Video Game Art Could Do With A Little More Respect

In case you're asleep by the time it's posted, almost every night on Kotaku I run a feature called Fine Art. It's a showcase of the work of artists working in (or dabbling in) the video game business. I do this post for a number of reasons. It's fun, it's rad art, there's a degree of closure in it since it's a career path I once nearly went down myself. Another reason, though, is that these guys and girls deserve more credit than they get.

I know video games are usually the product of teams of dozens, if not hundreds of people. And every single person involved is making key contributions, whether they're designing a level or programming some AI. So in many ways, it's unfair to highlight the contributions of some and not others.


But in other ways, I think many artists working in video games deserve the recognition. Or at least some recognition. Video game publishers always go to great lengths to highlight the involvement of writers, composers and voice actors in their titles, and rightly so, because their efforts can be key to what we take out of a game (imagine Halo without Marty O'Donnell's theme, for instance), and their contributions as artists can be clearly singled out.

So why can't they do the same for illustrators and concept artists? I've always found it curious, and more than a little sad, that some of the people most directly involved in what draws us to a game as fans - and keeps us invested long after we've first fired a game up - are often working in the shadows, unknown to most.

Those action figures on your shelf, that outfit you're cosplaying in, that poster on your wall, that boss design you can't get out of your head...those characters were probably designed (at least at first) by either a single person or a small team. Ditto some of video games' most iconic locations, from Rapture to City 17. The idea of them may have been conjured by a director, or writer, but the aesthetic - the thing that defines a place more than anything else - was the work of an artist or small team of artists.


I was motivated to write this when, last week, a few pieces of new Mass Effect art showed up, which may or may not end up being part of what ends up being the next Mass Effect game. They were beautiful, but they were also issued without crediting the people who drew them. It's the same story almost every time you see art released; with the exception of a few studios who do the right thing and give little shout-outs on things like blogs and Facebook posts (Ubisoft and Eidos are better than most), art is treated as meat for the marketing grinder, the product of a publisher instead of the work of an artist.


Can you imagine a video game publisher releasing an excerpt of the script without mentioning the writer? Or putting a song from a soundtrack on YouTube without crediting the composer? Of course not. But art, whether it's the work of an internal team, a contract studio in Singapore or a freelancer, is rarely afforded the same courtesy.

Some artists are happy about this, and that's cool! Not everyone needs their name and face in the spotlight, and some artists (or entire studios) prefer to stay under everyone's radar. But this isn't a case of individual preference. No matter the artist and no matter the publisher, video game art is not given the same respect fields like music and writing are (and hey, let's not forget, this is a relative comparison, as those are fields that could probably do with a bit more respect themselves).


I'm not saying every piece of artwork everywhere needs to be watermarked, or that we need to go putting these folks up on pedestals above the contributions of other developers and artists involved in the creation of video games.

But at the end of the day artists play a very big role in defining how we receive a video game, and how that game's image is cherished and remembered. It couldn't hurt to at least give a little more credit where credit's due.


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