Jenova Chen Is Still Trying to Convince the World Video Games Are Art

Inside Jenova Chen’s web browser is an app called “The Last Sunday.” Users input their name and date of birth, and the app, assuming life expectancy is 80 years old, spits out how many Sundays are left until you probably die. According to the app, it’s “to remind oneself that time in life is limited and is not to be wasted.” When Chen and I were speaking in late October, the acclaimed designer behind Journey and Flower only had 2,030 Sundays left.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7k8axx/jenova-chen-is-still-trying-to-convince-the-world-video-games-are-art

I adored Chen’s Game but I thinks his is a misplaced effort. We can debate the concept of “art” (and if videogames are it) all day but in the end to change the public perception you don’t have to change the product but the market.
CoD or Fortnite marketing budgets are some order of magnitude greater than all the production budget for all the indie game of the year and online outlets and streaming communities are flooded by the “hot thing right now” because SEO gods require their pound of meat so the situation can improve only marginally and/or temporarily.

You get more traffic publishing an article about “the most narrative moving/artful displaying/ thoughtfully provoking” games of the year or the nth article about some Elder Ring factoid?

I understand where Chen is coming from but I also think it has a lot of implicit insecurity about what games “ought” be or “can” be and not what they are. It feels very stuck in an earlier conception of this history and it just sort of feels sad now, I dunno.

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I think games have relatively quickly gone from a niche and fairly insular interest to a broad form of media that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There was a point that people who have been in the space a long time still probably feel in a deeply and lasting way, in which they had common ground with everyone who shared even a broad interest in games, and thus the “public conception” of what games were was homogenous and monolithic and available to shift and move, but that just won’t and can’t exist anymore. It feels like that’s where this is coming from.

It’s funny that COD gets the shoutout in this interview — I think that actually belies this point. It’s the public conception of “video games” for a lot of people, sure, but that chunk is probably even with people for whom that’s Madden and FIFA. Some of those people may also also find something interesting in something like Journey, but I also doubt that many of them care whether or not games are “considered art,” because that’s just not a question that really matters much to a majority of people in the world. It’s the same in film; there are a lot of people for whom movies are just popcorn entertainment, not something they want to go to to have to think — and that has to be okay if you actually want a medium to grow, because for every ten people who get Madden for their fifth birthday or something, one or two of them will find something like Journey a few years later on PS+ and go from there. So of course making “arthouse” games accessible to them is important, but the goal of changing public perception as a whole feels a little Sisyphean as it’s related here.

Like, here’s the thing — in spaces where the question of “what is art” actually does matter to people, the “games are art” crowd has pretty clearly won the fight. The Smithsonian ran an Art in Games exhibit ten full ten years ago. Game studies as an academic discipline is niche, but no more niche than other specialized areas in the humanities, and, as someone sort of halfway in it, it feels like it’s growing at an exponential rate. It feels like trying to push “games as art” has become something people do because, like often happens in long cultural fights, they were doing it so long and so hard that actually reacting to a future where it won is hard to conceptualize.

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