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Video Games Now Eligible for NEA Grants
May 17, 2011 3:13 PM   Subscribe

The National Endowment for the Arts' new Arts in Media Guidelines now include video games as an art form eligible for federal grants.

The guidelines now include "All available media platforms such as the Internet, interactive and mobile technologies, [and] digital games." Note that the NEA can't be the sole source of funding, and there must be a nonfederal match of at least 1 to 1, so don't go deleting that Kickstarter page just yet.
posted by jedicus (41 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Republican outrage about sexual or violent or sacrilegious content in video games starting in 5... 4... 3... 2...
posted by hippybear at 3:19 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that the "are videogames art?" argument is stupid and pointless, but I still appreciate the NEA's effort to remain culturally relevant.
posted by codacorolla at 3:22 PM on May 17, 2011


Republican outrage about sexual or violent or sacrilegious content in video games starting in 5... 4... 3... 2...

Exactly! It isn't like a group is going to get a grant any time soon for a video game (or any other artistic medium) given that Congress did away with individual NEA grants after Jesse Helms and company raised a stink about Mapplethorpe....

It saddens me how weak the NEA is as a national arts organization as compared to other countries.
posted by theartandsound at 3:25 PM on May 17, 2011


Man, Ebert is not going to be happy about this.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:27 PM on May 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm really looking forward to Piss Christ: The Game!
posted by filthy light thief at 3:49 PM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is great! There are an enormous number of dudes living off of their savings, scraping by, chewing Ramen to make games the really truly believe in, just like painters and dancers and whatever else. I look forward to checking out the recipients
posted by GilloD at 4:00 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's about time. I was looking through the new Aussie budget and I don't think they're giving funding to games, despite the success (I assume) of LA Noire and Fruit Ninja.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:11 PM on May 17, 2011


Well that settles that argument.
posted by empath at 4:21 PM on May 17, 2011


This is great! There are an enormous number of dudes living off of their savings, scraping by, chewing Ramen to make games the really truly believe in, just like painters and dancers and whatever else. I look forward to checking out the recipients.

These are NEA grants, so they'll be given out only for the creation of umarketable games.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:45 PM on May 17, 2011


These are NEA grants, so they'll be given out only for the creation of umarketable games.

I dont think that's a bad thing. There's a huge number of really creative, brave, weird un-marketable games being made by interesting folks. There are as many "fringe" artists in game making as in any other art.

And while I maintain a distinction between "interactive art" and "games", these folks are making games. Maybe it's time a post to The Blue?
posted by GilloD at 5:04 PM on May 17, 2011


And while I maintain a distinction between "interactive art" and "games", these folks are making games. Maybe it's time a post to The Blue?

I really dislike "art" games for the most part, especially as typified by stuff like "Every Day Is the Same" or that one where you're a scientist fighting off a plague. The story telling is handicapped by having the player make meaningless choices to prod it along, and the game is handicapped by having an eye-rollingly bad story as an albatross around its neck that brings down any fun that could be had by making choices and interacting. I think that games will be best served by moving away from realistic graphics (since those bring about dumb shit that are basically no more than militaristic theme park rides) and hide-bound story. That's where games come into their own as a form of expression, otherwise you just have a shitty movie with a dumb plot where the camera is controlled by the viewer and occasionally they can press buttons to make bright lights flash on the screen.
posted by codacorolla at 5:37 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]



This is great! There are an enormous number of dudes living off of their savings, scraping by, chewing Ramen to make games the really truly believe in, just like painters and dancers and whatever else. I look forward to checking out the recipients


I might apply, seriously. That's me to a T right now. I actually have my laptop open at work and have been hacking at this Actionscript game I've been working on for the past month.

I'm really looking forward to Piss Christ: The Game!

I actually brainstormed this, and a game version of Duchamp's Fountain. Didn't get very far.
posted by hellojed at 5:39 PM on May 17, 2011


my vision is blurry.
posted by clavdivs at 5:57 PM on May 17, 2011


I think that games will be best served by moving away from realistic graphics (since those bring about dumb shit that are basically no more than militaristic theme park rides) and hide-bound story.

I misread this at first, but I totally agree. I think photorealism is an impossible--and even undesirable--goal when the possibilities for such interesting aesthetic stylization already exist for games, and I still don't understand why the exploration of games as a storytelling medium seems to have peaked in the late 90s/early zeroes.

Maybe it's time a post to The Blue?

Please do. I adore weird, totally unmarketable things.
posted by byanyothername at 6:24 PM on May 17, 2011


a game version of Duchamp's Fountain

These seems good for that Kinect thingy I've heard about.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:27 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


byanyothername: What's this one?
posted by codacorolla at 6:36 PM on May 17, 2011


In other news, my State Arts Council informed me today that my grant proposal has been postponed indefinitely, since despite commitments for matching funds by the NEA, the State budget had not yet been approved, so they have no funding. Our new Republican Governor has been trying to force a budget through that strips the Democratic-majority legislature of their oversight, so the budget is blocked. AND he's trying to completely de-fund the Arts Council (it was already 50% defunded in 2010). That would mean the Gov. has to return Federal funding already granted to the Arts Council. These Republican Governors are some piece of work.

This is great! There are an enormous number of dudes living off of their savings, scraping by, chewing Ramen to make games the really truly believe in, just like painters and dancers and whatever else. I look forward to checking out the recipients

Yeah, I was in line first. Excuse me if I scoff at video games that won't even have a compatible platform to run on in 10 years, while I'm trying to produce archival Gum Bichromate photos that are expected to last a minimum of 500 years. I ate rice and vitamins for 2 weeks to save enough money to produce the demonstration prints. And I'm sure my local framers, arts supplies vendors, and galleries feel the loss too, since NONE of their clients (like me) have been funded. Let me know if the computer industry even notices the hit if a coder doesn't get a grant to buy a computer and write a game.

Starving artists? Fuck game coders. Their skills are richly compensated in other computer professions. Mine aren't, that's why the NEA funds us. Or maybe someone knows where I can get a printmaking job using a process that was abandoned in the 1890s? Got any jobs for oil painters, besides wall painting? Any jobs for dancers, besides tap dancing for spare change on the corner? Got any jobs for sculptors besides scrap metal recycling and can collecting?
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:42 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


byanyothername: What's this one?

That's Journey, Jenova Chen's achingly beautiful new game.
posted by byanyothername at 6:57 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excuse me if I scoff at video games that won't even have a compatible platform to run on in 10 years

That's like arguing that we shouldn't translate written works from archaic languages or restore old movies on decaying film stock. By paying proper attention to emulation and cross-platform compatibility there's no reason why an interesting art game shouldn't be playable many years from now.

Let me know if the computer industry even notices the hit if a coder doesn't get a grant to buy a computer and write a game.

Interesting and innovative games are crucial to the success of hardware and software platforms. Just look at the success of iOS games, for example. There are plenty of marginal game development studios (which seem to be shutting down and shedding staff at an alarming rate these days) who could really use some extra capital. I mean, just recently the developer of Iconoclasts had to stop work on a great indie game due to a lack of funds.

Starving artists? Fuck game coders. Their skills are richly compensated in other computer professions. Mine aren't, that's why the NEA funds us.

There's a big difference between knowing, say, enough Inform or AGS scripting to produce an interesting game and being able to work professionally as a programmer in fields that have little to do with game development. There are photographers who are "richly compensated" and make a decent living with their craft by taking family portraits, celebrity photos and so on. Should we expect you to do this as well?

I'm sure you are genuinely angry at your grant being put on hold, but your comments come across as uninformed and selfish.
posted by fearthehat at 7:12 PM on May 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


By paying proper attention to emulation and cross-platform compatibility there's no reason why an interesting art game shouldn't be playable many years from now.

Yeah, that's known as the "Turing Fallacy," the mistaken belief that any computer system can be emulated. Don't even get me started. It used to be my hobby to write Turing-incomplete programs that would crash any computer they ran on. I could usually do it in about 3 lines of code. They're impossible to emulate. Can I get funding and call it an artwork?

Interesting and innovative games are crucial to the success of hardware and software platforms.

And continue to be produced without subsidies, creating billions of dollars of profits. I assure you, the NEA annual budget is less than the annual expenditure on packaging for video games.

There are photographers who are "richly compensated" and make a decent living with their craft by taking family portraits, celebrity photos and so on. Should we expect you to do this as well?

Can I get a grant so I can buy a new camera? The only one I have is a 4 megapixel camera I bought in 2002. I have a BFA in Photography, but I can't afford to buy a decent camera. I sold my last really good camera (a Hasselblad) many years ago, to pay the rent.

I'm sure you are genuinely angry at your grant being put on hold, but your comments come across as uninformed and selfish.

