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Monster Fun. But Is It Art?

"I could lose myself in this, in some ways, easier than in a book," he said.

Dirda said the game showed him that video games "obviously have artistic value" and will likely become more of a recognized art form.

So: Is BioShock art? "I would hesitate to go that far," he said after a short pause.

When there's a video game that makes the player depressed, that's when the medium might be onto something as an art form, Dirda said. It's easy to like something that makes you feel powerful in its fantasy world, as games generally do. But would anybody play a game that makes him sad?

BioShock's head designer, Ken Levine, said he doesn't spend much time thinking about the art question.

"Is BioShock art? I don't know, and I guess I sort of don't care," he said. "All I care about is, does it work -- does it have an impact on an audience?"

BioShock was influenced by his interest in books such as Ayn Rand's, but he didn't want to cram that interest down the throats of people just looking for a good thrill ride.

"I think one of the reasons the game is having the impact it's having is because it has themes beyond the monster stuff," said Levine. "But -- you gotta deliver on the monster stuff."

I didn't get the feeling that Dirda's going to run out and buy an Xbox. But, then again, he did ask to hold on to his review copy of BioShock.


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