March 12, 2004

Dead Art

by Michael Mateas · , 4:12 pm

This came through my mailbox today, and the first few sentences sounded interesting:

E3 Expo to Feature Video Game Art Exhibit

Los Angeles — Organizers of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the video game industry’s annual convention in Los Angeles, on Thursday announced a call for entries for its first exhibit of video and computer game art, dubbed “Into the Pixel.”

I thought it was great that E3 would host a game art show, giving commercial and experimental game practitioners a chance to interact with each other. But it was too good to be true: when I found the page, I saw to my disappointment that what they mean by art is digital images drawn from commercial games – to be hung on walls. I’ll just let that lie there for a moment…………

This kind of digital taxidermy reminds me of the SIGGRAPH 2003 art show, where the categories of interactive and generative art were effectively eliminated. Disappointing after the great energy that had built up around the SIGGRAPH art scene in previous years.

This is not to say that there’s no place for digital printmaking, but when this becomes the sole focus, it belies the centrality of computational processes in computer-based work.

7 Responses to “Dead Art”

  1. andrew Says:

    Funny thing is, for most E3 attendees (and the general public for that matter), if they hear or read the term “video game art”, would probably in fact think of “artwork from videogames” before they’d think of “(gallery) art that references video games” — if they even know the latter exists yet.

    In video game production, of course, all texture maps, backgrounds, etc. are referred using the term art, and the people who make them are called artists (2D or 3D artists). This sometimes includes modellers, who are often just called modellers.

    But, as your post makes clear, now that gallery art about video games exists, the term art in the context of games has become even muddier.

  2. noah Says:

    Maybe someone should suggest to the E3 organizers that next year they also have an exhibition of “art video games.” I’d do it myself, but my connection there is of the FoaF variety. I think there’s got to be someone with a closer connection who agrees. Maybe even a budding curator…

  3. Ian Bogost Says:

    Ugh, what a disappointment. My inclination would just be to crash their exhibit, or to set up a roving video game art exhbit on the floor… I have this perverse image of a 1920s cigarette girl/booth babe carrying around a box with laptop on which the real videogame art would be played. Something of a satire of both the games and the show…

    This issue also seems to touch on that unending question of art vs. design.

  4. B. Rickman Says:

    Based on the entry requirements (open to Academy Members and E3 Exhibiting Companies, work from published or soon to be published games), it looks like they’re looking more for computer game movie posters than anything else. Sounds very… forgettable.

  5. michael Says:

    Funny thing is, for most E3 attendees (and the general public for that matter), if they hear or read the term “video game art”, would probably in fact think of “artwork from videogames” before they’d think of “(gallery) art that references video games” — if they even know the latter exists yet.

    The kind of experimental game work I’m thinking of is broader than “gallery art that references video games”. I’m thinking not just of pieces that offer a critical reflection on game culture, but pieces that expand the notion of game (e.g. the Newsgaming work, The Howard Dean Game, Facade).

    Yes, I know that the media assets in games are called art. But if they wanted to make a commercial game art show, they should include music, sound effects, animation, voice acting, etc., not just images rendered from games. Hanging big glossy prints from games on the wall plays at the “high art game” in its most traditional form (ignoring the conceptual dimension of most contemporary art) while doing a disservice to the full range of creative production in commercial game art.

  6. B. Rickman Says:

    Michael, you make an interesting point, which I would interpret in this way: commercial game designers are looking for exposure outside of gamer culture. If the public’s perception of “high art” is that it is something which is hung on a wall, the designers figure that this is what they should do to be recognized as true artists.

    There are of course a couple of misconceptions here, the main one being the simplification of art making to the simple act of hanging something on a wall. A second major misconception is that the “art” of game design/E3 should follow the model of traditional art exhibition, that it should be hung on a wall because that is what you do with art. Objects like Brody Condon’s foam sculpture of John Carmack, as awful as it is (and it is really, truly awful), are far more representative of what the art of gamer culture should be. But I, personally, am quite skeptical that an industry as motivated by profit as the game industry is can have a legitimate art culture, just as I feel that there is little legitimacy to “game studies” as it is currently practiced.

  7. Eternal Gaze: exploring advanced moving image Says:
    E3 digital game art/update
    Put it on your watch list: This years E3 is just over a month away and promises to be the most intriguing in terms of next-gen entertainment announcements for a while, as the latest console iterations are firmed up, and…

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