What We Owe Art

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know I’ve been struggling with trying to obtain a DLC (downloadable content) for an older video game called Knights of the Old Republic hereinafter referred to as KOTOR.  This game was released in 2003 and won Game of the Year — deservedly so, it’s a terrific game, and in researching for this post I discovered why.  My friend Drew Karpyshyn wrote the game, and it’s bloody brilliant.  An absolutely great story.  It’s a pity Lucas didn’t hire Drew for the prequels.  We would have had far better movies.  But I digress.  Back to the game.

I started playing this game because my terrific editor Stacy Hill (who is a fellow Game Girl) loved this game.  We bonded over our love for Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect so when Stacy told me this was a great game I listened.

I played it.  I loved it.  In the course of play I discovered there was downloadable content which gave you new shiny crystals for your lightsaber and I wanted them.  Partly because I wanted all the help I could get for the final boss fight, but also because I’m a completist when I play a game.  I want to do every mission, and explore every nook and cranny of the world.

Thus began two weeks of enormous frustration.  I searched for the game on X-Box Live.  No go.  I tried to access the DLC’s from the disc and kept getting bizarre error messages.  I began to panic that my disc was corrupted or worse that my console was dying.  I spent hours in an on-line chat with support at X-Box Live and finally I got my answer.  The servers for KOTOR were “no longer serviced”.  Which meant I couldn’t get the DLC and it had never been placed on a disc that I could discover.

Now I have to roll back a little to Wednesday night last week when I went to see GRAVITY with my friends Brett Shapiro, Sage Walker and Hank Messenger.  Brett is a game guy, knows a tremendous amount about the industry and he was mourning the fact that games are not respected as art, not even by the companies which create them.

Add to this a conversation with my friend and fellow writer Matt Reiten that the new X-Box console will not be backward compatible so all my beloved games — Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect, KOTOR would not be playable on the X-Box 1.  I was shocked and furious, and resolved to buy another 360 console and just keep it in the closet until the inevitable death of my current console.

As I looked at this confluence of events I realized there was something far more important at stake here then me having to (potentially) repurchase games or not get to play certain games or buy an extra console.  What’s at stake is the value and preservation of art.

Because theses games are art.  A new kind of art, but most definitely art and just as worthy as books or movies or television shows or paintings for that matter.  When companies treat these games as mere commodities, as widgets if you will, they are devaluing the work of the artists and writers and programmers who worked to create something of value.  We live in a throw away society, but these games should not be treated with that lack of respect.  They are stories and adventures and paintings, and performances on the part of the talented voice actors.  They need to be preserved.  Coded in such a way they can be updated so they aren’t lost.  Of course not every game is brilliant.  Not every book or movie is brilliant, but the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation protect and preserve all that they can because our throw away society shouldn’t forget what’s come before.

We don’t discard the Mona Lisa because painting styles have changed.

4 Responses to What We Owe Art

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Here’s an added thought. Brett, who is also a film director as well as a game guy, pointed out that each company having proprietary software makes no sense. It would be as if every studio in Hollywood decided they had to invent a unique camera for their movies so that only select movie theaters could show those films, and as new camera are invented the older films would be unavailable.

  • rand says:

    It takes time. In its infancy, film wasn’t respected as art, either.

  • Robert Carnegie says:

    Sometimes art goes away. You have to be in the theatre while the play is on. Ice sculpture melts. (Which begs the question, of course – unless I got that wrong, again.)

    And, projects such as video games are commercial. You understand commercial. It’s put on to make money. When it stops making money – a lot of money – it is switched off.

    An artistic work may even be deliberately removed by the owner to make way for their new work. This is what’s happening to your X-Box. I think Disney did it to the retail video of “Fantasia”, withdrawing it, and once that worked, they did “This is your last chance to buy” on more of their titles.

    I suppose it’s also what happens to an ice sculpture.

    And it’s why publishers hate that copyright has a “limited time” clause. And libraries. And secondhand book shops.

    The X-Box is about selling new games, not sharing old ones. Indeed, I gather it is specifically about not handing on a game that you bought to a new player. From now on, what you bought is what -you- bought. Like I said, publishers hate libraries and all that.

    But, maybe there should be a law about conservation. On the other hand, it takes work, to keep an electronic project available in an updated environment. Probably someone has to pay for that. Even if you use free tools and standardized formats, stuff still will stop working.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Domesday_Project is something to read about. “The BBC Domesday Project was a partnership between Acorn Computers, Philips, Logica and the BBC to mark the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday Book, an 11th-century census of England”, by doing another one, in the mid 1980s.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Great points, Robert, but a society should be about more than just money. We need science for the sake of science, and art that isn’t transient should be preserved. And they tend to tape stage performances now so the can be seen and enjoyed for years to come. We preserve music in recordings, and games combine so many kinds of art. The work of the voice actors, the composers who create the amazing scores, the graphic artist who stop our breath with the images, the writers (not enough of them, but that’s a rant for another time), but they are crafing stories and evoking emotions. And finally the programmers. To just allow it to be lost seems a crime to me.

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