I read through Roger Ebert’s blog post this week, where he revisited his earlier statement from five years ago where he claimed that “Video games can’t be Art”, only to re-emerge from it and changing “can’t” to “never”. After reading his thoughts on revisiting the subject, I can’t help but feel like I have to speak out against his assumption.
If video games can’t be art, I hope the majority of what’s on television in theaters isn’t either. No, not every title pumped out by video game developers and publishers is on the level of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” but we have had very notable examples of video games that are not only “art”, but are also excellent experiences as an interactive medium. Video games, like any other prominent form of art, had humble beginnings as very unsophisticated, stripped down versions of what they are now- the passage of time has slowly built them up into the giants they are today. Personally, I believe it’s unfair to not recognize video games as art.
The way I see it, art is subjective – we all have our own ideas of what art can be, so here’s a very broad definition that should cover anything:
Art is an expression of the creator’s idea, emotion, opinion in a way that invokes a response in the observer. Be it purposeful or accidental, Art can be pretty, or ugly. Most importantly, identifying what Art is can vary from person to person, as we all draw different responses from different mediums.
In this case, I’ve been stimulated by video games since the first day I could hold a controller. Because I’ve played entirely too many games that would qualify as art at least in my eyes, here are a couple examples in recent memory that I can speak on:
My first example is one that Ebert dismissed as nothing more substantial than a greeting card. By comparing it to greeting cards, I assume he’s insulting them. However, isn’t a greeting card a valid art form too? Although Flower puts complex control schemes on the sidelines in favor of emphasizing the simple beauty of a field of flora, it is a grand example of interactive art. Flower is difficult to explain in words, because it’s just the kind of game you have to not only read about, but experience. Watch a gameplay video and see what I’m talking about. Better yet, enjoy it on your own television with the controller in your hand. I shouldn’t even have to defend Flower’s claim to art. There’s nothing non-artistic about it! Be it the myriad of colors, endless blades of grass forming an ever swaying patchwork of nature’s smallest gifts; this is art in a video game in its purest, least confusing form.
An artist is someone who can take a vision in their head, and can place it into a medium where others can see and feel. Video games accomplish this to a higher degree because Role Playing Games in particular craft very large, expansive, fantasy worlds where people can live in and thrive. When it comes to MMORPG’s, that scope is magnified. Players plug in and interact within the medium, within a world their avatar exists in, in a way that couldn’t have been imagined ten years ago. Be it the ability to sprout wings and soar majestically through the beautiful vistas of Aion, feeling that sense of camaraderie as a guild member in World of Warcraft. How is that not artistry? Better yet, this is the brainchild of not only one person, but a multitude of creators! Every character, locale, and other various graphical assets are on a story board somewhere, and they had to be drawn from the creators mind first. They still underwent the artistic process. With the use of computers and other technology, new forms of art like this are possible.
How many musicians, bands, and entertainers have seen surges in popularity or resurrections of relevancy in the minds of music fans and gamers with the advent of music games like Guitar Hero and Rockband? No, despite the few child prodigies we can catch on YouTube, learning and playing an instrument is a daunting task. Before you think about it, leave the “go play a real instrument” argument for another day, because that’s not the point. Those games have struck a gold mine so rich with creativity (read: ART) that it’s impossible not to think of video games as art without thinking of music simulation games. Aside from fiddling with a plastic instrument, we’re still hearing music as we always have, even more so today. With hundreds of songs released for us to jam to in such a short amount of time, music from a multitude of eras and genres have been discovered by players/listeners. These games have successfully accomplished the task of fusing both music and video games that never had the mass appeal they do now. Again, I question how this can’t be considered art! As a side note, playing Guitar Hero has inspired me to buy a real guitar, so that has to say something.
When new things begin to take prominence, the old guard often begins to think the ways they’re accustomed to are being eliminated. Traditional methods of painting and drawing take a lot of skill, and mastering that should definitely be commended. Developing or playing Video games aren’t bastardizing this process. When it comes to creating something, no machine will ever step in and compensate for a lack of skill and imagination on the crafter’s part.
People often have a strictly defined, personal idea of what art is to them. This is perfectly valid, because no one’s trying to force a standard definition onto anyone. We’re free to think what we want to. What makes me angry, better yet, why I’m writing this to begin with, is that when people say something that condemns an entire category of recreation, one that I personally have been linked to for most of my life, that isn’t voicing an opinion anymore, that’s being an elitist.
Games are an interactive art. It comes alive the more you play. The more you explore, many surprises await you. Basing your critique on the introductory scenes or levels of a game is like watching a movie for 4 minutes and walking out. You’re not giving the developers enough time to showcase their masterpiece. The greatest movies don’t hit their climaxes four minutes, and neither should video games. As a critic, your words and sentiments are an opinion, not fact. The least you can do is be fair. See the full body of the work you’re going to critique. See the whole movie, watch the entire play. Even if you don’t like the first five or so minutes, and intend to honestly critique a work, then you better sit through it. Otherwise don’t spread your misshapen opinion as an unyielding belief.
People like Ebert have shown us that they have no interest in playing video games. If you don’t have the patience or the general common courtesy to fully experience them, then do not critique my video games, our video games. While it’s okay to have opinions, professionalism goes out of the window when someone takes it upon themselves to attempt to shut down a large category of interactive art.