From the runaway success of Fortnite to thoughtful creations like Papers, please, video games are more in the spotlight than ever. Is the medium finally having its “Citizen Kane moment"?by Tim Martin / November 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
On a chilly September morning outside the vast, aircraft-hangar-like space of the Birmingham NEC, a long queue—mostly cheerful, mostly white, mostly male—curls back and forth outside the building, chatting and playing Nintendo Switch as a couple of women check them for knives and guns.
“You must not be carrying sharp metallic blades,” a sign reads, “or anything that can fire a projectile such as BB guns. Props or weapons may be retained by our staff for the duration of the event if they are deemed to be unsafe.” This level of specificity would be understandable elsewhere—survivalists’ gathering, medieval reenactment, a US high school—but this is the EGX (formerly Eurogamer Expo), the UK’s largest public event celebrating the world’s most profitable entertainment medium: video games.
Video games we’re told (and certainly I hear it several times in the course of my weekend at EGX) power an industry whose profits already far surpass those of Hollywood. Worldwide receipts, including everything from the smartphone app Candy Crush to survival game Fortnite, totalled $121.7bn last year, while cinema box-office takings amounted to a less glamorous $40bn. The fairy at the top of the tree is Grand Theft Auto V, the action-crime game from 2013 whose profits have reached more than $6bn.
But while games may have struck it rich, in the culture at large they still face a Gatsby-like struggle to be taken seriously. Most people are now prepared to accept that games make fabulous diversions—often too fabulous, as attested by the recent panics over Fortnite addiction, the immorality of Grand Theft Auto and the World Health Organisation’s classification last year of “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition. For many, however, a bigger question mark still hangs over whether games can give their players something more than kinetic thrills, compulsion loops and superpowered wish-fulfilment fantasies.
To which the answer is: of course they can. By any metric, video games have been works of inspired craftsmanship for some time—look at the beautiful worlds they create, look at the hundreds of artists and programmers who exhaust themselves over a game like the newly-released Red Dead Redemption 2. Set over hundreds of square miles of remote 19th-century America, it aims for verisimilitude in everything from the flap of a leather…