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The Great Debate: Are Games Art?


Little Big Planet

by Jeff Marchiafava

Like the first movies, LittleBigPlanet entrances players with the spectacle of seeing the familiar in a new light. Rather than trying to recreate our world with photorealistic graphics, the game employs bright, warm visuals that place an emphasis on texture not normally seen in digital mediums. Each object in the game is comprised of a basic material applied in creative ways: Grass is made from lush green felt, while clouds are fluffy white cotton. This simplistic representation of everyday objects feels new and familiar at the same time. 

The game’s main character, Sackboy, is equally fundamental. Similar to the actors of silent film, Sackboy is the embodiment of performance art, using exaggerated body language and facial gestures to convey basic emotions. Like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, Sackboy uses slapstick humor to drive the story’s message of the importance of companionship. Without speaking a word, Sackboy has become one of the most unique and endearing characters of recent years. 

LittleBigPlanet’s symbolic representation of life and world is not simply an aesthetic choice, but a function of the game’s core principle. LittleBigPlanet presents the player with a fantasy world born from imagination. This is not hyperbole, or the opening line of a fairy tale; the lands you explore are sculpted from primitive objects by their creators. The world’s inhabitants are pieced together and rigged like marionette puppets, and the music, lighting, and color palette are customized to coincide with the ambiance of the level. While this is true of all video games, the levels in LittleBigPlanet are not created by programmers, but rather storytellers, artists, and most importantly, you.

All of the levels in LBP can be recreated with an easy-to-use toolset included in the game. When I first played the game, it took me an hour or two before I realized this – I knew LBP let you create your own content, but I didn’t think levels made by players would be comparable to those created by the developers. When I saw that the user levels being shared online were just as intricate, professional, and creative, I understood that this game is more than a simple entertainment product; it’s a new creative medium. 

Wherever human beings are given the creative freedom to express themselves, there is art. Most players will only ever use LBP to make simple platforming levels, just like most Hollywood directors will only make romantic comedies or action movies. But already players are using LBP in more imaginative ways, uploading their own virtual galleries to showcase their inventions. Combining graphic design, sculpture, and engineering, the artistic craftsmanship taking place in LittleBigPlanet obliterates the standard definition of what a video game is.  How something that fosters so much creativity and promotes the exchange of user-made creations and ideas could not be considered art, is beyond me.

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