The French Inspiration

Videos Games as an art form?


“L’Art dans le jeu Vidéo, l’inspiration française” (“The Art in the video game, the French inspiration”) at the museum Art Ludique (Cité de la Mode et du Design).

A bunch of girls invited to a video game exhibit…hmmm…we were definitely on the fence but decided that as some scenes were set in Paris, we’d grudgingly go along….there may be cute guys at least.   And we were blown away!!  Video game design really is an art form – you don’t have to play a game to appreciate the incredible dedication and creativity that goes into creating an entire universe with insane attention to detail.

As video games are a relatively new medium (in terms of Renaissance painting, etc…), there hasn’t been a voice to show off these talented artists and give them the recognition for what they are…true artists. Enter stage left…Jean-Jacques and Diane Launier. What we took away from the exhibition was how game designers consider themselves artists like any painter before them.   They have adapted to the new medium of computer technology, but the interviews with the artists all highlighted that a foundation in fine art and technology doesn’t replace this, it just adds an extra layer of possibility. Some designers still prefer to work with pencil and paper or watercolours – thus, the sketchbooks and original painting behind the scenes to create a video game that you wouldn’t normally get to see or know about are all their own unique art creations that together push the direction of the game.

Most video games start with sketches – be it a storyboard or a rough pencil sketch. Whatever the foundation, it is a way to show the rest of the team the colors, the feel and the emotion that the game will convey. A picture is worth a thousand words and the gaming industry always creates images (storyboards, oil paintings, no matter the origin) as a starting point. One designer compared working on a video game to painting a Renaissance ceiling fresco – all the artists come togehter in an altelier (virtual artelier or not).  And then they talk about the magic that happens – you work for months or even years as a team and then your characters and this universe you create takes on its own life and becomes something bigger.   These artists cannot be ego-centric as it takes a village to play God and breathe life into a virtual world…much more than just a boy’s game.  The pride and sense of accomplishment must be enormous but having to leave to work

All the interviews were done separately but there was a common thread to the experience of the designers.  As we mentioned, it takes a team and you need to have a high appreciation for art. Any sculpture (they use real sculptures to get the 3D effects for each character) can become a 3D modeler.  He described designing 3D objects as working with an infinite ball of clay that is at your disposal to mould into life. you can almost imagine Rodin could take to this metier (after the initial shock).  When you see the quality of work that is being created, the comparison isn’t as arduous as it seems – comparing the great artists of their time to the artists of ours that haven’t been appreciated yet.  The difference is that video game designers are anonymous creators behind their labels, in an art form that isn’t highly recognised yet compared to other methods of artistry.

The common thread in the interviews was that nothing replaces traveling. At first, we were very sceptical – seriously, you need to travel to Edinburough to create an imaginary world? (Designers traveled to Scotland to use the city skyline as a reference for their game titled xxxx).


The people and the way they live and the lines of the city are necessary to create a believable imaginary world. It has to have firm basis in things and ideas that we can grasp, and then our minds can fill in the rest. Take the Stalin-esque video game on Mars, for example.

It was the interviews that really brought the exhibition to life and made us realise the passion and hard-work of this metier. In much the same way as cinema, the art of video gaming is something the French have played a huge part in and they can be very proud.This exhibit was devoted to these French artists (a few French Canadians seemed to be thrown in for good measure).  The top schools are in Paris and the San Francisco teams come to Paris to scout.

This artistic event was the first major exhibition in the world dedicated to art in the video game, allowed the visitors to discover what goes on behind the scenes of the video games’ design through about 800 works and various installations (pencil sketches, traditional and digital paintings, sculptures, artworks, animated paintings …).

For Jean-Jacques Launier, founder of the museum and curator of the exhibition, video games embody the “Total Work of Art.” They require skills in drawing, painting and sculpture, a well as skills in creating entire universes and hundreds of characters per game. Of course there is also animation, the storyline, music and the conception of the game that transcends interactivity.

The works, which define the artistic framework in which the game takes place, came from French studios, little or big -Dontnod Entertainment (Remember Me), Ubisoft (Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Assassin’s Creed), Spiders (The Technomancer) – and highlighted the work of artists who create the universes and characters of those video games. The visit was punctuated with short instructive videos where several artists described their jobs and techniques (i.e. drawing, sculpture). They illustrated the fact that computers are a simple tool at the service of the artists.


The exhibition was divided into seven rooms, each one with a particular theme : The Artists’ Studio, Drawing Ancient Cities and Urban Landscapes, An Invitation to Journey , Rewriting History, Imagining New Heroes and Creatures, Homage to the Cinematic Art, and Magic, Fantasy, Folktales and Fairies.

But let’s just focus on what we love : the city of Paris and the Cinema.

Paris and the Video game

The French capital is a source of inspiration that inspires many software developers; thus, many video games use “the most beautiful city in the world” as a setting. There are the examples of ‘Remember Me,’ a video game which sets the story in a decaying Paris in 2084, and Assassin’s Creed Unity, which allows the player to traverse the streets of Paris in 1791, during the French Revolution, both of which are highlighted in the exhibition.

In Remember Me, developed by Dontnod Entertainment, Paris is partially destroyed. The software developers imagined a futuristic, dystopian version of Paris, called Neo-Paris, built on the rubbles of the capital and made of slums, Haussmann buildings and massive glass towers. This game blends traditional architecture with futuristic buildings and construction. And if while playing, the gamer gets lost in destroyed zones that make us forget where we are, the vision of Sacré-Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, or Notre-Dame looming in the distance help remind us that we are in indeed, still in Paris.



But what most impressed us was the gigantic installation titled “Assassin’s Creed Unity,” created specifically for the exhibition. From the Isle Saint-Louis to the doors of Notre-Dame, the visitor was able to immerse himself in the streets of Paris during the time of the Revolution. It was a moment of inherent and confused realism; like being propelled into France’s historic, glorious past. The software developers completely recreated the face of Paris to resemble that of which existed during the French Revolution, nowadays a Paris that is largely destroyed. The buildings such as Notre-Dame, the menial jobs of that time period- a population who seemed real in the game- the atmosphere and the dirt which consumed the French capital were all present in the game.



Video games and cinema

One room in the exhibition titled “Homage to the Cinematic Art” allowed museum-goers to appreciate the artistic and cultural links between cinema and the video games. Indeed, the tributes to the cinema was fruitful throughout the video games. The parallels between cinema and the video games are uncountable including the direction, scenery/set, light, storyboard, script, dialogue and music, all which constitute similar artistic components.

This is what was demonstrated in the exhibition throughout the study of sceneries and lighting, all which are the omnipresent factors in some of the greatest film noirs and Hollywood action scenes, as well as with the use of world-renowned actors, such as Ellen Page or Willem Dafoe, who came to Paris to lend their features and personalities to the artists of a French video game studio.

Conversely, the cinema has taken an interest in video games for quite a long time. Video games were given screen adaptations such as with Lara Croft : Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia : The Sands of Time, or will be given a screen adaptation in the near future, such as the much-awaited Assassin’s Creed directed by Justin Kurzel, whose release date is announced for the end of the year (December 2016) on the big screen. Also on the cusp of release? The new Grand Theft Auto, GTA 6: Paris City to be exact. Stay tuned for the release date.



Our verdict/opinion

For us, this playful exhibition reflected the creation and the talent of the French developers and addressed an audience of players and non-players. (Just for the record, we have very little knowledge of video games, as we are not “video games ladies). However, the exhibit fascinated us. So, of course, we could say that video games are truly a “Total Work of Art”.

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