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Games, the New Lively Art Another important element is a belief that creators are artists. At the same time, however, it’s necessary for us creators to be engineers , because of the skill required for the creations.1 —Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo Why can’t these game wizards be satisfied with their ingenuity, their $7 billion (and rising) in sales, their capture of a huge chunk of youth around the world? Why must they claim that what they are doing is “art”? . . . Games can be fun and rewarding in many ways, but they can’t transmit the emotional complexity that is the root of art.2 —Jack Kroll, Newsweek Let’s imagine games as an art form. I know, I know—for many of us in contact with the so-called real arts, the notion sounds pretentious . It also makes developers who are former computer science majors edgy because it challenges assumptions that games are founded upon technology. Still, it’s a useful concept. It’s especially useful when we start to think about the mediocre state of our profession and about ways to elevate our aims, aspirations, and attitudes .3 —Hal Barwood, LucasArts Over the past three decades, computer and video games have progressed from the primitive two-paddles-and-a-ball Pong to the sophistication of Final Fantasy, a participatory story with cinema-quality graphics that unfolds over nearly 100 hours of game play, or Black & White, an ambitious moral tale where the player’s god-like choices between good and evil leave tangible marks on the landscape.4 The computer game has been a killer app for the home PC, increasing consumer demand for vivid graphics, rapid processing, greater memory, and better 1 19 sound. One could make the case that games have been to the PC what NASA was to the mainframe—the thing that pushes forward innovation and experimentation. The release of the Sony PlayStation 2, the Microsoft Xbox, and the Nintendo GameCube signals a dramatic increase in the resources available to game designers. In anticipation of these new technological breakthroughs, people within and beyond the games industry began to focus on the creative potentials of this emerging medium. Mapping the aesthetics of game design, they argued, would not only enable them to consolidate decades of experimentation and innovation but would also propel them toward greater artistic accomplishment. Game designers were being urged to think of themselves not simply as technicians producing corporate commodities but rather as artists mapping the dimensions and potentials of an emerging medium; this reorientation, it was hoped, would force them to ask harder questions in their design meetings and to aspire toward more depth and substance in the product they shipped. At the same time, the games industry confronted increased public and government scrutiny. If you parsed the rhetoric of the moral reformers, it was clear that their analogies to pollution or carcinogens revealed their base-level assumption that games were utterly without redeeming value, lacking any claim to meaningful content or artistic form. Seeing games as art, however, shifted the terms of the debate. Most of these discussions started from the premise that games were an emerging art form that had not yet realized its full potential. Game designer Warren Spector, for example, told a Joystick 101 interviewer, “We’re just emerging from infancy. We’re still making (and remaking!) The Great Train Robbery or Birth of a Nation or, to be really generous, maybe we’re at the beginning of what might be called our talkies period. But as Al Jolson said in The Jazz Singer, “You ain’t heard nothing yet!”5 In this context, critical discussions sought to promote experimentation and diversification of game form, content, and audience , not to develop prescriptive norms. These debates were staged at trade shows and academic conferences, in the pages of national magazines (such as Newsweek and Technology Review) and newspapers (such as the New York Times), and in online zines aimed at the gaming community (such as Joystick 101 and Gamasutra ). Game designers, policy makers, art critics, fans, and academics all took positions on the questions of whether computer games could be considered an art form and what kinds of aesthetic categories made sense for discussing them. 20 | Games, the New Lively Art Games have increasingly influenced contemporary cinema, helping to define the frantic pace and model the multi-directional plotting of Run Lola Run, providing the role-playing metaphor for Being John Malkovich, encouraging a fascination with the slippery line...


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