The straight-forwardly named “Game Art” is an art book filled with concept art and screenshots from 40 different games ranging from Never Alone and Child of Light to Dragon Age: Inquisition and Dead or Alive 5. The art is paired with descriptions and interviews with the games’ creators, who author Matt Sainsbury traveled around the world to speak with.
This book isn’t really about game art, though. It’s about how games are art. You won’t find breakdowns of asset development or character design, early concept art or artist notes in the margins. Rather, each page is a large spread of a single image—some are screenshots, while some are finished concept pieces from later stages in the game’s development—paired with lengthy discussions about the game, its developers, and its conceit. The images are beautiful, and the artwork is nicely laid out with the text, but the book focuses on the games as a whole and not individual pieces.
“We’re living in a true Golden Age of video games at the moment—there’s never been more experimentation and beauty in games than there is today. My goal with ‘Game Art’ was to showcase these incredible works of art and what inspires developers to create these masterpieces,” says Sainsbury.
“‘Game Art’ is sure to live on coffee tables of video game lovers for years to come,” says No Starch Press founder Bill Pollock. “You have to check this out. Anyone who reads this book won’t be asking, ‘Are video games art?’ It’s obvious.”
The definition of art is always a complicated question. I’m a graphic designer, comic artist, and fantasy illustrator; I consider what I do to be art, but there are certainly folks who wouldn’t agree, or who would hold the fine arts in more regard. Conversely, I have trouble seeing some modern art as interesting in the least. The point at which something is art is often entirely up to personal taste.
Video games, because of their status in a broad sense as gratuitous, valueless entertainment, have long been torn halfway between the art-or-not question. On one hand you have the national media (and often politicians) decrying their existence, and on the other you have long-time fans of video games arguing, often angrily, that of course games are art. And then you’ve got that large section of gamers who want video games to be respected and accepted, but don’t want to have to think critically about them. These are the people who will come into comment sections in droves complaining about political correctness ruining their games, arguing that ‘it’s just a game, who cares?’ and will pull out freedom of speech arguments to shut down criticism. Unfortunately they will—at times—go so far as to hunt down and harass developers and journalists who dare to question the medium they’ve aligned themselves with.
“Game Art”—the book, that is—is firmly in the “but of course games are art” group. To be fair, I am as well. Though I often question whether it matters whether people agree that games are art, I’ll still go to bat if someone writes video games off as unworthy, and the impulse is to pull out as many examples of Games That Are Clearly Art as I can. Unfortunately, the downside of this approach is that it ends up sounding like “those other games aren’t art, but look at these ones! Look at how meaningful and serious these particular games are compared to the rest!” And I’m not sure that’s really a useful distinction, either.
Luckily, “Game Art” seems to be pretty cognizant of this, and the games included range from Games That Are Clearly Art to ones that are often relegated to the guilty pleasure category. Indeed, reading through “Game Art,” you’ll get a lot of different perspectives from developers themselves about whether or not their creations are art, or parody, or pushing boundaries. The book itself doesn’t often weigh in on these questions, but it also doesn’t ask that you agree with the creators wholesale.
“Game Art” does a very good job of pulling together a diverse group of video games from different people with different perspectives, many of which tried to bring something new to the landscape. For people looking for a book that may help convince the naysayers that video games aren’t just time-wasters, this book is a wonderful introduction, mostly in that it gives a good sense of why someone might want to play each game. Whether or not your time is wasted, of course, is entirely subjective. But I suspect that a lot of folks who don’t have experience with video games would appreciate the detailed conversations about what the creators were trying to accomplish with each game included in “Game Art,” and what they hoped players would bring away from the experience.
There is a lot of text in this book. It’s engaging and interesting, and the interviews with the developers offer a lot of insight into the process of game-making and the status of the industry in general. While not as image-based as the title might imply, “Game Art” is well worth the read. It’s inspiring, and holds a lot of detail without being too dense.
In short, this is a wonderful collection, though not necessarily what you might expect from a self-titled art book. I highly recommend picking it up if you have any interest in game development (or know someone else who does) or need something accessible to share your love of games with someone new to the medium. Artists looking for tips or processes, on the other hand, might want to flip through before deciding to grab it. If I had a coffee table this would be a really nice book to share with guests, both for the artwork and for the conversations it might inspire.
“Game Art” will be available September 25 for $39.95 (or $28.03 if you preorder now on Amazon).