Although I’ve talked about computer/video games and artistic inspiration more times than I can remember (and apologies if I repeat myself in this article), I thought that I’d look at this subject from a slightly different angle today. In particular, I’ll be talking about why artists should be gamers too.
1) Thinking in 3D: I vaguely remember reading that there was actually a scientific study about this, but most artists who are also gamers will know about it anyway. I am, of course, talking about how playing 3D computer/video games can actually help you to think in three dimensions.
What I mean by this is being able to visualise the things you want to draw or paint as if they were 3D objects.
This is one of the most essential skills for making art, since it can help you with things like realistic perspective, realistic shadows, copying from life etc… Being able to see the things in your drawing or painting as three-dimensional objects (converted into a 2D drawing or painting) is an incredibly useful skill- and playing lots of 3D games can really help with learning it.
This is especially true if you play older 3D games with less realistic graphics. Because these games look less realistic, it is easier to see all of the various 3D shapes. Older 3D games also provide simplified interactive examples of things like one-point perspective (eg: any first-person shooter game will use this perspective), 3D shapes seen from different angles etc…
This is a screenshot of “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War” (1993). Although not technically a “3D” game, this screenshot shows how one-point perspective (eg: the bottoms of the two walls beside the player converge towards one point on the horizon) is an essential part of the first-person shooter genre.
This screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004) provides another example of one-point perspective, albeit from a third-person perspective.
2) Having fun with a creative work: If there’s one thing to be said for computer/video games, it is that most of them are meant to be fun. Yes, I’m aware that this is something of an old-fashioned simplification these days. But, historically at least, fun has been the primary concern of most game developers.
Having fun with games is important if you are an artist for the simple reason that it can remind you that the goal of creating things is to make something that the audience will enjoy. To make something which will impress them, make them think, evoke a particular emotion and/or inspire them creatively in some way or another.
Playing games also allows you to see pieces of artwork “in action” as part of a larger creative work (eg: as backgrounds etc..), which can remind you of the value of art.
Because games are such an immersive and interactive medium, they are a perfect way to remind yourself of the power of creativity. To remind yourself of how fascinating creative works can be and how creating things is a meaningful and important activity.
This is a screenshot from a hidden object game called “The Gift” (2012?), it’s a paranormal “film noir” style puzzle adventure game that (aside from one repetitive segment) is quite relaxing to play. As you can also see, it also contains some cool-looking art (which uses one-point perspective) too.
3) It makes you appreciate how “open” art is: This one is a bit more cynical. But, you may have noticed that all of the game screenshots included in this article are from older and/or very low-budget games.
This is mostly because the computer I’m typing this article on isn’t exactly a modern gaming machine (it’s a low-end computer from the mid-2000s, and I love it 🙂 ). Simply put, it isn’t powerful enough to play many popular contemporary games. If I didn’t love old/ low-budget games so much, then I’d probably feel like I was missing out on something.
This is a screenshot from “Blackwell Epiphany” (2014). It is that rare thing, a “modern” game that will actually run on pretty much any computer.
Of course, art doesn’t really have these problems. As long as your eyesight is ok, then you can look at any piece of art you want. You can look at everything from old paintings from the 15th century on the internet to the latest works of contemporary digital art on DeviantART. Seeing the technical restrictions that games place on their audience can make you appreciate how “open” art is by comparison. How it is something that is instantly accessible to a much wider audience.
Likewise, if you play a lot of games, then you’re inevitably going to think “I want to make a game!” at some point. Of course, even a small amount of research will show you that making a “proper” game is a complicated thing that often requires a team of people, a budget etc.. (it’s kind of like making a film in this regard). Making art, on the other hand, is something that you can do with just a pen and paper if you want to. Again, the barrier to entry is a lot lower.
4) Trickery and limitations: One of the really cool things about old games is that the designers had to make enjoyable games that would run on the low-powered computers and consoles of the time. This meant that they often had to use all sorts of clever trickery in order to make their games seem more visually-impressive than they actually were
Sometimes, designers would actually turn a technical limitation into an important feature. A good example of this can be found in the older “Resident Evil” games from the mid-late 1990s.
These are horror games that create a suspenseful atmosphere through, amongst other things, the use of fixed “camera angles”. Not only does this give the game a more “cinematic” look (and allows for more artistic compositions), but it also allows the designers to occasionally hide monsters just off-screen in order to create things like jump scares etc..
This is a screenshot from “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997) – note the unusual “camera angle” in this scene. By leaving part of the room out of sight, the game’s creators can create a sense of suspense. Likewise, notice how the stag’s head and candelabra in the close foreground help to give the room a sense of depth. Not to mention that this screenshot is a good example of three-point perspective too.
Of course, these fixed camera angles weren’t a completely deliberate choice. They were, in fact, the developers taking advantage of a major technical limitation. The reason why the camera doesn’t move is because the game’s locations aren’t actually 3D. They’re just a collection of two-dimensional pictures, with 3D characters super-imposed on top of them. It was a really sneaky way to make the game run faster and look better on the technology of the time.
Yes, making games and making art are two very different things. But, seeing game designers turn limitations into features can be a great learning experience if you’re a more inexperienced artist and/or you don’t have time to spend months on a single piece of art. Being impressed by games that use technical trickery will put you in the mood for finding time-saving tricks for your own art and/or sneaky ways to make your art look even better.
5) Worldbuilding: Finally, one other thing that makes games so useful to artists is that they immerse the player in a fictional “world”.
What this means is that everything in a game has to look like an organic part of the game’s “world”. If something seems out of place or poorly-thought-through, then it it will be immediately obvious to the player. So, good location design and worldbuilding is very important in sci-fi, fantasy, horror etc… games.
This is a screenshot from “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” (2014). The location in this screenshot is an anarchist micro-state in a futuristic version of Berlin. This is signalled to the player through the futuristic neon lighting/gadgets, some German text on the buildings in the background and the fact that the streets and street lighting look a bit more “makeshift” than usual. These are all organic elements of the game’s world that have emerged from the idea of “an anarchist micro-state in futuristic Berlin“.
As such, games contain numerous perfect examples of how to come up with more interesting or convincing locations if you are painting or drawing from imagination. Even less-perfect examples of this sort of thing can show you what sorts of mistakes you need to avoid when coming up with backgrounds for your paintings or drawings.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