Sessler's Soapbox: Adam vs. Ebert - Games as Art

Posted: April 20, 2010
Sessler's Soapbox: Adam vs. Ebert - Games as Art
Adam discusses Roger Ebert's article about how video games can never be art, and why he thinks the argument is somewhat pointless.

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  • BR4CR

    Scott McCloud's definition of art still stands: anything we do that does nothing for survival is art. Running away from a predatory lion is not art, but when you've outwitted the lion, and give him a big "neener-neener", THAT is art.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 9:55 AM
  • BR4CR

    Roger Ebert thinks video games are not art. Imagine my surprise. Ebert has always had the mindset of a pilgrim from 1775. Take one look at Ebert's video review of "Blue Velvet" and you'll see how easily distracted his termite-sized brain is by minutiae. By responding to this backwards way of thinking, Adam, you lend FAR too much credence to someone who is simply too stuck in the past to see art when it's in front of him. Also: someone who does NOT play games is far from qualified to define or criticize games. Ebert's opinion on games is under-informed, to say the least.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 9:54 AM
  • sandite

    art (n):the creation of beautiful or significant things (I guess games are neither of those)

    art (n): the product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. (I guess it isn't that either)

    Games are art, but art critics are afraid to admit that. I'm pretty sure that it has to do with the stigma that games still carry from their early days. It's going to take another decade for people to realize the validity of games as an art form, I think.

    I know you don't care Adam, but we would hope that you could just simply say that Ebert is wrong. Look at Final Fantasy XIII, Bayonetta, Street Fighter IV, Bioshock, and on and on....

    The truth is that games have evolved, and as a result, become an extremely valid new art. The fact that you are allowed to very actively interact or participate with the art doesn't mean that it makes it become non-art.

    I'm sorry Adam, but you are again over intellectualizing a very simple question.

    And on a sidenote, I will also say again that X-Play's 4 out of 5 star rating system still sucks and does a disservice to anyone that goes to them for a simple opinion.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 9:52 AM
  • Ian528

    I have thought about this and read Eberts initial column. He has many points and I think that what you need to get to is an understanding of what art is. Art is something done by someone to evoke emotions of others. This is more then just the joy of victory or consternation of defeat. This is the subtle shades of emotional life. That being said a lot of games are not really art. They are an enjoyable diversion but they are not really there to evoke grand emotions. Video games share a great deal with the TV and film mediums on this point.

    Film medium takes a great many people to make the product that may just not be anything related to art. Only those rare gems can ever be classified as art. Those films that make an impression that you never quite forget. However, the vast majority of the medium is not art and just a fun diversion. Games have a similar studio system and produce a similar product. The problem is identifying those games that have really broken through that barrier. That is an individual choice and a highly complicated process that boils down to "I don't know art but I know it when I see it."

    There are some that I do think cross that boundary and thats what I don't think Ebert has really seen. The one most evident in my mind is Eternal Darkness. This is a game where the developer broke the 4th wall with a sledge hammer and never told you he was going to do it. The sanity effects were an inspired choice and let the player feel the true horror of the game and not knowing what was real and what wasn't. The breaking through that forth wall took the game away from being just a diversion and into something that was much more complicated.

    The other part of art is the commentary it provides on the society of the time. That is where games are experiencing growing pains in finding a real way to deal with the issues going on. Besides basic flash games that lampoon one political side or another it is difficult to name a game that has dealt with a major issue in todays world in a fun and original way. I may be wrong on this and I am fully prepared to be wrong but I can not name anything that really stands out.

    Whatever the outcome, there are people for whom games are a highly prized piece of artistic endeavor. Those who think games are more then just a temporary diversion for the pleasure of the player. As long as that is the case then for those people it is art. They know it when they see it.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 9:52 AM
  • King_Aaron_Moses

    My grandpa says that when movies first came out people thought it was crap, a waste of time. That it was impractical. He would save up and work for his nickel to see the newest movie. He has also seen me play my games and although he cant wrap his head around what i am doing and most of the times he thinks the games are movies. He says that to him, the way i play it and enjoy it and have such great memories of my early games like Super Metroid or Chrono Trigger is the same way he felt about his first movies.

    As the old people die off. And the next generation grow up and the gamer age is 3-80 and everyone plays them instead of 15-30 year old males. Then people might look at it in the main stream more as art. Just like my grandpa growing up watching the movies change. And the story's bringing out emotion. We can too see the games change and bring out great emotion and become art and be awarded for their art.