Unless you've personally worked as both a coder and an artist (as I have) don't sling accusations that I'm uninformed. Is it selfish to wish funding for arts and artists that are already dying out due to lack of money, before expanding it to new, dubious media of questionable viability? Is it selfish to wish for arts grants monies to be spent in the artists' communities, instead of using it to buy computers made in China?
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:51 PM on May 17, 2011


Yup
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:12 PM on May 17, 2011


I agree that cutting arts funding is shortsighted and that our current crop of leaders are frequently mind-boggling, but:

Excuse me if I scoff at video games that won't even have a compatible platform to run on in 10 years, while I'm trying to produce archival Gum Bichromate photos that are expected to last a minimum of 500 years...or maybe someone knows where I can get a printmaking job using a process that was abandoned in the 1890s?

It sounds like your platform has been out of date for more than a century, so I don't know why you're scoffing at video game art because the technology continues to advance.
posted by postel's law at 8:54 PM on May 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, that's known as the "Turing Fallacy," the mistaken belief that any computer system can be emulated. Don't even get me started. It used to be my hobby to write Turing-incomplete programs that would crash any computer they ran on. I could usually do it in about 3 lines of code. They're impossible to emulate. Can I get funding and call it an artwork?

You were specifically creating a program that was designed to be untranslatable. The digital equivalent of an auto-destructive artwork, sort of. Most programmers do not do this.

Besides, it is a given that any body of artistic works will suffer losses over time. We know there are missing Shakespeare plays, early cinematic works that no longer exist on film etc. That's no reason to ignore or neglect similar works, or to not create them in the first place.

Can I get a grant so I can buy a new camera? The only one I have is a 4 megapixel camera I bought in 2002. I have a BFA in Photography, but I can't afford to buy a decent camera. I sold my last really good camera (a Hasselblad) many years ago, to pay the rent.

As GilloD pointed out, there are plenty of coders out there who struggle to make ends meet. I'm sure there are plenty of game designers who would love to upgrade from their Pentium 4 systems or whatever.

Anyway, your personal circumstances are actually kind of irrelevant here. The NEA exists to reward artistic merit where it perceives it, not to give money to starving photographers.

Is it selfish to wish funding for arts and artists that are already dying out due to lack of money, before expanding it to new, dubious media of questionable viability?

Alternatively, why not support a new medium that offers numerous possibilities and has the opportunity to engage an entire generation of young artists in unique ways rather than spending money to keep art forms with only niche appeal on life support?

It is fairly widely accepted by now that video games are a legitimate art form. You obviously don't agree. That's okay - personal reactions are a big part of art, after all. You can't expect any work of art to please everyone. It just seems selfish to suggest that your personal opinions should overrule those of the NEA, and that others should be denied funding for producing works that you disapprove of and feel don't measure up to your own True Art.

I agree that cuts to arts funding are wrong. Surely, though, it's more useful for artists to band together and support better funding for the arts as a whole, rather than fighting to exclude each other?
posted by fearthehat at 9:06 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


BTW, I'm sure you are actually a clued-up and unselfish person in real life, it's just that your comments come across a bit strong here...
posted by fearthehat at 9:07 PM on May 17, 2011


In other news, congressional Republicans eliminate the NEA on the grounds that if funds video games.
posted by LarryC at 9:17 PM on May 17, 2011


The guidelines now include "All available media platforms such as the Internet, interactive and mobile technologies, [and] digital games."

Applying for funding for my new ringtone. It's gonna be the next Crazy Frog if I can just get a few $100k to realize my vision.

Wut? Who says ringtones aren't art? Philistine!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:54 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


And continue to be produced without subsidies, creating billions of dollars of profits. I assure you, the NEA annual budget is less than the annual expenditure on packaging for video games.

There's a big difference between the latest Call of Duty and an indie art game. Indie games drive the industry forward and help it evolve as a medium. They also innovate in ways that trickle up to mainstream games - look at stuff like Mega Man 9 and Cave Story ended up on WiiWare.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:14 PM on May 17, 2011


My main issue with this is that producing games is really, really expensive. It's very rare for even an indie game to require less than 2 or 3 people working full time for a year in order to get something out. And they need computers, 3D modeling software, significant training, possibly purchase of a commercial game engine, etc. My understanding is that NEA tends to fund much smaller projects, on the order of a few tens of thousands of dollars.
posted by miyabo at 7:58 AM on May 18, 2011


My understanding is that NEA tends to fund much smaller projects, on the order of a few tens of thousands of dollars.

$10,000 to $200,000, with very rare exceptions for more than that. But remember, it has to be matched at least 1:1, so it's really $20,000 - $400,000.

But not all games are expensive or time-consuming to make. There are lots of "make a video game in a day" events that indie developers participate in, for example. 3d modeling software isn't required for a 2d game, and no indie developer purchases a commercial game engine. There are tons of great free engines, including engines that are sold commercially but available for free to indie developers.

