By Jared Newman | Monday, May 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm
If you run in nerdy video game enthusiast circles, no debate is more tired than whether video games can aspire to be “art.” The word itself is entirely subjective, and so the answer will always be in the eye of the beholder.
But as far as the National Endowment for the Arts is concerned, video games are indeed works of art — or at least they can be. Video games are now eligible for federal grants under the category for “The Arts in Media,” renamed from “The Arts in Television and Radio.” These grants generally range from $10,000 to $200,000.
That’s peanuts compared to big-budget game development, which can cost upwards of $100 million for a single title, but it will allow independent developers to create ambitious projects that aren’t tailored toward commercial success, and still get paid. This kind of high-minded, non-commercial game development exists already — see Jason Rohrer’s Passage or Daniel Benmergui’s Today I Die for examples — but I’m excited to see what indie developers can make with some government cash behind them.
I don’t, however, expect this to end the games-as-art debate, as GamePro’s Pete Davison suggests. A government grant alone isn’t going to produce video games’ Mona Lisa, Hamlet or — dare I say it — Citizen Kane. And with so much culture around us, I’m not even sure such a game can still exist. But if the government wants to give out money for video games that are culturally significant, or otherwise meaningful, that’s good enough for me.