National Endowment for the Arts makes its first grants to video game projects

Tom Curtis,, 4/25/12

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded several major grants to video game projects that teach players about the arts or important social issues. The NEA introduced this grant opportunity last May, for the first time accepting submissions relating to mobile technology, digital games and other gaming platforms. Before 2011, this grant category only included radio and television, but last year the NEA decided that games and multimedia programs also qualify as artistic works, as they occasionally exist within the "nexus of arts, science, and technology." This year, the NEA awarded grants to game-focused organizations like the non-profit group Games for Change, which will receive $75,000 to develop a new educational Facebook game based on the human rights book Half the Sky. In addition, the Museum of Fine Art at Spelman College will receive $100,000 to create an augmented reality game about climate change, and the University of Southern Californiahas earned a $40,000 grant to make a video game based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond.  Finally, the New York-based non-profit organization Let's Breakthrough has been awarded $75,000 to make a web and mobile game that uses pop culture and music to encourage positive social change.


> POINT: Public funding for video games is a bad idea

Michael, Young Hip and Conservative blog, 4/24/12

I don't think it would be appropriate for the government to spend taxpayer money designing and purchasing video games for the public. That doesn't mean I want to see video games banned, I happen to enjoy a good video game, but I think they should be funded entirely through private expenditures. We already have access to them thanks to capitalism.


> COUNTERPOINT: Public funding for video games provides new opportunities

Helen Han, 8Bit Envy blog, 4/30/12

The gaming industry is still a completely commercial-driven industry, and to get public funding is the first step in not only gaining real creative good, but for more opportunities for diversity in the creative process. Game development is different in that it's a living, breathing, constantly evolving piece of work, even after it's shipped, consumed, and talked about.


Commentary: Does "Go Right" point the way to video games as art?

Forrest Wickman,'s Browbeat blog, 4/30/12

"The hero's journey" is the backbone of much of our greatest literature and entertainment, from The Odyssey to Harry Potter. The hero's journey is also the basis for many videogames, particularly side-scrollers. And the universality of the story told in these games has perhaps never been illustrated so well as in "Go Right," a new montage on YouTube that cuts together dozens of games into a story about pressing forward (or in the case of these games, right) no matter how harsh the opposition.  International Business Times' Michael Nunez argues "'Go Right' Proves Video Games Can Be Art." But this video doesn't quite prove that. After all, "Go Right" isn't a video game. Instead, I'd recommend a game that seems to have inspired (or at least anticipated) this video: Passage, a free 5-minute game by indie game-maker Jason Rohrer. What makes Passage art? Consider this from Roger Ebert's somewhat infamous essay, "Video Games Can Never Be Art":

"I thought about those works of Art that had moved me most deeply. I found most of them had one thing in common: Through them I was able to learn more about the experiences, thoughts and feelings of other people. My empathy was engaged. I could use such lessons to apply to myself and my relationships with others. They could instruct me about life, love, disease and death, principles and morality, humor and tragedy."

Passage can definitely make you think about all those things -- and entirely through the conventions of a side-scroller. Passage uses those conventions to make a point about life. No matter what you choose to do, no matter how many points you win, every game of Passage ends the same way. You go gray, begin to dodder, and die. It's a 100 pixel by 16 pixel memento mori, and it only works because it's something you play, something you control -- or at least think you control. Of course, most gamers aren't looking for great art, they're looking for solid entertainment. But Passage does point the way to how great art in the form of video games is possible -- as long as gamers and game-makers demand it.


Smithsonian Museum hosts crowd-curated exhibition, "The Art of Video Games"

Tom LeGro and Crispin Lopez III, PBS Newshour's Art Beat blog, 4/4/12

"The Art of Video Games" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of the first exhibitions to explore the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium. Featuring 80 games and 20 video games systems, the exhibit walks through the tremendous advances in design, technology and storytelling. Last year, the museum invited the public to help select the games to be included. More than 3.7 million votes were cast (by 119,000 people in 175 countries). Art Beat talked to guest curator Chris Melissinos about the exhibit, which runs through Sept. 30:

So why exactly are there are video games in an art museum?

Video games are an amalgam of what we consider to be traditional art. Within video games we see illustration, narrative, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, and all of these things conspire to create a form of art whose output is greater than the individuals parts. It is has never been a question that video games would be in art museum; it was at what point would we see them. And here we are today.

What makes one game more artistic than another? What are the qualities that stand out?

In my opinion, the term art is a very subjective term. It means something very different to anyone that tries to apply it to works of beauty and in their life. My definition is quite serviceable for myself, which is quite simply to say if you can discover an author's intent in the work that you are observing and find personal resonance with that message, then it transcends the medium to become art. So it's very difficult to say which games are art, which games are not art. It will be different for everyone that observes it. This exhibition does not attempt to draw a line in the sand and say video games are art. I leave that for you to decide whether or not you believe video games to be art in your life.


Commentary: 5 good reasons why it doesn't matter if video games are art

Hilary Goldstein, Gamesbeat blog, 4/29/12

1. Art is bullshit. Art is often defined for the consumer, not by the consumer. Which means most art is manufactured. It's bullshit. It's the industries themselves and the media making those decisions for the populace. We risk that same level of corruption of integrity if we stress that games must meet similar artistic standards that we see in museums, in theaters, and in novels.

2. Games go beyond "art." Gamers worry that if what they play isn't recognized as an art form, it loses validity. That's a very limited view of what video games offer. Emotions are elicited in a whole new way with games so that even something as basic as Pong can cause a more visceral reaction than just about anything shown at MoMA. Don't confine a whole new way to experience and think about the world to old concepts. Games are something new, something different.

3. Sports don't need to be art. Sports thrill us, engage us, dominate our lives, and connect us as a society. It's not art by any traditional definition, but that doesn't make it any less valid of a way to spend a Sunday. It's different, right? Well, so are games. They entertain, inform, move us in unique ways -- but they are something different than what we've usually labeled as works of art.

4. For the people. Games are for the working class. Yes, fat cats can enjoy games, too, but the core of gaming is designed for people who work hard, don't make a ton of cash, and need to disappear from the world for a little while at the end of the day. Games are ours, not theirs. Being labeled as "art" takes away some of the subculture of gaming that is still vital to its long-term survival.

5. Who cares? If games were recognized as being equal to an Oscar winner or the National Book of the Year, would you experience them differently? At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about games. It doesn't matter how others categorize games. What matters is how you experience, enjoy, and share games with others in the gaming community.

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