Arthouse Games
Debate: Arthouse Games vs. Ebert
by jcr13Saturday, July 28, 2007 [2:47 am]

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1175/924900366_cdfeda1f13_m.jpg Can games be art?

It all started back in October of 2005, when Ebert reviewed the film Doom and gave it one star. A few days later, a gamer wrote to Ebert and insisted that he had missed the point---Doom wasn't supposed to be a good, watchable film; it was supposed to be a tribute to a seminal video game. The Kurosawa film Rashomon was mentioned as comparable in terms of---shall we say---seminality to the game Doom. In response, Ebert planted the seed that would eventually grow into the vine that we are all still climbing. He wrote, "As long as there is a great movie unseen or a great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games."

A few weeks later, Ebert expanded on that point, claiming that books and films are better mediums than games. A few weeks after that, Ebert dropped his first explicit "games can't be art" bombshell, citing the lack of authorial control, due to player choice, as the hurdle that would forever keep games from catching up with art-capable mediums like literature and film.

Ebert kept quiet about games for a year or so after that. Then along came Mr. Clive Barker, who, somewhat clumsily, claimed that games can be art (a video of his full keynote would be nice---anyone got it?). Just last week, Ebert responded to Barker in mock-dialog style, somewhat revising his former position: games can be art, but not high art, as he understands it. Kotaku just posted a worthwhile feature that responds to Ebert's latest.

It's time for me to chime in here, and I'm going to continue the mock-dialog style. I don't know Ebert, but I feel like I do, because I've been reading his reviews for years. This man knows film, and I respect him deeply. Okay, let's get started.

Barker: It's evident that Ebert had a prejudiced vision of what the medium is, or more importantly what it can be.

Ebert: The word "prejudiced" often translates as "disagrees with me." I might suggest that gamers have a prejudiced view of their medium, and particularly what it can be. Games may not be Shakespeare quite yet, but I have the prejudice that they never will be, and some gamers are prejudiced that they will.

Rohrer: The word "prejudiced" can also translate into "making unfounded generalizations about a class based on experience with too few example members of that class." In other words, since Pong wasn't art and Pac-Man wasn't art, then no games are art. Via Webster, it can also translate into "an opinion made without adequate basis." In other words, Mr. Ebert, if you are too busy reading great books and watching great films to play any games, let alone great games, how can you be sure that no game out there has reached the heights of Shakespeare yet?

I'm going to beat a tired drum for a minute and remind you that video games are a young medium---not quite pushing 50 years yet. Heck, it took English literature 400 years to move up from monster-mash schlock like Beowulf to the soap operas of Shakespeare, and another 500 years for us to hit high-art pay-dirt with the likes of Joyce and Nabokov. Yeah, film was on a faster track, but it still took some time---the tip of the art-film iceberg wasn't really scraped until the late 1920s, more that 60 years after the advent of moving pictures.

Barker: We can debate what art is, we can debate it forever. If the experience moves you in some way or another ... even if it moves your bowels ... I think it is worthy of some serious study.

Ebert: Perhaps if the experience moves your bowels, it is worthy of some serious medical study. Many experiences that move me in some way or another are not art. A year ago I lost the ability (temporarily, I hope) to speak. I was deeply moved by the experience. It was not art.

Rohrer: [no response]

Barker: It used to worry me that the New York Times never reviewed my books. But the point is that people like the books. Books aren't about reviewers. Games aren't about reviewers. They are about players.

Ebert: A reviewer is a reader, a viewer or a player with an opinion about what he or she has viewed, read or played. Whether that opinion is valid is up to his audience, books, games and all forms of created experience are about themselves; the real question is, do we as their consumers become more or less complex, thoughtful, insightful, witty, empathetic, intelligent, philosophical (and so on) by experiencing them? Something may be excellent as itself, and yet be ultimately worthless. A bowel movement, for example.

