Video Games Do Not Want to Be Art?
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper. (The Hollow Men, 1925)
Other legal structures make much more sense for art to thrive on.
What better platform for open-community-based art support than an open community-supported art platform?
An openly licensed platform receives all the rights permitted to them by copyright laws. These are the same rights granted to Windows, Mac OSX, and other platforms but they are exercised in a much different way.
Linux, as an example, is protected under the GPL license. In a highly simplified explanation: Linux through its GPL license allows its users to modify Linux if their released modifications are likewise licensed under the GPL to perpetuate the openness. Content which is dependent upon – but not a part of – Linux can still be licensed in whatever way the author decides. Again, art which is dependent upon Linux does not need to be licensed under the GPL. The general public would have full source code access and legal rights to the platform which the art relies upon.
Platforms evolve and works of art become broken in the process. The community does not need to rely upon the artist or the platform owner with full source code access to the platform and public license to get under the hood. Any member of society could tweak the platform to restore the art and share their success with the rest of the world. These fixes could even be rolled back into a major distribution to make the restoration completely seamless. Not surprisingly Gabe Newell of Valve – there’s that company again – has been looking toward Linux for the future of PC gaming.
In effect, we can preserve the illustration by ensuring that the canvas and the paints cannot be locked down and everyone understands how they work.
For the sake of completeness -- licenses like BSD work too. GPL just removes the tempt for proprietary forks.
Unlicensed emulation hardware exists for unencrypted consoles such as the NES as their patents expired to the public domain. Some past and future consoles are ‘protected’ by encryption. Breaking this encryption is a felony in the United States under the DMCA even if the content itself is public domain. The Librarian of Congress could make an exemption to the DMCA to permit breaking encryption on public domain works. It would still be up to the community to break the encryption as well as do their job fixing the compatibility through mostly blind reverse-engineering – still not an acceptable situation to place art.
The WINE project on the PC is another example of a community working to preserve content by hooking around it. The WINE team manage to intercept and interpret calls intended for the Windows platform to support the content on Linux. With all the success the project has produced imagine how much more they could achieve had Windows been licensed openly?
Our loss of control over art will not burst like a bubble – we have been slowly losing it for decades.
The Dude abides. (The Big Lebowski, 1998)
The future will hinge upon how much we respect timeless art and its impact on society.
We will always have entertainment to pass the time and become the center of social functions. We will receive several benefits of artistic dialogue through our self-expression and introspection with these entertainment-focused consumables. We will also lose our ability to have a timeless piece of art and for it to be reviewed in scholarly venues for decades and centuries after its creation.
And bringing this conversation full-circle – the first source that I cited all the way at the start of this editorial made the claim that we receive the most artistic benefits when our medium helps us make sense of violence and its results. Consumable content wants its sex and its violence for the quick burst of sales it brings. If your intent was to leave a lasting impression on your customers why would you not intend to make your content – well – last? If your intent is for your content to be consumed then disposed of…
And every other art medium also faces this concern as they too move towards the consumables model. The problem unique to the video game medium is how tightly dependent the complex platforms are to the similarly complicated content. A movie or song can be automatically transcoded in order to be preserved. Video games are not so lucky. There is the very real danger of waking up one day and realizing that something which deeply echoed with you no longer exists.
I never asked whether video games can be art. I asked: will you continuously choose to prevent it?