Games and the History of Fine Art

Odd. Has anyone noticed how the arc of development of games seems to be paralleling the history of Western painting, rather then the traditional movies or books? I’m not an art history expert, but my understanding is paintings began with retelling one myth over and over.  They started with the Christ legend or the Hero’s Journey, and then going into more humanistic and impressionistic elements, followed by the beginning of abstract expression. It seems like the early, recent, and upcoming phases of game design map to these very precisely, particularly in their stories – around the 90s (Zork, Final Fantasy), the 2000s (Half-Life 2, Planescape: Torment, Call of Duty), and recently, “art games” (like Passage, Braid, Flower, Portal, Blueberry Garden, etc.) What’s going on here?

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4 thoughts on “Games and the History of Fine Art

  1. I would draw the parallel even farther.

    The history of art started with high levels of abstraction (cave paintings, Assyrian and Egyptian reliefs, etc) and then advanced towards realism (Michelangelo, Da Vinci, etc) and then back towards abstraction (Kandinsky, Mondrian, etc).

    Video games are in a similar arc, starting with high levels of abstraction (Pong, Space War, Berserk, etc), we’re not in a period that prizes realism (Doom 3, Crysis, Gears, etc). If the indie crowd really is the future then things like Blueberry Garden are signs that we may be heading back towards being predominantly abstract.

    I’m speaking only of the art in games, of course.

  2. There’s something in your observation, it bears some thinking. Don’t forget though, that many of the most iconic movies cleave closely to those ancient archetypes. Maybe its the archetypes that hold the key?

  3. Intriguing connection! 😀 I don’t have much else to add yet, except to say that you might like to check out the book A Story as Sharp as Knife, which made a similar connection between painting and oral mythtelling, and led me to believe that there is also a strong connection between mythtelling and games. It’s a good book, but long. If you don’t want to go through the whole thing right away you can read a review of it up on my blog – click my name for the link.

    Let me know what you think if you do read it! I wonder if you’ll see a similar connection… 🙂

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