Danish newspaper, Berlingske, October 17, 2014
Computer games occupy a special place in the media landscape. Are they culture or not? Are they an inferior form of entertainment, do many hours spent computer gaming cause violent behaviour in children or, on the contrary, do these games foster creativity and strengthen a sense of social community? Those who have grown up with computer games and play themselves are adamant that computer games are a creative form of play that challenges and develops children, while those who never play themselves are more cautious, preferring children to read a book rather than play a computer game. Recent studies now show that a great many of us do indeed play computer games – either extensively and every day, or just once in a while. They have become an important part of our daily lives and our culture, and there is a growing appreciation of computer games as a richly facetted art form. Therefore, we should also allocate funds to support the development and production of Danish computer games.
Computer games are publicly subsidised for the same reasons as culture generally: we want to give artists the opportunity to develop both form and content, and no form of culture can survive without public support in a minority language area like Denmark. The limited subsidy scheme currently available for Danish computer games should be considerably expanded so we have a larger number of innovative Danish games.
Like subsidies for other art forms such as film, literature and music, cultural support for computer games has a wide range of positive side effects. Cultural support bolsters the industry, creates jobs, boosts exports and enables tools to be developed that are relevant in other spheres such as teaching – but its objective is not to serve industrial or commercial interests. The purpose of cultural support is to ensure that products inspired by creative development can be made – products that would not otherwise have been realised – and to assure artists creative working space. Computer games are up against the perception that they are not ‘proper’ culture and thus unworthy of society’s financial backing. However, this definition of culture is outdated and lacking in vision. Surely the arts and culture must be defined in terms of our present reality, and in this context, computer games are one of the forms of expression that truly unleash and explore our creativity.
Unsurprisingly, computer games have been considered a commercial entertainment product. Historically, games have developed from the market, and not from a culturally and politically motivated desire to provide people with computer games. The Danish computer games industry has grown in spite of rather than because of cultural support. So, computer games originated as an industrial and entertainment product with the additional characteristic of typically being developed and produced for the international market.
It is only within the past few years that computer game developers have started seeing themselves as producers of culture. Successful international games like Subway Surfers, Hitman, Limbo, Max and the Magic Marker are textbook examples of Denmark’s ability to head the field of computer games and garner international kudos thanks to a constellation of interactivity, creativity and technology.
As we make our case today, we put forth two major arguments in favour of earmarking additional funds to the subsidy scheme for computer games under the Danish Film Institute: more funds will both give us better games and increase the industry’s talent pool. As a side effect, such a move would be a mark of recognition for an art form still frowned on by cultural purists, and an acknowledgement that an activity on which many Danes spend a great deal of time has equal cultural validity.
Computer games have become integrated into the daily life of most Danes. Although the media still tends to depict a typical computer gamer as Cola-drinking teenage boy, the reality is that both men and women play computer games, and although the gaming community has a preponderance of young people, many parents and even grandparents can now be found playing on a computer or handheld mobile platform. Forty-four per cent of all Danes play computer games to some extent. Forty per cent of all women play – and according to the Danish Ministry of Culture’s most recent survey of Danes’ cultural habits, ‘Danskernes Kulturvaner 2012’, more than 30% of 50-60-year-olds play computer games.
Since its introduction, the subsidy scheme for computer games under the Danish Film Institute has been capable of supporting only games for children and young people, and as things stand now, can only provide support for idea development, not for production. It is time to divorce the subsidy scheme from the outdated perception that games are purely for children and to enable it to provide support for games aimed at all age groups. Furthermore, production must become eligible for funding, as a means of also gearing the scheme to better established enterprises in the sector. Innovative, ground-breaking projects are in need of support, and it must be possible to provide funds during the production phase as well, since projects that strike out into new territory are precisely those that can be difficult to finance on market terms.
Today computer games are a wide-ranging concept. The term no longer refers simply to an Xbox or PlayStation that equips the player with a gun to destroy enemy opponents in more or less realistic war scenarios.
Games are now offered on all our screens: TV screens, computers, tablets and mobile phones. They also offer a wide range of content. Traditional genres like shooting, racing and strategy games are still around, but in today’s arena where mega gatekeepers like Sony and Microsoft no longer control the market, countless new types of games are emerging, ranging from full-blown endless runner games to social simulation and complex narrative games that merge game and film. Genre distinctions shift and develop, constantly forcing us to re-assess what defines the computer game.
Computer games point to the future. They unfold on the newest media and make modern technology accessible and meaningful to ordinary people. At the same time, their content can be contemplative, challenging and provocative. Computer games can question our use and understanding of the role of the modern media and technology in society. This function extends beyond the game in its purest sense when we consider the development of the interactive element – the heart of the computer game – into a tool also used for teaching and education.
It is unlikely anyone would disagree that today computer games are part of children’s play culture. Children use the games as they play, learn and develop skills, and while away the time. If you ask them when they’re going to spend time with their friends, they answer, ‘but we’re with them all the time’, each sitting in separate rooms playing the same game.
Today’s computer games offer more than sheer entertainment. They are interactive and create communities. They can make people interact, meet and engage in dialogue across the traditional barriers of age, sex and other social affiliations. They create a narrative space that sparks our curiosity and imagination, invites us into fantastic universes and challenges our senses and intellect. They offer new perspectives on the world we live in.
Computer games are a cultural product that has an immense impact on our daily lives. The Danish state should acknowledge this by granting the subsidy scheme for computer games under the Danish Film Institute the funds DFI believes are necessary to ensure the development of Danish computer games: an annual sum of DKK 25 million.