Video Game Developers and Their Art
By Josh Vazquez
Game developers are artists and creators. They create worlds, characters, and stories some of which have become iconic in modern mainstream media. Chances are if you asked the next person you came across to whistle the Super Mario Bros theme song they could, assuming they knew how to whistle.
Now that you’ve got that sweet Mario jam stuck in your head we can continue.
Much in the same way a painter creates his or her art, video game developers use their imagination and creativity to elicit every type of emotion from happiness to sadness to even fear in gamers. Iconic video games have the staying power of an award winning musical, a Billboard Top 100 song, and even a centuries old painting.
Why then, are these artists subjected to contamination from outside influence?
The answer here is simple; video games are hedonic products in that they elicit emotional reactions, create fantasy and are multisensory. It also helps that these products generate about $67 Billion annually according to 2012 NPD figures.
The contemporary structure of video game development organizations is not one that is best conducive for the creation of art. Most developers are overworked, underpaid, and rushed to put a game out on a market place that may or not resemble the idea the developers had in mind on day one.
How then can we say definitively that video games are art if during creation the product is often not what the artists initially envisioned? The subsequent argument might be that art is often a moving target or that once an artist begins a project he or she may make changes during development. While this is a valid point however, what we see in the video games industry more often than not is the final product is severely influenced by the following variables:
Fear of job Loss (Employment Instability)
Sometimes game developers can be their own worst enemy. A recent article published by Kotaku explains how internal disagreement among creative staff at Bungie during the development of Destiny completely changed the direction and scope of the game. Jason Schrier of Kotaku writes “Destiny’s writing team, led by the well-respected Bungie veteran Joe Staten, had been working on the game for several years. They’d put together what they called the ‘supercut’…senior staff at Bungie were unhappy with how the supercut had turned out. They decided it was too campy and linear, sources say, and they quickly decided to scrap Staten’s version of the story and start from scratch.” Obviously this is an extreme example of internal strife among different departments of a development studio. Also, we are dealing with a triple A title game, from a well-known company.
But in the context of the discussion, the writing team had spent several years writing and polishing their vision, only to have it scrapped by senior staff. I don’t know much about art much less video game development, but I can tell you this; If after devoting several years of hard work to a project only to it scrapped would destroy me as a person. This brings me to my next point, the people factor.
Not only are video game developer’s artists but they having families and financial obligations. Long hours, almost zero incentives, and the fear of losing their jobs after the completion of a project can contaminate the art therefore leaving the consumer with the remnants of what could have been.
Think of a game you’ve played that hit all the right notes fundamentally but you came away with it knowing that the experience you had could have been better or at one point had been better.
What if the people that created this game had more time? What if the publishers weren’t breathing down their necks to put out a finished product? I digress.
I often think about what the Mona Lisa would look like if Francesco del Giocondo were hovering over Leonardo da Vinci’s shoulder day in and day out trying to speed him up and choosing what colors da Vinci should use to create his masterpiece. I digress.
Game developers are employees of an organization but they are also artists. How do we marry the two to ensure that creativity and imagination is not contaminated during the development process by the parent organization?
I intend to find out.