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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  • alexsmerch

    I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, if you can even call it an issue.
    Just thinking out loud here, I'd say videos games can never be fully recognized as art because of the large technical component that makes up any game. Video games are advancing at such an alarming rate and will continue to evolve for as long as the Moore's law stands. Maybe one day we will reach a point where computers will so powerful that would not only let the technology take a back seat but possibly kick it out of the car altogether and allow game developers to focus solely on the art side of video games, rather than hardware and software optimization. Only then. maybe, we will be able to declare video games as art.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 8:52 PM
  • CustosIntusSilentium

    Before I chose to respond, I read Ebert's journal. While he does make several good point, his old age must be serving as a barrier to connective and abstract cognitive ability. Many of the items he talked about; goals, rules, points, etc; have the same emphasis in other forms of art, though in a differing form. "Rules" can be considered as techniques with a paint brush or the socially constructed rules for language needed to read- if you violate the rules, the result is less than intended. "Points" can be relevant to plot depending if they are literal "points" or are a point system such as money or exp. However, "winning" really isn't a meaningful term anymore.

    But for the sake of argument, characters in literature often have battles of various sorts and they often both lose and win these battles through various outcomes. Games also entertain this concept, though the "losing battle" is less utilized. Besides, it simply refers to reaching the end of a game or battle. So, it could be said, you "win" after reading a book or chapter. I know my 1st grade teacher would agree. He does, however, make the correct point of saying storytelling is likely the earliest form of art. Though man may have had the ability to draw before audible communication, it was through vocal communication the drawings were given meaning and relevance, i.e. a story. If no other facet of games can be considered art, story can. The only stipulation is one Ebert also mentioned, personal taste.

    On an aside, story is the reason why I feel games, in reference to what we call games, needs a new designation

    The only wholly valid argument Ebert makes deals with markets, profits, and overall capitalistic motives. While game innovation and creative flows are dictated by the great gears of profit and market appeal, no true art is likely to come to fruition. Art is not a volume business. It was also a poor choice for Santiago, the person arguing for games as art to Ebert, to use profit margins and market values to show the value of games as art. Consumerism is ALWAYS ugly. Although there are far more than enough articles to cover on this topic to write a dissertation, I'll leave things at this.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 8:45 PM
  • chocolatejeebus

    And now for something more constructive. Art is by its very definition, interactive. The viewer, reader, etc. takes in the stimulus, and then by their own interpretation which is informed by their intellect, life experiences, tastes, etc. changes that art into something different than what another person might perceive. Roger Ebert gives Kick-Ass a bad review, but gives Anaconda and the Cell good reviews. He has clearly seen totally different movies than many others. 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.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 8:19 PM
  • chocolatejeebus

    Art (according to Merriam-Webster): the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced.

    Video games are art, Roger Ebert is an out-of-touch moron.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 8:04 PM
  • slayingsumfools

    Adam I think your point about art being static and video games being interactive is more than likely the correct answer as to why video games are entertaining but not art. I say this because I watch Top Gear on BBC America which if you don't know is a show about cars. One of the host addressed this same issue while the tackling the question of cars being art and he quoted a man who said "In order for something to be art it can serve not other purpose other than itself". As you said a painting, a book, the written words of a play only have one function which is to simply be there. Video games can serve multiple functions all at once such as motor skill improvement and they can also provide an escape after a hard day. Video games can be socially debilitating and socially inclusive at the same time. Look at the Wii and how it can bring families together and also work as fitness device in your home. Look at how Xbox live has brought people together...sure some of those people are bigots and homophobes not mention possibly militia men but thats a different issue for a different time. Video games have a constantly changing narrative which is probably why they suck as movies because fall under that same one function rule like paintings and books. As for Ebert well the gaming community doesn't need his validation and it will continue to grow while the movie industry jumps from one gimmick to the next while living off of superhero movies and remakes as it tries to survive.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 7:45 PM
  • CraziRabidFanboi

    Someone should ask Ebert if he would still think of paintings as art, if every person who views them could modify the painting. If he says yes, then in that case video games can be considered art .

