The US federal government, by way of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), now considers video games a form of art, making a true step toward recognition for the oft under-recognized form.
The NEA is a program under the federal government which has the mission of deciding which grand artistic projects are worthy of receiving Federal funding. Artists around the country can submit applications to the agency for works which will enhance the public good. It allows artists who are creating outside of the commercial art world to work and live, through grants of up to $200k; artists who otherwise would have to either enter the profit-centered world of commercial art, or stop creating (or starve, I suppose).
This week, when the NEA opened its 2012 submission window, it also announced that the guidelines would be changing as to what art is acceptable. The category which was formerly known as The Arts on Radio and Television is now called The Arts in Media (Yes, I know: paint and stone are also forms of media, but stick with me here). The new category will include all art submissions for television, film, and radio—as before—but has been expanded to include interactive technologies and media delivered by satellite or internet (previously it only included land-based television and radio broadcasts).
The official line is this:
Projects may include high profile multi-part or single television and radio programs (documentaries and dramatic narratives); media created for theatrical release; performance programs; artistic segments for use within an existing series; multi-part webisodes; installations; and interactive games. Short films, five minutes and under, will be considered in packages of three or more.
Unfortunately that means that video game developers who want one of these grants will not only be competing with television and radio producers, but also with producers of web and satellite radio broadcasts. It’s not a category of their own, but it’s still a sort of ‘official’ recognition.
What does this actually mean for developers? It means that if a developer wants to create games for people, doesn’t want to charge money for them, but still wants to be able to eat, there is an option. One can apply for a grant, and potentially get paid by the government to be a creator, just as painters and sculptors have been able to do for many years.
And for the public it means that we may begin to see some video games of the ‘public’ works’ variety, games which are released for the world to enjoy, which may have good production values, but which are also not part of the commercial video games world. What these games will look like, we have no idea at this point, as it’s a completely new thing. The projects that receive funding are chosen by the agency, and there are not many guidelines or descriptions for what kinds of projects will be accepted.
We also have no idea just how many video game projects will actually be approved. It’s possible that none will be chosen as the agency could decide to put all the grants to other projects which fall inside the new category.
Whatever happens, the inclusion of interactive narratives in the NEA guidelines is a big step, and opponents of the recognition of video games now have one less arrow in their quiver. Artist who wish to apply for a 2012 grant must do so by 1 Sept 2011.