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Video Game Art

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By 2008 most analysts predict that the video game industry will be larger than the film and music industries combined. Games today already command Hollywood budgets and teams of dozens of artists, writers, musicians, and designers... And yet almost nothing has been written about their art and design from a non-technical viewpoint. Video Game Art is a first look from an art By 2008 most analysts predict that the video game industry will be larger than the film and music industries combined. Games today already command Hollywood budgets and teams of dozens of artists, writers, musicians, and designers... And yet almost nothing has been written about their art and design from a non-technical viewpoint. Video Game Art is a first look from an art history and post-modern cultural perspective at the influences behind, and achievements of today's genre-defining video games. Examining themes such as character, environment, and the growing place of video games among more traditional art forms, and including commentary from luminaries of the field and often unpublished behind-the-scene art of both past and upcoming games, Video Game Art is a pioneering foray into what promises to be the dominant art form of the coming century.


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By 2008 most analysts predict that the video game industry will be larger than the film and music industries combined. Games today already command Hollywood budgets and teams of dozens of artists, writers, musicians, and designers... And yet almost nothing has been written about their art and design from a non-technical viewpoint. Video Game Art is a first look from an art By 2008 most analysts predict that the video game industry will be larger than the film and music industries combined. Games today already command Hollywood budgets and teams of dozens of artists, writers, musicians, and designers... And yet almost nothing has been written about their art and design from a non-technical viewpoint. Video Game Art is a first look from an art history and post-modern cultural perspective at the influences behind, and achievements of today's genre-defining video games. Examining themes such as character, environment, and the growing place of video games among more traditional art forms, and including commentary from luminaries of the field and often unpublished behind-the-scene art of both past and upcoming games, Video Game Art is a pioneering foray into what promises to be the dominant art form of the coming century.

