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Games Are So Much More Than An Industry

(A.K.A. fifteen minutes of David being egregiously unfair to every screenwriter he knows).

The explosion of new games and independent developers that’s been reverberating for the past seven years isn’t just an expansion of the games industry, it’s an expansion of games and game cultures.

Game development is cultural activity, and if most independent developers seem bound to suffer the poverty of authors, artists and musicians, why is so much of what they do still bound to industry?

Thousands of games funnelled every year like cattle toward a marketplace. Selling should not be the only route to an audience, but in the UK it feels like there are few alternatives. Funding for cultural projects has largely dried up, and it’s skewing games horribly towards selling over creating. This does not help us explore the expressive range of a medium.

At the same time, the myopic focus on games soley as industry stymies developers in understanding their position relative to everything else. Is it any wonder The Arts Council don’t give a fuck about games, given how highly trained we are to think and talk of them as products?

7 Responses

  1. The struggle (or failure) of video games to become significantly cultural objects after more than 30 years of development is something that troubles me too, and I’ve often wondered why it should be this way.

    It certainly didn’t take cinema that long to become art. In its early years, it had creators such as Bunuel, Vertov, and Lang using the new medium to make radical forays in the world of art and culture, yet video games in the same amount of time haven’t moved past infantile fantasies about princes and princesses or hyper-masculine narratives about killing waves of enemies. The few so-called “indie” exceptions to this offer little more than shallow, sentimentality and cloying visuals as an alternative, which is not art.

    David’s take on the issue, that game creators fail to make art because they are powerfully conditioned to think of their works in the terms of industry, is certainly thought-provoking. The question I have for David then is, giving that thesis, what competing discourses do these game creators have to draw on that would push back against corporate-speak? The filmmakers I mentioned above read Freud, Marx, and Hegel. How many game creators have backgrounds in philosophy, literary criticism, or critical theory? Art doesn’t just come from some unmediated genius. It draws on sophisticated influences.

    • admin says:

      Well, to make more varied things, game developers definitely need more varied cultural influences than Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I wouldn’t want to mandate what those are though!

      I think it’s more complex than cultural influences too; existing tech, as well as the weight of all previous work with it, can verb-lock game design. In turn, the various aspects of game development are such technically accomplished crafts that it’s maybe difficult to stay on top of any while also cultivating diverse and widespread interests in a thorough way. Or at least, easy to not.

      I think a large part of any solution is to create spaces and organisations that welcome impostors, making tools more accessible to industry outsiders without inherently feeding them ideas that they should be shooting for a typical development job or setting up their own company. Keita Takahashi was a sculptor and furniture designer before he ended up a game designer at Namco, and I think that really showed in his design output for them. For someone to end up as a game designer at a large company in that way was a weird anomaly I still don’t understand, and looking to the big, industrial end of games to do more of that is hopeless. Any significant broadening of games and game-like things is far more likely to come from people making small personal projects.

  2. Grant Percival says:

    You! Everything.

    1. I wish I was as eloquent in making my points.
    2. Fan-F***ING-TASTIC commentary on the state of both GW and Gaming industry.

    All the thing you said and put is quite true. I stopped buying GW material cause I could no longer identify with it. One of the things I would say regarding the view of the exe’s is that they do not understand what it is to live in a fascist state. They should try living as an ethnic minority in their city for like a week or a month. Be treated like dirty and they will see what would attract them to their gaming. Live as the opposite sex. Be down trodden and then make the view and story more personable. You don’t have to be specific. We live in a society that has the markers of fascism. But you sir… Wow great!

  3. I know this is beside the point, but what did you use to record this? Your voice sound so clear even though you are in the open.

    • admin says:

      For audio, I used a Zoom H1 recorder with a cheap Audio Technica lapel mic and fuzzy windjammer, then synced the audio later. It does a surprisingly good job! I tested it on a windy day, descending on a mountain bike and it still picked up my voice really clearly.

      The camera was a Shimano CM-1000. I was going to mix the audio 70/30, but the lapel mic picked up enough of the environment too, so I just went with that audio track.

  4. […] Games Are So Much More Than An Industry Wenn die Kritik die Königsklasse ist, war die Frustäußerung (manchmal auch: der Verriss) der vergessene Bruder / die abgeschobene Schwester / der versteckte Cousin. Nein, Cousin ist schon zu weit weg. Wie schwierig es ist, einen amüsanten neudeutsch betitelten Rant zu schreiben (schreiben, ich weiß, heute will immer gleich jede/r "verfassen", ganz staatsgenderisch eben), weiß diejenige, die es versucht (hat). David Hayward schafft es. Und daher lohnt es sich, ihm zuzuhören bzw. seine Sätze zu lesen. […]

  5. What I liked about this is that I can draw parallels between this and development of online slots. Games are games regardless of the market and indeed there’s a heavy saturation to battle against for us at the moment too which is why I would agree with a lot of what you said because it’s directly applicable with the side of the industry I’m in. For us these days to focus on quality is probably the main goal but for example we will never be seen as having a positive impact on culture (we’re portrayed very negatively for the most part) and certainly no one will ever consider what we do as an art form even though in the sense of marketing and game design it is. Regards, Per.

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