Rohrer: Now we're getting down to some nuts and bolts---what, Mr. Ebert, is your definition of art? Is it really about "authorial intent?" Certainly, plenty of non-art has authorial intent. I'm reading a slightly different definition in there, something about improving the consumers as people. "Look at this painting and you'll walk away understanding something new and important about yourself, so this painting is art." Notice your choice of adjectives: complex, thoughtful, empathetic, and so on. These certainly can be seen as "high" characteristics of the human makeup. What about pieces of work that simply make their consumers hungry, angry, scared, excited, or sexually aroused? Instead of high art, we might call those works food advertisements, war propaganda, horror films, action films, and pornography, respectively. Those pieces aren't high art, perhaps, because they don't engender high emotions. That's not a perfect definition, but it's a much better dividing criteria for art and non-art than "authorial intent."

If that's your definition of art---improving the consumer along one of these noble axes---then games are already art, and I am proof positive of that fact. I can think of two games that changed my philosophical understanding of the world and reality (Metal Gear Solid 2 and Braid). Furthermore, I saw both a documentary and a narrative film about the Columbine shooting, but neither gave me the kind of profound insights that I got from playing Super Columbine Massacre RPG.

Barker: I think that Roger Ebert's problem is that he thinks you can't have art if there is that amount of malleability in the narrative. In other words, Shakespeare could not have written 'Romeo and Juliet' as a game because it could have had a happy ending, you know? If only she hadn't taken the damn poison. If only he'd have gotten there quicker.

Ebert: He is right again about me. I believe art is created by an artist. If you change it, you become the artist. Would "Romeo and Juliet" have been better with a different ending? Rewritten versions of the play were actually produced with happy endings. "King Lear" was also subjected to rewrites; it's such a downer. At this point, taste comes into play. Which version of "Romeo and Juliet," Shakespeare's or Barker's, is superior, deeper, more moving, more "artistic"?

Rohrer: Of course, you must believe in collaborative art. A work does not need to be created solely by "an artist" to be art, does it? Sure, novels are usually written by one author, and paintings are usually painted by one painter, but what about your favorite medium, film? Most films are collaborations. In fact, the very best art films are those where all of the collaborative elements are top-notch: great writing, great acting, great lighting, great directing, great camera work, and so on. Sure, there is collaboration involved in the publication of a novel---editing, cover art, and binding---but the core work has a single author, and the other elements are really side notes. You never hear someone say, "The writing and story were excellent, but I can't ignore the lousy typesetting job---two thumbs down."

I'm just guessing here, but didn't the "too many fingers in the creative pie" problem stand as a barrier to film's acceptance as a high art form? Regardless, we all accept that film can be art, and that collaboration does not in fact spoil art.

Furthermore, you must acknowledge that some form of audience collaboration is necessary for an art experience. Readers don't sit back passively and let the words wash over them. Instead, they actively imagine the unfolding narrative, including character's faces and room layouts, in their own minds. There's an old saying about novels being superior to movies "because the pictures are better," and we all know how disappointing a film adaptation of a book can be if we've already read the book beforehand.

For film, perhaps there is a bit less collaboration on the audience's part. Some films, however, demand quite a bit of participation, leaving the audience hanging at the end with unanswered questions. The art experience continues after the audience leaves the theater as they discuss the film with each other or simply think about it by themselves. A perfect example might be the aforementioned Kurosawa film Rashomon, which you review as a Great Movie. I haven't seen this film yet, but my understanding is that it tells four variations of the same events as recalled by four observers, and it leaves the audience hanging with no clear indication of which version is actually true. Part of the art experience, then, might be selecting which version of the events seems most believable, and perhaps asking yourself why your belief leans in that particular direction.

Couldn't we say that the very best art films are the ones that rely on the most heavy lifting from the audience? In other words, if you walk out of the theater with no unresolved issues and nothing to ponder, did you really just see an art film? How can a work improve us deeply as people if it does not pull us in closely as collaborators?

In fact, I claim that this kind of audience collaboration is crucial for a work to attain the upper reaches of artistic achievement.

However, if we push too far in that direction, can't we cross the line? I mean, if we start pulling audience members up on stage with the actors, we end up with a real mess. What you're saying Mr. Ebert, I think, is that too much audience participation spoils the art. If the viewer (or player) starts to usurp the creator in terms of authorial intent, then the viewer becomes too much of the artist. Of course, a book is nothing but paper and ink without a reader, and a movie is just reflected light and air vibrations without an audience, but we don't ever call the reader of a book a co-author or artist.

