The debate on whether video games could be art has been held at a low simmer for quite some time. Roger Ebert threw down the gauntlet on which many picked up, including recently Clive Barker, who stirred the pot again. In what I deem is a “final thought” on this issue, Ragnar Tournquist (of Dreamfall fame) invited Wayne Santos to deliver a very well written essay on the state of the question “can video games be art?”
I don’t think the transition of video games will mirror that of film as closely as Santos believes. The video game industry became saturated (many times over) much more quickly than the film industry. You really didn’t have the notion of “summer blockbusters” when Citizen Kane was released (yes, you had serials of various sorts, but nothing that garnered any significant budget). Because film had a much slower progression to popular emergence, you had true art endeavors, which really set the tone of the industry. While you have games that I feel qualify for the discussion (Longest Journey/Dreamfall, Final Fantasy VII, and much more that I can’t think of at the moment), you really quickly moved into EA’s Madden Football and FPS from Doom through Quake to Halo3 dominating the scene.
Here’s a question: if it weren’t for the Oscars, how much money would the big studios put into small Oscar worthy projects? The pessimist in me thinks not much because the lure of making lots of money doesn’t fall on movies like Crash or Requiem for a Dream. Sure, smaller production companies would fill that role, and eventually we might see a resurgence of small independent game houses like you had in the 80’s and 90’s before EA, Activision and the lot bought everything up.
I do agree that this discussion is dominated by a generational gap. When you finally get a governor or president who grew up playing video games this will become a discussion based more on merits and less on knee-jerk reactions by the establishment who has never played a video game.
And one last thought… I am not a big console fan. While I own a PS2, and will probably pick up a PS3 when Final Fantasy XIII is released, I primarily play PC games. However, I think the emergence (and dominance) of console gaming at the moment has pushed things in a direction of standardization that might start promoting game play, story and dialog development (though I’m not sure this will be a foreseeable future development). When making a movie, you have one standard final medium — a screen. Yes, you can play with the aspect ratio, sound quality, etc, but it is not like you have to make your movie differently for the silver screen than from the DVD release.
Bottom line, there needs to be more games of the quality of The Longest Journey, Dreamfall, and Final Fantasy VII/X.