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An E-Gallery Of Video Games’ Finest Pixel Art, But Who Owns It?

Noirlac stirs controversy in the digital community by asking "just what are we allowed to steal?"

by Johnny Magdaleno
Dec 1 2013, 4:01pm

Tumblr seems to have turned everyone into a curator. In fact, Tumblr is a museum of curators. And the efficiency with which a piece of art can go viral and start multiplying across your dashboard may actually present a threat to the sway and exclusivity of brick-and-mortar galleries.

But at what point does “piracy” get thrown in? How do iterative art blogs compare, morally, with music blogs that give away free downloads? Once you see a physical piece, you’ve automatically consumed it. There’s no “play” button involved.

That's why I’m curious about the heat surrounding Noirlac, the anonymous Tumblr user who posts stunning pixel art images and GIFs sourced from video games. He’s gathered a minor trail of controversy in the past year. Some claim the way he runs shop is criminal, siphoning creative material from the hands of unaware game developers. Someone’s even gone through the effort to create a “Noirlac Sourced” blog, which presents Noirlac’s edits alongside links to the video games from which they originated.

In effect, s/he’s really not doing anything too different from what 90% of users are doing on Tumblr: reposting the artistic works of others, and gaining a following because of it. But there’s validity in the concern that he’s going too far by making money off these works by selling blog posts printed on T-shirts and posters. If he were small enough, he’d probably get by without flack. But his fanbase is increasing, seemingly exponentially, so it’s only part of the equation that s/he’d start racking up negators.

Debate aside, the work really is captivating, and for those of us born in the 80’s, it’s like revisiting familiar landscapes of all those 8-bit paradises we escaped to after school. Of the many rumors circulating about Noirlac - that s/he’s a video game developer for Ubisoft, based in Paris - one is that s/he also creates original sprites, although sifting through the sheer number of posts to unearth Noirlac’s original renderings would be both exhausting and inexhaustible. They don’t appear to be marked...

Regardless, I completely recommend giving it a shot.

(Note: I tried reaching out to Noirlac, on the basis they could give The Creators Project a comment while keeping their anonymity, yet received no response.)

If Noirlac is the one selecting, framing, and GIF-ing these pieces, s/he should receive as much entitlement as a collagist, or a DJ, or a director pioneering their own spin on a classic play. Yeah, providing a link and developer credit would be cool, but every year seems to bring us closer and closer to the era when “copyright infringement” is an archaic accusation. We. Love. Stealing. Especially over the internet. It’s become more up to the consumer, and what they will and won't accept, than the players behind the curtain like Noirlac.

Besides, at the end of the day 3D and LCD and Blu-ray don’t have shit on this ocean view: