Editorial – Are Video Games Art?

by Maerdred

heavyRain I’ve spent the past few hours going over the discussion about Roger Ebert’s comment that “Video Games will never be art.” I’m not sure I even fully understand the comment. Video games are FULL of art. One of my oldest friends is in fact an artist who works on video games. Is his work not art? That’s rather sad. We should inform his employer that they are paying an artist who is not producing art.

But that’s not what he meant, is it? What he meant is a video game on the whole is not a work of art. One begs the question; does Roger Ebert consider film to be art? Is Casablanca a work of art? Is The Wizard of Oz a work of art? Is The Hurt Locker? Is Hamlet? I’m not really sure what his definition of “art” is.

In my reading, I came upon this comment: “I think the main problem is that in his mind, he’s probably comparing video games to sports or board games and he would never consider those things to be works of art”

superbowl1 My contention is that sports can be works of art. I recall the Super Bowl in 2008 when the Giants were playing the Patriots. In the 4th quarter there was a play which is considered by most sports fans who have seen it (other than those from New England) to be a work of art. Giant’s Quarterback Eli Manning dodged about 3 sacks and scrambled away from his pursuers to hurl the ball down the field to David Tyree who, while defended very closely by Rodney Harrison, caught the ball in miraculous fashion pinning it between his forearm and the top of his helmet as he fell to the ground. The ball never hit the turf and it was a completed pass. This was the play of the game, and arguably the play of the decade, as it ended The Patriots’ hopes for a record 19-0 season.

As a Patriots fan I hate the outcome of the play, but as a sports fan, that play was a work of art. I have to add the modifier “As a sports Fan” because, someone who does not know or care about Football, or sports in general would have no frame of reference to call that play a work of art.

masseffect This, I find, is the fatal flaw in Ebert’s argument. Art means different things to different people. Art can be defined in many ways. His article gives us a few examples of how people have defined art in the past, and attempts to devalue those definitions, because they do not mirror his own. This again, is a fatal flaw. Opinion is not fact. His definition of what art is, is based upon opinion, just as Kellee Santiago’s is, just as my own is, just as Plato’s was.

Roger Ebert’s opinion, as a film critic, is that video games will never be art. Well, thank you Mr. Ebert. Now get off the field and let someone with some actual knowledge of the medium make the claims. Now, I’m not a famous “pundit” or television personality, but I have a humble following on my blog. (I’m famous on the Internet, yo!) I am sure not foolish enough to come out and tell people what to believe when it comes to a subject which I have little or no knowledge about. I’m not going to post on my blog that “Russian Literature is not art” or that “V-8 engines are worse than V-6 Engines”. I’m not going to do so, because I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to make those claims. Why then does Mr. Ebert feel that he is an authority on Video Games?

gogh.starry-night In Short, he doesn’t. He has an opinion, and due to his status it has been given attention. That is all. The man is neither an authority on “art” or “video games”. The man is an authority on films. He is a well respected film critic and I will not begrudge him that. His status and expertise in that field does not, however, carryover into the realm of video games or art in general. Like I said earlier, “Video games are full of art.” This doesn’t necessarily make all video games works of art in and of themselves, but what it does is make me hesitate when I read a comment like Mr. Ebert’s. When I think of a game like Doom, I see it as a work of art. It was a groundbreaking game which rose above the other games of its era. The story may not have been extremely riveting. The art itself may not have been all that breathtaking; though at the time it really was. The game as a whole changed what we think of video games. The game itself stands out and I can picture the front of the box it came in even as I type this. It left an indelible mark on my mind. Doom II also would fall into that category for me. I can still see and hear what went down as you enter into the final level. I can see the layout and hear the weird unintelligible voice which when played backwards says “To win the game you must kill me, John Romero.” These things are what I feel make the video game an art form.

6a00d8341c59aa53ef01347fa4a694970c Wil Wheaton, at his PaxEast keynote, spoke of the game Dragon Age and how playing that game for 12 hours was far more immersive than watching a Lord of the Rings marathon would have been. I agree with him. The art form that is Video Games is an ever changing one.  Take a look at this quote about it and you tell me which art form you’re more interested in right now, hmm?

“…When I was faced with a choice between watching how a fantasy epic unfolded with an ending I already knew, and actively effecting how a fantasy epic unfolded when the ending was still shrouded in mystery, that choice wasn’t really a choice at all. And as a bonus, I could focus the story exactly where I wanted it to go, in whatever order appealed to me. ”

That spins it in favor of the video games for me.  I don’t know. It just feels like there are games that transcend into “art” for the people who enjoy them. There’s a guy who lives near the junkyard in my town who makes trash sculptures, and there are some who consider those art. I’m not of their number, but I respect their opinion. Sure. Those things are art. To them. Let Video games be art. To us.


Article by Maerdred the author/creator of Treebound.

Any opinions expressed in posts on Polygamerous are not necessarily the opinions of Polygamerous or the other Authors/Editors/Podcasters of Polygamerous.

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