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This is not a post about booth babes and sexism in the gaming industry. I am also not about to rail on out of touch CEOs. While I’m not really a proud of those aspects of the culture surrounding video games, I believe they are a symptom of the more disdainful aspects of commercialism and how it affects the way video games are marketed and produced.
I have no interest in going on a rant about how materialization is antithetical to an artistic medium because I cannot call video games an art while letting the commercial aspect go unnoticed. Games are commodities. As long as this is the case, software will straddle the line between art and object, a delineation which is mostly enforced by class structure and rigid art snobbism. Even so, as the plaything of mostly educated young adults in the developed world, it is clear that it is not a strictly economic elitism in the art culture that prevents games from being accepted into marble museum halls. Especially being that games are played by those relatively elite who live lives of incredible excess compared to the folks who work in chip factories overseas producing the hardware which is the canvas on which this art is displayed.
That’s an important point, that one about the canvas, and it leads me into why I feel an odd sort of shame whenever a new console is announced or when witnessing the spectacle of E3. The point is that these events push the industry aspect of gaming into the forefront, these events are designed to sell you on a product and not intrigue you into a work of art based upon its value as an intriguing piece of symbolic representation or meaning. It is my belief that representing games as a commodity like this is one of the main sources of the intellectual elitism preventing games being granted their due high-brow cultural significance.
I know that game designers and the people working for the major publishing houses are intelligent, but sometimes watching them parade around new hardware makes me doubt whether the words symbolic representation have ever gone through their minds.
It is a video game industry, I like to forget about that third word there, and so long as it remains an industry the progress of technological advancement will feed off of marketing. Sales grease the axles that are creativity while also fueling the fires of stagnation which burn innovation, unless you are speaking of innovation in the realm of controversy because controversy sells.
I don’t mean to be entirely pessimistic, there’s a lot to look forward to and I’ve been a proponent of Watch_Dogs since Ubisoft showed off the demo at last year’s E3. Still I can’t help but feel like these press events are a nail in my own coffin. Maybe it’s the consoles themselves, the true work of art exists in the immaterial work of interpretation, not in the marble, the pigments hardened on canvas, nor the words as they are lined up on bound paper. It’s in the observing, the reading, and playing that art comes to life.
Seeing Sony’s PS4 announcement yesterday reawakened my self-doubt about arguing for the artistry found within a commoditized industry, but in reaction to that shame and grief my grounding ideology has been strengthened. A grounding ideology tied to my conception that no art exists within a vacuum. Meaning that as all human creations have been made with some thought towards an audience, I am further convinced of the implausibility of a truly self propelled and self fulfilling art form. For example, the most based pop songs exist on the same continuum that the gnarliest punk stands on, and just because the size of the audience in consideration does not mean that Ke$ha is less artful than Gary Floyd.
In fact, when you approach a dichotomy like this with clarity you come to realize that when two things are thought to be so oppositional they tend to begin looking alike. Artistic worth is not something that can be measured, unless you honestly believe that sales figures have anything to do with it.
And just to reinforce the importance of a creative process behind even the much derided triple-A titles, when talking about Watch_Dogs coming to PS4 before other consoles, the game’s creative director, Jonathan Morin, had this to say “I firmly believe that creating a game experience starts with what you want to do and achieve as a team. It has nothing to do with tools (hardware). The tools are there to facilitate certain things.” I’ll take that as proof positive, albeit in a very unspecific way, that these game designers might have thought about symbolic representation once or twice during the development process.