The Week in Arts: The computer game may be clever, but is it art?

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The Independent Online

Shortly before he died, Marlon Brando starred in a sequel to the Godfather films. No, I didn't know that, either. But Brando has indeed reprised his most famous role, and co-stars James Caan and Robert Duvall were involved too. Amazed? So was I. At which point, I should add that the new work is not a conventional film, but a computer game.

Shortly before he died, Marlon Brando starred in a sequel to the Godfather films. No, I didn't know that, either. But Brando has indeed reprised his most famous role, and co-stars James Caan and Robert Duvall were involved too. Amazed? So was I. At which point, I should add that the new work is not a conventional film, but a computer game.

We should still be amazed, for Brando did indeed do a voice-over and granted permission for his likeness to be used. Duvall and Caan also recorded new audio material. Duvall's character Tom Hagen urges the game player to leap into a car to pursue Sonny, who has been lured into the famous death trap from the film.

So Brando's last "performance" was in a forthcoming computer game. It will no doubt be discussed at the National Film Theatre's first video-game culture weekend, which is currently being organised.

I conclude from this that computer games or video games (there seems to be some confusion over the current nomenclature) are now an art form. An NFT weekend and the co-operation of Marlon Brando must be taken as cultural validation of the genre.

So why do I feel a little queasy? I have great admiration, not to say awe, for computer games and those who are expert in them, not least because of my own inefficiency compared to the average eight-year-old. But putting the games under the cultural banner has certain implications.

The day may not be far off when newspaper arts pages become the home for computer game coverage; when they are analysed by Melvyn Bragg on a Sunday night; when the best of them are fêted at Bafta-style awards ceremonies; when their advocates become like film buffs, discussing the merits of the more obscure games into the small hours.

Iain Simmons, the director of the National Film Theatre's first video game culture weekend, (an unforgettable job description that should feature prominently on his CV), seems to be in no doubt about the genre's claim to being an art form. He points out in the New Statesman this week that it is perverse that we are happy to spend time discussing the most facile of television shows while sneering at video games.

Meanwhile, Philip Campbell, who is the creative director of The Godfather game, describes the project with the love and study of a true aesthete. He says: "The way I work is very analytical. I take a scene and look at it not just from its narrative, but from its spatial sense. To take a scene and freeze it - spin it through 360 degrees and investigate other ways into it."

It's a fantastic skill, and it reflects the vision of its creator. But is it art? For me, no. It tests the participants' skills; it thrills and excites them. But it does not touch their souls or pose questions about society or the human condition; and, of course, it demands only likeness manipulation and voice-overs from its celebrity stars, not genuine acting.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that in a year's time those words could look very dated.

Gone, but too good to be forgotten

Which rock stars are remembered, and which are not, is something of a lottery. I watched with great pleasure this week a new DVD celebrating Steve Marriott. It was a film of a 2001 tribute concert to the late Small Faces and Humble Pie front man. It had high-profile fans such as Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher singing Steve's Small Faces hits, and reunited Humble Pie members for the first time in 30 years.

Both Marriott's groups were huge in their time. But I suspect that, although his hippyish novelty number "Itchycoo Park" seems to hold a place in the nation's affection, few people under the age of 30 know that much about him. Even the wretched literature accompanying the DVD manages to spell the name of The Small Faces' drummer incorrectly, among other mistakes.

Steve Marriott had all the attributes of a music legend: a wonderfully rasping rock voice, a catalogue of great songs, a larger than life personality, and even the untimely death - killed in a fire in his home. Yet he's in danger of falling out of rock history.

¿ The London Library just off Pall Mall has long been a semi-secret hideaway for the literati. Dickens, Shaw and Virginia Woolf have used its fusty, high-windowed reading room, browsed among the stacks and relaxed in the comfy armchairs. The likes of Tom Stoppard, William Boyd and Jeremy Paxman do so these days. The Newsnight presenter told me how much he valued both the collection and the intimate, cosy surroundings at a lunch at the library this week to launch a fund-raising appeal for renovations.

But it was another aspect which struck me as most remarkable. The London Library's librarian, Inez Lynn, remarked that she was the 10th to serve the place. When you consider that the London Library opened in 1841, that is quite a feat. The turnover in most other professions is rather more rapid. I can't think of another job which has such impressive tenure - except perhaps Newsnight presenter.

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