Art and commerce crossover in interesting ways with video games. Historically, many of our greatest traditional artists had patrons who gave them time and resources to create massive artworks like Italy’s Michelangelo or the unknown Egyptians who created work for the Pharaohs. Some start as students of other artists and grow into successful commercial enterprises like Japan’s 19th century woodblock illustrator Katsushika Hokusai. Some, like the Netherland’s Vincent Van Gogh, could barely make a living, only achieving recognition after his death.
Game Art, a book by Matt Sainsbury, looks at the art from forty video games and interviews their creators. It ranges from large studio franchises like Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn or Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition to small studio masterpieces like Limasse Five’s NaissanceE. There is even a chapter on art house creators Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn of the company Tale of Tales. They made video games long on contemplation with little of the typical button mashing action.
The book is beautiful and is perfect for the coffee table or any library for the video game aficionado. The cover comes from the 2013 Contrast video game by developer Compulsion Games. Though I have not played Contrast, the visuals appear striking and dipped in noir with a character that can become a shadow or a little girl’s invisible friend in an 1890’s French milieu reminiscent of the Broadway play turned movie “Moulin Rouge.”
The story behind Final Fantasy XIV’s: A Realm Reborn is worth the read. When Final Fantasy XIV initially released, it wasn’t successful. The company Square Enix then called in Naoki Yoshida (nicknamed Yoshi-P). He looked at the problem and proposed a plan that was nothing short of a Norse Ragnarök. He made a story where the original setting is all but destroyed. It worked well, but as he notes in the book, he does not wish the same challenge on anyone.
While the imaginary world may have been going through an Armageddon, Final Fantasy XIV gained two million registered players. As of October 2021, it had surpassed 24 million registered players.
The story of Dragon Age: Inquisition was a favorite of mine in the book since I loved that game. Reading the backstory of Mike Laidlaw while viewing the game’s art was a pleasure. Dragon Age: Inquisition offered morally complex choices with flawed heroes that were open to a multitude of romantic options.
Laidlaw explained in the book, “It’s not easy working to this kind of narrative structure. The more choices you allow, the less coherent the story becomes.”
The way Mike Laidlaw explains how such a game is created is worth the read itself, and Game Art in book format keeps your eyes glued to the text so you won’t jump off on a tangent or rabbit hole as when reading it on a computer platform.
This is the strength of reading and viewing about a video game on an “old technology” like an art book. You see the text, the art that informs it and have an immersive experience. This book is for a good read, a great gift and a conversation piece among friends who enjoy video games.