A thing that happens
There is a thing that happens when you tell someone that you are into making games.
In their mind they probably go: "Games? These silly things on my phone? Or those power fantasy murder simulators? You make those?" Not that they judge you, or question your morals. They just don't know much about what you are talking about, and most of the time, also don't know that they don't know much about it.
I like this thing when it happens. It is an opportunity to explain things.
If you are past your adolescent days of debating what art is, you know as well as I do that the question "What is art?" is not a good one. It's a question like "What is happiness?" or "What is hope?". Happiness is you feeling happy, which means nothing. You can feel content, you can feel at peace, you can be joyful or be having fun, or none above, and still call yourself happy without actually knowing what it exactly means. And that is fine. The words "happy", "hope", and "art" are among those that are useful to us only if they don't have an exact meaning.
A good question about art, however, would be "What is artistic about this?" For music, and theater, and literature, and cinema, everyone has an answer. It is pretty, it is aesthetically pleasing, it is clever. It requires coordination, coreography, effort. It makes me feel.
Things that make you feel are things that are, no one would deny, artistic. Therefore, art. Art is not just whatever makes you feel. But whatever makes you feel, is in one way or another, art.
Game, we describe, as something interactive. It is built with this interactivity in mind, and designed to provide an experience. It not only tells stories or opens up worlds, it responds. Games - whether they are made for singular experience or a group play - provide the setting and let the player, well, play.
That setting does not only include characters or stories, it also has a ruleset and mechanics that allow the player to negotiate their way through this setting. The game is everything that is not the player. It is basically a premade god that has dominion over player's fate as dictated by its ruleset.
It giveth, and it taketh away.
Now that we've established these things
Something that has control over the player, when it is meticulously designed to provide an experience (possibly unique to every player) - I can't see how such a thing can't make anyone feel. And they do make you feel. They make you feel a lot of things.
Powerful, joyful, sad, desperate, fearing for my life, stuck between two hard choices, irritated, annoyed, crazy. I have felt all these playing games. Yes, I have had moral dilemmas. Papers Please did that. And I have felt like going crazy - Spec Ops: The Line did that. When I heard distant explosion sounds in my Rust server I was afraid - and when those sneaky bastards teared our home to the ground, I was angry and annoyed. Building a home with wooden walls inside a mountain in Minecraft and lighting it up so it looks pretty from outside made me feel peaceful. To The Moon dragged me through a whole spectrum of emotions, including heartache and endearment, ending up in happy tears.
You might argue that it's escapism, and I would fire back saying that the book Lord of the Rings is not much different - in fact I love them just as much as games, maybe more. Besides, escapism is not a bad thing. Those who escape aren't the one that mucked the real world up. At least we are finding some peace in other worlds, novelized or gamified.
The thing is...
Games are art. And as any art form, there are good ones, stupid-fun ones, and outright-shitty ones. Some go for easy marks like being a power fantasy for the player, some are ambitious and try to simulate a whole continent and leave the player free to roam the land, and some do something new and different like putting player in the seat of a border control clerk.
So why don't people know about games? Why are they limited by Farmville and Candy Crush Saga?
Well, two reasons. Digital games were born from a subculture, and fairly recently. Unlike literature and music which were born in the halls of kings and aristocrats, games essentially come from alienated youth of the 70s and 80s. Not in the sense that they produced it first, but they were the first major audience these things were marketed to. Family games like Pong were the exception until Nintendo came along, which only added younger children to the mix, not the adults. And through the years mainstream marketing for games hasn't really gone far from the angsty teenager blowing things up and murdering people. The equivalent of "literary fiction" for digital games has only recently (read: a couple of years) matured enough to be partially recognized in the mainstream culture.
The other reason is a little more realistic: control schemes. You can just sit and watch your first movie. You can open your first book and start reading. First time you listen to music you don't even need to do anything. But your first game? You need to familiarize yourself. You will not only need to learn how to use a mouse, keyboard, and a gamepad, for every single new game you will have to learn how to play that game. Tutorial stages are a default part of games now, in one way or another. And naturally, since there is a higher barrier of entry, it will be harder for gaming to outgrow being a niche pastime.
However, it is all but certain that gaming, or rather digital interactive entertainment, will be a regular part of people's art and entertainment consumption; it will also lose its negative connotations sooner or later. Until then, I will have this thing that happens from time to time, and will happily explain how digital games are great, how powerful they are, and how we have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to its potential for making you feel.
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