In the past few weeks the Smithsonian Art of Videogames was poorly received, the NY Times wrote on “stupid” games and Keiji Inafune discussed why Japanese games are lacking direction. And now, Taylor Clark’s piece in The Atlantic on Jonathan Blow:
Never mind that they’re now among the most lucrative forms of entertainment in America, video games are juvenile, silly, and intellectually lazy. At least that’s what Jonathan Blow thinks. But the game industry’s harshest critic is also its most cerebral developer, a maverick bent on changing the way we think about games and storytelling. With his next release, The Witness, Blow may cement his legacy—or end his career. In a multibillion-dollar industry addicted to laser guns and carnivorous aliens, can true art finally flourish?
Can true art finally flourish? It already is. How is the intent of a multibillion-dollar game still compared to that of a Mark Essen or a Pippin Barr game? The two have wildy different purposes and audiences.
The article fails to mention indie games or well known artists that make videogames. Instead it is assumed that videogames as art need to have certain defined aspects. With this, Blow is presented as a savior of sorts,
Blow is well aware that reaching for this lofty goal throughThe Witnessmay make him go broke. He’d like to see the game sell well when it’s released, potentially later this year, but his primary concern is that it fit the artistic parameters he has set for it. “I can always go back to being an independent developer,” he shrugged. “Even if I have zero dollars, I’d be able to do what I did in 2005, but better. If I can just save enough for a year or two of low-budget living, that’s all I need.” Despite his wealth, Blow still thinks like a monk.
Which, in a sense, is just what he is—a spiritual seeker, questing after truth in an as-yet-uncharted realm. These are the terms in which he sees his art. “People like us who are doing something a little different from the mainstream have each picked one direction that we strike out in into the desert, but we’re still not very far from camp,” he told me. “There’s just a huge amount of territory to explore out there—and until you have a map of that, nobody can say what games can do.”
Who or what is it that needs saving? Not everyone needs to like art and not everyone wants to play artistic video games. Blow isn’t going to save anyone that doesn’t believe.
The debate of how videogames are art and who makes videogame art is being milked for its last drop. There is a lot of territory to explore, but does not need to be explored by belittling a medium or by praising one individual. The real question is who is making the map and charting the course for future travellers?