But if the player of the game is rightfully the co-artist, and a given gameplay experience (or path through some hypothetical Romeo and Juliet narrative web) is the work, then couldn't that particular gameplay instance be a work of high art in itself? Maybe the game is a half-finished work of art waiting for a co-artist, like a half-filled canvas, or like a screenplay waiting for a film crew. Maybe some co-artists are particularly good, and the resulting experience is high art, while others are bad, and the result is schlock. Maybe Mr. Barker's choices in the narrative would produce an even finer work than Shakespeare's original---is that not possible? Of course, it would be only for Barker himself to experience and enjoy---an ethereal work of art, of sorts.

If we continue down this track, we might conclude that the games themselves are not art, but instead tools that have the potential of producing art experiences for their users. In fact, I have seen hints of this with Facade. I've had good Facade runs that produce good, interesting stories and bad runs that produce bad, boring stories. There's a "script output" feature for a reason: so you can carry home a token of your high artistic achievement if you ever hit pay-dirt.

Barker: We should be stretching the imaginations of our players and ourselves. Let's invent a world where the player gets to go through every emotional journey available. That is art. Offering that to people is art.

Ebert: If you can go through "every emotional journey available," doesn't that devalue each and every one of them? Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices. If next time, I have Romeo and Juliet go through the story naked and standing on their hands, would that be way cool, or what?

Rohrer: You're right on this one, I think. A game where you can "go anywhere and do anything" might lack enough focus to land in art territory. Wouldn't that just be a simulation of real life? On the other hand, aren't there so-called "verite" art films that do just that---give you a slice of life, raw and unfiltered, complete with real-time shaving and teeth-brushing? As such a film can be an artistic commentary on life, so could such a game be. It might get you to ask yourself deep questions like, "Why am I playing this?"

I strongly disagree with the claim that "[a]rt seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion." Take Rashomon as an example again: not a smorgasbord of choices, perhaps, but at least four choices, and not one of them inevitable. On the other hand, I might be reading too deeply here---you might simply mean that every work of art needs to follow a fixed track toward one ending as set by the creator (which Rashomon, as a linear film, certainly does). I disagree with that requirement too. Take Robert Coover's story "The Babysitter" as a fine example of a work of art with no fixed track. Plenty of hypertext fiction, widely recognized as a medium capable of high art, also violates the supposed requirement of linearity.

Barker: I'm not doing an evangelical job here. I'm just saying that gaming is a great way to do what we as human beings need to do all the time -- to take ourselves away from the oppressive facts of our lives and go somewhere where we have our own control.

Ebert: Spoken with the maturity of an honest and articulate 4-year old. I do not have a need "all the time" to take myself away from the oppressive facts of my life, however oppressive they may be, in order to go somewhere where I have control. I need to stay here and take control. Right now, for example, I cannot speak, but I am writing this. You lose some, you win some.

Rohrer: Yeah, games can allow us to escape from our lives into worlds where we are more powerful, but that has little to do with whether or not games are art.

Ebert: That said, let me confess I enjoy entertainments, but I think it important to know what they are. I like the circus as much as the ballet. I like crime novels. (I just finished an advance copy of Henry Kisor's Cache of Corpses, about GPS geo-caching gamesters and a macabre murder conspiracy. Couldn't put it down.) And I like horror stories, where Edgar Allen Poe in particular represents art. I think I know what Stan Brakhage meant when he said Poe invented the cinema, lacking only film.

Rohrer: That leads me to wonder how Poe pole-vaults over the art bar. How does he change the reader in a profound way, if that's your true definition? I recall feeling very scared while reading Poe, but that's about it. Are you perhaps confusing high art with high craft a bit here?

Ebert: I treasure escapism in the movies. I tirelessly quote Pauline Kael: The movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have no reason to go. I admired "Spiderman II," "Superman," and many of the "Star Wars," Indiana Jones, James Bond and Harry Potter films. The idea, I think, is to value what is good at whatever level you find it. "Spiderman II" is one of the great comic superhero movies but it is not great art.

Rohrer: Who tried to connect escapism with art in the first place? Oh, yeah, that was Mr. Barker. Oh well.

