Can a computer make you cry? How Electronic Arts (re)defined the artist
Watch the first episode of The Artists, a new series about the video game designers who changed the world
Meet the group of rogue programmers who decided to elevate computer games to an art form.
In the early 80s, the world of computer games was changing fast with disparate companies jockeying for position in this new market. At Apple, Trip Hawkins built a career and waited until the time was right. In 1982 he launched a company initially called Amazin' Software, wanting to recognize software as an art form. Eventually, he ended up naming it Electronic Arts.
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To announce his first slate of games, built by a core group of designers, Hawkins took a massive risk: he spent more on marketing than the actual development of the games themselves, putting the games in splashy, LP-styled packaging with the designer's name prominently displayed on the front. He then launched a full-page magazine ad, hiring a famous rock photographer and presenting his first stable of game designers as rock stars — artists of the 21st century. It drew a hard line in the sand: games were the art form of the future.
The first episode of The Artists follows the creation of this campaign and the lives of the designers featured in the photograph.
The initial impact of the campaign was short-lived — the content of the ad was too cerebral and didn't connect. But what the public did respond to was the quality of the games. The ad was quickly scrapped at the time, but now, in hindsight, it can be seen as a watershed moment — the first time in popular culture that video games were to be treated in the same way as more traditional entertainment.
It proved prescient. The gaming industry has overtaken those traditional outlets in terms of audience. And as the people involved with the campaign reflect back on that time, we see how important that initial campaign was for the industry and for the people who consider themselves the new artists.