    Posted: April 20, 2010 7:33 PM
  • Otsdarva

    I'm not so much concerned with Ebert's comments on video games as an art form, principly because he doesn't play video games. Ever. It'd be like me passing a criticism on authentic Russian theater; I can say whatever I want, but it needn't offend the Russians because I have no idea what I'm talking about; my input is absolutely meaningless.

    What I'm more concerned with is the manner in which Ebert made these claims, and why he felt the need to say anything at all. He makes it perfectly clear from the beggining that he has no desire to debate the topic, or make any effort to educate himself on the material. He refuses to take part in any sort of back-and-forth on what he said, but I - and I'm sure many of you did as well - felt that the gauntlet was thrown at my feet to defend the merits of my medium of choice. He posted this on the internet, by the way, so for those of you keeping track at home, that's a lot of gauntlets.

    It strikes me as a bit Jack Thompson-ish, actually. He has no intention of provoking an intellectual debate regarding the artistic merits of videogames, he just throws his inflamatory opinions out there and bolts for the "I'm above debating a bunch of gamers on the internet" escape. Coming from someone who should certainly understand the way a group reacts to interjected criticisms, this was a pretty chicken-(feces) maneuver.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 7:21 PM
  • Swal

    Art's only purpose is itself. That implies both movies and video games are not art.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 7:17 PM
  • Ben999999

    ugh, this AGAIN? I would love to go at least a month without seeing this inane topic creeping about my gaming sites of choice. Why do gamers feel the need to have their chosen form of entertainment validated by every critic of every other form? Games are fun, who cares if they're art or not?

    Posted: April 20, 2010 7:10 PM
  • TheFeedMack

    video games were once art now they are creations which i consider better than most art parts of games are art alone for instance Borderlands, Crackdown 2 ,Team Fortress 2, Halo series ,Fallout series, Flower ,and Brink

    Posted: April 20, 2010 7:04 PM
  • unfungames

    A videogame CONTAINS art, but it's not art. It's not a wholly concentrated form of entertainment because the user controls so much of the pace/action/story.

    Imagine if you bought a Picasso painting and you painted over it...it's art, but it's not Picasso's art anymore. That's the problem.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 7:02 PM
  • TCShade

    i believe games are art but not in a way that everybody thinks. i believe that games are an art in the same way that movies and music are.

    the term art doesn't necessarily have to mean like paintings. art can mean any number of things, like the way cooking is an art. if somebody has a problem with this, that's fine. people just need to learn how to have an open mind on things like this

    Posted: April 20, 2010 6:44 PM
  • Adrenalyn915

    It doesn't really bother me much that Ebert doesn't think games are art, although I do strongly disagree. On the contrary, I believe that Video Games are an extreme form of art, a form of art that combines almost all other forms of art, creating something that the viewer can interact with.

    All art, from paintings to films or from sculpture to dance, is subjective, not only from the like/dislike point of view, but from the fact that everyone who views or experiences a work of art is affected differently. A great masterpiece can be viewed from different angles, as well as mean many different things by each viewer. Video games take that subjective nature of art to the next level, not just by combining aspects of almost every medium, including music, writing, poetry, film, paintings, sometimes even dance, but by including the player in that collaboration of artistry.

    I am not saying that all games can be considered art, like any other medium, there are works that don't quite fit the mold. But the majority of good games being released are indeed art.

    Although I don't have a problem with Ebert's view on games, I do have a problem with the way he presents his views. First off, in his newest article, he argues against Kellee Santiago on her position that video games are art. Santiago uses Flower as an example that video games are art, and Ebert fires back by begging the questions: "Is the game scored? She doesn't say. Do you win if you're the first to find the balance between the urban and the natural? Can you control the flower? Does the game know what the ideal balance is?" Now, Ebert has obviously has never played Flower, but yet he argues as if he knows what he is talking about. Nevertheless, that is not what I am trying to point out. What I am trying to point out is that he asks these questions as though answering yes to any one of them would deem Flower 'Not Art', but if you look at any of the questions, what is different between them, and say... film? Do films not have a beginning or an end? Does a film not decide which is the correct path? Does film not know what is going to happen in the end? I just don't understand how any of that dismisses one of the most artistic games I have ever seen as art.

