On May 21st, the Xbox One was announced, and with it came the severe policies that turned it into the laughing stock of a generation. When the policy reversals, shady business practice and questionable morality with corporate sponsorship arose, the laughing only became louder. And at the end of this odyssey, there was only one fact I could see; games are not ready to be art.
It’s not just Microsoft. While they may have been the proponents of a potential era of cynicism where games are just a service that we pay for and then discard with no afterthought, the competition is not bursting with artistic aspirations, either. Sony has offered me little respite, as the appearance of games I can truly consider to be art on the PlayStation 4 seems coincidental at best. The Wii U GamePad may be a fabulous machine for all I know, but when the biggest appeal of the platform lies in a Zelda remake and a Mario platformer, I see little reason to be euphoric – depicting Mona Lisa from various angles doesn’t make for new art.
This industry has no idea of what to do with itself. The complaints from big publishers that they are not profiting enough from their high profile releases are often-heard, but they seem to have no shortage of ideas to end their strife. DLC is seemingly omnipresent on the market, with even the overwhelmingly successful indie game Minecraft living long enough to see itself clad in Skyrim-themed textures, and antithetically, there’s no shortage of ad revenue; while the mobile market is a big culprit here, I fail to see the relationship Nathan Drake has to a delicious foot-long B.L.T. sub. It makes me wonder, how much of a $60 digital sale ends up in their pocket?
Because how can we call it art when each sold ‘piece’ is designed to turn the biggest possible profit from the smallest possible investment, and when the industry is designed to support that? Unless we consider making money a unique art in its own right, we can’t. And how can we call it art when each game is just a reiteration of the previous one, made not because a new iteration was needed, but to ensure that the loyalists are accounted for? We can’t. The things we pay for aren’t art, but products that we consume for momentary pleasure. They may be great products that we can have fun with, but they are not art.
The critics will object to this train of thought – surely a game supported by the might of the capitalist machine can still be directed by the inherent passion of the developers, they claim. But they are wrong. The games in the upper echelons of the budget spectrum are guided almost entirely by the whims of the quarterly revenue charts, and in following directives designed purely to produce profit, they are sacrificing the creative spark of the developers. The strengths of the game, which may even have been selling points, such as in the case of the forgotten Overkill, are discarded in favor of components deemed acceptable by those who study only the results of financial briefings.
Then I implore, why should we even call games art? It may simply be an empty word to some, but I believe that games made with the vision of art in mind are created differently than games designed only for the sake of profit. They represent something more than mere time-killers and toys. They are the games we want to show our friends and family, because they’re something we’re proud to associate ourselves with, and I’m not sure that the yearly Call of Duty sequels, endless Final Fantasy showings, or the DLC-plagued mobile games are something I’d take pride in. Quite frankly, I think they are the kind of games we’d all much rather be playing right now. And yet, they’re not the games that are being made. They have been cast aside for reasons we are all too familiar with.
The question we're left with in the end is if games can ever be considered artistic. Will they ever reach a point where we can compare the best of gaming to the works of Plato, Shakespeare and George Eliot? Maybe. But while headline of this article was "Games Are Not Ready to Be Art," perhaps I should say that games aren’t ready to be art yet, because it will ultimately come down to what the future of gaming holds. If the Xbox One debacle has been a picture of the future, and a commercially driven era of cynicism is what we can look forward to, then games may very well be relegated to a role on the sidelines, carrying no further value than DLC-studded cash cows. However, with time more and more developers are finally grasping the intricacies of making a game with true intellectual value, and personally, I hope that those are the games of the future.