Thursday, October 05, 2006

I'm writing an contribution for an art book, my essay being on how game developers perceive themselves and their work within the context of a wider artistic tradition, and some of the recent industry debates around this topic.

I have found that there's nothing like daily humiliation in front of one's readers as an encouragement to spruce up text. So here again, I begin the piecemeal posting of a work in progress.

This is the introduction:

Arguably, large sections of the art establishment and the academic community have, in recent years, acknowledged the game medium (at least the work of artists working within the game medium) as an artform or a potential one. But what of the professional game development community itself? Has the artistic consciousness of developers been raised as a result? Do they see themselves as present or future “artists”?

I’d like to make a comparison between two quite similar quotes: one written by an influential game designer, the other by an influential media studies academic:

Quote 1:

While they have satisfied until now the fantasies of twisted computer-nerd minds, they will soon blossom into a much richer array of fantasies.[….] Computer games constitute an as–yet untapped art form[…..]Eventually, games will be recognized as a serious art form.

Quote 2:

If games are going to become an art, right now, rather than in some distant future, when all of our technical challenges have been resolved, it may come from game designers who are struggling with the mechanics of motion and emotion, rather than those of story and character.

As we can see, there is at least one significant voice within the commercial games industry that sees the potential of the game medium within the established artistic tradition. But there is something even more interesting about this pair of comments that talk about games becoming art in the near future. They were written twenty years apart; the first in 1982 and the second in 2002.

In 1982, Chris Crawford, a celebrated game designer who has since expressed profound cynicism about the current and future state of game development [reference work on interactive story-telling], published a book called “The Art of Computer Game Design” [reference]. This book put a marker down for the aspirations of a nascent game development community, telling us that a conscious debate around games as a serious art form has been articulated within the professional game development community for quite some time. Crawford’s is the first quote that appears above.

The other quote penned in 2002 by Henry Jenkins [reference], indirectly reveals a rather disappointing truth: twenty years later the game medium has not yet fulfilled its promise as a “serious art form”. Far from “blossoming into a richer array of fantasies”, commercial game development has arguably been taken in quite the opposition direction. This has not gone unnoticed by professional game developers, and it has generated frustration and even anger in some parts of the development community. There are controversial theories as to why, some of which I’ll mention later in this discussion.

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