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.

Comments are Closed

  • drangel_jam

    I thought we were past that. Is the industry really that boring, Adam has to repeat himself.
    If you need artistic talent to make games, games are art. That's intrinsic.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 12:48 AM
  • Agent 47

    The only thing that bothers me about this is that Ebert is making an opinion on games when he has never played one. To have a valid opinion, one must know both sides of the issue. Now if he had actually played video games before writing his article then I wouldn't have a problem with his opinion. I might disagree but at least I could respect his opinion. I currently don't respect his opinion because it is based on ignorance.

    Posted: April 21, 2010 12:22 AM
  • cs22

    Two things. One, why is the debate "games are art" v. "games aren't art". Why is there no middle ground? Some games I would consider art. Bioshock, Halo, and a few others. Most games, including games like CoD and GoW I wouldn't.

    Two, the most important thing in determining art is whether it conveys a message in a non-literal (not: My message is X). Bioshock and Halo do this to a degree. A lot of modern "art" doesn't do so. Interactivity doesn't even play into it, as I can get the messages (even one I don't agree with) from Bioshock, regardless of my interaction as the character, while I can see no message at all in the modern "art" of lines and painted squares at random locations on a canvas.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 11:52 PM
  • Comixjunky

    To simplify a long conversation I would love to have with Adam, there has been a paradigm shift in how humans perceive art and entertainment. It is more evident with every new generation. No not calling you old here, I'm old too, but the way the younger generations consume media and ultimately "art" has changed. Less and Less kids read comic books, which undeniably an art. I have heard now with the Ipad many people are more willing to read comics. Why? the same comics are available in analog formats. Digital is becoming more and more a part of how people perceive the world. Within 20 years we will laughing about this conversation ever happening. Video games are an artform, it's just we don't have the same perception of them as future generations will.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 11:41 PM
  • uberman3000

    Its just like comic books they will never be excepted as art either. They have plenty or writing awards but the fine art community will never acknowledge comic books as art. No matter how many comics Alex Ross paints it will never happen. Witch is sad really because art is supposed to be subjective.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 11:37 PM
  • Shadowmars

    It can be agreed that all art (paintings, literature, etc.) is visual representation of spoken stories and human emotion, albeit, the human mind. Do video games fall under art with this philosophy? I believe so.

    Paintings, literature, etc. are just the basic art genres. Can you put literature in a painting and call it art? The ability to interact with art can vary also. You read words from literature, you visually enjoy pictures, you audibly enjoy music, you experience video games.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 11:28 PM
  • mattgindago

    I gotta say, I disagree with Adam on this one. I don't think the reason why we want video games to be labeled art is because it will make us feel better, I think that it is rather the recognition from the outside parties that only look in on video gaming as a violent obscene practice that we are searching for. I personally think that Video Games are as much an art as a movie. There are VERY artistic games (I.E. Bioshock, Braid, Flower, ETC) just like there are very artistic movies (I don't know if y'all will agree with me on this one but PRIMER). on the same side there are also other films and games that aren't very artistic. As Chuck Palahniuk might have said, 'bad is not the word i'm looking for, but it is the only one i can think of".

    I come from the belief that anything created is art, like USEMEUP's Professor was saying. I also think that Art is not really static. while the traditional presentation of art is static, like a painting, what you get out of the piece of art is more likely than not, mobile. But there is a reason why art is presented this way; It is way easier to get your message across if the medium is static. It takes SKILLS to figure out how to get a message across with the millions of different paths that the gamers will take. Another thing too, the beauty of art comes from how different the ideas gleamed off of the art can be. A lot of good movies and television shows are popularized because of this, just in a different way. Based on how the actor says a line, the way his/her body is poised, what he/she is doing at the same time, i could get a totally different message from it than my friend, and there fore we'll have different predictions. I digress.

    my point is that until Video games are taken seriously, the gamer culture will be something that will not be looked good upon by a lot of people. one of the ways to change this would be to label it under something that is looked positively upon. The Idea is to change "Video games are a waste of time, you should be doing something more intellectual" to "Did you catch the Loss of innocence archetype in level 4??"... perhaps that is asking a bit much but you get the idea.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 11:22 PM
  • Skyler O'Hara

    Anyone short sighted and narrow minded enough not to consider any act of personal expression art is a fool, not worthy of the words they wasted, and are generally talking out of their ass. Hey Ebert STFU.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 11:09 PM
  • Jeespot

