I’m here to add to the cavalcade of noise regarding one special film critic Roger Ebert and his recent comments on video games and how they can’t be art. I wasn’t originally going to talk about this at all but I’ve found myself inexplicably thinking about it for a week now. I figure if it’s been stuck in my mind for that long I should write about it.
Where do I start? I guess I should start at the nagging question: Are video games art? Can they even be art? Here’s my answer: It doesn’t matter. I don’t think we should worry about our medium achieving this golden classification because in the end what we experience and what we enjoy about our medium is more important than what other people think.
The fact we’re even giving the energy to battle this out with Ebert confuses me. Why bother quarrelling at all? (I understand the irony of me stating this and subsequently writing a blog arguing it). Sadly, some people can’t help but feel passionate about the topic and can’t help but add fuel to the fire. In the end, giving Ebert more power. Kellee Santiago, for example, of Thatgamecompany has been at the epicentre of this whole debacle since she was the focus of Ebert’s post.
Here’s how the back-and-forth between the two has looked like in my eyes:
Kellee: Games are art guys. I mean, look at Braid and stuff.
Ebert: You’re stupid and wrong, but you’re pretty when you talk.
Kellee: But… but… look. Flower.
Ebert: Games can’t be art because they aren’t art. I’m Roger Ebert.
Kellee: BUT LOOK THIS GAME HAS FEELING. WEEEEE!
Ebert: I AM RIGHT!
See? Doesn’t that look silly. Yes, this is how I view the whole argument in general. And that’s essentially how it’s been.
This whole thing is ridiculous because whether our medium is defined as art shouldn’t be important. If we’re having meaningful experiences with our entertainment, then who cares if we’re respected by the rest of the planet. You can’t convince people like Roger Ebert. You never will. So why try? Why waste our energy? The only thing we achieve by doing this is that make ourselves look worse in his eyes, giving him power.
I recognize why we act so strongly to criticisms alike to the ones of Ebert’s, though. The gaming community is filled with people who are wondrously passionate about what we love. Dare I say, we’re the most passionate out of anyone. I’ve known movie buffs, theatre kids, music junkies, but I’ve never met a group of people who are as obsessive and feel so strongly about their medium than us (Except for Trekkers. We will never beat the Trekkers). So, I get it. I realize why we act the way we do but it’s to our determent. We need to step back and think about the situation at hand.
We need to consider the circumstances clearly, because if you do, you’ll notice that discussing the definition of art or what art can be is a conversation that has no answer. The debate on how to define it has been going on for years. Art, in a lot of ways, is about tapping into a human’s inner emotions and expressing them (Well most pieces have this in common at least). It’s subjective down to its core. So how does one objectively define it? You can’t. The idea that Roger Ebert is the pearl-covered gate that let’s ideas pass in or out into the world of art is stupid. Roger Ebert is just a person. He is a movie critic, but at his core , he’s just a person like you or me. He doesn’t determine what is valid; he doesn’t determine what will be valid in the future.
Ebert argues, “[Novels, plays, dance, and films] are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.” and that because games have rules, goals, and points, they cannot be a piece of art. Who says that a game developer couldn’t use those elements to their advantage and make them mean something. No one has done it yet, so why disparage the idea? That’s part of the main issue. Ebert seems to ignore the fact that the attributes of interactive entertainment can be modified to work in a more artistic manner. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it can never happen. You can take things like scores out of a game, but even then Ebert argues that it stops being a game. Again, we’re dealing with semantics. Who says every game needs a clear cut goal or an objective: Save the princess from the demon king! Games have room for growth. They’ve been rapidly changing for years. What they were once is not the same as they are now. There’s always going to be modifications to our medium. You’re being close-minded if you ignore that fact.
Games can be whatever we want them to be. And arguing with Ebert will get us nowhere. And hey, if games don’t ever reach the same artistic level of film or theatre, then so be it. This shouldn’t be our main focus when it comes to making games. It doesn’t affect us if games aren’t respected on the same level as other mediums. If people don’t get it then forget them, they’re the ones missing out, not us. We wont gain respect by yelling and screaming for it. We’ll get it if we continue to innovate in our design philosophies. We need to make games and play them too. Our objective right now should just to be happy with what we have.
Ebert was right about one thing in his article though when he said, “Why aren’t gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?”. “They have my blessing, not that they care.”, and you’re right Roger, we don’t and we shouldn’t