Roger Ebert on games as art (again)

Via Joystiq. Kind of interesting to think about, as far as completely unimportant topics go.

In the “Games as art” debate that seems to never end, the number one opponent of our industry’s medium of choice being considered art (at least “high art“) has been renowned film critic Roger Ebert. Since he made his initial declaratory statements about video games many years ago, folks have piped up on both sides of the argument. Ebert’s latest volley in the long-running discussion is a piece published on the Chicago Sun-Times website in response to thatgamecompany prez Kellee Santiago’s TED talk at USC last summer.

While he allows Santiago many pleasantries and compliments throughout the piece, he argues that, regardless of her various points, games “can never be art.” At the very least, he says, “No video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.” He contests that games consist of “rules, points, objectives, and an outcome,” which stands in contrast to his somewhat ambiguous definition of what, exactly, art is. In a moment of seeming clarity at the end of his piece, he asks: “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form.” And while we might not agree with all of Mr. Ebert’s points, we can certainly find common ground with his wondering why the debate over games as art is still such a topic of concern among gamers (ourselves included).



15 Responses

  1. I’m drunk right now on Spooky’s delicious scotch. I lost all my money to Jeremy. But I don’t care because I drank scotch. That makes it all right.

  2. I think gamers just want to be considered a genuine form of entertainment. I’m firmly on the “I don’t care” side of the argument, I do have leanings towards “yes”. I just haven’t heard any good arguments against it. I also think that “rules, points, objectives, and an outcome,” reasoning is a really narrow view. You could say the same thing about any art form.

  3. I always thought art was something someone created that could be admired by another person, maybe even affect that persons emotions.

    Games certainly do that.

  4. Ebert hasn’t had much credibility with me for many years. This is the guy who published Betsy Palmer’s address on the air and told viewers to write letters of protest to her just because she was IN F13. This is the guy who berated 90% of horror movies throughout the 70-80s, only to retract or retcon his statements later. Why is art always defined by people who don’t produce any?

  5. That’s a movie Mat. What games has Ebert made? None.

    He is clueless about gaming and therefore is unqualified to talk about the subject and have a valid opinion on if it is art or not. If he was a gamer then we could take his opinion seriously but since he is not, it’s a joke.

  6. so, only “gamers” can be taken seriously when talking about videogames and, preferably, they should have “made” one themselves for their opinion to be “valid”?


  7. Well yeah only a gamers opinion can be taken seriously when talking about video games. Don’t you agree?

    Would you take someones opinion on music, film, or literature seriously if they had never listen to music, watch films, or read? I doubt most people would.

    Ebert’s view of video games can be compared to my view on most of Picasso’s paintings. It’s just random squares and colors on there. It means nothing to me. However there is a difference between us.

    I still consider Picasso’s paintings art because I know people out there are moved by his work. So I recognize there is something there even though I don’t see it. Ebert on the other hand does not recognize video games as art because HE can not see it. That is all.

  8. Ebert’s motivations are suspect. He’s likely to compare video games to films and judge their worth based on that comparison. Others have said that treating the two mediums in a similar manner doesn’t quite work out in the end, and video games can’t be treated like movies because the experience is different. And he generally hasn’t spent the past 3-4 decades reviewing video games. I’d rather hear the opinions of those who have.

    Besides, self-important blowhards don’t impress me, especially when they waffle.

  9. From what I understand of Ebert’s position, he’s taking a more philosophical approach to the argument rather than just comparing games to movies.

  10. Ebert: “One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.”

    He’s clearly fudging here; he claims that a game stops being a game and is then art by virtue of resembling other art forms. He’s stacking the deck. When a game approaches art, he declares it a non-game. I’m not doubting his philosophy of art, but his definition of games is disingenuous.

  11. A problem with Ebert’s argument is that his base assumption and understanding is that film has no “rules, points, objectives” or an “outcome”, but I don’t buy that line of argument.

    Almost every film that Ebert loves abides by certain “rules”. Editing, for example. Ebert will no doubt criticize a film with sloppy editing. But by doing that it in and of itself insinuates that there is a “proper” way to do editing, an ideal or a “rule” so to speak.

    You could also logically argue that films have “objectives” in that many stories have events that follow from a-z and thus lead to “outcomes”. If the filmmaker’s goal is to make an entertaining movie, and then the viewer “experiences” it as entertaining, hasn’t the filmmaker and viewer “won”?

    Personally, I’ve never given credence to the idea that videogames are not “art”. I have a friend who is pretty big on the “games aren’t art” bandwagon. However, I do think there is a nugget of an interesting point in Ebert’s argument. I’m interested not so much on rules and “experiences”, but rather the limits of experiences that games can convey.

    For example, Fallout 3 is a giant, massively complex game. But there are only so many stories you can “experience” before you’ve done them all. Even though the game is open ended, there is still a “boxed” gameworld. There are still characters that can’t be interacted with in any other way than the developers designed them. Which means, there is a “limit” on the experience in that sense, but I’d argue that that limit is based in the fact that you are “controlling” and actively participating in the events of said game world, whereas film viewers are passively interacting with the worlds they see. Sure, you are “limited” as a viewer in what the filmmaker (developer) allows you to see of any given film world, but a great film can leave you questioning any number of things and/or meanings within the film, whereas most video games do not give you that sort of experience. I’m sure that kind of game may exist, I just haven’t played it, and I’m sure Ebert hasn’t either.

    I just think people aren’t quite understanding Ebert’s argument and I don’t think he’s conveying his belief of it very well.

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