Roger Ebert "Video Games Can Never Be Art" Pt 2

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Roger Ebert returns to the subject of "Can video games be art?"

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010...

Some highlights:

"One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them."

"Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care. "

As a film buff, I have a lot of respect for Roger Ebert. The man is extremely intelligent, and cares deeply about the things he know about, and on top of that is simply a great writer with a knack for making his opinion clear. All that said, this paragraph:

We come to Example 3, "Flower" (above). A run-down city apartment has a single flower on the sill, which leads the player into a natural landscape. The game is "about trying to find a balance between elements of urban and the natural." Nothing she shows from this game seemed of more than decorative interest on the level of a greeting card. Is the game scored? She doesn't say. Do you win if you're the first to find the balance between the urban and the natural? Can you control the flower? Does the game know what the ideal balance is?

Was written by an idiot who is wasting both his own time and the time of the reader. I have no space in my life to engage with argument that deliberately stems from a place of ignorance.

I agree with him, yet I also believe games are moving along a path to becoming great. Also, while many 'traditional' pieces of art have been commercial (commissioned), I can't help feeling the majority of games being commercial is one one hand slowing the artistic progression of games down, as companies churn out whatever will sell, but on the other hand the industrialisation of development means the tools must improve to create high quality games economically.

If the barriers to creating games continue falling, hopefully more people will try their hand at making a game, similar to how anyone can take up a chisel and hammer to carve, and anyone can get paper and pencil and draw, essentially similar to making a mod today. As Warren Spector said, developers need to stop reinventing the camera every time the make a new game (probably butchering the quote), games need to be made with something analogous to a camcorder.

I wonder if he should benefit from the Will Wright's distinction between games and toys. Where games are something you play to win, and toys are something you play with.

Computer games are currently all called "games" and possibly suffer for the lack of the above distinction. After all, how does one "win" in a flight simulator? Perhaps there should be a third category of distinction as well. That of art games. Or games that do nothing but tell a story. Like most of the adventure games. Where your interaction is only there to progress the game. The end of the game is the end of the story. "Winning" is completing of the telling of the story.

Ebert still misuses the word "art", which is not some kind of exclusionary badge of quality.

Princeton: the products of human creativity; works of art collectively
Webster's: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced
Oxford: the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, and drama

Every one of these definitions is inclusive. Games are a creative activity, and as such, are art. Period. There is absolutely no argument. Stating otherwise is simply displaying one's ignorance of the word. Of course, by the same token, awful Ashton Kutcher movies are art. Maybe not high art or fine art, but it's way past time for people to stop misusing the word "art" like it's some kind of exclusive boys club.

How do you categorise between games where you're following a linear story (take the blue key to the blue door), versus ones where the player does their own thing (elder scrolls, MMOs)

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations shows, rather convincingly, that it's impossible to come up with a concrete definition of the word "game" that will encompass all of the examples that people would likely agree fit the category. Art is by far a more problematic category, and I for one have no interest in trying to decide what a signed urinal and the Pastoral Symphony have in common.

With all due respect to Mr. Ebert, can we please talk about something more interesting instead? Like the differences between mediums, and what that says about their inherent strengths and weaknesses? I think that would be more fun than arguing whether apples deserve to be placed on the same cultural pedestal as oranges.

*Legion* wrote:

Ebert still misuses the word "art", which is not some kind of exclusionary badge of quality.

Princeton: the products of human creativity; works of art collectively
Webster's: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced
Oxford: the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, and drama

Every one of these definitions is inclusive. Games are a creative activity, and as such, are art. Period. There is absolutely no argument. Stating otherwise is simply displaying one's ignorance of the word. Of course, by the same token, awful Ashton Kutcher movies are art. Maybe not high art or fine art, but it's way past time for people to stop misusing the word "art" like it's some kind of exclusive boys club.

/thread

*edit*

Actually, I do feel the need to say something. People try to protect the concept of art like kids in a sandpit.