    I think its an art because when i sleep i dream about the worlds games create. And to me art is something that effects me so much that my subconscious wants to rejoice in its beauty. Plus beauty equals art.

    Anyways the world is gonna end in 12-21-2012 so it doesn't really matter. Enjoy life while you have it.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 9:23 AM
  • Reign90

    No offense to games, but I'm glad for people like Ebert and Sessler. Although I'm not radically pushing for "games as art" I do think in order to progress (in any direction) you need to know both what people like, and more importantly, dislike about a medium. I don't think games need be in any rush to be declared "art" I think that title will come in due time, what I am interested in though is the "opposition's" opinion.
    Thanks for your comments Adam and Roger, I've taken it into consideration.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 9:07 AM
  • The Nameless Monster

    Everyone's right. Art is an opinion but fact to the person that created it.So all of you are wrong. There's no need to debate when anybody from a college professor to a 3 year old can and both is correct because they're opinions. So none of this should exist at all. Its meaninless with no reason because it was never a reason. Everyone's right and everyone's wrong. Be amused.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 9:01 AM
  • quesadia

    Ebert is intelligent, and has much life experience but his life of criticizing is finally catching up with him. Wonder why HE developed his disease that now disables him...
    I personally think video games are combinations of art and artists working together to create one work. Saying they will NEVER be art is a stretch.
    But who cares what this dying old man thinks? Just because he has become a staple in mainstream media and many accept his advice as fact and it downplays video games to some people should not deter us, the gamers, from enjoying games. And this man's opinion should not be so revered.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 8:15 AM
  • Esspytood

    the guy playing braid on that screen isn't very good.

    i don't care who you are, i'm just letting you know.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 7:59 AM
  • horseflesh

    II realized what bothers me about your comments in the soapbox. It's more or less what I said before, however, there's even more. Right now, it's a "hot topic" and having the status as art would really end a lot of the contentiousness over the content of video games. And you dismiss the issue out of hand. I get that you're tired of the debate. That's fine. But right now is the time to address it, while it's in the public eye.

    There's a level on which I agree with you, it is an amount immaterial whether or not people consider it art. In an idealistic way, I don't give a damn. However, in the real world, people want bans on the content of games. Being declared art would change people's perception of it and end a lot of that.

    As well the sort of demonized stature it has just casually would come to an end. Video games are still a topic that is looked down on at times. For you, yourself, if moments like that went away, wouldn't you feel more at ease? Happier? The question of whether or not video games is art is a purely social one, that I agree is absolutely true, but the social implications are actually important. It may not be necessary, But it would serve everyone who plays it to know. As well, this kind of academic exercise is important. Understanding why it is or isn't art is important to our ability to address things in our lives and give it real context and make it understandable. Right now there is no good answer, and we're left with a contentious environment because of it.

    I feel like you dismissed the debate in your soapbox. Whether it's a practical point of view "Publishers and developers will continue to make enough money to continue to make games" Or if it's just that you're sick of the debate, or that you can't address it personally for whatever reason. Whatever the cause, the debate itself is important, so too is the outcome.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 7:40 AM
  • dfalken

    A lot of people have weighed in on this, so I'll keep my post short. I also believe that video games can be a work of art. Are all of them, no way. Just as I don't see every painting or photograph I've ever seen as works of art. Art is a subjective thing. One mans masterpiece is another mans piece of junk. It took a lot of gall for Ebert to make such a rash statement. Frankly, I'm surprised that a man with that much life experience and that much perceivable intelligence would make such a carpet statement about such a colorful and diverse medium like video games.

    Oh and, Adam...you ROCK! :)

    Posted: April 21, 2010 6:35 AM
  • kayderek18

    I get what you mean but i don't know if i can not see games as art. I guess it has to do with my definition of art. To me the fact that a group of poeple can come together, spend months or years building game, and create a game is a form of art by itself to me. Still to have that game go beyond their intended purpose of entertainment and actually a game that can do something like move a person emotionally or change that person in someway, that is something that is a lot closer to being called art than just being chicken scratch on a wall.
    Yeah you could say games are just the combination of different elements with their own artistry but i cant believe that all those parts dont equal something greater. A movie isnt just stuff like the actors, the director, the script, and the music, its something more, something that is as vague and indescribable as big ideas like "Morality" and "Existence."
    But i have to agree with Adam, Games cant be art with society's current definition of art. That changes with time and im very sure that when us young people get older, video games will be alot more respected.

