Video Games Do Not Want to Be Art?
I say let the world go to hell
… but I should always have my tea. (Notes From Underground, 1864)
You can praise video games as art to justify its impact on your life – but do you really consider it art?
Best before the servers are taken down, because you're probably not playing it after.
Art allows the author to express their humanity and permits the user to consider that perspective. We become cultured when we experiment with and to some extent understand difficult human nature problems. Ideas are transmitted about topics which we cannot otherwise understand. We are affected positively as humans in society when these issues are raised in a safe medium.
Video games, unlike most other mediums, encourage the user to coat the creation with their own expressions. The player can influence the content through their dialogue and decision-tree choices. The player can accomplish challenges in their own unique way and talk about it over the water cooler. The player can also embed their own content as a direct form of expression. The medium will also mature as we further learn how to leverage interactivity to open a dialogue for these artistic topics in completely new ways and not necessarily in a single direction.
Consciously or otherwise – users will express themselves.
With all of the potential for art that the medium allows it is a shame that – time and time again – the industry and its users neuter its artistic capabilities in the name of greed, simplicity, or merely fear.
You maniacs! You blew it up! (Planet of the Apes, 1968)
Content is always dependent upon a platform. An illustration needs a canvas to exist and carry its message. A video game relies upon an extremely complicated network of layered platforms to break apart a creative vision into instructions for electrical signals to follow between inputs and outputs. A layer could be an operating system, a graphics library, and so on.
The author of each layer must attach it to a set of legal terms through the copyright law: the law will just assume you desire full copyright otherwise. These terms stick until the work becomes public domain and sometimes even far beyond. For art dependent upon these layers the worst thing that could happen is for that layer to become orphaned or abandoned – such as when Microsoft finished support for the original Xbox – because the law will get in the way of preserving that art.
Imagine your art can only exist while DRM servers are online or imagine that the platform it resides on is defunct: your art has just expired. Again, when a platform dies so does its art.
The PC has built its heritage on seemingly perpetual back-catalog support. Microsoft has broken their backs – not to mention several security best practices guidelines until just prior to Vista – to ensure that as much software designed for earlier revisions of their platform can persist into later versions. This seemingly timeless platform has given rise to companies who design their business around similarly timeless products. The two most notable example companies are Blizzard and Valve. You can still go to a store and purchase a copy of the 12-year-old Diablo 2; and when those copies sell, Blizzard produces more. Huge four-week sales figures are not the only method of founding a thriving business. There is money to be made with timeless classics.
Care to take a guess why these companies lash out against desktop deprecation in Windows 8?
We have already seen multiple examples where the tower begins to sag. Applications designed around Mac OS9 and earlier have all pretty much been entirely wiped from the face of the Earth when Apple cut them loose. Also, countless console titles have been lost to the ether because of the loss of their platforms. Another more recent example is Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, a great single-player Xbox title which did not make the cut for Xbox 360 backwards compatibility. Better hope your Xbox does not die because Microsoft has not fixed them for years. Thankfully in this case you are able to preserve the experience forever -- by purchasing it again DRM-Free on the PC through Good Old Games.
Now if the art creator was not around or could not preserve their creation we would be screwed. See the problem?
... until the man in his unthinkingness forgets that it will ever end for him. (Beowulf, ~8th-11th Century)
The other end of the spectrum is populated by services such as OnLive and Gaikai. With services such as those you are further separated from your art and never given direct access to it. You are separated from all recourse – legal or otherwise – to preserve the content… short of grand theft supercomputer. A cloud gaming service will always provide a game for any given occasion. It is simple. It is attractive for those who seek quick and easy entertainment. It also creates yet another middleman with a shiny red button and the power to remove access to a work of art from the world.
We are moving towards a future where all art is kept at arms-length and licensed only on a temporary basis for its ingestion. We have been steadily moving towards a consumables model for entertainment. Content will be pulled from its service due to a legal or business request and replaced with some other content to keep users entertained – and inflating the revenue of new content so publishers would hope. I mean if someone cannot access old content they clearly will put that money in new content and not just go outside or do literally anything else with their time.
Publisher wishful thinking aside – entertainment can be exchanged for like entertainment. Art is not interchangeable. Art is not indistinguishable. You will not have an identical experience if you were given A Boy in the Striped Pajamas when you seek out Schindler’s List. There was a reason to choose one over the other -- and chances are you did not base your decision solely on how much time the content takes up.
Do not let the allure of simplicity lead you to give up your access to specific content which personally reaches you; they do not need to exclude one another. Do not let the fear of piracy and used content lead you to believe that publishers need to descend into the deeper circles of DRM Hell in order to survive; as we have discussed in previous editorials they often willingly sacrifice sales and revenue out of a blind fear caused by an inability to consider piracy figures and sales figures as independent measurements. Always appreciate the intrinsic value of a work of art and always consider how we could be slowly ignoring it out of existence.
This should not be the way the world ends.