Finding the year zero of video games, also to understand the meaning of the debate about their (non) legitimation as an "eighth art", is complex. But you can try. In 1895, when i Lumière brothers gave birth to the history of cinema, not everyone looked favorably on their invention. There were those who indicated it as harmful to the minds of young French people. Because, you know, all great innovations find some resistance in their first years of life.
It took about 30 years, until 1929, to see the first doctoral thesis on cinema, in the USA. In Spain, on the other hand, only in the second post-war period did this art enter the university, under the guise of "filmography courses".
In other words: at the beginning, cinema was seen by some as an innovative prodigy but, by others, as a dangerous and misleading monster. It took a long time for the films to show their great complexity. Only after many years did the critical study and the state of "seventh art" arrive.
Should we speak of "video game culture" or "video game industry"?
It cannot be said that art that has been defined as "the smallest cousin of cinema" has had the same fate: Games. Born just before the middle of the last century, gaming now has over 70 years of history behind it. From its origins steeped in small pixels, it has come a long way, showing great versatility and expressiveness.
To learn more:
Ars Ludica: Art in Video Games
The writer believes this is not the place to demonstrate that video games can be a full-fledged art form. Video games like Chrono Trigger, Half-Life 2, Shadow of the Colossus, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and many others have undoubted art value. Yet, unlike its older cousin, gaming hasn't received the same treatment from the scientific community.
Yes, there are specialized magazines, articles by scholars and real (private) academies of game design. But, to date, there is still nothing comparable to a real "culture of video game criticism". There is no public body that issues a degree for those who want to deal with this environment from a theoretical point of view. The film critic can boast a degree in DAMS; but who deals with the art of video games instead? And if there is a specific language to talk about cinema, is there a technique that deals with video games?
The videogame critic, today, has only the University of Life on his side, a master in Digital Entertainment, perhaps, or, in the most fortunate cases, a YouTube channel.
The videogame sector, to date, results in a turnover greater than that of the film and music industries combined. So why hasn't mass culture given video games a status of true all-round art? Why are they too often demonized by public opinion and still sometimes treated as a "toy for children"? Why on earth, if today the average age of gamers is 34 years old?
The reasons are many and, here, we will try to do a little justice to the complexity of the factors behind this vexed quaestio.
But are video games really a "thing for children"?
First of all, the cultural motivations. A widespread opinion in mass thinking is that gaming is a useless childish habit that can be amused but, apparently, "stoned". Video games, in practice, would not be a harbinger of culture - and the fact that they still lack a language of their own doesn't help. Adults who spend their free time in this way are often seen as eternal teenagers who have never grown up.
From a certain point of view, it is clear that certain games can lead to alienation. Think of all those series of repetitive actions of some titles that transform gamers into real "dungeon-eating automatons". However, the causes of the videogames-children nexus must be investigated. Why, in reality, this has not always been the case.
To learn more:
Video games and Crowdfunding: when the industry really believes in it
Since its origins, video games have been associated with the nerd culture. Word to be understood not in its modern meaning, increasingly confused with that of geek, but in the original one. The nerd was born as a "geek", unattractive, solitary, bent over in front of a PC. Certainly an adult, not a child.
The gaming-children nexus is perhaps a child of the post-crisis Nintendo marketing of 1983, a year that was a real watershed for the video game industry. There was a mass exodus of users, tired of a market too saturated with low quality titles. In the course of a profound crisis in the sector, it was necessary to change the marketing methods. But, even more, it was vital to find a new catchment area, larger than that made up of the nerd niche.
The videogame crisis of 1983: from the niche to the bedroom
From being produced for a select few, the video game became a real toy
Nintendo's idea was to change, at least from a visual and communicative point of view, the very image of gaming. From being produced for a select few, the video game became a real toy, capable of opening up to the large children's market. Here, then, are consoles that are as "plasticky" as possible, no longer bought from specialized retailers, but in crowded toy shops.
Just think ofadaptation that the Famicom obtained for the American soil. In the US, the Famicom came with a more user-friendly look than its Japanese counterpart. The name was also changed to Nintendo Entertainment System, to emphasize entertainment, the "playful" aspect of entertainment.
The choice proved successful and managed to revive a dying industry, but at a steep price for the adult gamer. It was a bit like what happened in the US with the prohibition propaganda of the 50s. The use of soft drugs was associated with a switch to hard drugs, but no research had established a direct link between the two uses.
In a somewhat similar way, Nintendo unintentionally gave birth to a cliché which, unfortunately, is still rooted in mass thinking today. Like any form of culture, even that of video games has to fight against stereotypes. Just think of how often comments such as "Eh, but Nintendo only makes games for children" appear in dedicated forums.
It is not just the gamer that pays a heavy price, but the artistic component itself
How much does this passion cost me?
