Overwatch is an incredible product. A feedback loop of game design influencing art influencing world building and back again. The package is so streamlined you can’t tell where art led to gameplay or mechanics led to art. Hundreds and hundreds of talented engineers, artists, marketers, and business people were utilized to make the end user experience a reality. Undeniably Overwatch could only exist in a capitalist society. Marx, eat your heart out.
Overwatch nourishes the stakeholder economy. Much like the invisible loop that powers the design, Overwatch gives birth to a commodified Ouroboros of Coke bottles, T-shirts, Dolby sound adverts, colossal action figures, and microtransactions. Below the artistry and truly fantastic game rotates an incessant loop of commerce. An investment in fun becomes an investment in The Coca-Cola Company.
Commercial attention at the level of Overwatch is not given to art of any significant cultural value. It’s given to products with a large potential customer base. The game has brought together disparate gaming communities like TF2, Halo, League, and Starcraft players. But it’s also brought together every corporate sponsor operating within the man-child, 13-35, gamer demo. For all its technical and design achievements, Overwatch is closer to Adam Sandler levels of artistry (read: product placement) than to Infinite Jest.
People much more creative, talented, and successful than myself have come together to make Overwatch worth playing. But the point I want to make is one rooted in the argument that games are art (sorry). Overwatch is an excellent game, has art and may be art, but it is not good art.
“But what about the lore and the side stories?” Yes, Blizzard has built an extensive, multimedia economy of lore. But you’re kidding yourself if you consider it great storytelling. Let’s see whats on the back of the box for Overwatch as art:
- The game world’s argument about heroes and optimism is as shallow as a kiddy pool
- While the characters do show some complexity in their interactions and cultural representation, the drama and themes are nearly 1 dimensional
- The writing by design is cheesy and avoids transgressions as to not scare off customers
- The game does not challenge us to be better people and delivers a contradictory argument for optimism that promotes a universe centered around warfare as utopia
- It does not teach us anything about ourselves other than we hate campers and console gamers are anti-social (Where all the mics at?)
- It’s pop art, which by it’s very nature is more interested in pleasing the largest number of customers than pushing us as individuals, thinkers, communities, or creatures of empathy
- Paid for by Activision
It doesn’t matter that Overwatch is not good art. But as currently the most popular and talked property in the video game medium, it makes sense to revisit our arguments, justifications, and categorization of games as an art form.
Overwatch is a much better sport than it is a piece of fiction. And that’s okay. Great even, in that it’s very good at being a competitive game. Overwatch does not need to be anything more than that.
The rush to think of Overwatch as art is nothing but justifying playing with virtual toys. Gamer insecurity. Good art is meant to provoke personal introspection, challenge us to be better humans, to think deeply about difficult ideas. Overwatch does none of those things with consistency. Blizzard is not Pixar.
Instead Overwatch entertains and it does to a level that the greatest art could never achieve.