Ebert: Barker is right that we can debate art forever. I mentioned that a Campbell's soup could be art. I was imprecise. Actually, it is Andy Warhol's painting of the label that is art. Would Warhol have considered Clive Barker's video game "Undying" as art? Certainly. He would have kept it in its shrink-wrapped box, placed it inside a Plexiglas display case, mounted it on a pedestal, and labeled it "Video Game."

Rohrer: It seems, Mr. Ebert, that you have been more interested in clever zingers and rhetoric than actual discussion of the topic at hand. Granted, you started from one of the weakest "games are art" arguments ever committed to text. You have received better arguments as submissions to your Answer Man column, and you received a slew of better arguments in response to your latest dialog. In the future, I hope you pick the strongest argument and respond directly to that one. I think this is a discussion worth having, and I think you are a person worth having it with.

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by News is GoodSaturday, July 28, 2007 [7:02 am]

Let us agree on a few examples of art, e.g. Mona Lisa, Michaelangelo's David, Monet, Munch (nice alliteration, yeah?).

Then let us compare the most artistic games to these widely-accepted examples of art.

I think that we will find that games are not art at all. The medium that they are closest to is film, and as Ebert notes few films are artistic.

Then let us find artistic films, and compare games to them. Again, we will not be awed by these comparisons.

Finally, compare games to action movies. And there you have it.

(Yes, Shadow of the Collossus is like an action movie with some brooding emptiness in it. It is a welcome step in a more thoughtful direction. But I wouldn't go to an art gallery to see it.)

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by JPSaturday, July 28, 2007 [12:07 pm]

The medium that [games] are closest to is film

This is exactly the same mistake that Ebert makes: judgment based purely on appearances rather than the true qualities of the work itself, which for games means interactivity. There are no serious criticisms of games that do not take interactivity into account.

The film-game comparison is only skin deep unless the game designer has deliberately adopted film tropes (some do, but plenty don't). Designers trying to take a shortcut to cultural legitimacy by aping cinema have helped create this vector of criticism from people like Ebert, and it will be hard to live down.

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by PatrickSaturday, July 28, 2007 [12:47 pm]

I just went to this festival in Baltimore last weekend, called Whartscape (you can look it up and listen to the music of most of the acts on their myspace pages) and there was a distinct blurring of artist and audience.

Whatever the effect of art - education, edification, escapism, emancipation, erudite elation, ect. - the cause is always the same, a need to communicate with the social symbolic (thats a Lacan-ian term, but I think you can draw the same concept of people communicating with symbols because we feel a need to from a lot of other models).

Therefore, since art evolved out of language which evolved out of its utility in individual survival by the function of the group, art is in its primal genesis: interactive. The history of art is actually a bottleneck in the history of the development of both language and technology, and now, with games, that bottleneck is opening.

If I were a major consultant for the coal-based power industry in the 1950s, I would be a vocal opponent of the validity of nuclear power. By analogy, I think this is where Ebert is coming from.

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by MichalSaturday, July 28, 2007 [5:53 pm]

I have been trying to cover this debate over the last several months as it surfaces here and there on occasion.

My current commentary on these developments is now available here. Currently I have focused on the important distinction made by Ebert between art and high art. That's an important difference to consider which, it seems to me at least, renders his arguments less effective.

He does admit that anything, including games, can be art. Yet bringing in the question of high art, a superfluous concept in itself, makes me feel as though he has admitted to the obvious without realizing it. Just maybe.

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by JauntySaturday, July 28, 2007 [6:50 pm]

In response to News is Good, I disagree in that I think you are focusing on action oriented games. There are plenty of games outside of this category, especially of late. More and more we see games returning to abstraction (a quality once employed simply to work around hardware limitations). What about adventure games such as the Myst series, or social awareness games, like Real Life 2007? Neither of these really allow for the comparison to action movies that you suggest.

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by Rod HumbleSaturday, July 28, 2007 [11:00 pm]

A thoughtful thread.

I would note that I for one reject any comparisons to film, I am not sure films yet qualify as an art form at all, certainly not a mature one its akin to being commented on by a graphic novel critic. Interesting but raises an eyebrow that perhaps ones own house should be put in order first.

