At the inaugural Project Horseshoe conference, I proposed a topic for discussion: how can games achieve legitimacy? I had noticed that many other creative fields were respected for their work, but computer games were still seen as a cultural blight to be blamed for society's ills and legislated.
Many people still considered computer games as something only intended for kids, despite the large adult audiences that play games. How could we, as game developers, be seen as legitimate creative workers?
Computer games are in the awkward position of being a relatively new medium that already has considerable influence. We don't have the millennia of history that writing has, yet games have entered the mainstream and are rarely considered solely the domain of social outcasts.
Many people have grown up only knowing a life where computer games have been available. We are close to being accepted as legitimate, but not quite.
What does it mean for games to be a legitimate medium and what does it mean for game developers? Obviously games are accepted in some ways, but not in others. Why?
I believe there are different areas of legitimacy, and they are all part of what makes a medium legitimate. The primary three types of legitimacy are:
Financial Legitimacy means making money and being a viable medium for business. Older media often do not have to worry about this type of legitimacy; for example, people rarely publish poetry with the hope of making a large profit -- it is often done as an act of prestige. Many new media, such as computer games, prove themselves in this area first and that helps gain other forms of legitimacy.
Artistic Legitimacy is how the people working in the medium see it. For example, how do you see your job as a game developer? Do you think you are making art? Do you think you're making mere entertainment?
Do you do games until you can break into a "real" creative medium like movies? Do just collect a paycheck? Do you work in games because of the creative opportunities? The answer to those questions influence how legitimate games are as a medium.
Cultural Legitimacy indicates how much society respects the medium. Is the medium worthwhile to spend time on, like reading books, or is it considered a waste of time? In many western societies, we respect the concept of "freedom of speech", where we allow people the right to express themselves freely.
Many attacks on creative media have been halted because of the protections afforded by this freedom. Book burnings are often seen as something abhorrent, an attack on the legitimate medium of writing. Yet, some people don't see the same problem with limiting the sale of video games to the point of harm to the medium. This is usually influenced by the other two forms of legitimacy.