    Im not really trying to bash anyone with my post, im just stating my opinion on the matter.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 5:49 AM
  • Bartimus_Maximus

    There is no true defention of "art" I could take a dump on a doll and call it art and some would agree and some would not... Art is just someones imagination... and where do games come from? Im not we must call video games art but *looks at GOW3*

    Posted: April 21, 2010 5:30 AM
  • Hydrafiend

    I think this whole issue rests on the confusion of concepts: that of art and the EXPRESSION of art. To say that video games are not art is like saying painting is not art because it is not music, or that music is not art because it is not architecture, or poetry, or a novel. Do video games have the POTENTIAL of placing us in the role of a character like Conrad's Marlowe as he journeys into the heart of darkness and emerges with new knowledge?-Or of Hamlet as he struggles with the responsibility of having to avenge his father's death? Sure, why not? Does every video game do this well or effectively-no! But such is the case with movies, painting or poetry as well. The fact that video games provide a more interactive experience than simply glaring at a painting or reading a poem has no bearing on the issue as far as I am concerned.

    Whatever definition of art to which one wishes to subscribe, it need not preclude technology offering new avenues for the EXPRESSION of our artistic energies. As Hamlet said:

    "There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Posted: April 21, 2010 3:22 AM
  • Fortysixter UK

    I do not think games are art, I think they can be " art like" .
    Therefore I see where a sweeping statement like " Games are Art" or " Games Aren't art" would come from. People who like games may feel the need to justify , at some level, their like/love/passion for games. Equally, others may not feel the need to justify their games and therefore would not agree.
    Games can look pretty ( Okami/Braid/ Shadow of colossus/Rune Factory) but they are not art in my opinion. Art is of course, in the eye of the beholder. Is it static? Is it an object? Is it a concept ? You make your mind up. I for one like the idea that a statement " a Game is Art" can cause so much discussion. You don't need to validate video games by calling them art. Those that look down on games and the people that play them should be ignored. Games should be fun. Simple as that..

    Posted: April 21, 2010 2:59 AM
  • Drakonzo

    Movie critics are bags of crap anyways. I do not need someone to tell me what to think or expect of something.

    Its nice to know what other people think, but explicitly using them for advice is giving them some kind of power that they don't earn or deserve. Why does Ebert think he can say things so authoritatively in the first place? Its because mindless jackasses gave him that power.

    I have always hated critics, I would much rather have a system of groups that reviewed movies instead of these one-man parades of self-indulgence. It makes me sick, and it always has, way before he started hating on something he doesn't understand and doesn't even try to comprehend.

    I drew a picture of a child drawn as if really old, eating crap in front of a movie screen with a plethora of unopened game system boxes in the background. This is probably the best thing I can do personally to get his stench of ignorance, and the truth that this is what people think of gamers, out of my mind.

    On a final note, even though I am upset by his comments, I do not give a - in the slightest what he thinks or says. I enjoy all things creative as art, no matter what people call or it or what they think of it. Sure games are mechanical interpretations of drama, violence, etc. But it is creative and engaging, and in that, art. People who say otherwise really take life, art, words, and themselves way WAY too seriously.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 2:31 AM
  • CrimsonDusk

    Yeah Ebert is kind of wrong but kind of right in the same time.

    First I'd like to point out it's kind of a paradox he doesn't regard games as an art-form seeing he almost always praised some movies just for their visual art style like Avatar, Final Fantasy Spirits Within, Toy Story and Star Wars ( he praises those movies for the visuals too).

    Now as a person that both enjoys games and movies at a higher value, although I think that's arrogant to say, but I don't see them as just entertainment or popcorn marathons or a way to feel violence by my own hands I have my own way to regard an movie as an art-form. A movie to be a masterpiece it has to have amazing scored music or at least feel it's necessity and improve a scene, immersible set pieces( the background to be authentic and believable), great and maybe flawed characters which makes them believable and you can empathize with them, better said characters(enemy, main character or secondary characters) shouldn't be black or white they should be gray from a moral POV, believable and moving performance that would make you care for them from the start to their very end, even make you cry or happy. The final most important elements that bring a movie the status of an art form are the moral values, symbolism, a higher set of values that can be set by sacrificing the common to get the message done.

    That's a hard act to follow for a movie to be set as a masterpiece or an art form seeing that technically music and paintings do far less but still express ambiguity, different interpretations and evoke emotions.