    One last thing I want to comment on Ebert, is the amount of appreciation for Video Games that has coalesced by people all over the internet just as a reaction to his comment, and for that I thank him. It almost feels like someone struck their totalitarian ball sack on top of a giant population of video nerds and just like the very person in my avatar we came up and gave him hell back with our fists in the air. I'm not really a supporter of Che, but anyway thats a different discussion. I have genuinely enjoyed reading the comment section and it felt legitimately encouraging to know that I am not alone, that there is real appreciation for games. It almost makes the argument meaningless, and I understand Adam that that was your point at the end. Still, Ebert's just a jackass for saying that. End of Story

    Posted: April 20, 2010 11:03 PM
  • busboy33

    I think the problem with this "debate" isn't art or games, but semantics.

    Ebert's essay implies (and I'm suprised at how vague he is about this) that he refering to the "game" part of a game as the actual rule-set the game operates under. As he said in the conversation following his post, chess can be played with pieces that qualify as "art" (magnificent carvings, for example), but the game itself does not become art as a result. The act of moving an artistic pawn forward isn't art by itself . . . it's an action in a game. The game program may have artistic music, and artistic graphics, and an artistic overall design, but the game is something that we do with those assets So in THAT very narrow defintion of "games", then I have to agree with him that games aren't art. As he said, Bobby Fischer wasn't an artist -- he was a damn talented chess player. He didn't move his King's Knight to take his opponent's bishop because it was artistically fitting, but rather he did it to win the game.

    What seems to incense gamers is that modern video games are so much more than a simple rule-set -- Mass Effect is not checkers. Playing a modern game is more akin to directing a movie nowadaws. We see the "final" product, not the game disc but the game played, and those are two different things. We get more "cinematic" enjoyment from most games now than we do from movies. Complicating the problem is that modern games often don't have "win" or "loss" states. You can't really lose a game like Mass Effect or Heavy Rain . . . you just get an alternate ending to the movie.

    Think of Pulp Fiction. One of the aspects to the movie that garnered it so much "artistic" critical acclaim was that it was shown out-of-sequence. Now suppose the movie was released where the audience could vote on what order they wanted to see the segments in. The individual segments might be art, and any particular combination of the segments might be "art", but the overall package wouldn't be because until it is actually sequenced what is going to look like isn't known. I can play Mass Effect straight, or I can run around in circles in an empty room for 10 minutes. The first might be cinematic art, while the latter would just look silly.

    So I can agree that a "game", in a very narrow definitional sense, can't be art. However, I strongly disagree that a playthru of a game can't be. It all depends on what it is that we end up calling a "game". Is it the actual lines of code? Is it the image displayed on the television? Is it the inputs we use to cause the program to react? Is it the experience of playing?

    I do agree with Adam though that Mr. Ebert is acting like a bit of a troll on the topic.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 11:01 PM
  • Jeespot

    Alright Adam, i'm gonna give you a piece of my mind...haha well as part of a healthy mature discussion of course. I don't want to sound like those typical comment naggers who get heated over the smallest remark, but at the same time, whats the point of a blog if you don't want to hear opinions right?

    First thing I wanted to say is that your purposely-broad definition of art, although you said it wasn't the best definition yourself, being a static "static" product is a little bit contradictory to what I believe art is. Don't get annoyed by me, just hear me out. Think of the greatest "work of art" that you believe exist or existed at some point. I can guarantee you that the emotion, imagery, movement, or whatever the artist originally planned to portray, is NOT the interpretation that made it well known and respected. The majority of art, be it music, paintings, dance, etc...are enjoyable because of their OPEN ENDED-NESS. The fact that they are there for interpretation, and that one creation CAN evoke such broad critiques and points of views are exactly what get them known for works of art. I understand what you are trying to say, there needs to be one sole object, unaltered by the original artists there for interpretation. All i mean to say is that the term "static" is not the most representative term for art.

    Second, you did mention that video games have forms of artistry in them, and I at least hope that Ebert could agree with that. Some of the greatest composers of our time created full orchestral suites for video game soundtracks, some of the most talented painters and sketch artists bring unique protagonist and antagonists to life by their appearance, hell even programming and coding is an art-form itself, character development, storytelling, the narrative, the color palette, the emotional cues, blah blah blah YES crazy amounts of artistry go into EVERY game. So how can bringing all of this together into one unique experience be disregarded as art? Is a Shakespearian play not art? it combines music, characters, atmosphere, emotion, clothing design, all into one medium, but the actual product itself is not art? An orchestral suite, combines the talents of several different instrumentalists, but the orchestral arrangement itself is not art? A dance recital combines music, clothing design, physical movement, and story telling, but the actual recital arrangement is not art? How the hell can anyone begin to discern art on a Micro/Macro scale, just because a medium to deliver several forms of artistry exists is no justification to disregard the medium as art, because the medium and the artistry are one.

