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Games Arrrrt - May 18th, 2011

A few days ago the announcement went out that the NEA is now offering art grants to video game developers. Fast Company asked me a few questions about what this might mean to independent game developers like myself. I answered honestly, although I’m sure other game devs have some differing opinions (also: “a bit of a hit” means “enough to keep me fed and working on new games” ;) ).

Some of the folks I know who make artistic/independent games didn’t feel that the announcement made their work any more or less legitimate, which is why I described their reaction as “eye-rolly.” They weren’t waiting for an official notice from on high to tell them it was all right to do what they loved. They just went out and did it. If anything, this is a sign that the rest of the world is catching up, and not that games haven’t mattered this whole time.

It’s worth noting that governments have long recognized the power of games, and have been funding them for years. The difference is that those games were almost exclusively of the ‘educational’ or ‘training’ variety (the earliest I know of was in 1992). Some countries have been offering art grants for games for several years. I’m most familiar with Canada’s Telefilm, which has funded a few of my friends. The NEA endowment could be a godsend for devs in the US who are otherwise at a loss for how to fund their work.

Shortly after the Fast Company article went live, the NEA got in touch with me and asked if I would clarify their position:

We were thrilled that “one of the Most influential Women in Tech” had seen our announcement and I’m hoping that you can help us correct a misperception. Projects resulting from NEA funding CAN, in fact, be sold. Just like filmmaking organizations can charge for their DVDs or museums can charge for admission, games can be sold. The nonprofit organization producing the game must use the revenues to sustain the organization as well as make good on whatever arrangements they’ve made with creative/production personnel. But they are in no way restricted from sales. Can you help us spread the word?

And I’m happy to spread the word as much as I can. As with any publisher deal, it’s important for developers to know what they’re getting into. But I see this a step in the right direction, namely because it will help new game ideas get explored in a big way. What are your thoughts on the endowment? Would you go for it, knowing your game had to be ‘art’?

3 Responses to “Games Arrrrt”

  1. dave Says:

    NEA’s action means nothing. Games still have a lot of maturation to undergo. Most people still can find shame in claiming to enjoy videogames past a certain age. It is still common to hear about violent or sexually-themed games in the news, vilified as the corrupters of youths.

    Mainstream games have yet to prove their worth in contributing to society.

  2. Wayne Watrach Says:

    Well that just incites the question of what is going to define when a game is art and isn’t. It was recently declared that video games are art, as noted by this article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/digitaltrends/20110508/tc_digitaltrends/usgovernmentofficiallyrecognizesvideogamesasart

    I certainly agree with this. I then suppose I’d see no issue with the endowment and what it meant for helping to support devs and their contributions. I do however see how it isolates a number of devs in that they are for-profit, like myself, although we do intend to reinvest revenue in the company itself and it’s (future) employees.

  3. Rachel/FamousAdventurer77 Says:

    I have mixed feelings. On one hand I think it’s a step in the right direction, though I agree with Dave on the mainstream’s reactions to games in general.

    On the other hand though, who’s to say those higher-ups really know what art is? Me, I’d consider the game to be an art form if it tries new things with an existing game engine or the developer creates a new one; and namely something that has a narrative that prevails over all else (ie, traditional adventure game.)

    I also hate the whole “You’re Age X, it’s time to put the games away” kind of thinking because it’s socially acceptable to still watch TV, read books, watch internet original material, etc. but why not games? They’re FAR more intellectually stimulating than TV.

    Since I don’t care about age barriers, I’ll still be pointing and clicking well into my 70’s the same way I’ll be dragging my oxygen tank and walker to punk shows. :)

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