The artistic merit of video games is a subject I am quite passionate about. I grew up the video games and they’ve grown up with me. I was born as the medium was beginning to take off and find its identity and I found part of my identity through video games.
I have interacted with the medium my whole life and ‘interacted’ is the operative word. Uniquely among media, video games are characteristically interactive. This allows them to explore ideas like agency, ability, and choice like no other medium can. You do not just empathize with a character’s struggles, you enact them yourself. Your character’s struggles are your struggles, their challenges are your challenges.
Taking Undertale as an example, you do not simply lean back and wait for the main character to figure out how to peacefully resolve conflicts with the citizens of the underground. You, the player, have to figure it out. Every attack against the main character is an attack against you.
So at the beginning of the game you encounter a mirror and if you try to interact with the mirror then the text prompt reads “It’s you!”
Then you go through the underground and bear the onslaught of confused or scared creatures, never striking back, turning the other cheek, finding the peaceful resolution, and towards the very end you encounter another mirror.
Despite everything, it’s still you.
I still find this moving. Many of us will experience transitions or trials in life in which we find ourselves in alien circumstances and struggle with difficult questions. In Boethius’ words, we might feel “Banished from ourselves.” It is in those times that perhaps we ought to make some quiet space for ourselves. Pause for a moment, reflect, and look in the mirror and say “Despite everything, it’s still me.”
But it is more than that. It is not just still you, it is more you. It is a more developed you, a more experienced and wiser you with more choices behind you that have defined your character. And for the moment it may be hard but you choices are in your hands and so long as you choose wisely there will always be a better and better you waiting in the next mirror.
Despite everything, it’s still you. Remember that and hold onto it because the world cannot take that away from you. You have agency. The choice is in your hands.
Undertale’s protagonist, the medium of video games, myself, and the rest of us are all in the process of forging an identity. It’s a bumpy ride sometimes but if we make good choices we’ll never lose ourselves.