Video Games as Art


Poor Roger Ebert has created some sort of Internet Firestorm by claiming that Video Games aren’t art.  Everyone is pissed off at him, which is really quite silly.  But it’s interesting.  PZ Myers posted in agreement with Ebert, and now there’s extreme craziness over there as well.  Seriously, 3000 Comments at Ebert’s page and over 500 at Pharyngula.

It all seems a bit ridiculous to me because obviously art is a subjective experience.  One man’s art is another man’s urinal.  This hits home with me because I think comedy is an art form but it generally isn’t treated as one.  If it makes you cry, it’s art, if it makes you laugh, it’s just entertainment.  Video games straddle this line between entertainment and art, much like film does, and it’s why people act as though some films are art and some aren’t.  Rather than accepting that some films are just really shitty art made by committee.  As though calling something “art” automatically makes it good, worthwhile or insightful.  Have you ever been to DeviantArt?

Someone mentioned this in the comments over on Ebert’s page, but it seems like it’s the difference between a chess board and playing chess.  A chess board can be a work of art, but a game of chess is a game.  The act of playing a video game isn’t artistic, but the game itself is some combination of puzzle and art.  Although, playing a game for other people might be considered some kind of performance art…

I think the lines are a bit blurred, because storytelling is generally considered art, though it is also entertainment.  Video Games, particularly RPGs, follow specific story lines and develop characters, you can genuinely become emotionally involved with them.  This is why the people defending the video games are so defensive, to them the games have real emotional depth and feeling and Ebert and PZ are saying that that isn’t a valid reaction.

I don’t think it makes you old-fashioned not to think of video games as art anymore than it makes someone old-fashioned to think TV or bad films aren’t art.  It’s a very difficult line to draw between entertainment and art.  Is Blazing Saddles art?  Is Die Hard?  Is Eddie Izzard?

It’s a subjective question.  Some people might say that Uwe Boll is art, and I’m not sure I could disagree with them.  Now, if they claimed it was worthwhile, I’d have to laugh derisively in their face.  Personally, I think the in-depth narratives, stunning graphics, and emotional investment that a lot of video games provide do make them art.  I’d argue for Kingdom Hearts, Prince of Persia, Ocarina of Time or even Katamari Damacy — they present unique visions of the world and stories that have stuck in my mind as much as any film.

But, I think the entire discussion is best encapsulated by a comment by Brownian over at Pharyngula:

Oh, goody.

You know what this society sorely lacks? More pretentious conversations asking What Is Art? (and then answering with something along the lines of “Whatever it is, kids today aren’t doing it.”)

I look forward to Ebert’s next essay: “Why Lawns Are Important And Why The Kids Should Get The Fuck Off Mine.”

If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game.

Complete bullshit. Boring for you maybe, but I spent a great part of my childhood and teenage years watching other people play video games, and found it to be as full of opportunities for socialisation and entertainment as many other activities.

Comments

  1. steveonfilm says

    If video games aren’t art, is everything inside of them not considered art either? And if not, man, we’re going to have to rename a BUNCH of positions in the industry.

  2. Frank Anderson says

    Ebert is welcome to think what he wants to about games, but the fact that he is judging them without playing any and having only watched brief clips of a few really makes me question his worth as a critic.

    Would he review a movie off a still picture from it? I don’t think so. That is exactly what he is doing with gaming.

    I really think he just did this to stir up hits to his site.

    I, for one, will never click on his site again.

  3. says

    I haven’t made it through his whole post yet, but it seems like his basic idea is that video games aren’t art because they require interactive participation, blurring the line between audience and artist. Which would mean that the whole Theatre of Cruelty movement wasn’t art either … which I don’t think it was, since it seems mainly like a big practical joke, but that’s my opinion, and I fucking hate practical jokes (except when Brad Pitt is involved).

    I disagree that video games are boring when watched, because I’ve gotten waaaaay too involved in video games other people were playing, like BioShock, Episodes 1 and 2 of Half-Life 2, and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. I am a self-proclaimed excellent “wing man” for video gaming, because I do watch someone else play the game with avid fascination. I think was Ebert is missing here is that audiences should be just as emotionally involved with good movies and theatre and paintings and music as they are with video games. So you SHOULD interact, in some way, with good art. Just because the interaction extends to pushing buttons for video games doesn’t change it being art or not. There are also several short, plotless video games written in Javascript online that involve very vague, pointless puzzle solving and no resolution — those feel very much like many performance art pieces to me, because I react to them with the same fascination with technical skill on the part of the artist.

    Now, if you define video games solely in terms of SuperMario Bros 1 or Kirby’s Dreamland or Sonic the Hedgehog, then sure, they’re not art. They’re more like sport. But video games have changed A LOT, and very quickly. I agree with … that lady from the TED video … that we are more in the age of scratches on the walls of caves than Cistine Chapel, but it is still a developing art form.

  4. Cat says

    Just watch a movie clip from any of the newer final fantasy games – it’s art. I think the famous dance scene from one of them definitely counts if not many other scenes.

    Also, I think there is art in how a game is played – some people just go through the motions and button mash, but some people are truly artistic about how they play.

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