I would be more interested in the thoughts of say Robert Hughes or a poetry or music critic. The reasons are two fold. Firstly poetry and painting are unquestioned art forms unlike film and so their views have more weight. Secondly these are all older forms and so these critics would have a perspective on how their art evolved over time which would give us a deeper insight on the future of interactive art.

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by jcr13Sunday, July 29, 2007 [9:10 am]

Are you talking about this board game:

http://www.gameofreallife.com/

That's the only thing I could find with a similar title. Probably the game equivalent of a Michael Moore film, no? It may raise social awareness, but that doesn't vault it into "high art" territory, in my opinion. Certainly not akin to an "action film," though.

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by ChrisMonday, July 30, 2007 [12:32 pm]

I enjoyed the article, as well as the comments proceeding it. Similar to "JP", I feel that understanding games in terms of film is a blind alley.

I've formulated my own response here.

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by Chris RockTuesday, August 21, 2007 [2:47 am]

I hold it to be true that no definition of art can be accurate as long as it excludes anything tangible (or, arguably, intangible). There are judgments and criticisms of art, how well it is liked, its value or utility, but there is no logical reason to say that anything that exists is not art. Centuries of art have repeated that lesson.

Furthermore, to say that video games are in some way incapable of meeting the standards of ANY definition of art, is ridiculous. The best Ebert could come up with is suggesting that anything with interactivity dilutes the intent of the artist and is therefore not art, or is somehow "low art." Is criticism not interactivity? Isn't light reflecting off of a screen, sculpture or painting and into one's eyes for their mind's interpretation interactivity? Do we all share a single uniform experience from a given work or do we perceive it individually? The answers to these questions are obvious. All art involves interactivity in one sense or another. The intent of the artist is, therefore, to select a manner by which the audience will be controlled or manipulated to a given end.

No medium to date equals video games in expressive complexity and freedom. Not to mention, no medium inspires as much audience dedication and thus no medium can deliver as much raw experiential data to the willing member of a lay audience.

No one will ever spend over 100 hours reading a single book, watching a single film, viewing a single painting, or listening to a single song. Video games achieved that sort of attention not long after conception.

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by jcr13Saturday, September 1, 2007 [10:50 am]

Hmm. I feel like it took me more than 100 hours to get through The Brothers Karamazov. Not in one sitting, of course.

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by Chris RockSunday, September 9, 2007 [5:07 am]

Heheh, I should clarify that I meant 100 solid hours.

Only a video game player can understand what it's like to happily do the same thing for an entire day without even stopping to eat or drink. Not because you have to, but because you want to.

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by ndSunday, December 30, 2007 [6:22 pm]

Ebert says some pretty smart things in this, but I think the shallowest thing he says is when he starts going off and saying Shakespeare wouldn't be as good if it was malleable. That's, of course, true. But games are more than just "story." Ebert's criticism of games could be applied to Stan Brackhage's films, in a way: they're not Shakespeare, there's authorial intent, little story, but that makes them no less art.

While I certainly dig the narrative elements in at least some games, what I think is really <i>exciting</i> about games is their capacity for something resembling organic growth. (Games with AI, games that simulate different kinds of growth or development, etc.) This makes them more than just a collaborative/malleable medium, it makes them ... enlightening, I'd say. I know that some of my first real thoughts about "God" & "soul" were prompted by thinking about computers and the possibility (or lack thereof) of artificial life. And thinking about those things was certainly prompted at least in part by video games. It still is. (Granted, Hal 9000 figures in there somewhere, too, but.)

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by MattThursday, February 28, 2008 [6:03 pm]

Every time I read a new entry in this debate my head starts to explode a little bit. I've become convinced that the problem here is definitions and connotations of the word art. For whatever reason few of us seem to have the exact same understanding of this word, which means that in any debate about it both sides are talking about different concepts.

I even find myself disagreeing with the people I AGREE with. For example you discount Pac-Man as art during your response to Ebert--and I personally think Pac-Man IS art. And then later you make the, IMHO, insane statement that Beowulf is a "monster-mash schlock". No. No, it really is not. Maybe it's because I had a college professor who could actually speak Anglo-Saxon, but there is a lot more going on in Beowulf then a 'monster-mash'.