It's like people saying, 'Facebook games aren't games.' They are, the FB game may be a bad game, the game may be bad art, but it doesn't make its nature any different.

BNice wrote:

Ebert says

"Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care. "

I do not think most of us really care, however I would argue that Jordan in the 90's was great performance art.

I am more perplexed as to why, in his final years, he seems intent on showing the world why games are not art. I gotta be honest, if I had battled cancer, lost my voice, I would not be shouting at the internet.

Most of the people who say Facebook games aren't games are the people who play them. But then again they don't consider themselves "gamers" either, despite logging in 40+ hours a week in Bejeweled and completing all 60 achievements in Fly Squirrel Fly in 3 days.

Huh. I guess he thinks Sun Tzu is an idiot then.

I really love Ebert. His insights in a lot of areas are typically pretty well rounded and considered. Now that he actually taken more time to articulate his opinion, I see why he feels the way he does. He's never going to be convinced, so let's go ahead and stop asking for him to give us his blessing.

Most art builds some of its power on its history and its own language. Ebert's comments about Braid and Flower show that he does not understand the fact that these games are building on, responding to, and speaking within a culture that is decades old.

Take someone like DaVinci and show him a Jackson Pollock painting without explaining the culture around the painting and its not going to make any sense to him. He's very, very unlikely to recognize it as art. And film? There is so much in film that we take for granted. The way images convey meaning is learned. If you took someone, say DaVinci again, and put him in front of just about any contemporary movie, it wouldn't make much sense. Montage? What does it mean when there is just picture after picture...? I don't think that the more powerful and sophisticated elements of filmmaking would make sense to someone who hasn't learned how those things operate.

Secondly, and most importantly, his comments about those games also implied to me that he hasn't played them. How can you comment on the aesthetic impact of game without playing it? He watched video clips of a couple games and made judgements on them? That's like trying to comment on the worth of movie by reading a synopsis of it in Blockbuster movie guide.

So be it. Ebert has a lot of good things to say, but on this subject, he is just lacking in the background and the experience.

Here's the comment I left on that page:

She says the most articulate definition of art she's found is the one in Wikipedia: "Art is the process of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions." This is an intriguing definition, although as a chess player I might argue that my game fits the definition.

You're forgetting that unlike in chess, there's someone else at work arranging the pieces: the author of the video game.

How often do you play an opponent in chess who is not actually playing against you, but rather seeks to make you win by demonstrating a certain level of skill while funneling your chess moves into a pattern she thinks will cause you to reflect on the experience the way we are asked to by Ingmar Bergman did in putting a game of chess in The Seventh Seal?

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game.

It may be an obvious difference, but how is it obviously a *meaningful* difference? I can also 'win' the Sacred Maze on floor of the Amiens Cathedral--does that mean the Maze is not art?

The three games she chooses as examples do not raise my hopes for a video game that will deserve my attention long enough to play it.

Have you considered the issue here is not the games or their objective quality, but instead is your personal and subjective tastes? Have you considered you might be like the painters who dismissed early photography as an art form?

Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?

...

Do they require validation?

I think they require a lack of degradation--if your criticism of games was based on a neutral desire for a taxonomy of creative efforts, that would probably be fine; instead, you look to put down games in your attempt to classify them.

I do not believe collaborative art cannot be art. I cite cathedrals and tribal dances as collaborative works of art. But they begin with an auteur with an original vision -- whether that be a king, an architect, or a choreographer. The film director usually has the original vision.

So does a game--it begins with the original vision of the author of the game. The thing you have to remember about games (some games: we could draw a distinction here between Tetris and, say, your story-driven game of choice) is that the audience is also the actor.

There's a commercial for the PS3 where a guy has to keep playing Uncharted 2 because his girlfriend thinks it's a really good, really long movie they're watching. Do you think maybe you're being tripped up because games are the first art form where the masses can participate in the framing of the experience? You say games are not art; what if I played a game and recorded it, and then displayed it on a movie screen? Wouldn't that just be a computer-animated movie?

