April 19, 2010

Roger Ebert Gives a Thumbs-Down to Video Games Ever Being Art

In a move destined to rouse the rabble of gamers the world over, well-respected (at least, til now, for many) film critic Roger Ebert has said that video games will "never be art."  Proof of the post's impact?  As of this writing, 1,746 comments have been placed since the article was posted... three nights ago!  And apparently he posited this same argument five years ago, so if we calculate approximately 1,700 comments every three days for five years, adjust for inflation ... yep, a very caustic stance.

But really, Mr. Ebert, never?  He's quick to point out that "never is a very long time," but even if he claims that "no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form," I think that's a stretch.

Obviously I disagree with him.  I've said as much within these blog walls.  It's such a nebulous moniker, art, and to debate what is or isn't art is something better suited for a collegiate classroom.  Since art is so subjective to begin with I don't really ever see a side "winning."  Who determines what is art, anyway?

But don't get me wrong.  I think we can all agree that there is good art and then there is bad art, just like there are good games and bad games.

The catalyst to this debacle was a video supporting games as an art form by a video game designer/producer, Kellee Santiago.  Ebert doesn't attack her position or her persuasive abilities.  Unfortunately, the games of which she chose for her Exhibit A thrilled the movie critic none at all:  Waco Resurrection, Braid, and Flower.  Two of these three games I've heard of, none have I played, but Braid is on my list because of it's artistic design, both visually and in its writing.

"One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome," he writes.  Touche, Mr. Ebert.  Many days I wish video games didn't have that word in it, game.  Not that games are bad things, sports for instance are great presentations of the the human body's amazing abilities.  But games connotes nothing more than mere pleasure or passing the time.  However, video games nowadays are becoming much stronger thematically, presenting more visceral concepts and ethical questions than trying to gobble up dots before some ghosts catch you.  If I were to run into Mr. Ebert, I'd have only five words to say to him:  BioShock and Shadow of the Colossus.  Look to the right, and tell me that ain't some imaginative art!

Video games use various materials to craft an object, a locale, an experience.  More often than not, the better ones elicit some emotional response that begs for a player, a participant.  And like any good art, they tell a story, the better ones that is; the crappy games just throw words together and hope for a cohesive through line.  Video games are one of the unique art forms that requires an audience for it to be complete, similar to theater in that regard.  The visuals may not be "real" in the sense that these buildings in which I'm running around are actually standing, but then again paintings with architecture are the same way.  Are video games then "moving paintings?"  I know, that sounds crazy.  I'm not a scholar in the least; I just try to, you know, communicate what I feel.  Video games (and I can't stress it enough, the good ones) are imaginative, take us beyond our world and ourselves, emote to us, challenge us, represent fractions of humanity on a larger scale ... isn't that what good art does?

In the end, I'm sure Mr. Ebert doesn't even play video games much at all, so I think even he would admit to a little ignorance; I can't even say that I would force him to play, if given the opportunity.  I respect him as a film critic and he's greatly knowledgeable in that medium (except I love The Ghost and the Darkness!), but in the realm of video games his thumb should not be as highly regarded.

Check out his argument here and comment below if you like!  Are video games art or art-wannabes?  How do you respond to Ebert's proof?

(Thanks 1up!)

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