Payday: The Heist — To Rob, To Thief, To Pilfer: It is me

For a while, I wanted to explain why games were art because of this topic’s long winded debate. But being that I am part of the Digital Design program here at VFS, it has come to my attention that games are not the only debate in the scheme of things. Design itself seems to be under the attack of being “not art” as well. The reason for this seems to be that design is there to solve a problem. It is meant to communicate, with it’s main purpose being some sort of connection between two parties rather than the expression of one. That being said, to me, this does not mean it cannot be beautiful and become art. To me, games, as well as it’s umbrella of design, are art, thus making Payday: The Heist a work of art that has moved me.

Now, I know that this is a pretty audacious statement because there are many other games that are, subjectively, much more obvious choices. Games like LIMBO, Journey, or even the tiny titan recent release from Amanita Design called Botanicula are brilliantly designed games that seem to emanate a sort of soul when played. But why Payday? Well, Payday, developed by Overkill Software, seems to have moved me in a way that I feel needs to be said. When a lot of people think of art, even when I think of art, I think of a beautiful work, or some sort of expression, which connects with an audience, who also want to connect with it. Usually this work of art is a painting or an installation; it’s not usually a game, particularly not a First Person Shooter game. Payday, however; has moved me, and I think I am figuring out why. Consider this article a rough draft or bouncing board for developing a theory I hope to improve on in a bid to understand how Payday — or more broadly, games are — and broader still, how design is — art.

First of all, Payday really exemplifies the art of being cool and powerful, of being dangerous, and even raw, while at the same time being well contained within the construct of it’s twenty dollar budget. The music in it is Hanz Zimmer meets Spaghetti Western guitar with contemporary dance/electronica. And when you head into the bank with rubber gloves, guns, business suits, and clown masks, you start to feel a sort of culture emanating from your computer machine device. Pair that with such story twists and turns as for instance, finding Thermite in the bank’s office’s printer so that you can burn a hole in the vault’s ceiling… and well, it starts to feel like the real deal. And what a deal it is. This game has made a connection with me that I have not felt in quite a long time.

Which brings me to my second point: The reason this all feels like the real deal is because it is me doing it. I am robbing the bank (in the safety of my own home of course). I am expressing myself within the construct of the design. I am the character within the virtual reality, which I control, can aim, shoot, jump, or even dance around in. I am expressing my own coordination in a dance of my ability to rob, to thief, to pilfer: It is me. Payday: The Heist has moved me in a way that films rarely do these days. It creates a culture and player expression that I feel when I play it. That, to me, is art.

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