To follow up on the last post, make sure to check out this very nice response on Stephen Northcott’s blog–I think it balances out the tone of my initial remarks quite nicely. Whereas my post perhaps dwelled a bit too long on the decline of pixel art in mainstream gaming, here Northcott gives us a slightly more upbeat outlook for the future, citing Silicon Studio’s 3D Dot Game Heroes as a recent example of “how big publishing houses are starting to take notice of this hitherto underground Indie scene.”
It is also not suprising how popular this medium is set to be when you consider the average age of serious video game players these days. There are a lot of 30 – 40 year olds out there with a nostalgic view of the handful of decades that video games have been around.
He has a point: nostalgia probably has a lot to do with recent high-profile examples of the pixel aesthetic (I wrote a comment on his post with some ideas about why this happens).
The problem with nostalgia, however, is that its power inevitably (ironically?) weakens over time. Right now, it is working to our advantage by appealing to the older generation of gamers. But some day these older gamers will die, taking their nostalgia with them. Worse, our nostalgic longing will steadily lose much of its power during our own lifespan, since eventually we’ll have to yield control of the medium to a new generation of developers and players who are being taught to see 3D as standard and pixels as “retro.”
So how can we protect pixels from the certain death that awaits us? Obviously, the first thing we need is to continue developing awesome pixel-based games. But just as important, we need to secure a permanent place for pixels in videogame discourse. Future gamers might not be able to fully understand our sense of nostalgia regardless of what we do (and this is a good thing, given that it is our nostalgia, not theirs), but by making a forceful case on its behalf, we can at least ensure that it remains a dignified and relevant option for game developers far into the future. This is what happened to black and white in film, and it will happen to pixel art as well if we make a strong enough case for it (a few more youtube documentaries Pixel and we’d already be halfway there). Hopefully we’ll do better than film, so that pixel art won’t be as rare as black and white movies have become nowadays.
Speaking of pixels and nostalgia, check out this super sweet stop-motion tribute to classic NES games!
The pixel is alive indeed. For more info on the film, see this Kotaku post.