    Now what would make games not always be considered art. Well the fact it's constrained by making more money than it should. The sequel illness which even movies have it stop them from achieving perfection because they have to make more money. Also the fact you don't want a gamer to feel ambiguity or remorse when killing someone you don't want him to feel anything but entertainment.

    I was playing a few days ago Assassin's Creed 2 and every-time I was killing a guard I was starting to feel some kind of remorse, as I was doing something evil by killing innocent people just for the sake of me doing my mission. i wonder how many gamers have asked themselves that ? Than the guards started acting in a douchey way or even endanger my life and I started to not care anymore because they programmed the game in such a manner to feel great when killing such aggressive enemies. But in life would people really act that way. Even in a movie, a good one might I add, there is an effect when killing someone, an loss of humanity, an presence of consequence you can't see in a game being raised. You just kill hordes of people and I presume not many thought they were ending a life.

    This is what holds a game to become an art form, the morality is up the fan. There are almost no shades of gray just white and black or at least that shade is present for the common enemy and maybe from time to time you feel some remorse for the big boss at the end of the level but in the end our moral values aren't directly questioned.

    What games I would consider from my experience as a masterpiece or even art form, games like Cryostasis, Metro 2033, Penumbra, Scratches and The Void aka Tension. Probably the points that I stated earlier would invalidate these games that I mentioned but as a person that has seen movies from different time periods and different genres I'd say these come the closest but to be sincere games like movies are also constrained by the fact they have to make money and entertain the customer, so it's hard to risk to make a game just for art and not the money.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 2:03 AM
  • Ender_IF_

    Interesting topic, but as far as I disliked the tone in Ebert's article, I must concede some points. Are video games art? First of all, I truly believe in the fact that if you discuss something, if you have a strong point about anything in life, you must understand it first. Can Ebert say this? Has he played a lot of games? Has he played the best, the worst, the mediocre? Has he done any serious research, whatsoever? No. Of course he hasn't. He is a demagog. Pure and simple.

    Now, albeit all that, points we have to concede: I can't name a single video game that I personally consider art. But I may be wrong, because sure as hell, videogames had meda me experience things that a lot of novels, books and paintings haven't being able too. In conclusion, videogames are definitely artsy and they ABSOLUTELY have art or contain art.

    We honoured Mr. Ledger for his performance of the Joker, considered it art how he spoke, his tone, his walks, etc. That was art right there, as a society we sat and said: that performance of such a bizarre character deserves to be recognized as something important, as something that moved us. My point you'll ask? Mark Hamil, Batman Arkham Asylum. That is an entirely different take of the character, by far more loyal to "scripture" but an equally powerful performance. Why is mark not recognized, how is it not art what he did? Because of Ebert's opinion, because of yours, because of mine? no one knows what art is, specially not even artists.

    The problem with art is society. Society dictates what is considered art. That which Ebert accuses the gaming community could be said about society. Society doesn't take comic books seriously, and there are many, many examples of great art in comics. Society doesn't take into account Fantasy, or Science Fiction seriously, and let me tell you, if you want art in Science Fiction, if you want philosophy just read Fundation or anything Assimov wrote. Art is everywhere and nowhere but at the end is just a definition, a label to something we can't fully explain, and Ill be damned if an old fool is going to be pretencious enough to point his finger and in an all knowing, absolute truth illusion he will dictate what is art and what it isn't. I don't need his validation to enjoy games, I don't need him to understand, as well as I don't need my mother to understand, or my girlfriend for that matter. The ones who need a hug, who must chill out is society, not gamers. They are so confused...lets hope they leave us alone.

    I rest my case

    Posted: April 21, 2010 1:51 AM
  • rukdreg

    haha, I got a buddy named Adam Ebert. Funny coincidence

    but yeah, I agree with adam for the most part. Art is about expressing emotions (any emotions) but right now, video games just aren't sophisticated enough to convey them all effectively. I'm sure they will be eventually, just not right now.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 1:21 AM
  • jacobmunky

    To me games are art. the creators may create the main part of the game, even if the A.I. is programed to lead you into the path you take, but like art.. you play the game and you "yourself" can have a different view of the game, you and someone else may look at a painting and both of you may get a different meaning..I get what Adam says, but I like the fact that even if you read a good book or watch a good movie, people can have different views of a story, To me all media is art. ITS ALL JUST OPINIONS. If some one can create a new world in a movie, book, or (my favorite) games. Its all art..And yes I could explain this better but Im drunk, and I read this drunk, but what i say is true

    Posted: April 21, 2010 1:10 AM