Video Games are completely unlike other mediums of artistic expression such as film, crafts, music, and literature; because unlike those other mediums, a video game can punish you for improperly engaging them. For example: unless you’re illiterate, anyone can read a book and understand what’s being said – even if the themes and motifs of a novel fly over your head, the book isn’t going to close itself in your face saying “you’re too simple minded to truly enjoy me, goodbye.” Likewise, music doesn’t turn itself off if you’re a terrible dancer; an easel doesn’t collapse if you don’t understand color schemes; a film doesn’t end prematurely if you can’t connect to the characters. Unlike these other mediums, a predetermined amount of skill is required for a person to enjoy video games – some people don’t understand how to coordinate themselves enough to use a controller. And if you incorrectly play a game, you’ll be punished with a “game over” or remain stuck on a level if you can’t figure out how to proceed.
I think the small amount of skill which is required for a player to properly engage with a video game is what makes the medium so fantastic, but is also what makes it nearly impossible for video games to go completely mainstream. Video games are interactive art, i.e. they can’t exist as art on their own, and they require a player to invest a part of themselves into the mechanics before they can truly be a complete experience. It is that “interactivity” which I believe prevents video games from becoming a full part of mainstream culture. However, that doesn’t mean some titles haven’t broken through the barrier and simplified interactivity to a point where nearly anyone can enjoy them; unfortunately such titles are scrutinized by their own audience as not being games at all.
Video games don’t need to be mainstream in order to be considered a strong pop culture influence or serious form of artistic expression. However, I also think video games have room for inclusion as far as a mainstream audience is concerned. The skill required to enjoy a game such as Titanfall verses the skill required to enjoy games such as Gone Home are on completely different levels. Likewise someone who enjoys games such as Mario or Rayman may not view Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja with the same integrity. I think before video games can truly be considered mainstream, culture needs to be more open minded as to exactly what kind of experience can classify itself as a “video game”. I’m excited to see developers who are bending the rules of video game development by embracing this thought provoking idea; but ultimately I believe video games shall always remain a niche experience. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that… except for the fact I lay awake at night a cry for all the people who’ll never get to experience this incredibly powerful art form simply because they lack the appropriate motor skills or hand-eye coordination. Here’s to hoping one day we’ll reach a place where the definition of a video game is so blurred, everyone can enjoy them.