    Third, and I hope this is the most important to most of you. The reason we (artists or non-artists) are upset with his comment isn't because he makes us feel insecure about the fact that we NEED to feel as though video games are an art form. It is because he has CONFINED the definition of "art." WHO, please ANYONE tell me WHO would feel good about someone who has had NO EXPERIENCE in the creative process (Roger Ebert, besides his cute little essays) tell the mass population such a narrow and concrete definition to what art can and can't be? ANYONE who tries to do so is a fool, and has no idea what it FEELS like to truly CREATE something or FEEL something genuine from someone else's creation. There can never be a true definition for art, and I think every genuine artists feels the same way, that IS the appeal of it. Art is simply another term for a unique creation by a person or persons that evokes some type of connection of any kind, to many people...thats it. If you were to walk into a development studio like Bethesda or Bioware and say that there is absolutely no creative process involved in the whole company in making there games, I assure you you would be thrown out on your ass with probably a few bruises on the face. ANYTHING that involves creative process, unique to its creators, "un-clonable",and is enjoyed by people is art. Anyone who attempts to confine its definition DOES NOT know what art is, why its there, who its for, and most obviously, how to create it. I never felt that i needed to justify video games as art to feel approval, I wanted to classify it as art because it made me FEEL something. I would get a deep feeling of sadness and discourse if I COULDN'T classify it as art because of how discouraging it is to an artist to be told something like that. That is the exact same reason why it was created in the first place, and that is exactly why everything that has been considered art was, and will be..."created." I felt sadness when i heard him say that, legitimate sadness, it hurts in my chest as we speak. The only thing Roger Ebert proved by that comment is that he himself has never been or will ever be an artist. Or that he is really good at getting his name around the net. Either way anyone can judge artistry, but i don't think anyone who has never created art can ever try to define it.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 10:44 PM
  • johnnytruant

    A couple of problems.
    What really stood out to me in Ebert's essay was the bit about how you can win a game but you can't win art. And that really got me thinking. It's easy to say that Ebert doesn't understand gaming, because he isn't a gamer. But, games have changed. We've had the ontological rug pulled out from under us. We call them games, but that's not what they are any more. In the eighties, games were a competition. You wanted the high score, you wanted to win, you wanted to put your initials on top so everyone could see.. But over time, other aspects became important to us. Story draws us in, and so does innovative gameplay. We crave the new, and that doesn't just mean fancy new graphics, but interesting design, different ways of doing things. When I'm playing Halo multiplayer, I want to win. But I played ODST because the mood blew me away. I dug Bioshock because it crapped all over Ayn Rand's ideology. I had to stop playing for awhile when your horse died in Shadow of Colossus. I felt so giddy when in Fable II I my character married a rich nobleman, then moved him to a house in the slums of another city, then she had sex with multiple whores in front of him and their children, but was still able to finagle things to her advantage so he wouldn't leave. When I played MGS2, I didn't think about winning or the score when naked and awkward, the commanding officer I trusted through two games started spewing the madness at me. Art is art because it appeals to the emotions. It makes us feel. And it makes us think. And now I get to the second part, which is a criticism of Adam's response. Art can't be static. When I look at the sistine chapel I don't feel what people felt when they looked at it even a hundred years ago. It means something different to me than it would the pious. I'm impressed, I recognize it as art, and I am in awe of Michelangelo's accomplishment, but it is not static. And that is one of the reasons that art is important. The fact that it is not static at all. If we are to value art, to appreciate it, and to learn from it, we have to put it into the context of our lives. Art is something different for every person who views it. For those that appreciated Ron English, his subversions of contemporary billboards felt like art, to the legal authorities, and the companies he was attacking Mr English was a nuisance. The same goes for all grafitti.
    I see Ebert's essay as more of a challenge than anything. This medium is still in its infancy, and the biggest obstacle is that we call them video games, when "games" are not what they are anymore.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 10:20 PM
  • Blue_Vortex

    Video games are the ultimate form of art, since they combine just about every other form of art into one amazing personal experience like no other

    Posted: April 20, 2010 10:15 PM
  • mronoc89

    See, my definition of art is more or less opposite. I've always felt that art should be more dynamic than static. Even if people observing the same work of art see the same visuals and hear the same sounds, each will have a unique experience with that piece of art. What's more, an individuals interpretation will most likely grow and change with them, and if their interpretation remains static, then it's enjoyability seems to come primarily from nostalgia, which seems to give it less artistic merit. Just look at the history of the development of art, from cave paintings, to music, to film, it's all been a continuing process of moving from static towards dynamic, all seeming to culminate in digital interactive entertainment. I mean, if something can't be dynamic and still be art, than that kind of rules out improvisational music.