I wouldn't define bad movies as art. Hardly any movies are art. Film is however an art form.

So are you saying games are an art form, even if none of the extant products are art? If so, you're not really defending your statement that games are not art, you are instead adopting a radical definition of art.

You say: "But when I say McCarthy is "better" than Sparks and that his novels are artworks, that is a subjective judgment, made on the basis of my taste (which I would argue is better than the taste of anyone who prefers Sparks)."

That's a radical definition of art that you're embracing here: that an attempt within an art form can contain sufficient elements to be a valid member of that art form, yet not be an *artwork*.

The issue here isn't that you disagree with people who say 'games are art'; the issue here is that you disagree with people on which games are art. Considering you also disagree with people on what movies/books/music/buildings/etc. are art, I think you should be clear about how radical and alternative your definition of 'art' is in the first place.

BNice wrote:

"One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them."

A) A medium with rules and objectives cannot be art
B) Games have rules and objectives
C) Games cannot be art
You proved B, Ebert, but you forgot to prove A. Logical fallacy.

Does Ebert play video games? I think the first thing he would do if someone came out and said, "Movies are not art, and here's why," would be to ask, "Have you seen a movie? Ever?"

I'm not sure it's worth giving credence to the criticisms of someone who won't experience the medium in good faith.

He's correct in that a video game itself can't be art. It is a thing of code, bits, bytes and static rulesets wherein one's participation is bound. Video games do contain art, though. High Def visuals and professionally crafted stories are abundant in the current generation of console offerings. It's up to the player to interpret that experience just as they would spending hours staring at Bacchus and Ariadne.

BishopRS wrote:

He's correct in that a video game itself, as an concept, can't be art. It is a thing of code, bits, bytes and static rulesets wherein one's participation is bound.

And a painting is naturally occurring pigments suspended in a varnish or oil, on a woven fabric backing. A statue is just a rock.

Medium has no relevance to whether something is art or not.

Off-topic. I have the perfect Tag for you when the time comes, Cheeze. Post faster.

A) A medium with rules and objectives cannot be art
B) Games have rules and objectives
C) Games cannot be art
You proved B, Ebert, but you forgot to prove A. Logical fallacy.

You can't prove that a definition is valid. It can only be assumed as an initial condition, which is what he's doing. It's just that in this case, no two people are ever going to agree on the meaning of the word "art", and therefore it fails to refer and should be quined.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
BishopRS wrote:

He's correct in that a video game itself, as an concept, can't be art. It is a thing of code, bits, bytes and static rulesets wherein one's participation is bound.

And a painting is naturally occurring pigments suspended in a varnish or oil, on a woven fabric backing. A statue is just a rock.

Medium has no relevance to whether something is art or not.

Keep reading, that's point of my entire post.

CheezePavilion wrote:

awesome stuff

IMAGE(http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3006/2918834309_9627e83d6f.jpg)

Once again this thing rears its head, and once again I just don't get the furor. So Ebert doesn't think games are "art." Why do we care? Why do people get so worked up over this issue? Is it to somehow justify to wives/girlfriends/mothers/ourselves that we're not "wasting time" playing video games?

He's obviously made up his mind, yet people keep bugging him about it in some vain attempt to change his opinion. Again, why does it matter to us WHAT he thinks about this subject? I think the topic itself is definitely worthy of discussion, but I get tired of Ebert being portrayed as some sort of Jack Thompson-esque villain who just "doesn't understand."

BishopRS wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:
BishopRS wrote:

He's correct in that a video game itself, as an concept, can't be art. It is a thing of code, bits, bytes and static rulesets wherein one's participation is bound.

And a painting is naturally occurring pigments suspended in a varnish or oil, on a woven fabric backing. A statue is just a rock.

Medium has no relevance to whether something is art or not.

Keep reading, that's point of my entire post.

That's not what I read in your post.

