In Defense of Difficulty: Gameplay is Art
In recent days, a delightful new game has enraptured gamers everywhere. From a prolonged, insanely hyped 4-year gestation, sprung forth Cuphead, and the gorgeous, cartoon world the protagonist inhabits.
This kind of game certainly appeals to gaming writers who believe games should be art. So it's surprising that the same games press who heralded this game's arrival are now criticizing it for its difficulty.
The argument goes as follows: It's inaccessible, even impossible to enjoy the art when the game does everything in its power to hold the player back.
I'm sympathetic to this view. I love games that don't have combat; I love many infamous walking simulators. When touring the worlds of Destiny, I often see the ads in my way as annoyances, distracting me from the environment I'm trying to explore.
Even in my favorite game of recent history, Grand Theft Auto V, I spend a good amount of my time role-playing a retired CEO, wandering, roving and enjoying. I put in a few rounds of golf, play some tennis and drive around the countryside. It's because of the game's versatility that I consider it to be one of, if not the, greatest game ever made.
The problem is that the games press is wildly wrong about Cuphead. They're wrong about difficulty. And they're wrong about art.
If games are to be an art form, they cannot be reduced to their basic elements, and gameplay cannot be discarded. Gameplay and its difficulty are the most important element in games as art. Attempts to create games without gameplay have failed wildly, not because games are not art, but because gameplay is art.
Games are not movies. Movies are not photographs. Photographs are not paintings. All these art forms build on the preceding experience, but they are separate, and what makes them art is their ability to build on that precedent experience.
The defining experience of a photograph is image composition, and the story it tells. The defining facet of a film is its cinematography, the movement of its camera, the editing, the perspectives and the dialogue. A great artist navigates and maneuvers these facets to create a cohesive experience that imparts a distinct experience: a film.
A Film is judged on the merits of all its parts. And it is judged as art because of those parts.
What separates a game from a film? Gameplay.
And for decades, it's been gameplay that games have been judged by. So for games to be art, they must master gameplay.
The rejection of gameplay as an art form tells me that game writers are not at all serious about games, art or games as art. I believe they fundamentally misunderstand the subject matter.
To fail to recognize Cuphead as art beyond its background artwork and music is to be entirely illiterate. Game writers who reject gameplay have no business writing about games. They do their audiences a disservice.
Their continued insistence in writing on the subject is an insult to art itself.
It is an insult to the shared human experience that tasks each generation with continuing its legacy. This mentality should be spit out from the industry and left to the trivial, pedestrian subjects to which it wants games reduced.