Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Death an Art Form: The Death of Film Part Two

In my first post on this topic I addressed the decline of creativity in and I suggested at the very end that might be the future for the dramatic . Here I will explore how I perceive this change will take place. My goal here is not to predict the next great art movement so much as to encourage artists to look at video games as a potential medium.

First, I want to look at the growth of video games. The source here is the . They have a great list of “Top 10 Industry Facts,” I copied the ones that were pertinent to our discussion here:

1. U.S. computer and video game software sales grew four percent in 2004 to $7.3 billion -- a more than doubling of industry software sales since 1996.

2. Seventy-five percent of American heads of households play computer and video games.

3. In 2004, more than 248 million computer and video games were sold, almost two games for every household in America.

4. The average game player is 30 years old and has been playing games for 9.5 years.

5. The average game buyer is 37 years old. In 2005, 95 percent of computer game buyers and 84 percent of console game buyers were over the age of 18.

8. Forty-three percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (28 percent) than boys from ages 6 to 17 (21 percent).

9. In 2004, 19 percent of Americans over the age of 50 played video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999.

10. Forty-two percent of game players say they play games online one or more hours per week. In addition, 34 percent of heads of households play games on a wireless device, such as a cell phone or PDA, up from 20 percent in 2002.

This challenges some interesting conceptions people have about video games; they are no longer just for kids, they are a powerful market force for people of all ages. The $7.3 billion in sales, however, has been down played by some because it cannot compare to the movie industry. The argument goes that the sales of games and the ticket sales of movies are fairly close, but with sales, movies make significantly more. But this trend is changing. In a recent about Nintendo's hand held gaming system, DS, a study is cited that shows how the gaming industry is expected to grow:

“According to market research firm DFC Intelligence, the worldwide portable game market is expected to grow from $4 billion in 2004 to $11.1 billion by 2007.”

Keeping in mind that the total sales for all systems in 2004 was 7.3 billion, the idea that in less than two years hand held sales will reach $11.1 billion is staggering. And it is important to remember that the average age of players is only going to go higher as those raised on grow older. So what does this all mean? The video game market is set to grow tremendously in the next few years as players grow older and younger players are added. But this fact alone does not lead me to believe that games will one day replace movies.

As I previously stated, one of the biggest arguments against the rise of video games in comparison to movies is DVD sales. While this is valid to some extent it does have at least one important flaw, piracy. Right now it is extremely easy to illegally download or buy a DVD, the copy protection is weak and anyone with a camcorder, a movie ticket, and an internet connection can post a movie online. The only way for the movie industry to stop piracy is to work with all the different manufacturers of DVD players to create a copy right protection system and/or to individual hunt and shut down movies posted online. The former attempt at prevention is quite possible although costly, but the later is nearly impossible; as fast as the industry can identify and stop someone from sharing or selling a movie, someone else has created a new means to illegally distribute them. Peer-to-peer file sharing is not going away because it would be unconstitutional to stop in general and it is next to impossible to identify individual illegal files. Thus, try as they might, the greatest hope for the industry is to limit the piracy as much as possible.

For the video game industry, is not nearly as big of a problem. Since each of the three main systems (, , and ) has complete control over the specs of their machines, they can very easily implement copy right protection into the hardware. In addition, from the software end, it is much more difficult to make a usable, illegal copy of a game than a copy of a movie. In some systems, the only way to use an illegal version of a game (that I'm aware of) is to physically modify the hardware, something that few people have the patience to do. What this means is that DVDs will continue to be pirated in large numbers while the video game industry will remain relatively untouched by this epidemic. This, however, is still not enough to catapult video games to the primary dramatic medium.

One of the main reasons I see the rise of video games as significant is the amazing advances in the technical capabilities that have been made in the newest generations of gaming systems. What has kept gaming from being a reasonable art form has been the difficulty in rendering the artists vision, whether that be in regards to visuals or audio or voice acting or the size of the game. With the newest systems, these problems have been greatly minimized and in some cases all but vanquished. Now, almost whatever the designer imagines can be materialized on the screen, something that the movie industry still in struggling with. This means that epic stories that span hours and hours can be created with voice acting and believable character models for a lot less money than a film would cost to make. In film, anything past two hours in length greatly taxes the attention span of the audience; games, however, can successful stretch into 30-50 hours of playing because they are interactive. This opens up possibilities that film makers could never even dream of. The tools that video games can give to the artist are tremendously powerful, increasing in number and potency, and are relatively unexplored—a combination that will undoubtedly lead to innovation and a new art movement.

There are only two objections that I have heard that seem like they could genuinely hold video games back from usurping film:

1.People like movies because they don't have to do anything except watch, games demand interaction which sometimes is to taxing in our apathetic and A.D.D. culture.
2.Video games, by their very nature, require interaction, which means that the artist must surrender some control over the action. How can any significant artistic statement be made when the player has the freedom to undermine (through his/her choices, movements, actions, etc...) it?

To the first point, I would point out that more often than not people turn to , not film to fulfill their lazy-entertainment fix. In addition, video games hold many possible levels of interaction, sometimes it is intense, other times it is not. For example, some games are including more and more movie-like clips that unfold the plot without the player's help. Another example can be seen in the , millions of people choose to focus intently on surfing the Internet so much so that many TV news stations are struggling to keep their audiences from abandoning them for blogs and online news agencies. Millions upon millions of people have already made the choice to be active in their entertainment, whether that be the Internet or in video games. So, this point can be refuted on three grounds:

1.Video games do not need to fill this passive entertainment role since TV is the primary means by which people “vegg out” already.
2.Games can have a combination of passive and active roles for the player.
3.Many people already choice to engage in active entertainment.

As for the second point, I would suggest that this is something that is only a problem for those without the imagination to see how artists could work through the games to guide the players actions. For an illustration I'm going to go for quite a stretch, but I believe it will be worth it.

From a perspective, humans have free-will, yet God's will encompasses all of our lives and our choices to weave a reality that is filled with symbolism and meaning. We choose to do everything that we do, but if we look back throughout history we find various themes that reappear over and over. Also, in nature and the unfolding of time one can find all sorts of symbols and metaphors and allusions and meaning. In other words, our free-will does not exclude God's will and providence in our lives. In the Old Testament one can see this happen in the nation of Israel. They chose over and over again to disobey God. Through this disobedience, themes and symbols appear that clearly are from God. worked through their choices to create the themes of love, redemption, and salvation etched in history. In the same way, I believe video game designers can create worlds where the player has free-will, but that the individual choices can be shaped by various devices to form a united artistic creation. The player, like humans, do not have unrestrained free-will (a human can have the will to fly but not the choice), so that the designer can script for a limited number of possible choices. If this is done, it will be both effective and practical for a video game designer to create an actual work of art. While the interaction element of games might change the approach to the art, the artist can still retain control over the work.

The video game market is growing tremendously and is projected to continue on this path. Its future is held in the hands of an older and older demographic and wider acceptance from cultures. Where the film industry is struggling with originality, copy right protection, and tools for exploration, games seem to flourish. The problems that have held back games in the past were mostly caused by technological restrictions—something that has been greatly elevated in the next generation of consoles. The tools, money, and market are all in place for the video game industry to move from pure entertainment to one of the main art forms of the 21st century. It is only a matter of time and desire.

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