As digitalization is blurring the borders in the fields of culture, computer games have risen to the avant-garde of European art field. They are ambitiously uniting cartoons, photos, animation, graphic design, short movies, short stories and interactive art in one piece of work of art. The future of Europe is digital and computer games are leading the way to the digital era of the European culture.
Consequently computer games are emerging cultural assets; indeed games themselves are one of the oldest of our cultural traditions. They mould our consciousness – which is precisely their raison d’être. They change our mode of expression and way of thinking, and condition visualisation of the process of comprehension. Computer and video games are suitable vehicles for the conveyance and shaping of cultural values, attitudes to life and basic modes of behaviour.
Computer games are undoubtedly cultural products
The concept of culture is dynamic and cannot be nurtured in an ivory tower. One of the key posits on which the cultural legitimacy of computer games rests is the rapidly changing user behaviour of media consumers. This also brings with it change in the content of computer games and the way they are perceived. Various demographic strands have adopted a reserved attitude to this development which is actually unfolding. Their diffidence could be ascribed not only to the content (such as representations of violence) but could also be coloured by a hostility to technology based on a false conception of humanist ideals.
Computer games are audio-visual media. Thus the designing of computer games per se forms part of the culture industry. It is not necessary to prove cultural content in each single instance; however, it is necessary to prove the contrary in any specific case – that a computer game does not contain any cultural content. There is a presumption in favour of the cultural significance of computer games. They are themselves components of culture because they are intellectual products and in general serve to convey an aesthetic or communicative content. This is also due to the marked influence they exert on leisure time activities and their social significance.
Slowly also policy makers are starting to acknowledge the cultural value of computer games. The law of copyright protects computer games not just as software but also in terms of film rights. This is now largely accepted by German legal writing on the subject. Current court rulings also consistently subscribe to this opinion. Recently the Supreme Court (OGH) in Vienna accorded film rights protection for a simple computer game according to Austrian law.
Games are representations of culture
As computer games are inspired by the culture they are created in, they inevitably also representations of it. Often they also offer new constructions of historical events and eras. If we, Europeans, do not create our own constructions of our history and representations of our modernity, someone else will do it.
Computer games are thus suitable vehicles for promoting and dispensing knowledge about culture and history, because this is the substance of what they convey while also allowing gamers space enough to form their own understanding. Yet the background and environment of the creative developers of the games are not a parameter value in the narrow sense of the term, but rather a conditioning factor for the cultural elements contained in the games. Those involved in the creative process are imbued with culture and history which offer them the themes for their work.
Generally speaking, games treat matters which concern gamers and designers in their specific life environments. It is this direct relation to the everyday world coupled with the very nature of all games which is to enable (not only) serious interaction with certain mechanisms of the daily world that lies at the root of the power to fascinate that games possess. E.g. German game developers will always deal with other themes and issues than their confreres in Latin America, North America or Africa. Obviously there will always be a great number of similarities in terms of design and themes since in the age of the globalised flow of information themes and certain issues will also be internationalised. Yet for the foreseeable future they will continue to have a varying impact on any particular creative context.
The cultural heritage of Europe lives with its games
The way computer games represent culture varies from one cultural region to another. It should be remembered that thus also the way, how other cultures are presented in games depends from the origin of the game. The key criteria for differentiating between cultural contexts are:
• Language, and in particular the type of humour specific to a country
• Graphic design
• Music / sound
• Locality (architecture / landscapes etc.)
• Figures (clothing, body language, origins)
• Background stories
• Genres / aims of the game
• Environment (people, cars, houses, streets, architecture, plants etc.)
• Story / gameplay (as in the film industry computer games also have a fund of typical and easily recognisable stories and plots)
• Characters (the Simpsons, Shrek, Harry Potter, Bibi Blocksberg, Captain Bluebear).
Therefore the origins of a game often convey the cultural context of its place of creation which can even be identified in the game. It should be remembered that the audio-visual can be conserved through archiving perishable media, but also through the realisation and new production of the cultural heritage (such as figures, sagas, scripts etc.) in other kinds of media. Only through on-going repetition and rendition in a contemporary guise can content remain fixed in the collective memory.
Consequently at the same time production of content in Europe is protection of the cultural heritage. Game designers and graphic artists are children of their culture and life environment. They gain the inspiration for their works from the stuff of experience.
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