Monday, June 21, 2010

But is it Art?

Roger Ebert, a film critic I happen to respect (he's also a huge inspiration when it comes to my own film journalism pieces), posted a piece on his blog a while back about video games not being art.  You can read it here.

I obviously love video games, and if you read my other blogs, you know I am a big supporter of art over entertainment.  Ebert's piece, which has raised all kinds of hackles in the video game world, was well-written and it proved his point.  He even went so far as to question why video games should even concern themselves with the art issue.

So, how do I feel about it? 

I agree with him.

Video games can be artistic, but none of them have risen to the level of fine art yet.  Not a single one I can think of.  The problem is they can be artistic, and can even be played artistically, but at the end of the day -- they are games through and through.  Games have scoring systems, rules, certain criteria that must be met to win or complete them.  That's not art. 

Ebert asked why games had to be considered art, and I have to agree with that, too.  Why can't they be satisfied being great games?  Why is there no pride in that?  Look at what happens to artistic mediums when they aspire to be something else.  For example, comic books.

Comic books have been doing things like "director's commentary" and printing in widescreen format, both of which seem ridiculous in a comic book format.  They aren't satisfied with being comic books (and they are artistic).  They want to be movies because that is where the respect is at.  Even when there is a movie being made of a comic book, the comic book will do a movie adaptation! 

Video games aspire to lofty plateaus.  They want to be art.  In doing so, they have forgotten what appeals to gamers -- a good game.  I love video games, but I don't care that they aren't art.  They can still be things of wonder and beauty, but no video game has ever inspired me to create (my art of choice is writing, if you don't know).  And if they have inspired people, I believe it is probably only inspiration to create more games.  Sort of like a chocolate chip cookie may inspire you to bake.

Ebert is right.  As of now, video games aren't art.  They may never be, either, unless we change our definitions of games.

Let me know I'm wrong.  In fact, I'd like to be proven wrong.  Game Informer did a fairly large piece on this issue, and I am far from convinced. 

Ebert is right.  He not only knows film, but he knows art.  And while he may not play video games -- I do, and I agree with him.


  1. Well, let's look at the definition of art, or at least a few of them, since there are so many and no one seems to agree on which on is "correct."

    From" Art is "the products of human creativity..." or "the creation of beautiful or significant things..." Based on the first part of the definition, video games are art. They are, indisputably, the product of human creativity. A person or a group of people sat down and came up with an idea then brought that idea to life. Whether it is truly creative or just derivative of someone else’s creation, there had to be some creative element to it in order to make it different than those that came before, at least enough so it can be sold as a separate entity. The second part of the definition, the creation of beautiful or significant things, that is completely subjective to each person. What you find beautiful, I may find ugly, and vice-versa. So for the sake of brevity, I’m not delving into it.

    From Wikipedia, albeit a completely unreliable source: “Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.” I feel games fit into this definition, otherwise people wouldn’t spend hours playing. People get angry, excited, obsessed, take off work when a new game comes out, spend hours mastering a track, or defeating a monster lay awake in bed replaying certain parts over and over trying to figure out where they went wrong because their senses are engaged, because they feel a connection in some way to the little bits and bytes on the screen. Game designers arranged the elements of the game to affect the sense or emotions, otherwise their product would fail.

    Also from Wikipedia: “Art is a male personal name, both in its own right and as a diminutive form of the common name Arthur.” Well, they got me there. I got nothing. :D

    For the record, I don’t really care if video games are considered art or if I’ve managed to change your mind. I just wanted to see if I could argue that they were to my own satisfaction and for the fun of it. My own opinion on the exact meaning of art is as undefined and ever-evolving as my opinion on the exact meaning of god.

  2. Excellent. One of the great things about this is that it is easy to make the argument either way. Did you, by any chance, read his original article? It was great. Some of the comments on it were equally great.

    One thing I didn't mention is that when I play a game, I don't ask if it moves me. I ask if it's fun to play. That is the killer to me, there.

  3. I read some of the article, but the page kept crashing my browser. I think it's the embedded video, my computer doesn't like it. I really do believe art is way too subjective to be defined. Personally, I think The Last Supper, which a great many consider to be an example of highly fine art, is stilted and boring. I find Georgia O'Keefe's vaginal flowers over-rated, and let's not forget "Tiger Holding Kittens," which speaks for itself. However, I think my son's first finger painting is the most beautiful piece of art I've ever owned. I see so much in his little smudges and smears that I've never seen in a Picasso. Art means something very different to me than it does to you, to my neighbor, or to a film critic. But that doesn't mean you, my neighbor, or the film critic is wrong either. Art is one of those beautiful,rare subjects on which everyone's opinion is right at the same time.

  4. I guess it really comes down to: Can a game be art? Can basketball be art? Can auto racing be art? Can golf be art? Can Monopoly be art? Can Trouble be art? Now, I think those things can be artistic in presentation or in the way they are played, but will it be art? Will it inspire other great works? Will it cause one to question life.

    Yeah, it is subjective, which is what makes it fun, but I really don't understand why game developers can't be happy just making games. Why must they strive for that "art" label. The end of the article had, I think, the most damning aspect in the art debate, and that was from the game developers' own point of view.