2013-02-12

Cultural Videogames


On Videogames, Art, and Culture: Part 3

The first part of this text tried to show that videogame design is an art form. The second part was about how art and culture are intertwined. This third part will explore the idea that a videogame could be a relevant cultural work of art, just like works from other artistic fields can.

More precisely, I'm referring to Acadian art. All my life I've experienced Acadian art, be it paintings, photos, plays, music, stories, poems, novels, comics, films, or other shows. Absent from this list are video games.

I haven't exclusively soaked in Acadian art, of course. For example, lots of the music I've listened to and movies I've seen were in English. That said, I've never played an Acadian videogame, even if it's one of the most popular art forms of my generation. Why are videogames as artistic expression of minority cultures rare, or maybe even nonexistent?

There are reasons why videogames don't play this role yet. Traditionally, a videogame is a big project completed by a team of people with various talents. Since specialists in multiple fields as well as cutting edge technology are required to make a typical modern videogame, a large budget is required. And, to justify this budget, the target audience must be large enough to cover the development costs and make a reasonable profit.

Minority culture art often stays on a smaller scale. Most of such art is only important to the culture who produced it for multiple reasons, for example, the language barrier. Since video game development normally requires a large amount of resources, it's not surprising that video games as minority culture art are extremely rare.

However, with the popularisation of independent videogame development, game development tools and online training, there aren't any reasons why minority culture videogames can't exist anymore.

I discussed the idea of videogames as minority culture art during a brief correspondence with Jesse Schell, game designer and author of the excellent book The Art of Game Design. He said that he had heard of a few such games, but couldn't think of any examples and would have to dig to find any. He also added that it would be interesting to catalog such games.

I personally don't know any videogame that would be classified as minority culture art as described. They are surely obscure and mostly limited to the cultures from which they come.

What interests me in particular is that there aren't any videogames that address Acadian culture. The fact that the Acadians have their own culture means that it has its own "values, beliefs, customs, language, lifestyles and traditions" that differ from other cultures.(1) For example, let's look at Moncton. It's an officially bilingual city in the only bilingual province of Canada, a bilingual country. There are no doubt linguistic, cultural and identity issues that are unique to this region and to all of Acadie.

I am confident that these issues can be explored in a videogame. As discussed in the first part of this text, video games can be used to explore personal, social and cultural themes. Videogames are a popular art form, but they haven't yet entered the universe of minority culture art in a significant way. This is an uncharted cultural and artistic space. Such a game could open doors for Acadian art.

The next step? Let's make these games.



Note and Reference


Special thanks: Jesse Waterman, Justin Robichaud, Shannon Robichaud. and everyone with whom I've talked about videogames, art, or culture.

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