In 2004, when Jenova Chen created Journey, he sought to show the world that computer games could be works of art in their own right. Everyone now seems to agree that they are correct.
What is it about them, he wonders, that prevents them from receiving the wider cultural appreciation that they deserve?
“You’re at a party, and someone asks you, ‘What are you going to do?’ Saying, “I write screenplays for movies” is a good way to start. They act as though you are the author of a book, or a poet, or both. You work as a public servant for the benefit of the general public. However, when I told them I worked in the games industry in 2005, they responded with, ‘You remember the Columbine shooting? The legislators said that you are instilling violence in children. As of today, people are saying things like “I heard you guys make a lot of money, right?” That’s essentially what people want to know. The only other situation in which these questions would be asked is if you were the owner of a casino.
“These days, we’re working on something completely different because, now that we’ve shown that games are works of art, we’re wondering why people still don’t value them. I found various games, such as Flower and Journey, at the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as at all of these modern galleries. I was under the impression that this would increase public appreciation for video games, because how is it conceivable that video games are a lower art form than any other?… What else can I do to make a difference if demonstrating that games can be works of art does not increase respect for them or influence how the general public perceives them?”
For Chen, the emergence of the mobile market, and by extension, the rise of free-to-play games and what he perceives to be predatory monetization practices, is one of the primary reasons for the continuous fight of gaming for cultural recognition. In spite of the fact that he himself has released multiple games on mobile devices and acknowledges that there are artistic mobile games available, he believes that the prevalence of those specific business models has not only increased the number of people who play games on a regular basis, but has also damaged society’s perception of games as art in general.
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