My point is, if two people on the same side of this argument can't even agree on a simple thing like whether or not Pac-Man is art, how do we ever expect to have a discussion with someone who doesn't think any video games are art at all?

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by hanThursday, May 29, 2008 [6:29 am]

The tenancy is for people to consider "Art" in terms of high modernist principles of the creator genius. The differentiation made between Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Film, Literature, and Digital Arts e.t.c also miss the point in its entirety. These debates pre-date post-modernism, in which these distinctions, as well as the divide between author and spectator, have collapsed entirely. For a complete discussion see the works of great academics, including the attention given to the subject by Barthes and Echo.

Most scholars and academic critics have outgrown this debate, and those differentiations, in the early 70's.

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by marx_lives@hotmail.cSaturday, October 4, 2008 [9:51 pm]

Well some notable reviewers of Art such as Horace, Longinus and Sir Phillip Sidney something to say about what qualifies as art in their essays; The Art of Poetry, On the Sublime, and in the Defense of Poesy. In all these works they define Art is that which delights and teaches. Braid, Planescape Torment, and Ultima IV would be good examples of games that delight and teach. The problem with many of games is that their sole interest is to delight. Doom 3 is fun but what lessons applicable to real life are learned. Do we walk away from the game with our awareness of self heightened and contributive to the greater good of society? I don't agree with Egbert's view on literature because stories like Hamlet do not have definite moral absolutes though the plots have a physical end. At the end of Braid the audience should be asking questions about time and memory that either support or challenge Jonathan Blow's work. Egbert is not aware of these apparent truths of art and it shows me that his knowledge of Art is obscure and convoluted. In the simple words of my Medieval Literature professor “Creative writing majors who spout out that Art is solely an emotional pursuit of a obscure purpose are speaking horse shit.” Maybe his words are crude but anyone who studies literary Greats with a smidgen of critical analysis skills realizes that their works do have an intended technical structure and that they are communicating a specific message. Jonathan Blow, good job in providing a significant game to the poetic genre.

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by MikMonday, October 20, 2008 [12:49 pm]

There's a certain Irony to Ebert's assessment, first, there's an ignorance here similar to the progression ignorance(i.e. Why would anyone want a computer in their home?) To say that video games can't be high art is really just a challenge to the video game community. Without question video games can be high art, and unlike movies it's much easier for a single developer to create a video game then a single person to create a movie(certainly, it can be done, but there is more flexibility a single person has in creating a video game, in fact, theoretically there is no video game that couldn't be created by one person(given enough time)(excluding voice acting, or the using live characters which isn't _that_ common)

The second big irony is that much of modern art is looking for ways to engage the audience more. It is often said, that art is in the eye of the beholder, certainly many modern artists feel that way, and are looking for more ways to involve the consumer in the artistic project. At any modern art gallery, there are probably a dozen projects with this goal in mind.

I suppose in all, as several have noted, the argument is superflous. The mona lisa does absolutely nothing for me. I'm convinced the average person(in a fictional world where the mona lisa wasn't already famous) would pass it by if it wasn't displayed in such a way that it appeared important.

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by SarahbeanTuesday, December 16, 2008 [3:05 am]

Stop painting yourself into a corner, all of you... Shakespeare is about sex and flatulence and prostitutes and all that good, hedonistic stuff. It wasn't high then, it is just considered high now because the language isn't contemporary. Challenge: try comparing video games to things like FLUXUS and other post-war avant-garde movements. Ebert might disagree that these movements are art, but they are valid comparisons when looking at participatory and performative structures that discuss audience/author boundaries.

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by AriSunday, December 28, 2008 [1:13 am]

Games are made to captivate, to draw the user in, and to absorb their mind -- no, more! -- their reflexes, their emotions! -- in the world created by the author. Isn't this more than a movie or painting is even capable of?

I was playing Riven with a girlfriend once; she made the wrong choice, and the sky blackened and the entire world cracked in half. She wept.

Tell me that's not art.

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by JLrepSaturday, January 10, 2009 [12:57 am]

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2000/3/1/

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by JabberwokMonday, January 19, 2009 [6:43 am]

The relegation of any medium to some sort of lower tier is practically the definition of pretentiousness.

