State of the Art pt.1 – “Balance of Power”
Chris Crawford, despite being present at the very infancy of video-game development, achieved a thorough knowledge of the area, one that granted him a visionary insight over its future. In his book, “The Art of Computer Game Design”, he defined video-games, laid out the principles of game design (most of which stand today), delivered a possible games’ taxonomy out of a remarkably small number of titles, and even predicted how the industry would evolve, to a point only realized in the XXIst century – a heterogeneous marketplace (only possible today thanks to download services).
But there’s another idea in his text, one far more provocative and stunning than any of the rest – the idea that in the old days of 16 color screens, kilobyte sized memory, and assembly programming, Chris Crawford already regarded video-games as Art. As he himself admits, video-games couldn’t be further from “a Shakespeare play, a Tchaikowsky symphony, or a Van Gogh self portrait”, and yet he could already perceive the video-game equivalent of such masterpieces possible in the means! However, twenty seven years down the road, and such a statute seems far from being consolidated. In fact, most of Crawford’s criticisms still stand today: “computer games are much like candy, comic books, and cartoons”, “artistic flair has heretofore been treated as subordinate to technical prowess”, and as he had predicted, the market is still overrun “with blockbuster games, spin-off games, remake games, and tired complaints that computer games constitute a vast wasteland.”
I, for one, believe he was right, the potential for video-games to become a rightful form of art exists. One look at games like “ICO”, “Silent Hill 2”, “Gadget – Past as Future”, or my recently reviewed “Myst” and “D”, quickly reassures my heart that games can be Art. More so, the recent rise of the indie scene has allowed many new developers to find niche markets whose players have higher expectations for video-games – Jenova Chen’s “flower” and Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn’s “The Path” are but some of the most outstanding examples of this new trend.
And yet, despite all theses advances, the same teenager oriented industry and ludic design models remain. Talking about art in the context of video-games is still, let’s face it, wishful thinking. The small beacons of light that I mentioned beforehand are minuscule when compared to the ever growing cloud of darkness that dominates games’ landscape. Players, in general, don’t want to play new games (just compare established franchises’ sales when faced with new IP’s, such as the recent EA fiasco) or even artistic ventures (see the sales of PSN titles, of which only “flOw” makes it to the top ten). Game designers themselves, show little interest in creating interactive art instead of glorified tech toys. Publishers and producers just back up where the money is: shooters, platformers, role-playing, sports, and casual games still eat up the gross of video-game’s productions, with original titles that step out of the boundaries of tried and true formulas and established genres being harder to find than a needle in a haystack. Journalists on the other hand, instead of defending artsy ventures and breakthrough original games, as a way of helping the means evolve by educating and cultivating gamers, insist on valloring mediocre games that apply template design models, such as “Killzone 2”, “GTA IV” or “Gears of War 2”. Everyone says these games are “more fun”. Art games, on the orther hand, aren’t. In fact the whole industry seems to measure itself upon this generic, abstract equation of “fun”. Back in the ATARI days, Chris Crawford said that “Computer games are much like candy, comic books, and cartoons”. They still are. Just serves to show how little games have changed in this quarter of a century.
[In the coming articles I will delve further on these issues and explore how everyone can help change the current video-game landscape]