I don't know if this will be a significant change in the way artistic games are developed, but the grant sizes are not particularly problematic.
posted by jedicus at 8:34 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


My main issue with this is that producing games is really, really expensive. It's very rare for even an indie game to require less than 2 or 3 people working full time for a year in order to get something out.

This is not true. Plenty of people knock out artsy games in a month or weekend.
posted by empath at 8:43 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


As an indie game designer, I can only say YESSSSSSSSSSS.
posted by erinfern at 9:38 AM on May 18, 2011


It's very rare for even an indie game to require less than 2 or 3 people working full time for a year in order to get something out.

Hah! You just described my startup. We have two people and a dog, with the brunt of the work shared between the two people. The dog mainly helps for napping purposes. Our first game (a flash platformer) should be out within the next month, and we've been working for about a year.
posted by erinfern at 9:40 AM on May 18, 2011


You were specifically creating a program that was designed to be untranslatable. The digital equivalent of an auto-destructive artwork, sort of. Most programmers do not do this.

Actually, no. There is a difference between un-translatable and un-emulatable. This should be obvious to anyone with more than a basic acquaintance with Turing's work. Perhaps most programmers don't do this, but I shocked a lot of programmers with my little code snippet, they didn't realize it was possible. Perhaps programmers that want arts grants should read more art history, some artists are trying to "emulate" Jean Tinguely's self-destructing kinetic sculptures, which of course, cannot be done in any sense of "reproduction."

The NEA exists to reward artistic merit where it perceives it, not to give money to starving photographers.

You obviously know little of the fine arts photography world. It is dying out. Fine arts printing is almost completely dead. Nobody will pay more than $2-300 for a photo print, because that's what inkjet prints cost. That's less than the cost of the materials it takes to make one of my prints (not even considering labor). The NEA has a specific mission to support these well-established arts that cannot survive without subsidies. There are many artists with work of serious merit that have given up their work because they can't afford to create it. I will probably join them soon, without a grant. Doesn't look like the Republicans are going to allow that to happen.

I agree that cuts to arts funding are wrong. Surely, though, it's more useful for artists to band together and support better funding for the arts as a whole, rather than fighting to exclude each other?

You are terribly naive. Even within established art media like oil painting, there is a long history of savage competition for attention from viewers, let alone funding. Ever heard of the Salon des Refusés?

If coders want to be recognized as artists, they will have to show how their artworks connect with the world of art. It isn't art just because some guy says it's art. It's art because the creator studied enough art and art history to know (and show) how his work can connect with the dialogue between artists throughout history. They used to say that Photography wasn't art, it took about 100 years for artists to establish their historical dialog. Talk to me in about a hundred years and we'll see if computer games have withstood the test of time.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:54 PM on May 18, 2011


It sounds like your platform has been out of date for more than a century, so I don't know why you're scoffing at video game art because the technology continues to advance.

My "platform" was revived in the 1970s, that's when I learned it. I'm trying to start a "third wave." But this media has withstood the test of time. My old professor still teaches it to every freshman photo student. None of them (but me) has stuck with it for 35 years.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:01 PM on May 18, 2011


If coders want to be recognized as artists, they will have to show how their artworks connect with the world of art. It isn't art just because some guy says it's art. It's art because the creator studied enough art and art history to know (and show) how his work can connect with the dialogue between artists throughout history.

Maybe this is why so many 'indie'/art games are based on Mario - to establish that lineage.

They used to say that Photography wasn't art, it took about 100 years for artists to establish their historical dialog.

Is that a good thing? Games are art. There's no point in waiting around for 100 years for it to be decided.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:08 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf, it's pretty clear we're not goint to agree on this issue. Oh well. Guess it's lucky that neither of our opinions about art are probably going to mean all that much in the big picture. Good luck with your photos, though.
posted by fearthehat at 4:09 AM on May 19, 2011


I was going to selectively quote and argue against all the points where I disagree with charlie don't surf, but it quickly became too time consuming. Just pretend I quoted every sentence in his last post followed by "I disagree with your opinion." or "This is factually incorrect"; whichever applies.
posted by empath at 5:55 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf, you're willfully ignoring my point. I'm not saying that what you do isn't art, I'm saying that your argument about why videogames aren't art is specious. Especially since your argument against video games is the mirror image of the challenges you describe in your own artistic process.

