Not exactly close to either Brighton or Hove, and not part of this year’s festival (topical reference - tick), but the video games selected for an exhibition being hosted by the Smithsonian Art Museum, entitled 'The Art of Video Games' have been announced. This list was collated with the help of a poll of the public, with gamers able to nominate their personal favourites.
The list is speckled with some classical titles, including work by Jeff Minter, Fumito Ueda, Hideo Kojima and Tetsuya Mizuguchi. The list includes both console and PC based gaming, and covers most formats, including the early cassette based software that powered the likes of the Commodore 64. While it is always lovely to gaze at the visual beauty of 'Shadow of the Colossus', I am glad to see that the game play and originality of Worms has found a place in this exalted company.
This exhibition, which is taking place between March and September next year, is a further step on the acceptance of the video game as an aesthetic object; one where the narrative is co determined by designer and player, and one where the graphics are frequently supplemented by the imagination of the gamer.
Video games code is all about compromise. How can the game code provide a realistic impression of the physical laws of the world, at least a consistent rendering for the world on which the action is based, while running on a piece of hardware that is frequently underpowered and may be of a specification that is up to 5 years old (PlayStation 2 had a production life of 8 years, with the same hardware specifications from day one). Graphics have to be rendered and dropped with amazing efficiency, and any lag in the controls will appear to the gamer to be a failure in the game to respond, making the game difficult to play, reducing the gaming life of the game, and ruining the reputation of the software company responsible for creating it.
The most affecting video game will be remembered with smooth rendering graphics, which slickly invite the gamer into a new paradise of ludic challenges. The games of yesteryear are remembers for the joy created by playing them, and it is always a shock to the memory to see how blocky or pixelated the graphics now appear. Time is unforgiving, and each subsequent generation of video console reduced the previous principle of polygon performance to the status of a bundle of hopeless line drawings.
So speed is all; not necessarily in the game’s action, but definitely in the smooth progress of the game code. This, in part, has driven the segmentation and specialism within the game development industry, with game engine companies providing development software and game play specialists supporting designers and graphical specialists. As with all other industrial structures, specialisation is key to developing efficiencies in production. Which is great when the fruits of the development cycle are the likes of Heavy Rain or the forthcoming LA Noire, where the spirit of the auteur is channelled by producers looking to explore a new creative media and develop narratives to take advantage of the higher levels of affect available to play with. Anyone who doubts if gaming creates an embodied response in the gamer should try to cut their finger off, as demanded on one of the games in the Smithsonian list. However, I hope there is still space in world of social mobile gaming for the development of a new Daredevil Denis!