By Dtat 24 Comments
So this is something I've been thinking about for a while. Let me set this up by talking about Hollywood.
In the early days of cinema, there was what was called the "studio system." Large movie companies owned all the means of production of the movie industry: the sets, the equipment, the directors, the writers, and the actors. Movies were produced in an assembly-line fashion, with the people involved having no creative claim over the works that were released. All rights stayed with the companies, and the creative people signed themselves to many years-long exclusive contracts.
The movies produced in this time were little more than big, exciting, escapist entertainment for the world-weary audiences. People came to the theater to be entertained, nothing more. The images on the screen dazzled audiences everywhere. Patrons of older arts like stage theatre and the printed word scoffed at films, dismissing them as big, flashy, and empty pieces of drivel.
But then, in the 1960s, the studio system began to crumble. Directors desired more ownership of their works, both legally and creatively. Independent filmmakers began pouring out of universities with the vision that films could be more than simple pleasures: that they could change peoples lives and speak to the human condition. Films started being released that defied convention. Intensely personal films were made with vision and purpose. Now, today, film is a widely accepted art form. And while big dumb blockbusters still exist and create huge profits, films are released every year that inspire people, enrich lives, and challenge our minds.
Fast-forward to present day. Large companies like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, etc produce huge, lavish, and ultimately empty works of pure escapist entertainment for the masses. Writers, programmers, voice actors all work on contract with these companies to produce games they maintain little to no creative ownership of. Film-goers and critics like Roger Ebert point out their assembly-line production and the profit-first mentality of these companies. They are not seen as a legitimate art, and even those that enjoy them only want them to ever be a form of entertainment and escapism.
But we see the rumblings of change. Indie developers are beginning to release games that have a clear artistic vision. Meaning is trying to be conveyed, and the emotion of these creative people is present on the screen: people like Jonathan Blow, Phil Phish Terry Cavanaugh and small teams like Supergiant and Thatgamecompany. These people are gaining notice. Not only of Forbes and the Wallstreet Journal, but of critics. And not just "game reviewers" but of people that are interested in real critique.
Could it be that the "golden age" of video games may be nearing a close? Young people with passion and fresh ideas are pouring out of schools across the world, and new business models are making it financially viable for small teams and independent developers to make their visions a reality. Our hobby is moving inexorably into the realm of art. Like it or not. Movies haven't always been like they are now. One they were considered a lower form of entertainment, and fans and critics alike scoffed at the notion that they could be anything more than what they were. Those people were short sighted. I hope there are enough of us out there today in the audience and in the industry that are not.