Our culture does not as often dispute that illustrated books are a form of art as it does video games, so take a look at how the two mediums compare. During book illustration in the mid/late 1800’s an illustrator would create paintings for the book, and a second artist would translate the paintings into engraved plates which could be used on a printing press. Then a printing company would use the plates to produce and sell printed books to audiences.
For a long time the original artwork of book illustrators was treated as worthless. The illustrator would gain fame, but once a plate was engraved their original art would be thrown out. Now you can go to numerous museums who showcase surviving original illustrations from books and magazines a hundred years ago. The idea has settled culturally that illustrators’ work from start to finish and not just the sellable products are worth something to the audience.
Concept artists, game designers, and story writers play the part of the illustrator in coming up with original ideas and artwork for video games. That art is translated by a second kind of artist (technical, environment, texture, lighting, and effects artists) into digital assets which are used in the final production of the game, much like what the engravers of the past did by translating illustrations into engraved plates. Programmers also play their part in creating frameworks within which the assets are realized and can be displayed and manipulated and organized and so many other things, and producers bring in the money and capital to put it all out there for the public like book printing companies.
Illustrated books have found a solid place in our culture as personal reading time or group story time. Games can be similarly appreciated in personal settings or shared together in groups. But so far solo “gaming time” is looked down upon by some girlfriends and parents and viewed as antisocial for children. And when a bunch of people share “gaming time” that is only acceptable in some parts of our culture (I am thinking young men and habitual gamers here. Most other women and some other men would not enjoy sharing “gaming time.”)
Like good books, good games offer us emotional or story value again and again, and some even gain cultural recognition. The topics this new form of art covers are necessarily different from a traditional book, but no less relevant to understanding our modern culture and perhaps more of an immersive story experience as a whole. Once games solidify in the expectations, desires, and needs of our modern society through my generation and the next, then perhaps games will gain value as the art that they are. I certainly hope that “concept art gallery” exhibitions will become more common and stop being relegated to a special feature you can unlock in your game!
Spectrum is an outstanding exhibition for fantasy art that I have been to see at the New York City Society of Illustrators. By all means, educate yourself: