A friend and I saw Video Games Live, the concert featuring primarily music from video games; the show was emphatically so-so, mostly because the music kept being interrupted for banal reasons, chiefly related to defending the idea of video games as an art form. The structure of the concert went like this: the musicians would play for five to ten minutes, then a guy would show up to declare that video games are ART, DAMNIT! or run a contest, or show a video game, or pick his nose, or whatever. Then the music would resume. But is a show devoted to music of games really an ideal venue for the purpose of trying to show video games are art? In other concerts I’ve been to, no one comes out to defend Beethoven or The Offspring as art: it’s merely assumed. You’ll know video games are art when people stop claiming they are and merely assume that they are.
I feel the worst for the musicians themselves, who presumably haven’t spent more than 10,000 hours of practice time for underdeveloped pieces that, to highly trained ears, probably sound bombastic or manipulative, like bad romances seem to literary critics. You could see them looking at one another when the conductor / showman stopped to extol the virtues of video games and drench himself in glory for putting the show together.
You may notice that I haven’t mentioned much about the music: that’s because the show wasn’t really about music. Some video game music is interesting and deserves serious attention; Final Fantasy is particularly famous for its soundtracks. The Mario theme music has become a pop culture cliche. But you won’t find attention to music at Video Games Live: look elsewhere for that.
Without being able to discuss much of the music, someone dealing with the concert is left to discuss what the nominal concert really engages. Like a dizzying array of phenomena, Tyler Cowen has asked similar questions about the status of video games and art, which he engages a little bit here regarding a New York Times piece and also here. Salon.com is asking the same questions, but is more rah-rah about video games. I don’t think anyone has argued that video games don’t “matter,” whatever that means in the context. It seems unlikely to me that games will have a strong claim to art until they can deal with sexuality in a mature way—which paintings, novels, poetry, and movies have all accomplished.
We’ll know video games are art when their defenders stop saying that video games are art and merely assume they are while going about their business. This change happened in earnest with novels around the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as Mark McGurl argues in The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction after Henry James. Maybe it’s happening now with video games. If so, I don’t think Video Games Live is helping.
One good thing: my friend won tickets. So the only cost of the show was opportunity, not money.