Secondly, i economic reasons. Gaming, as we know, is a free time activity, a hobby, and, as such, it involves a money price. If certain passions involve an expense more or less within everyone's reach, the same certainly cannot be said for video games. Even counting the existence of the free-to-play market, which does not provide for direct disbursement, remains the starting purchase: the console.
Incorrect video game:
You don't really think video games are art
In spite of other hobbies involving culture, such as reading or cinema, the starting expenditure for video games is undoubtedly high. For cinema, the figure may be that of a DVD player, followed by that of individual films. For music, that of the instrument - which indeed can be quite a lot. But, for gaming, there are other factors: the console alone is not enough. And the prices of games - at least the recently released ones - are higher than those of movies, for example.
Add to this the crucial factor. Any DVD or Blu-ray player can play any product that uses the same optical media. While, with consoles, the same thing is not possible, except for cross-platform titles. Even in this case, in reality, with due precautions. Think of the Nintendo Switch ports of Final Fantasy XV e Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden.
How do I port you
Think of a gamer who wants to enjoy Final Fantasy XV from the sofa. Admiring all the beauty of the Luminous Engine. Well, he will be forced to buy a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One. Pena, play the (albeit pleasant) Pocket Edition. Different speech for the port on Nintendo Switch of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. The port is plagued by so many technical problems that it is sometimes unplayable.
If certain passions involve an expense more or less within everyone's reach, the same certainly cannot be said for video games.
It's not art if I can't have all the video games
The gamer who wants to play games like God of War, Forza Horizon e Animal Crossing has two options. First: making a choice, that is, giving up at least one of the consoles on the market - and therefore all its exclusives. Or, pay a price that not everyone is able to bear lightly. The discourse is of interest here for what à rebours entails. The presence of proprietary consoles is mostly linked to exclusive titles, without which the problem would not arise in the same way.
Such a competitive market therefore entails a significant outcome: the need to do better than the competition. The marketing war between Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony benefits the industry: the majors must create the most fun and attractive game. Users can thus enjoy high quality titles - The Last of Us is a prime example of this. But the 360 ° gamer cannot fully cultivate his passion for this art. Except having an above average portfolio.
The gamer, therefore, pays a lot. But the artist?
The above reasons lead to a single, clear truth. Potentially throttled by such heated competition, gaming is necessarily subordinated to market and industry reasons. In fact, to date, it is well known, the largest amount of artists is found in the indie market.
The game designer who wants to express an artistic ambition in a triple A title finds himself having to deal with two factors. On the one hand, commercial constraints that risk harnessing their creativity. On the other hand, the awareness of not being able to reach all users with their work. And this, for a sector that wants to define itself as artistic, is certainly not positive.
In the opinion of the writer, this age-old problem cannot be solved as long as there is the very concept of "exclusivity". For better or for worse.
What language do we talk about video games?
Finally, the relationship between video games and language. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, gaming has years of history behind it. But there is a clear lack of technical vocabulary, often borrowed from his elder cousin. Make a comparison, perhaps in the beginning reductive, with other art forms. Books make up literature, songs make music, pictures make up painting. What about video games?
To learn more:
Semiotics in video games
Like many young sectors, it is clear that video games still owe a lot, perhaps too much, to the English language. But, by now, video games have too much history behind them for not yet having developed a language of their own. If, for the computer world, expressions such as "electronic calculator" can never replace the effectiveness of "computer", for gaming it is not so. The language of yes needs to make a further effort towards video game culture.
The absence of Spanish language terms for video games leads to two considerations. In the first place, there is no lemma that does justice to a sector that cannot and must not be traced back to gaming Anglism alone. Word that takes into account the playful part, but does not fully express the great art value of video game interactivity. Secondly, there is no term that exonerates the video game from being just a game. Inevitably, the cultural distinction passes through the language. Even only on an unconscious level, the lexicon available today keeps alive the child stereotype of the Eighties. That is, video games would be a children's activity, a one and only playful exercise, without a culture behind it.
Think of the gender-free debates around the linguistic matrix of patriarchal ideology. Or, also, the recent efforts to make Spanish neutral. With plural subjects, Dante's language always gives a gender point of view, rather than a neutral one that includes anyone without discrimination. Similarly, today the only word to call the works of this market is video games. It thus remains impossible to distinguish consumer products from works of art at the language level without using periphrases.
What is still missing from the video game to be recognized as an art?
The recognition of the art status of video games by mass culture, therefore, is complex. It involves the entry into play of cultural, economic, linguistic, social and political factors, which this article cannot express as a whole. And, as Riccardo Vessa argues, a lack above all is felt ferociously. The one of experts and prominent figures who want to fight for this cause. Women and men who bring to light an artistic community that really cares about the rise of gaming and video games right to the rank of "eighth art".