Gaming the System: How Cash Made Video Games Into High Art

Starting this week, our newest guest blogger, humorist Neil Janowitz, will take on the best news you may have missed.


News out of Boston this week reveals that the hallowed Berklee School of Music has started offering courses on the scoring of video games. This should come as no surprise to anyone younger than the Centrum set; over the past few years, games have become increasingly cinematic and emotionally wrenching, so it makes sense that production outfits would want to up the ante on the soundtrack side of things. Thanks to $60 sticker prices and, in our post-mod chip era, less susceptibility to piracy than music or DVDs, the gaming industry brings in a cool $20 billion per annum, or, as the article notes, "roughly the combined revenues of the film and music industries." If development companies keep printing bars of gold at their current clip, they'll have more than enough scratch to offer members of the Berklee brood tasty gigs.

This, of course, is great for the school's future alums, but what does it mean for once blue-chip forms of entertainment? In addition to the stacks of money developers can dangle, students in the article cite less suffocating work schedules and added prestige as compelling incentives to go the gaming route. But by refocusing their efforts on game soundtracking, Berklee's best will no longer be using their skills in the ways they once did, such as composing Hollywood film scores and teaching music lessons via local classified ads. The question is whether other types of top talent will follow suit.

Rockstar Games has long used established actors for voices in its Grand Theft Auto franchise, so there is a precedent for crossover from Tinseltown. Now that James Cameron has pioneered technology that enables the facial expressions of actors to be reflected on digital representations, can we be far off from having Josh Duhamel and Matthew Fox vying for a role alongside 50 Cent in a future Gears of War game? Might David Simon start penning gritty treatments for Mario Kart sequels? Will Nancy Meyers bring her unique flair for directing adult-themed situational humor to the Residential Evil series? It's a harrowing thought, the idea that the gaming industry may supplant film, music, and television as the destination of choice for marquee cast and crew. Unless we get a Jersey Shore sandbox game out of it, in which case the world will be just fine.

—Neil Janowitz

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