The debate about whether games should be considered art is one that won’t be settled any time soon. Both sides of the argument have valid points and at a minimum, everyone can at least agree that at some point, they will become art. That is where I am going with this article: the future of games as art.
One of the issues that many people bring up on why games are not art, is the fact that games, so far, have not been able to fully engage our emotions. Sure, we have been able to bring out fear and aggression and have failed to realize love and caring, but isn’t that how it is supposed to work? If we go back to the start of the written word, what do you find? The Bible is a pretty scary book, with plenty of killing and demons and revenge. Have you ever read the Grimm Fairy Tales? They are not what Walt Disney led us to believe.
If we look at the art form closest to video games, moving pictures, you see the same thing. Legend states that at the premiere of “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” (Lumiere Brothers, 1895), caused people to panic. Early popular films, beyond action and comedy, were mainly suspense and horror, such as Nosferatu (FW Murnau, 1922). Everytime they reintroduce 3D films, what do you see? Horror Films. Fear is the easiest emotion to manipulate. In fact, we know how it works so well, that sound editors will play with the viewer’s physiology to get the reaction they want. We need to start off with people’s most primal feeling to get them to invest more time in the medium. Once you have their attention, you can move onto more complex emotions.
If we follow the logic that we are following a similar path to many of the other great art forms, we can agree that we will eventually be able to get complex emotions into games. So what is keeping us back? My answer is that it is the expense of developing games. Now I know that some might lose all hope at this point; looking at the budget for GTA4 hitting the MILLION dollar mark, it’s getting ridiculous! However, I believe that expense is more than the dollars needed to buy the hardware, employ the people, and supply the hookers and blow. It is also about the expense of time.
If you wanted to make a game in the early days, you had to learn to code, build yourself some tools and an engine, use the tools to make the levels, test the levels, and by the time that was done, months have gone by. Hopefully by that point, you still want to get it finished. How can we explore the human psyche if we are spending all our time exploring data? The answer to this is to make the tools so easy to use that anyone can use it.
That is what we are seeing more and more of these days. With games like Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers, or editors like the Ogmo Editor, we can make what we want and get it out there quickly. Platforms like Unity 3D and Game Maker are removing many of the barriers that limited what we can achieve. Even Blizzard and Ubisoft are promoting their tools as being ready for public consumption. The goal is to allow everyone to create the game and only then can we start seeing what’s going on in people’s mind.
Unfortunately, we aren’t quite there yet. These systems are all still fairly limited, such as you can only really build levels or play within the constructs of the game universe. People will still need to learn to code or make art to really change things, but we are getting closer all the time. Once we make it as simple to make games as it is to use a pencil, then we will truly break on through to being a “great” art.
“Film will only became an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.”
“Ditto for games.”
Jason Lee Elliott