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When Jenova Chen released Journey ten years ago, he wanted to prove to the world that video games were art. Now everyone agrees that they are.
So why, he asks, are they still not getting the wider cultural respect they deserve?
“You go to a party, and someone says, ‘What are you doing?’ If you say “I write movie scripts”… They treat you like you’re the author of a book or a poet… You’re a public servant. But if I tell them I work in games, in 2005, they said, “You know the Columbine shooting? Members of Congress said you were making kids violent.” And from 2014 until today, people were like, “I heard you made a lot of money, didn’t you?” .. This is basically what people ask.The only other time people would ask these questions is if you run a casino.
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“These days we’re working on something different because now [we’ve proven they’re] art, how come people still don’t respect games? I had these games like Flower and Journey at MOMA and the Smithsonian and all these contemporary galleries. I thought it would increase the public’s respect for games, because how is it possible that gaming is a lesser form of art than others?… If proving that games can be art cannot raise respect, or how the public views video games, what else can I do to change that?”
One of the reasons Chen cites for the game’s continued struggle for cultural respect is the mobile market and, by association, the rise of free-to-play games and what he sees as predatory monetization tactics. Although he himself has released several mobile games and recognizes that there are artistic mobile games, he says that the preponderance of these specific business models has greatly increased the number of people playing games regularly, but has also harmed the overall societal image of games as art.
These days we’re working on something different because now [we’ve proven they’re] art, how come people still don’t respect games?
“As a console developer, I feel very mixed, how I want to react. On the one hand, we have ten times more players now, but at the same time, where does the money go? Where does the talent go? J was really happy in 2012 when I saw more and more AAA games starting to get artistic and emotionally powerful, but all of a sudden you made tens of millions of new games that are the opposite of those old games, with free and predatory monetizations. The reputation of games today is shaped by those mobile games more than what’s on the console, and that’s why people treat me like if I ran casinos.
“To me, this is my saddest realization of change in a decade, no matter how much work we’ve done on console, it doesn’t matter because it’s being diluted by mobile and this new band of people and this new group of games.”
At this time, Chen can’t elaborate on what exactly his new project is or how it will challenge those conventions. But he confirms that doesn’t mean his own mobile game, Sky, isn’t going anywhere. He compares Thatgamecompany to pirates, always exploring and looking for new treasures. But now that they have Sky to maintain, their jobs are shared.
“One thing I’m joking about is that we finally found a particular treasure [Sky]. Now we can’t be pirates anymore because the treasure is deep in the mine. We have to dig it up, so we have to have this service operation with hundreds of people, and it’s a whole new stage of life. But deep down, I’m still a pirate.”
Rebekah Valentine is a reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.