Adam Sessler posted a "soapbox" video blog on G4 today wherein he threw his two cents into the Roger Ebert debate. Feels like old news at this point, but then again Adam has a whole network to run and can't just spew his thoughts onto the internet like those of us to whom this is a hobby first and foremost, at the moment, anyway…
I've talked about the fact that the discourse with Mr. Ebert is the most important thing to me, and in recent posts on Punching Snakes my desire to see gaming mainstreamed. The two topics dovetail together nicely, but I've not been specific as to why I think either of these really matter.
Video games used to be the sole refuge of the geek and the nerd. They were cobbled together, in the beginning, by math and science geeks in garages. Then in the 1980's we had video arcades, but they were still pretty nerdy. In the 1990's we had home consoles, and gaming worked its way out of the local mall and into our living rooms. By the 2000's gaming had wormed its way into a lot of homes, and now in the 2010's gaming is a fairly mainstream way of life…to those of us who were born in the 1970's, and those who came afterwards.
The question here is really about engaging the mainstream in discourse around video games, not for the sake of legitimizing games – are any of you going to stop playing them now that Roger Ebert seems to have heaped scorn upon them once again? – but for the sake of moving our culture even further out from the geek basement and into the light of day. I can only see good things arising from the day when every major news entity covers video games because they've been deemed "important enough to be covered."
I would posit that the current quality of our games is in no small part due to the continual mainstreaming of gaming. The current quality of our games is not simply an expression of the state of our current technology. The more legitimate and "normal" gaming becomes, the more people will be exposed to and potentially become interested in games from an early age. It will mean more education programs for coding and design, and some of those people will drop out of those disciplines but continue in related fields of science and engineering that we are in such desperate supply of.
It will mean more people being willing to invest in start-up game companies, which brings more competition and innovation into the field. That should wind up providing better games for us in the long run. Lots more crap, too, but just by the numbers if X percentage of total games produced in a year are hits and the total number of games increases, then X increases.
I would also suggest that mainstreaming video games will lead to less ignorance like the Fox News coverage of Mass Effect (from whence the picture above was taken) or Hillary Clinton wanting to probe into Grand Theft Auto.
There is no definition of art. This question alone has vexed philosophers for as long as humanity has had philosophers. Consider that for a moment, and then consider whether it is, or is not, a fool's errand to try and decide whether video games are art or not. It is a question of personal aesthetics and definitions.
My personal definition of art is "Something that, through representation, resonates larger thoughts or emotions to the viewer." Our reaction to "art" is larger than the sum of our visceral reactions to the physical manifestation of that art.
When people see the Mona Lisa, they don't just say "Huh, neat portrait." They don't just admire the physical technique of the painting, they are drawn into the eyes of that woman, become part of hundreds of years' worth of wondering who she was, what she is thinking, etc. That's why it is considered "art."
I can't honestly say that I've had any experience with a video game that has resonated with me for more than a few months, at most. I remember staying up late to beat Super Mario Bros. with my father on a school night when we discovered the 1up glitch, and Mom being pissed off at us, but that's not a memory of the game, specifically, resonating with me. It's a memory of spending time with my father.
I remember the Bionic Commando super villain reveal at the end of the game, and how he looked just like Hitler, but I wouldn't say that's a deep thought resonating with me, more a memory of how video games could shock me even back then. I remember Wing Commander for being the first game I ever played that really made me feel like I was a part of a game, but there's no larger thought or reaction there, it's purely visceral.
My memories of video games all fit into this sort of pattern. I don't remember playing any video games that made me think about the unfairness of the human condition, or the tragic nature of love, or the wonderment of nature. So what? Do I need them to? No – but those are the kinds of reactions I expect when I view "art," so my contention is that Roger Ebert is probably right – video games are not art yet, but someday they WILL be.
This is a rare occasion where I see the value in the journey, not the destination.