Innovative Games That Speak To The Heart

Video games are more than just entertainment. Like all true art, they have the capacity to captivate the soul.

September 20, 2023 09:43 EDT
Dear FO° Reader,

I love media and have digested more than my fair share of literature and film. Narratives in media transport people like me to different worlds, taking us through unforgettable adventures and transforming us as people. Therefore, society respects great books and classic movies.

Video games have not quite earned that same respect. Many view video games as a waste of time. Detractors believe games do little more than provide ephemeral entertainment. For them, the interactive nature of gaming means that any person’s experience is less intentional. When we see Michelangelo’s David or Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, we are immersing ourselves in the vision of a great artist. The same holds true for books and movies. According to this point of view, a video game is a more fragmentary and sporadic experience.

This view misses a key aspect of the medium. Gaming takes engaged players on an emotional journey. A typical video game sets targets or goals and a fail state, clearly defining the conditions and consequences of success and failure. Players are then prompted to navigate the software, learning skills to meet the objectives and avoid defeat. Players try repeatedly to reach higher levels of success in the game. They lose points for mistakes. In a multitude of games, their character dies on screen and the game abruptly ends. Many players would argue that video games are the most immersive of all the media that exist today.

The emotional trials of Pikmin

As a shining example, I recently discovered Pikmin (2001). In the video game, you are Captain Olimar, a tiny space freighter who crashes his spaceship on a gargantuan, alien planet. He knows the atmosphere will poison him in 30 days and recovering the pieces to his ship is an impossible task … until he discovers the Pikmin. These are hybrid beings, part plant and part animal, who help Olimar recover parts of his spaceship and battle the ferocious animal life native to the planet.

Image Credit – Barone Firenze /

Pikmin are also native to the planet and must endure hostile natural environments. Fire and water can kill Pikmin in seconds. Colossal beasts can attack out of nowhere, annihilating Pikmin in droves. Any Pikmin who does not return to base by sundown is inevitably devoured by the roaming predators. Each night, Olimar writes in his journal lamenting the loss of life and fearing he may never reunite with his family. While playing Pikmin, the unsettling truth is that you come to feel death and dread as a result of your actions because you are acting as Olimar.

Pikmin captivated me from beginning to end. I found the natural world soothing and the ominous creatures disturbing. I felt a gradual feeling of accomplishment as I raised an army and rebuilt my ship. This joy was quashed when dozens of brave Pikmin, many of whom joined my ranks on the first day, were unceremoniously flattened by a predator I wasn’t skilled enough to vanquish. My heart sank as they cried in anguish and then fell silent. The looming deadline to Olimar’s doom bore down on me, causing me to doubt my own strategy. Would I make it in time? If so, at what cost?

Pikmin creator Shigeru Miyamoto stated that his series can be more emotionally impactful to a player than a war movie, comparing it to the themes of Steven Spielberg’s classic 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. This was no exaggeration by a pompous designer. The game made me feel greater highs and lows than an acclaimed novel or film. It certainly moved me more deeply than many art galleries have. Pikmin cut to the core of why I enjoy the pastime: the adventure of it all. Perhaps if new light were shed upon how video games are emotional powerhouses, social respect for them might increase.

Broadening the mind

Few publications would have given me the liberty or opportunity to write about video games. Fair Observer generally focuses on politics, geopolitics, economics and culture. So far, themes in culture have been mainly books, ballet, movies and the more traditional forms. The fact that I can provide my own outlook by writing about Pikmin is most refreshing.

I believe that we have to remain open not only to new perspectives from around the world but also new forms of artistic expression. The movies were once strange; radio was once new and comics were once a novelty. Today, they are all part of our rich cultural tapestry.

I urge readers to give video games a second look and treat the best of them with the same respect as other art forms. Game developers are accomplished artists in their own right and an army of creative talent works together to give profound concepts like Pikmin life.

And while we are speaking of broadening the mind, make sure you read us regularly and get your friends to sign up for our newsletter. Where else can you read about the US’s competition with China for “green” resources, or listen to a Tata Group tycoon discuss private equity’s effect on business?

I am one of the young volunteer editors at Fair Observer and have been editing pieces from around the world. I would love to hear from you and, hopefully, edit your piece.

All the best from Ann Arbor, Michigan,

Lee Thompson-Kolar
Assistant Editor
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