The 8th Annual Montreal International Game Summit brought designers, artists, engineers, academics and business people to Montreal to share the sets of knowledge each has gained from their involvement with video games. Of course, many were covering their asses, bending the truth and self-promoting their institutions and themselves. However, that is standard fare for this industry; no one is really going to tell a group of eager game developers that their company is money grubbing, pulp media producing, enslavement camp, especially when it is true. However, amidst the thick air of deceit, there were some insightful thoughts and innovations which I would like to share. Those most notable dealt with the current artistic status of video games.
The opening keynote was from Ed Fries, an eccentric ex-Microsoft man who spearheaded the Xbox, but now sells 3D prints the avatars of World of Warcraft players at $129.99 a pop. He proposed that game designers force themselves to be creative by having them impose constraints on themselves. Most recently, Mr. Fries has ported Halo to the Atari 2600, a 33 year old console, as a means of forcing his own creativity. His concerns around game designers failing to meet the minimal criteria for artistry were widely echoed by indie developers, but also academics.
John Sharp of Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta explained that video games are in a state much like painting in the renaissance. While that period had objects produced for their functional values of worship, and where 90% of works depicted the Virgin Mary to do so, it still managed to develop into the art form we love and respect today. Video games currently have a lot of guns, because guns serve the purpose of shooting people which in turn works functionally to entertain us. Down the line, Sharp predicts that games will become art, but then goes one further and suggests that with their power they can be even more.
Indie game developer and producer, Ron Carmel , spoke of a need for a new form of studio, one whose unique size, smaller than a major studio, but larger than an indie studio would be able to deploy enough resources to make a splash, while still being ballsy enough to innovate. His data analysis involved many graphs, including one of Roger Ebert repeatedly eating his words (the axes were the percentage likelihood of games ever being art vs. time).
All in all, everyone seems to think that art and games will happen, and has already started with the indie studios. What’s left is for major publishers to begin taking larger risks and push the medium. Not an easy thing to ask when 30 plus million dollars are on the line. And while the heads of Montreal’s major studios claim they want to create art, none of them seems to realize that art these days takes a controversial position. Everyone wants a physically/mentally challenging game, only time will tell when they will want them to be socially so.