondering why no video game world has EVER elicited the response in me that Rapture, the art-deco utopia from the game Bioshock, did. From sound design to character  design, to the actual awe that rapture filled you with, Bioshock is what happens when everything in a game’s creation goes perfectly. And the real resounding impact is still felt, five years later, as I comb through my game library and realize no game world has immersed me or pulled me in as swiftly as the world of Rapture did. And there was no single element that rises above any other in regards to Rapture. You can COMPLETELY understand why it drew so many people, in a story sense. A world set aside for artists and free-thinkers. And visually, I STILL play that game when I need to leave my world, and actually FEEL like I left my world.

The funniest part is, Bioshock makes Rapture feel SO believable a place, you forget from time to time that it’s not actually a place. You are playing artwork, people. Amazing, old-school, art deco artwork, in a world perfectly gone to Hell, yet still more appealing then our own.


Knowing that spider was following me filled me with a dread that most non-water levels in platformers don’t fill me with.

And on the other extreme from Bioshock, you have a world that is, once again, one dimensional. Not only that, but it exists in hues of only blacks and muted grays. Add to that the PERFECT, minimal sound design, of you have the other end of the ‘games as artwork’ spectrum. A game much simpler than a game like Bioshock, yet just as impacting. Limbo, for me, took the left to right gameplay that I had known for so long, and spun it around. It was Mario, yet it was SO not Mario.  The game was dark, literally and otherwise, and the odd, atmospheric tone of the game pushes the gamer further and further, curious as to what they will experience next.

I liked Limbo’s visuals (and the game, overall) so much, that I would summon friends to come play it so I could just sit and watch it. Like some cryptic cartoon made by Edward Gorey.


I am still convinced I live in a world that was not ready for Okami.

The Japanese brush-stroke-heavy style, and water color look of Okami is something that still generates a response in me, every time I see the game in motion. Getting serious points for just having the balls to look how it looks, and then using that very look as a core element of the gameplay (painting brush strokes on screen is what  I speak of, for those who don’t know) just drive it that much further as a game that IS a work of art. And again, it all works together on so many levels.

The art design is obviously a huge inspiration for the setting and story, which in turn, are a huge inspiration for the soundtrack. And every single one of these elements works so well together, and game is so perfectly engrossing, that you sometimes forget to stop playing for a second and just admire the pure beauty of this world, created solely for us.  A HD version of the game, as well as a sequel (prequel) have been released since the game’s inception, and that just tells me I am not the only person truly moved by the beauty (and stellar gameplay) of this game.

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  1. No Flower, Journey, Unfinished Swan? I know that they are Playstation games but still… Also Braid should be a must on list. Kudos for Okami really underrated game.

  2. Mostly agree…. you missed Braid (my guess is you haven’t had the chance to play it… that happened to me with Okami a long time ago when I wrote a similar post in my blog)

    Where the fuck did you get that screenshot for Starfox? It looks like a prototype or something…

  3. Well, I’ve read two full articles on Unreality today, and already two instances of pants-shitting. And you wonder why we keep coming back for more. Kudos on remembering Out of This World. That sucker was amazing when it came out.

  4. Remy and I have a special connection. A video game-related pants-shitting connection. Did I say “connection?” I meant “condition.”

    And guys, re: Braid: Sure, the gameplay blows the mind, but would you say it’s particularly striking from a *visual* perspective? I disagree that it belongs on this particular list.

  5. ^ Have to agree with Sara on this one. LOVED Braid, and the story (end ending) floored me, but did it redefine itself more as art than a game, no. Now for an article about a story, or unspoken narrative, hell yes. Also, sorry for the lack of PS3 love, as Flower is a perfect example. Sadly, I lack a PS3. Rez and El Shaddai are definitely deserved of some nods. I sat there, racking my brain, knowing I would miss a few and kick myself. Another one I should be called out for missing is the Oddworld series, all of it. Those games were stunning.

  6. My favourite thing about BioShock was throwing the glitchy broken corpses around with telekinesis. You know the ones I’m talking about? They were just completely floppy?

    I also loved the splicers and their ravings. Awesome game ^_^

  7. two of my favorite games (Okami and Shadow of the Colossus) definitely deserve to be here. I would also include Bastion from Supergiant games. the narrator and art style really set that game above most if not all indie games for me.

  8. All these games deserve to be on the list. The guys who did Jet Set Radio also did 4 Panzer Dragoon games which although on the Sega Saturn and (one for Xbox) and kind of rough on the eyes by today’s standards are still my favourite games as far as artistic direction is concerned. All you need to do is look at the world they take place in. Simply stunning. I would do unspeakable things to play another Panzer Dragoon RPG.

  9. That Starfox screen is from Starfox 2 which got canned by Nintendo in favor of working on Starfox 64 (they’d have been finished around the same time and didn’t want the two to compete) but a while back, a disgruntled Nintendo employee dumped the ROM file onto the internet and the game was finished by independent programmers. Starfox 2 would have pushed the boundaries of what the SNES was capable of, featuring full 3D environs, free motion (no rails like in other installments), 3 different Arwings to choose from (6 different pilots) which were transformable once you got planet side, and a real time system where events continue to happen and enemy positions continue to advance while you are locked in combat or moving about the map. the goal was to defend Corneria from oncoming missile and fighter squadrons while takeing back Lylat and introduced many of the same features that starfox 64 had, such as different vehicles (in the form of the walker), battles with StarWolf, and the all range mode. now if only nintendo would remake this one with updated graphics, it would be the absolute shiznit

  10. Okami, my first Wii game. First off, I’d like to mention that I’m a wolf trainer in real life, the exact reason i got this game was because everyone told me that game was practically about me just as a wolf. Worst part is that game actually had some scary – interesting omens to my life. All of my greatest loves were all combine in that game, Japanese style arts, Japanese lore, Animals, Nature. it broke my heart to see it get such terrible reviews from the critics. Just goes to prove “Not everyone can enjoy fine art.” -sigh- with that being said, if someone brought a wolf to comicon / Animecon What wolf would be most popular to bring?

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