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NEA awards grants to video games that celebrate and promote the arts
NEA awards grants to video games that celebrate and promote the arts
April 25, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

April 25, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
More: Console/PC, Art, Business/Marketing

The National Endowment for the Arts, a U.S. government agency that offers funding for art projects and exhibitions, has awarded several major grants to video game projects that teach players about the arts or important social issues.

The NEA introduced this grant opportunity last May, for the first time accepting submissions relating to mobile technology, digital games and other gaming platforms.

Before 2011, this grant category only included radio and television, but last year the NEA decided that games and multimedia programs also qualify as artistic works, as they occasionally exist within the "nexus of arts, science, and technology."

This year, the NEA awarded grants to game-focused organizations like the non-profit group Games for Change, which will receive $75,000 to develop a new educational Facebook game based on the human rights book Half the Sky.

In addition, the Museum of Fine Art at Spelman College will receive $100,000 to create an augmented reality game about climate change, and the University of Southern California
has earned a $40,000 grant to make a video game based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond.

Finally, the New York-based non-profit organization Let's Breakthrough, Inc has been awarded $75,000 to make a web and mobile game that uses pop culture and music to encourage positive social change.

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George Hufnagl
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To me, this seems like a slap in the face to anyone actively creating games that do not "teach players about the arts or important social issues." Is the implication that the current state of games lacks cultural merit or insufficiently promotes "important social issues?" Why is preference being given to the tropes of what is considered art (i.e. writings of Henry David Thoreau)?

This seems like an answer to the question "how do present this classic cultural material in games" rather than "what values, skills and cultural content our are games currently offering?"

E McNeill
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The NEA is pretty constrained, since it's a government agency. The last time they sponsored something that got too radical, they took a huge beating in Congress. Most of their funding goes towards making the accepted canon of The Arts available to people who otherwise would not be able to get it, e.g. by funding productions of Shakespeare in small towns.

It's clear to me that video games will eventually be works of art in their own right, and the NEA should clearly fund them. However, considering the NEA's history, I'm willing to allow them to progress towards that end in baby steps. The avant garde can carry on without their help.

Asi Burak
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George- NEA is about supporting public media, and just like it won't fund the "Hunger Games", it won't fund "Call of Duty". It has a particular mission, and if you'll go and see what it funds in other media, it will all make sense to you. It doesn't exist to support the commercial industry, they will be supported by their business. It supports non-profit organizations and projects that are done for a cause or for the public's benefit. So it's not a declaration of war against video games, it's simply aligned with what they're doing since their inception.

Nunya and E McNeill - I actually think the evolution of media is completely the opposite. A new medium starts with entertainment for the masses. Over the years, it becomes more diverse, it starts doing news, and deals with serious issues, or education. From studio movies to indie movies and documentaries. So perhaps you're missing the point here and the real avant garde is the type of games that push the boundaries of entertainment or what's regarded as "stupid fun".

George Hufnagl
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I think the comments here are missing the point of my reaction. Never mind what the goals of the NEA are; I'm quite familiar with how public art funding works as I have been a participant in the past. To me, it seems utterly silly to grant funding to a game that is promoting the works of an author for whom there a scads of extant material in existence. The slap in the face comes not in goals, but the wording of "games that promote the arts." I am tired of the "are games art?" debate as I consider the question alone silly, but to me games are in and of themselves creative works. There is no need for them to promote other forms of art when they do just fine on their own.