Author's note: I know it is a little late, but I'm posting it anyway. I just had to get this off my chest.

"Video games can never be art."

A wise man once said, "Video games can never be art." Then, he dissected a presentation given by a game designer and gave arguments supporting his claim. There were some who agreed with the man, but there were many who disagreed. Of those that disagreed, they formulated that the wise man was not very wise at all. A lot of them agreed to disregard his claim. Others tried to reason with him, but they never refuted his arguments.

Are video games art? I believe they ought to be considered as such. Throughout history humans have discovered new methods of art and this form should not be any exception. However, Roger Ebert has argued that video games are not art. To back his claims, he employs the words of great philosophers and focuses on the distinctions that separate the two. Is Roger Ebert's arguments convincing? I do not think it so. Many people may agree with me, but many do not share my view on the whole matter. Instead of responding like my peers, I wish to tackle Mr. Ebert's argument directly. While my aim is to simply offer a rebuttal to Ebert's claim, I hope to deepen the discussion of whether or not video games can be art.


GamesBeat Summit 2023

Join the GamesBeat community in Los Angeles this May 22-23. You’ll hear from the brightest minds within the gaming industry to share their updates on the latest developments.

Register Here

"Plato, via Aristotle, believed art should be defined as the imitation of nature. "

Let us suppose that art is the imitation of nature. The authors Mr. Ebert cites are part of the greatest minds in the world. Their credibility is much higher than lowly thinkers such as myself or Mr. Ebert. If art is the imitation of nature, what is nature? Is it the world around us? Is it the way things ought to be? Is it all things natural? To put it simply, let us suppose nature is everything that is natural. Or in other words, the world itself and the natural order of the world. When put into this context we see that: paintings reflect the beauty surrounding our natural environment, poets describe the natural emotions, and writers showcase the nature of man.

It is known what painters try to reflect upon. We know what writers try to express. But, what does a video game maker want to convey? A story? An idea? Game makers may talk of story and expression, but that is simply impossible. It is not simply a story. A game is a game. As Roger Ebert suggests, games have rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. No one can dispute that. A game encompasses all of those aspects. What is the true essence of a game? It is competition. It is an obstacle we overcome. These are what games convey.

Let us examine Pong, the one that started it all. It is a crude version of tennis. Each player controls a bar which acts like a racquet. The idea of the game is to score more points than your opponent, which is done through hitting the ball passed their racquet. This game is competition at its basic form.

Now, let us move to a more complicated version of a video game. Let us examine Super Mario Brothers. The idea of the game is to rescue the princess by reaching the end point of levels. In your path, there are monsters that try to kill you, dangerous gaps, and power-ups that aid you. This game gives you the tools to overcome any obstacle, but winning the game relies on the player's fortitude.

Do these games convey what occurs in nature? First, let us focus on Pong. At its core, Pong represents competition. The euphoria of victory and the agony of defeat. In the world we live, competition exists. It is one of the driving forces in nature. These are the results of our competitive nature: wars, survival of the fittest, and sports. A video game represents all of that.

Now, let us examine Super Mario Brothers. In the world around us, do we encounter obstacles? Do we overcome them? When a gap exists between two points, do we not try to cross it? When something we want is on the other side, do we sit around? People jump these gaps. They build bridges over them. The forces of nature puts forth many obstacles and people overcome them. It is human nature to rise above what lies ahead of us. If it is a gap, we jump it. If it is a damsel in distress, we rescue her. Super Mario represents a common theme in our human nature. The power to overcome.

These aspects of our nature are conveyed through countless poems, paintings, movies, and music. And yet, video games are not supposed to be grouped up with these works of art. There must be more to art than an imitation of nature. If this were truly the definition, then Mr. Ebert would be not be not steadfast in his opinion.

"But we could play all day with definitions, and find exceptions to every one. For example, I tend to think of art as usually the creation of one artist."

Although video games may fall under the definitions set by Plato and Aristotle, Mr. Ebert's standards for art is jumbled. He does not give a clear distinction between what is art and what is a game. It is true that games have rules, points, objectives, and outcomes, but art can adhere to the same characteristics. Art has restrictions when certain mediums are used. Rules. The quality of art is increased when more techniques are applied. Points. Works of art have an intent that the creator wants to convey. Objectives. Art's outcome depends on the audience's reaction. Outcomes. Are these characteristics supposed to separate art from games? If these aspects of video games can be applied to works of art, then these characteristics offer no distinction from each other. However, let us assume Mr. Ebert is still correct, then there ought to be more than these characteristics.

According to Mr. Ebert, the artist develops his craft as time goes on. "My notion is that it grows better the more it improves or alters nature through an passage through what we might call the artist's soul, or vision… They are all working from nature." Do video games undergo this type of transformation? Many would agree in that visuals for video games have improved over time. However, their assertion does not hold any water to what Mr. Ebert is trying to express. Graphics are only one component. That is akin to a painter focusing on the left side of the painting and ignoring the other half.  How can an artist improve their craft through only one aspect of their work? I do not believe that graphics are the main crux to which game makers improve their craft.

If visuals are not the answer, then what is? What could be the way for game makers to improve their craft? The answer to that is to change the way we play. Just as the artist improves the painting through drawing techniques and perspective, the game maker employs different methods of game play. For the past few years, Nintendo has adopted the strategy of creating gamers out of anybody. With the DS, a touch screen was added to simplify game play. With the Wii, motion controllers were added to simplify game play. What could be more natural than writing? What could be more natural than swinging? What could be more natural than pointing? These improvements work towards better immersion, but they also imitate nature far better than what the standard controller has done. And thus, video games can be improved through the artist's vision. Video games can work from nature. Video games can be considered as art.

"In defending their gaming against parents, spouses, children, partners, co-workers or other critics, do they want to be able to look up from the screen and explain, 'I'm studying a great form of art?' Then let them say it, if it makes them happy."

Despite all the arguments presented, it may not be enough to convince Mr. Ebert to change his opinion. Should the industry throw a fit because he does not consider games as art? I think not. Game makers ought to keep improving their craft. Game enthusiasts ought to accept that gaming is  becoming accepted. There will come a time where video games will be universally accepted as art. But right now, one can make a strong case for it. Art schools are including video game design as part of their curriculum. Modern Warfare 2 has the launch record for entertainment media. More and more people are playing games. World of Warcraft has attracted many players unfamiliar with the MMORPG. Nintendo has attracted people of all ages to try out the Wii and DS. Today, video games are in a good place and it is only getting better.

Do we need the validation of someone who thinks otherwise? In defending his argument against an entire group of game enthusiasts, does he want to confront them and explain, "Video games are not art?" Then let him say it, if it makes him happy.

GamesBeat's creed when covering the game industry is "where passion meets business." What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you -- not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.