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Are video games art?

by admin November 16, 2010

Move over Roger Ebert, the conversation about video games and their place in the world of art is being discussed by those who really matter: the people who make them.

At the Montreal International Games Summit last week, several speakers took the opportunity to expand on the idea that sometime in the near future, a video game will achieve the level of reverence that is given to other artistic mediums.

On the first day of the summit, Dr. John Sharp, a professor of Computer Programming and Art History at the Savannah College of Art and Design, talked about art and games as cultural forms in a conference entitled “The Game Renaissance.” His speech centered on how art and video games have “come together and resisted each other” throughout history.

Sharp used Berys Gaut’s “Art” as a Cluster Concept to define what qualifies as an art. According to Sharp, the only element from Gaut’s definition that may disqualify video games as art is that, for the most part, games are not “the product of an intention to make a work of art.” He also pointed out that before the Renaissance, “as long as an artist was commissioned to make an image, they didn’t care what it was to be used for, whether to be put up on the wall and admired or something to be used in daily life, like a serving platter.”

He made the observation that in the Renaissance, the visual arts became tied to “leisure pursuits and entertainment,” rather than being used strictly for religious and personal traditional practices.

Throughout this short overview of art history, Sharp claimed that it is not difficult to compare the state of where games are now to where painting and sculpture were at the beginning of the Renaissance. He says that there is a noticeable shift in focus by a few, mainly indie, game developers from simply creating video games for entertainment to designing them with an artistic purpose.

The most challenging obstacle for the few indie game developers who are experimenting with creating a great work of art in the medium of video games are their tools. Peoples’ experience using computers to make art is still in its infancy, and needs to be further explored, concluded Sharp.

Ron Carmel, founder of indie video game development company 2D Boy, made it clear during his keynote speech that he believes video games will eventually achieve a pinnacle of excellence, just as film and books have. Unfortunately, it seems they still have a long way to go.

“Games have barely begun to climb towards reaching that potential, because the way that we develop games is not conducive to great works,” he said. “Every game designer has the desire to make something new, unique and meaningful, but very few designers actually end up pursuing that desire.”

Making something unique is not always the number one priority for all developers. The main difference between indie and mainstream developers is their reason for making games, stated Carmel. Indie or “design” studios make games that they “want to create” and worry about making money afterward, while mainstream or “commercial” studios focus on making money first, with design remaining secondary.

“For breaking new ground, you have to take risks,” said Carmel. Indie developers are almost the only ones willing to do so. Risk-averse multimillion-dollar corporations need get over their hesitation to fund such projects because, “To leverage the talent and the risk-taking, you need a critical mass of resources to really create something great and the majority of indies don’t have the resources to pull something like that off.”

The solution, according to Carmel? For only $1-2 million, 10 staff members could be assembled from within a mainstream company to make “creatively ambitious and forward-thinking projects.” A small price to pay for the advancement of a whole medium as art.

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