    I feel that art should leave itself open to interpretation, to put it simply, I don't think art should be about answers, but rather about questions, which is why I've always felt that games have a much greater potential (albeit largely wasted) for artistic expression than any other creative medium. The artists job isn't to tell the observer what to think, or even how to think, but just to ensure that they DO think.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 10:10 PM
  • theantigzus

    well i can agree with Adam that this isnt important, it doesnt matter whether anyone thinks video games are art or can accept them for that matter. Just like food can be considered art, architecture can be considered art and im sure theres plenty of other examples but im gonna stick to those. Just because people would consider a modrn building with jaw dropping architectural features art that doesnt mean they would consider all buildings are, certainly a out house in alaska wouldnt be considered art. If you go to some bistro in france and order a delicious and well crafted entree that might be considered art or some crazy cake on ace of cakes (i love food network) certainly htis doesnt mean McD's is art. So even if most people wouldnt consider video games art, i personally wouldnt for the most part.Like Adam said even if they arent considered art doesnt mean their not artistic and as time passes im sure there will be a video game that ceratinly mkaes people think twice about people not thinking of video games as art.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 10:03 PM
  • Calbanese

    i totally missed the first 1/3 of this soapbox cause I was watching Braid in the background and feeling so frustrated that he couldn't get the puzzle piece until 3:07...

    Posted: April 20, 2010 10:03 PM
  • ritchey21

    Honestly, I just dismiss what most people say on video games because they dont understand the concept of the video game. Which is why we resort to G4 and the G4 website for most of our gaming information and feedback. Why? Because we know what gaming does to us. We know what it means to us.

    Gaming to a 60 year old man means zip. Especially one who probably hasn't sat down and played a video game possibly ever.

    Now while I do think games are "art" it is a much different type of art from. Putting it together, making them look the way they do and feel the way they do. Being able to make the player feel like they are in the game. THAT is art.

    Just my honest opinion.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 10:01 PM
  • ElCheLikesAudi

    For me anything that evoke emotion is art and sorry but I'm a big movie buff but more game have made me cry, love, cared, and so on than most movies. I do get mad cause I loved all type of art and to me video game more and more has become the ultimate art from.

    Would I call all games are art? The same goes for movie and books. I agree with Sessler that not all game must be art. But some are and to say it can not be cause of some textbook defintion sorry but no Ebert you are wrong.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 9:41 PM
  • television_eyes

    "Art (according to Merriam-Webster)"

    webster's dictionary is hardly comprehensive. and the dictionary has never been meant to dictate language or concepts to us. rather it's meant to describe the language that's used by society, and oftentimes the descriptions aren't all that good. deferring to the dictionary as the ultimate authority on anything is a bad move. if the dictionary was meant to restrict language, there would never be any new words at all.

    "Yes I have an art degree. Yes I took art history and art appreciation classes. Anything that springs forth from the human mind as a creative endeavor is art regardless of how it is used, viewed or interpreted by the consumer. So suck-it Ebert and Sess. Sorry, couldn't help myself."

    using "an art degree" as proof of expertise is kinda iffy. a bachelor of fine arts degree isn't exactly reknowned for being difficult to achieve. may as well just quote marcel duchamp's idea about any/every object being art by virtue of being selected by the artist. only problem with duchamp's statement is that as bold & provocative as it was, it's never really gained mainstream acceptance.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 9:28 PM
  • LocoCabasa

    Art? Video games are disposable product. BioShock is an artistic exception that proves the rule: Most video games are expressions of juvenile male fantasy, not sublime, universal truth. But sublime truth usually fails to generate revenue, so industry professionals are paid to prostitute their artistic skills for the assembly-line production of more disposable digital product. Movies are no better than video games, and often worse. At least you can have fun by controlling or influencing the outcome of video games. Movie makers expect you to sit passively while they spoon feed hapless viewers with another helping of crap.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 8:54 PM