My colleague Daniel Joseph is a burgeoning video game scholar. The two of us had a really interesting conversation after class the other day that I think is worth sharing with you MetaViewers.
Throughout much of the 20th century, art (paintings, cinema, music, theatre, etc.) was regarded as not only an aesthetic object, but also a possible tool for nation building, cultural cohesion and even propaganda. There's no shortage of historical analysis highlighting the centrality of arts and culture to places like Hitler's Germany, or Stalin's Russia, and on a brighter note, Canada -- at least since the Massey Commission -- has acknowledged the role of art in creating a shared Canadian identity.
This legacy persists today, and manifests itself in numerous ways, not the least of which are Canadian content laws, or cultural exemptions in free trade agreements.
In contrast, video games -- despite their capacity to function as art, narrative or the basis for cultural formation -- have always been treated as purely commercial products. Regulation of video games consists of either consumer protections (ie. rating systems like "T for Teen!") or economic incentives like those present in Canada's recently unveiled Digital Economy Strategy. At the level of policy -- and even popular culture -- video games are seldom talked about as if imbued with the same powers as other cultural products.
Dan thinks this is because notions of cultural identity and nationhood are throwbacks to the Keynesian post-war era of the welfare state. Video games came of age in a time when Reagan and Thatcher were ushering in deregulation and neoliberalism, and thus the aura of art was not able to glom onto new and emerging cultural forms.