By Marty Mulrooney
Film critic Roger Ebert angered many gamers in 2005 when he stated that "the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art". Published in 2008, The Art Of The Video Game by Josh Jenisch not only disagrees with this claim, but disproves it by offering examples from a wide range of modern day video games.
“I’m here to make the argument that video games should be considered art. I believe that great video games can move and excite and inspire people, that they are every bit as worthy of our attention as great films, great paintings, great novels and great symphonies.”
– from the Preface
The Art Of The Video Game features a surprisingly comprehensive opening section detailing the history of video game art. As a result, it also deals with the history of video games themselves. From providing the specs for personal computers that could only just about manage to play pong, all the way up to the next-gen consoles that dominate the marketplace today, the introduction proves a compelling read and sets the scene perfectly.
The main body of the book showcases three different types of video game art: concept art, development art, and in-game art. Many of today’s leading video game companies have cooperated with writer Josh Jenisch on this project, resulting in some amazing examples of all three types of art. For example, Valve’s concept art for the Hunter from Half Life 2 (left) shows amazingly detailed facial features, even at this early stage.
Viewing the concept art and various stages of designing game characters (such as a 3D model of the Hunter, right) is delightful because it clearly shows the steps that most gamers don’t see, the technology behind the magic. It helps to instil an even greater sense of appreciation in the reader when they are finally presented with the finished in-game character (see below).
An in-game shot of the Hunter on the prowl, its alien eyes fixed unflinchingly on you. It’s clear that the partially flooded warehouse is about to be filled with some serious gunfire – and possibly various pieces of your body.
The book presents all of its games chronologically, with each page featuring gorgeously high res images printed on glossy paper. It is amazing how effectively these still images showcase a medium often associated with constant movement and fast-paced action. These stills really manage to convey a true sense of beauty in the most unlikely places. Everything is argued for, even if it is with varying degree of success. For example, although I have no interest in sports games, there is still undeniable artistry in the recreation of sports personalities within the virtual worlds of FIFA ‘08 and NBA Live ’08.
Originally imagined by artist Toby Gard of Core Design as a clone of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft was later reconceived as a woman because of concerns over copyright infringement.
The main problem with this book is that its title is somewhat misleading. It should have been called The Art Of The Modern Video Game. There are countless wonderful games over the years that would have made fantastic examples here (such as Shadow Of The Colossus) that disappointed me due to their absence. Also, all of the 26 featured games are taken from over the past few years and feel rather mainstream. Furthermore, their coverage is somewhat mixed: some games are given far too many pages, others too few. At 158 pages, the read is over all too soon, especially with so many full page images included.
Elsewhere, games such as Stranglehold and Reservoir Dogs certainly have strong technical values, but are they truly art? Both games received lukewarm receptions from critics and players upon release. On the other hand, I suppose even bad games can have great art direction. Yet the book sometimes lays its praise on too thick, coming across as bias pandering rather than a true critique. As an avid gamer, I personally feel that the ‘games as art’ argument amounts to more than just visuals and graphics. It is therefore a shame that The Art Of The Video Game only scratches the surface of this debate.
Regardless, this book must be applauded for casting one of the first stones in the war against the dismissal of video games as art. Every single page is a joy to soak in, every screenshot carefully chosen to make even the more questionable inclusions appear eye-catching and appealing. Although by no means definitive, The Art Of The Video Game is a great coffee table book that successfully highlights the immense amount of dedication and artistry that top level video game developers employ with every single project they undertake.
7.5 OUT OF 10