BY THOMAS SACCENTE — STAFF WRITER
For decades, video games revolutionized popular culture and became ingrained in the public consciousness. From the early hits of the 1970’s such as Pong and Space Invaders to the multi-million selling powerhouse game franchises of today like Mario and Grand Theft Auto, video games offer people of all ages a means to both experience new realities and have fun. They range greatly in genre and subject matter and allow for people to immerse themselves in what is happening on screen. In addition, the technology used to create games continues to advance with every passing year, providing game developers the opportunity to create bigger, more complex experiences for the public to enjoy and taking the medium new, exciting heights.
However, while many consider video games as nothing more than a means to kill time, there have been many others who argue for the artistic merit of video games. They argue that video games are the result of a great deal of creativity and hard work. They go to great lengths to demonstrate the artistic value of video games in the context of the art world. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Danville Community Arts Center currently hosts an exhibit called “Gamecraft: The Art of Video Game Design” to give people a keen insight into the artistic process of video game creation.
Gamecraft seeks to inform the general public about the various facets of video game development and the influence of video games on popular culture. The concept for the Gamecraft originated from a 2012 Smithsonian Museum exhibit called “The Art of Video Games.” According to the creator and principle organizer of Gamecraft Brandon Long, this includes not just the visual aspects of video games, but also the music, story, game mechanics, and the ways in which all of these things affect how players experience games. “We wanted to show kids the sort of things that they might not think of as art, but show them from an artistic perspective, and it’s hard to argue that video games are not art. We approached it from this four-pronged approach…and all of these choices are things that people have to think about whenever they go into designing a game,” Long said.
The Community Arts Center has several mediums of demonstrating this philosophy to the audience. The first of which takes the form of the various games that can be played throughout the exhibit. This includes four regularly played games, including Minecraft, Journey, Portal, and Katamari, and a different game that is rotated out every day on a console that is rotated out every week. There is even an arcade machine featuring games from local developers. This is done in order to present the capabilities that each of these consoles has to offer, showing how video games have evolved over the years and going as far back as the long forgotten Mattel Intellivision system from 1979.
However, Gamecraft does not stop at letting the visitors play through decades-old games. They also invite visitors to learn about the creative process behind video games and how they themselves can utilize this process to create their own games. In this program, the visitors are told about the Hero’s Journey, a narrative framework created by Joseph Campbell to unite every myth ever created under a single pattern (or Monomyth). This pattern has, over time, become the foundation for countless video games throughout the history of the medium. Gamecraft uses this as a means of demonstrating the narrative possibilities that video games have to offer. From there, visitors can look into some of the various settings and character designs that video games can utilize and the mechanics that will determine the nature of the game’s overall gameplay. They can also listen to a wide selection of musical cues and sound effects taken from iconic games from the past to understand how sound acts as a critical facet of the video game experience. In the end, the visitors can put all of these elements together in an attempt to plan a game of their own, using what they learn to create something entirely new. All of this allows the visitors to connect with the nature of videogame development in a way that actually immerses them into the process and shows just how in-depth and multifaceted it really is.
Another aspect that Gamecraft celebrates is the creation of art based on video games. Video games often imbue a strong passion in those who play them and this passion can inspire both amateur and professional art that takes characters or other aspects from various video games and translates them into a completely different medium. This can be done using a wide variety of techniques, such as paintings, sculptures, etc., and the results have the potential to be quite stunning, not just as a recreation of something that’s already been made, but as something that stands entirely on its own. Gamecraft took it upon itself to display the various types of artwork that video games often encourage. While the exhibition staff created much of this art, a great portion of it was purchased online from professional artists from all over the world. Zelda, Donkey Kong, Pikachu: all of these iconic characters and many more line the walls of this museum.
The exhibition also provides visitors with the means to create their own videogame art. The entire second floor is devoted to teaching visitors how to create pieces inspired by their favorite video games. This is done through the use of something called penler art: a popular craft in which participants assemble specially designed beads in a certain pattern and iron them together on a mat. The results can vary wildly, but it is most often used to make something that looks like a character or object from an 8-bit video game like Galaga or Super Mario Brothers..
In addition to providing the general public with the opportunity to learn about video games, Gamecraft has a vibrant volunteer program that seeks to recruit those who share their passion for video games. Centre students, in particular, rose to the challenge and put in considerable hours to help the exhibition in its mission to bring knowledge to all who will listen. Sophomores Adam Johnson and Haider Khan are interested by the exhibit due to the positive message it sends about video games and the artistic qualities that they represent. “I want to be able to see the art form be seen as effective and as an art, and really I think what this exhibit has done really well is showing how artistic video games can be and how they’re not just a waste of time,” Johnson said.
“I think it showcases just how serious videogame developers are in trying to get their media out there. When you have movies like Avatar that have millions and millions of dollars put into their CGI … I mean you’re seeing that in video games as well, so obviously it means the developers are taking their product seriously and really want to get it out there to the market and really want to give a good, polished product to everyone,” Khan said.
“Gamecraft: The Art of Video Game Design” provides a fresh outlook on a decades-old facet of popular culture and hopes to impart the audience with an in-depth knowledge of how it has developed over the years. Although Gamecraft acknowledges the fact that not everybody plays or even likes video games, they hope that anybody who walks into the exhibit will at least gain a newfound appreciation for the field that they can take with them when they leave.