30 review for Video Game Art

  1. 4 out of 5

    Philip Frazer

    Would have been a three star rating but it has several printing errors that create duplicate paragraphs or completely missing verses. There is also a heavy focus on about four particular games with most others not getting much attention whatsoever, including MGS despite being on the cover.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This is already out of date (written in 2005) but it makes a good case for understanding video games as heirs to the mythological and legendary traditions in the arts (indeed, as a revival of more ancient forms) - and for the potential for video games to become a recognised art form in their own right. Kelman over-plays his hand here. Video games are culturally very important and (in my opinion) a psychologically progressive force, despite their traditionalist, militarist and aspirational subject This is already out of date (written in 2005) but it makes a good case for understanding video games as heirs to the mythological and legendary traditions in the arts (indeed, as a revival of more ancient forms) - and for the potential for video games to become a recognised art form in their own right. Kelman over-plays his hand here. Video games are culturally very important and (in my opinion) a psychologically progressive force, despite their traditionalist, militarist and aspirational subject matter. But, if we compare the form to cinema (which Kelman does), the genre should now be in its creative heyday, equivalent (in terms of its technological date of birth) to the Golden Age of Hollywood and already able to appeal back to an Eisenstein and a Lang. In fact, video games have, as yet, achieved nothing like the depth of narrative or sophistication of cinema. The standard model (as evidenced by Kelman) of a protagonist undertaking a quest against an antagonist and being tested along the way may be 3,000 years old in form but that alone does not make it great art. However, the book is worth reading for two reasons. It contains a wealth of visual material (though my cheap edition was badly edited from its original) and it produces a theory about video game narrative and artistic production that shows us that the form must be taken seriously and that it has potential for greatness once technological barriers are dealt with and the costs for small niche operators brought down. Regardless of the claims about artistic merit (it has to be said that Kelman raises some useful populist points about the nature of art in our global late-capitalist culture), video games have long since matched and even eclipsed the cinematic and music industries. They are not only the dominant artistic offer for most male adolescents but they are building a strong female audience and gamers are taking their interest well into their twenties and thirties. The sheer scale of some of the major games offers is now breathtaking, Their creative staffs match those of the Hollywood extravaganzas with which they compete for attention. Where Kelman is most acute is in his analysis of the psychology of gaming which has embedded the gamer in a world of guided imagination where the protagonist is not empathetically observed as a ‘he’ or ‘she’ ('like me') but as an ‘I’ ('is me') There has been another recent resurgence of panic about video games – academics of a certain type require anxiety to win funding in straitened times – and this has linked to the claim that the younger generation are progressively losing their ability (relatively) to empathise. But I, for one, am not worried about this claim on two grounds. The first is that, while empathy is good, it should not be made king. Why? Because excessive empathy means the neglect of the individuated self in favour of others who can exploit kindness for their own ends – either to avoid action or to control people for their far less empathetic ends. If modern kids are learning not to be sentimental and to deal with emotional blackmail and manipulation by learning a dash of Nietzschean ethics through video games, then this may not be such a bad thing. The second, however, is more important. As Kelman makes clear, the mythic structure of the video game market represents much the same process as Joseph Campbell described for myth – only the tale of individuation is not told by a village elder guiding the young male into socialisation but by the young male or female themselves being guided by a template that the market, serviced by people like themselves, offers them on their own terms. This fact, of critical cultural importance and closely linked to the global market, will be deplored by all communitarians, socialist or faith-based, but it should be welcomed (with caveats about the degree of manipulation) by all true libertarians. The differences from traditional hero-quests are fascinating and they say something important about the reality of being human, as a being beyond the socially constructed reality that the ideologues and priests like to impose on us from early childhood. The essence of the protagonist (the ‘I’ who is playing) is that he is the hero, played as an ordinary person who becomes extraordinary. This is very different from communitarian ‘myth’ where the ‘I’ is directed to emulate or learn lessons from a separate ‘he’ or ‘she’ who recognizes the individuation process but only in order to bring it within the tram-lines of conservative society. The transformation of the hero is both ‘fated’ (by the gaming template) but also an emotional experience that, in ‘faking’ transformation, transforms the mind, possibly the brain, of the young person. He becomes, in his own head, special and so, since he feels special, he is special to all intents and purposes. Kelman notes a number of oddities about the mythic process. The protagonist can choose to be good but a new and popular template has emerged where the player can choose to be evil in a Luciferian act of rebellion against social norms. Often, there is a character who is evil and selfish but who nevertheless does good acts against his own kind or those even more evil. We should not be alarmed. This is a working out of the reality of animal desire under safe conditions. The failure to work this out and pretend that the young human male, in particular, is not filled with dark as well as light may be at the heart of that submission that makes the banality of evil so obvious in those who have been crushed into the acceptance of taking orders. Although some will militarise themselves thinking that life will be like the game (clearly, the dimmer ones), the stronger ones will deal with the dark side in themselves and emerge very much in the light, less likely to be charged in the future with ‘only obeying orders’. Kelman traces the modern mythic anti-hero to a cinematic model, Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. The lack of a name is mimicked by the removal of the face in some ‘dark’ protagonist story-lines. Just as fifty-something males identified with the morally ambiguous and unengaged Sergio Leone character who, nevertheless, seemed to do the right thing because it suited him, so their kids have been playing the same fantasy with ‘no-faces’ to the same liberating effect. Kelman treats the ‘American Soldier’ as a separate and new mythic character, puzzling at its popularity amongst foreign youth who can otherwise be deeply negative about American foreign policy. This has become more so since the book was written although the range of nationalities in war gaming has increased since. But the clue is in his own analysis. If a young male can identify with a hit man or a demon, he can identify with the American Soldier who can have demonic aspects (he is competent and strong) without the young male wanting to be a demon. In a time of American global power, the real American soldier can be seen as a demonic force almost beyond good and evil, claiming good but doing bad, and so quite capable of reversal into the mythic character of video gaming. How this will change as America’s stock drifts with economic crisis is unsure but the American soldier will probably remain a powerful mythic figure, matched only by the Roman legionary, possibly for a thousand years. It is as if the claim of America to bring justice to the world remains a mythic force in the minds of the global population but that, in so being, it moves further and further away from the reality. One can imagine quite easily Islamic youth being fired into resistance by the very act of becoming an American soldier in a game. The force is all. This is confirmed to a degree by another mythic oddity