You said, games themselves can't be art, but they can contain art. It's like saying painting aren't art, but they can contain art.

There's a dichotomy there I don't see.

SommerMatt wrote:

Once again this thing rears its head, and once again I just don't get the furor. So Ebert doesn't think games are "art." Why do we care? Why do people get so worked up over this issue? Is it to somehow justify to wives/girlfriends/mothers/ourselves that we're not "wasting time" playing video games?

In my case, I don't care one bit that he's talking about video games. What bothers me is that any sort of argument that X is/isn't art is at best useless and at worst incredibly harmful to our continued artistic development. Pointless discussions about the relative merits of various media only serve to stifle human creativity. We should be celebrating the incredible variety of our art instead of trying to exalt one artform over another.

NSMike wrote:

Does Ebert play video games? I think the first thing he would do if someone came out and said, "Movies are not art, and here's why," would be to ask, "Have you seen a movie? Ever?"

I'm not sure it's worth giving credence to the criticisms of someone who won't experience the medium in good faith.

NSMike has it right. Expertise in one area doesn't mean squat in another.

Where is all this going anyway? If video games are somehow "proved" to be art, does that victory convince non-gamers to play? Game studios aren't going to get NEA funding. If its proven that they aren't, its not going to discourage a gamer from playing.

I guess its human nature to want others to agree to validate our right thinking, but this argument is just a pissing contest.

I think (not sure) the biggest point of games being perceived as art is there will be a moment in this industry where a game will try and say something in a way people aren't comfortable with or a message people don't agree with and currently art is protected under the 1st amendment as a form of expression. What if a publisher were to fire a team because of their "message" in their game? Are they protected in a court of law? I think this is ultimately the "real" reason for this debate.

"Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?"

Why is he so intensely concerned that they not be? After all, he was concerned enough to write a whole article on it when he could be discussing, oh I don't know, movies.

After some initial annoyance, I'm ready to move on. We video gamers are giving Roger Ebert too much attention. Because he's a renowned movie critic, we automatically assume he has great intellectual authority over all forms of art. We get so worked up because we think his comments about video games has significant value. If George Bush says "Video game isn't art," we'll leave some wacky comment and move on, because we don't take his opinions about video games seriously. Might as well do the same to Ebert. Here is someone dedicated to refuting the artistic value of video game because he refuses to understand. How much video game has he played? One or two won't do. I'm much more willing to listen to him if he's played the majority of major releases in the past ten years. I'm willing to bet that he hasn't. Two or three decades from now, a television channel will do a biographical feature on Roger Ebert, and established movie critics (who are all our age right now) will look back at all his work and gently comment that he couldn't correct his misunderstandings about video games. Then life moves on.

Ebert at this point is nothing but a troll on the subject video games.

Seriously, as recently as 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted "the most influential modern art work of all time." It was originally made some 25 years or so before Ebert was even born. He seems reluctant to even drag himself into the 20th century much less join the rest of us in the 21st.

In one way he's talking to 'us' (gamers) because he's trying to answer the constant nagging he gets over his games != art viewpoint, but I think he's also speaking to those within his normal sphere of influence and tackling the question from his usual premises that he tackles movies.

With that said, games still have a long way to go (I'd draw the parallel with early movies being essentially a recording of a stage play), and most still haven't progressed that far from linear storytelling with the player enacting the action scenes along the way. While you get good games every so often, you don't get good Games with a capital G that can only be what they are and tell their message because they are a game. I think games are still envious of their big sibling Movies and are still imitating it, rather than doing it's own thing.

I think that anyone who attempts to define art has not been paying attention for the last 100 years. Duchamp was mentioned a couple times, and he defies most old world type definitions of art. You can't even tie art to authorial control, as Ebert has attempted in the past, or you essentially are saying that the fluxus & dadaist movements weren't art.

When the Guggenheim can have an acclaimed show featuring stock Harley Davidsons, the distinction between "Art" and "not Art" becomes completely pointless.

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