Both films and games are amalgamations of many things. A movie contains writing, music, acting, set design, et cetera. All of these things can be art, and create a larger work of art in the process. Games are made up of nearly the same elements as film. Ebert seems to be talking merely about whether the narrative can be art or not (which it still can, I believe, as there is just as much story in many games as in the best films). Which is silly, because mediums such as painting often contain no narrative. They are a work which leaves all interpretation of a piece to the audience, which is what makes them so beautiful to begin with. It's why you get generations of people standing in front of a famous portrait wondering what the subject was thinking right that moment.

Games are no worse than a painting that you can step into, and there is no qualitative reason why the medium should be marginalized. They contain just as many elements with the potential for artistic excellence as any film, and in fact plenty of the people involved in making games are artists of one sort or another. There are graphical artists, writers, designers, and you even see voice talent coming from famous actors these days.

The problem is that games rose to popularity through the mass media as an innocent diversion for children. However, what keeps the entire medium from being able to rise beyond that stigma is authorities of the art community being unwilling or unable to broaden their own perceptions.

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by JabberwokMonday, January 19, 2009 [7:02 am]

It's baffling to me that anyone, least of all an art critic, could presume to know the answer to the question which people have been asking each other for all of recorded history.

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by Jordan MagnusonTuesday, June 16, 2009 [5:21 am]

Thanks for the thoughts Jason; I think your response is far more thoughtful than Ebert's (and on a different plane than Barker's--Ebert's the one at fault there though, as he could have picked a different defense, as you say).

The question of "art or not" is always going to be tricky, but I think Ebert's settling on "the real question is, do we as their consumers become more or less complex, thoughtful, insightful, witty, empathetic, intelligent, philosophical (and so on) by experiencing them?" is a decent place to start the discussion.

@Rod Humble: I think the comparison of games to films is not worthless (despite the fact that the mediums are "worlds apart" due to the interactive dimension, they still share three other dimensions (visual, auditory, temporal), but I too would be very interested to here some intelligent criticism of video games from poets or musicians (and/or their critics). The key word in that last sentence is "intelligent."

P.S. Jason, I recently played Passage and extremely impressed with your project: I don't think it's pretentious to try and build up a vocabulary before we write a masterpiece. If a haiku can be art (and I believe that it can) then Passage is art.

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by Tarwin Stroh-SpijerSunday, July 12, 2009 [11:58 pm]

Ebert: "{Barker} possibly knows more about art in its many manifestations than the average gamer does"

What's he even trying to say here? Your average "gamer" is pretty much your average "person" these days and it's likely that that Clive does know more about art than the average person, being in the creative industry and all!

From the sounds of it Ebert should not be someone making comments on what games are. Has he even played a game? From his own words he will not because he has already judged them as failures. I guess it's good to have people (high profile) like this to fan the flames, to create debate, but it should have moved on by now to be argued by people who know what a game is. Have experienced a game (other than Pong).

Side note-ish: I met a woman a few days ago who had never played video games before. She'd seen people play them, but just really wasn't interested. She's an artist. She's only 26 (so we can't blame her being "old" and scared of technology or such). I immediately rushed her to a PS3 to play Flower. And watched. It was truly amazing. She was deeply moved, played intuitively and was hooked. Now think of someone who's never seen a movie before, but heard of them but was never really interested, they all sounded like "trash novels" to her. Then was shown a great "artistic" full film. And it changed their life. I think this is a great example of art doing it's thing.

PS: Thanks for Passage ... and your great discussion on games.

A comment: I really feel that if you're going to participate in deep discussion then you should at the very least give your name, not just initials. I see way too many people just flaming on blog comments or forums because they don't have to be responsible. They're invisible.

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by Steel River SaviorMonday, January 3, 2011 [11:12 pm]

I am as high-minded as the next person, probably moreso, but I think this should be pointed out: Roger Ebert is like a hundred years old.

Just as people said that movies would never be real art when they were new, Ebert probably feels the same way about video games. I don't respect critics because they make a career out of judging other people's art. It's not like he's an artist himself. So why should there even be an extended discussion about something relating to his opinion with video games? It's all moot to me...

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