in the formation of a version of the protagonist as noted by Kelman - the presentation of women. There are love interest figures as allies (for male and female players) but the women who are direct protagonists are never sexual in an overt way – they are either virginal innocents to be protected or kick-ass women who do not need to be protected. This seems counter-intuitive, given the market. But Kelman solves the mystery. We return to the fact that the player is an ‘I’ and not a ‘he’. He is not looking at a woman or girl protagonist as an object of desire. He is the subject and the interesting thing is that young males are choosing to be females in game play without embarrassment or sexual doubt. They become these females for the duration. They do not become homosexual or temporary futanari. This should not be such a surprise. Strict gender demarcation is an aspect of communitarian socialisation but the libertarian tradition has always accepted gender complexity. The theory of alchemy has a definite sexual analogue in terms of the path by which a person becomes ‘individuated’ and video gaming might be said to be artistically alchemical. Whereas traditional myth always emphasised the differences between the sexes, the new mythos permits gender switching in the imagination as an aid to individuation. It may even be (returning to the issue of empathy) that it is not that empathy is reducing but that the subject of empathy is changing – from the abstract universal other, beloved of the liberal and communitarian alike, towards the ‘person’, including the person of the other sex, who is in immediate relation with the player. This suggests an intensification of that old military truth – that a young male fights for his buddies and not his nation. He becomes his buddies in the line of fire which is why he will die for them. Kelman calls it far-fetched that young males would want unconsciously to ‘be’ the other sex but this is simply a failure of imagination. It is massively taboo for males above a certain age to ‘imagine’ gender swapping but recent research indicates that the young in the West are very liberal and are capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Western culture, until recently, was terrified of the sexual imagination and so it encoded taboo about sex and violence wherever possible so that only the few could even imagine at what was being hinted at. For someone raised in (say) the 1940s or 1950s, to imagine sexual ‘complexity’ was to be ‘deviant’ but recent research amongst secondary school boys in the UK (across all classes) appears to suggest that they are not merely ‘tolerant’ of gay culture (in that patronising way of liberal straights) but consider it normal enough to play with its forms themselves without embarrassment and while not being gay themselves. The playing with ‘being women’ (albeit unconsciously) no doubt has an erotic component but it is not homosexual. Video games and the internet represent the first occasion in history where ‘becoming’ the ‘other’ (woman, demon, killer) can be intensely experienced, mentality-changing and yet be sloughed off like a snakes skin when the story is over WITHOUT any sense of being observed or judged. This must be progress. I have emphasized the psychological dimension of the protagonist because it is the player who buys the game and he (increasingly she, who gets to play at being a boy of course) has to be comfortable with the offer. Video games operate in a global free market with vigorous competition between American and Japanese forms so nothing can be supplied that does not get to the core of the needs of the vast majority of normal, healthy young people. However, Kelman also looks at the standard narrative style in gaming, the environments created for the action, the influence of animation and illustration, the raft of antagonists and allies the gamer has to deal with, the role of objects and the growing trend towards realism. In all but the last, Kelman is persuasive that we have been seeing a renaissance of mythic forms that have otherwise been buried under the sheer weight of Literature and High Culture. The link between the ‘levels’ of gaming with the tests of legendary stories and of the final denouement in which our ‘hero’ overcomes a monster with its gaming counterpart is fairly obvious. Each video game represents a major investment of intellectual capital because the modern gamer is highly attuned to the consistency and viability of the game’s ‘universe’. The effect is one of immersion, close to lucid dreaming, watching a movie and even reading except that the body, through controls, is being engaged – the chances that this is changing brain structure are fairly high. Kelman explores to some extent (though with no great depth) this issue of relationship to reality because the gaming experience is often designed to be ‘more real than real’ - that is, our normal perception screens out a great deal of reality but the games developer takes special care (increasingly over time) to emphasise the reality of the artefacts and environments no matter how conceptually fantastic. All in all, a useful and entertaining book for non-specialists but probably superseded by other texts since.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    2.5 stars A book about such a new and rapidly evolving medium was always bound to age very quickly, so my critisim of this book isn't necessarily that there are so many games today which disprove the central thesis that all games are based in some way or another on ancient mythological storytelling. Although I found this argument really interesting, and I found it broken down into compelling points, I kept thinking about newer games which I wish he would have had the chance to comment on. But aga 2.5 stars A book about such a new and rapidly evolving medium was always bound to age very quickly, so my critisim of this book isn't necessarily that there are so many games today which disprove the central thesis that all games are based in some way or another on ancient mythological storytelling. Although I found this argument really interesting, and I found it broken down into compelling points, I kept thinking about newer games which I wish he would have had the chance to comment on. But again, it isn't the fault of the book or the author that this medium has changed so quickly. My issues with the "aging" of this book have to do with the somewhat sexist language. Not only are the pronouns "he/him" almost universily applied to "generic gamer", but the only time female gamers are brought up at all is when Kelman says little girls might like the cute (and pink) Kirby games. I was willing to overlook this as just being the product of outdated philosophies in academic writing, but when I got to the section on "fetisished female protagonists" I just couldn't. At first, I was so excited about this section, and I was hopeful that title of the section implied that the discussion would center the probelmatic nature of a lot of early female character designs. Instead, the whole section is only a few pages, and questions (but never answers) why male gamers would be so drawn to these characters, and not only want to look at them, but to be them. This whole section and not a single mention of female gamers. Not even a passing sentence implying their existence. No clue that they might have different opinions of these character designs. At that point, it was pretty clear that the sexist writing was not just the result of the times, but in the author not considering women at all. I was not expecting a feminist discourse, but to not include female gamers at all seemed like an oversight which could quickly invalidate a lot of his arguments. It was the same with queer gamers, and gamers of color. Although there is the briefest mention that most video game protagonists are white men with dark hair, this was never really unpacked. My other big complaint about this book was, randomly enough, its physical construction. The full page illustrastions were really cool, but they broke up the text in weird ways that made it difficult to read sometimes. Plus, there were parts where a page would end mid-sentence, and the rest of the sentence was no where to be found. More than once, it was obvious either a page was missing (though the page numbers were all acounted for, so it wasn't just a page torn out in my copy), or a section had been deleted. Thankfully, this almost always happened at the very end of a chapter, so I never missed out on the argument, but it was really sloppy and distracting.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Thk