    My last comment/gripe about how Ebert addresses his audience about his opinion is that he values his own opinion too much, and treats it as though it is fact. He is not just dismissing games as art via his own opinion, but is acting as though his is the final word. That's why I think most gamers are up in arms. It is just in our nature, I mean look at how we argue over which console is better, and you expect us to just let some dude (no matter how valuable his opinion has been in the past) slide after a rant like that against our favorite pastime?

    Posted: April 20, 2010 6:38 PM
  • horseflesh

    I'm not entirely happy with some of what you said. Your problem with not worrying about it and just allowing it to be may not be enough. Video games are demonized and scapegoated a bit at the moment. Given validation, that may go away. Being treated as an artistic medium could actually be important to it's longevity and the kinds of legal treatment it gets. At DICE, I recall one of the talks by an attorney for the ESA who even stated they were a kind of second class citizen, or at least that perception existed. Having the legislation attempting to bar video games would likely hold less water if video games were perceived as art.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 6:28 PM
  • DefiantBrood

    Videogames is Art. You seem to be defining entertainment as not being art. Would music and film not be art? Maybe you feel videogames is more like a sport. like chess.
    Whatever, its your opinion, art does that.
    Videogames are a beautiful collabortion of a multitude of art that engages its audience like no other median before it. Like it or not its art.
    Sigh, I remember having a discussion similar to this years ago where one person had felt that rap wasnt music.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 6:17 PM
  • Metalstorm98

    Video games ARE art. This is an irrefutable fact to anyone knowlegeble about gaming. I challenge anyone to play Bioshock and not shudder at the halls of the once utopian Rapture. I challenge you not to be affected by the underlying political message in that work. Mr. Ebert does a good job at attacking the examples presented by Ms. Santiago but that isn't very hard to do if you've never played the games and experienced what they have to offer (addmittably she likely could have used a better example than WACO: The Game, Bioshock for example). Not only is gaming art, I'd be willing to say it is the most difficult art to create, and one of the most impactual. Gaming has the wonderful ability to immerse the player in a world, and immerse them more than any other medium will allow. Gaming is the combination of all other art forms. Art direction is used to make magnificent landscapes. Rapture of Bioshock is more iconic and a more artistic setting than any landscape painting that I've ever seen. Musical composition builds suspense and sets the mood, drawing the gamer further and further in to the rabbit hole. Cinematography is used to create the perfect feel to every game, contrasted by the carefree and expressive Borderlands and the dark and brooding Arkham Asylum. You may remained set in your opinion Mr. Ebert, but only because you ignore the expanse of evidence that refutes your claim. You asked us why gamers seek the recognition of thier muse as an art form, and I cant speak for everyone but I know I dont need any additiobnal recognition, I know the truth. I think the real question that begs asking is truly, why do you feel the need to exclude such a well established and brilliantly expressive art form? I think its that you remain stuck in the old stigma about games, you still relate gaming to two paddles on a screen knocking a ball back and forward. Broaded your gaze, you're looking for a masterpiece of gaming? Try Bioshock, which in my opinion is the best case for gaming as an art form. But until you actually make an attempt to understand the art that you are so willing to belittle you will never really be able to back up your assumptions with any real facts (Its the equivalent of you reviewing a movie you've never seen).

    Posted: April 20, 2010 6:14 PM
  • macfreak

    I don't think all video games can be an art form. Halo may have a good musical score and ODST may have touched a true story more than the other games, but it will never be on par with a good movie. This being said, games such as Mass Effect or Braid have given me more emotion and thought than any painting I've stared at.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 6:12 PM
  • triforce007

    "Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.", let me just say i have been affected emotionally by some games.

    Posted: April 20, 2010 5:57 PM
  • happymeowmeow

    I like that distinction between admiring the artistry in a game and considering it art. I think I feel the same way.

    From my perspective as someone who's had way to much art history education it seems obvious that what a society considers "art" is quite fluid. I have no doubt that one day there will be a videogame that will be considered art by the majority of the people who care about such things.

    Also, I liked Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft's open letter to Ebert in response :
    http://kotaku.com/5520087/an -open-letter-to-roger-ebert

    Posted: April 20, 2010 5:57 PM
  • Aussiepowa

    who cares?

    Posted: April 20, 2010 5:56 PM