Title: Video Games As Art
Date: May 19th, 2011
As of the beginning of May, 2011, the U.S. government has officially recognised video games as an art form worthy of public funding from the National Endowment of the Arts.
To the outside world, this is fairly significant considering that gaming has often been more associated with long-haired basement dwelling male nerds and young children – despite the fact that as of now, most gamers are in their thirties, and there's a large female demographic, too.
It's also significant because the movie industry has been fighting against this for years, and why not? As of right now, gaming is a multi-billion-dollar industry that keeps getting bigger. Hollywood would undoubtedly feel threatened by this, and we've seen this fear through the printed opinions of revered critics/pundits such as Roger Ebert. There are even people within the gaming industry who claim that video games are not and cannot be an art form.
Ironically, Kojima Hideo also feels this way . Kojima-san has worked on many series for Konami, including but not limited to the Metal Gear series – which in many ways tries to meet and exceed artistic merits. We see this with the carefully crafted storylines as well as the deep gameplay that many of the titles in this series provide.
It's not just visuals, music and storytelling that transforms a game into art. How you play the game – character abilities, interactivity with the virtual world, characters, enemies, weapons, sound effects and how the world itself is built are equally – if not more – important than how it looks. This is because a game is very different from a movie; it can contain the narrative of a novel, a museum's worth of art, a concert hall of music and on top of that, you have a measure of control as to how it all comes together at the end. It's a culmination of most of our art forms (excluding the culinary arts, at least for now) on top of technology.
I could say without any pangs of guilt that some of the programmers of a game have to be artists; they need to have a vision, and they need to be both fearless and, I think, a little eccentric. They need to be able to think in both the practical and the abstract. Furthermore, they need to understand the value of language; Programming languages are still languages. It takes an estimated 5 to 10 years to become a highly skilled programmer, and while the techniques are fairly similar from language to language, you also still have to a) learn the languages you will need to use - which can change from console to console, but rarely ever with PC's - and b) keep these skills up to date. Especially when you start factoring in middleware – software engines that are independent of a core game engine, such as the Havok physics engine – and scripting languages that operate on top of a game engine to add more definition to objects within the world such as weight and density. (editied June 14th, 2011) And thus, programmers could be seen as poets.
I think a lot of opinionated gamers are champing at the bit about what should be included and what shouldn't, but being that what defines the true art of a game transcends most concepts of art, I really don't think that anything should be excluded.
From Tennis For Two to Space Wars! to Doom, there are many games that define genres, concepts and standards. It could be as groundbreaking as The Guardian Legend (NES), as mundane as Corridor 7 (DOS PC), as overlooked as Deathrow (XBox) or as horrible as Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage (N64). It can define a genre or merely inhabit it for better or worse - and all genres are evolving.
This is a necessity for an artform, too. Architecture can't live on Baroque alone much like gaming can't be a smorgasbord of first-person shooting.
Regardless of merit, video games are an accepted art form. My intention is not to rub this in the faces of the nay-sayers. I really don't have to, the American government has already done a good enough job by showcasing 80 games at the Smithsonian that they deem to be the most important titles in the industry.
My fellow gamers, pat yourselves on the back. Whether you know it are not, we're now art afficionados - whether we like it or not.