    The book starts off well with credentials of the preface author, as well as of the author himself, but the book ultimately falls flat due to the hollow text. The author tends to beat around the bush, repeat many of his points, and leaves the reader high and dry on the important conclusions of each chapter - the majority of which just end with open ended questions to the reader without any significant input on the author's side. It was said in the beginning of the book that the games featured hold The book starts off well with credentials of the preface author, as well as of the author himself, but the book ultimately falls flat due to the hollow text. The author tends to beat around the bush, repeat many of his points, and leaves the reader high and dry on the important conclusions of each chapter - the majority of which just end with open ended questions to the reader without any significant input on the author's side. It was said in the beginning of the book that the games featured hold certain artistic merit, but however this is not evident from the book. A lack of integration of ideas from the games, but rather a haphazard presentation of shoehorning relevant events/items from each game into ideas the author seeks to present. The author, in my humble opinion, lacks a proper understanding of the games featured. The choices of games were also suspect, with some decided bad games included. Most glaringly, some of the text were doubled over in certain pages, which some significant chunks missing and words joint together - a serious lack of proper editing. At the end of the day - the pictures rock, but the text does no favours to propel the games in any serious way.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dan Wrigley

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Napetschnig

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mathieu

  9. 5 out of 5

    sarah

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jack Loh

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Suyemoto

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas Thibodeau

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  14. 5 out of 5

    Marcella Santos

  15. 5 out of 5

    M Larios

  16. 4 out of 5

    Edwin

  17. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Edvin Ek

  19. 4 out of 5

    Martijn

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paula Travancas

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

  22. 4 out of 5

    Fredrik

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ricardo Farias

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pasatoiu George

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mando

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julia Hendrix

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lee Parks

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mab

  30. 5 out of 5

    DJ

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