Also, coders aren't the only ones making video games. There are a lot of art degrees making videogames. Don't tell me you've never seen a videogame art book.
posted by postel's law at 7:46 AM on May 19, 2011


There is a difference between un-translatable and un-emulatable. This should be obvious to anyone with more than a basic acquaintance with Turing's work. Perhaps most programmers don't do this, but I shocked a lot of programmers with my little code snippet, they didn't realize it was possible

Since you bring this back up: your program can be emulated trivially. Fire up a virtual machine, run the program. The virtual machine will dutifully lock up tighter than a drum. Run the VM full screen and it's indistinguishable from running the program on the original device.

Perhaps programmers that want arts grants should read more art history, some artists are trying to "emulate" Jean Tinguely's self-destructing kinetic sculptures, which of course, cannot be done in any sense of "reproduction."

Now here you might be on to something. If your program did something like, say, burn out the motor on a floppy drive in a spectacular way, then, sure, that can't be emulated.
posted by jedicus at 7:50 AM on May 19, 2011


jedicus, a virtual machine won't necessarily crash the same way as the real machine. But let us not belabor the point, unless you are a serious Turing math geek, or can provide me equipment to demonstrate it. I would need my first test bed, a 1973 HP3000, and your emulator of it.

There are equivalents to Tinguely, though. I could easily write code to make mag tape spools rip and spew around of the machines and make a big mess. I played with the code, but I decided I didn't want to get kicked off the IBM/360 forever. Well, eventually I did get kicked off for hackery stunts but that is a different story. I have heard rumors that the early IBM/360s had a "kill switch" which literally killed the machine, the core memory would be destroyed and require replacement before it could return to service. I could probably figure out some way to work with that.
Hey, now that I recall, maybe I did something like that. I had access to a COM (computer output on microfilm) and it had a library of files, including a nice ANSI test pattern, very detailed. One day I decided I wanted a printout on the 4'x4' paper plotter. When I came to the output desk to pick up my punch cards and plotted output, they were livid. They yelled at me that this image was not intended to be run on the plotter, and it burned through several ink tips, and eventually the plotter broke down under heavy load and is now offline until further notice. And for me, offline forever.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:53 PM on May 20, 2011


An interesting update via Reddit: Brian Ambrozy, the editor-in-chief for gaming site Icronic, was invited on Fox & Friends to participate in a "fair and balanced debate" about the merits of funding video games. He posted a thread beforehand asking for advice and tips, then another one today linking to video and breakdown of his appearance.

It was a typical Fox job. They intro'd with a full minute of violent, explosive Call of Duty gameplay, then cut to the guests: Ambrozy, a pudgy, stereotypical geek on a muted grey backdrop versus opponent Neal Asbury -- an overbearing talk radio firebrand -- who's in a well-tailored suit in front of a sunny beach scene.

The host asks if games like COD and Grand Theft Auto would be getting funding, and Ambrozy rebuts the mischaracterization and delivers a good but run-of-the-mill response in defense of indie games as art, peppered with "ums" and "uhs." Then to Asbury, who launches into an articulate, well-rehearsed tirade about Obama and taxes and whether ping-pong should be funded, too. Ambrozy counters with a point about how gaming is an economic powerhouse that should be encouraged to inspire young people to innovate, then Asbury finishes off with another aggressive, disconnected rant about raising taxes and wasteful spending.

It was clear Ambrozy was meant to serve as a mild-mannered Colmes-esque punching bag for the much more media savvy Asbury, which was especially clear when Ambrozy indicated that the interview started abruptly without warning, catching him off guard.

Ambrozy's take on the affair, which as a somewhat apolitical person he considered quite eye-opening:
People have been talking about Fox and its clear conservative and right-wing leanings for years now. However, it’s hard for many people to relate to what that actually means. We are in the middle of a media generation gap; Fox & Friends is not watched by you guys. This is a Saturday morning show watched by millions of older people who have no connection with us and who don’t even know these conversations are taking place. At the same time, people from our world and our generation only know how Fox is anecdotally.

This story connected with us, as a culture, and really drove the point home; now it’s personal. Now we truly understand the depths to which “media” has sunk in the cable television world. I’ve seen many cries of outrage over the treatment this topic got because it is important to us. The real story here is that Fox and other cable news networks are doing this on a daily basis. This is media brainwashing of the highest order—the people who watch this show on a regular basis see this garbage every day. It seems absolutely outrageous to us, now that they’ve spoken about something we understand and care about, but this is standard order for these shows.

Perhaps this is the first time people will see this kind of television and say, “But wait, I know for a fact that what they’re saying is not true!” and they will be able to see the twisting of words that takes place on these types of shows.

Maybe it took video gaming to shake us all out of our echo chamber and realize that in America, this is what a great many people believe. If anything, it’s what I got out of this experience, and my hope is that other people realize it too.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:21 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


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