Roger Ebert found himself in the middle of a firestorm recently after making the claim that video games are not art. Backing off from his previous statement that games never could be art, he nonetheless averred in his April 16th blog post that “no gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”
The subsequent comment thread, now well over 3000 items long, includes both criticisms and defenses of Ebert’s position, as well as some interesting meditations on art itself. The most interesting question to me, though, came from Ebert, himself, when he asked “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?”
At first glance, a question like that seems somewhat reasonable. After all, if the word “art” is going to have any meaning at all, we can’t just go around insisting that everything is art. Nobody goes around claiming that, say, dog food is art. (Which is not to say that one couldn’t make art out of dog food. I’m just not aware of any dog food that anyone thinks is art in and of itself.) And the claim that dog food is not art takes nothing away from dog food. It still nourishes your dog, no matter what you call it.
If you have been moved by the experience of playing a game, if you found a game beautiful or tragic or thought provoking, that remains true whether or not anyone else admits that it’s art. No one can take the value of the experience away from you.
All of that is true as far as it goes, but perception is a bigger component of experience than arguments like these admit. In some ways it may actually be bigger than substance.
If someone tells you that a movie is a work of art, that might make you more likely to see it, or it might make you less likely. But you can’t help but think about it differently, give it more weight than a movie that was presented to you as unimportant fluff. And if you do see it, you’re likely to interpret it differently as well.
What’s more important to me, though, is the impact on the future of games. I can’t help but think that recognition of video games as a valid and viable medium for artistic expression could only help in pushing the medium toward realizing its potential. The more people see games as art, the more artists will be drawn to games.
Of course, anything that can be used to create art eventually will be, so as long as it’s possible for games to be art, it’s inevitable that they will some day be widely recognized as such. But granting that recognition now opens up new opportunities for growth, if for no other reason than that there are people out there who could be making wonderfully artistic games, but never considered the possibility.
Ultimately, the reason I care that games be considered art is because, while I disagree with Ebert’s larger statement, I do agree that games haven’t yet produced their equivalent of “Hamlet” or Beethoven’s “Ninth”. There’s nothing that will truly stand the test of time. But I’d like to survive long enough to experience gaming’s great art, so the more we can speed that day’s arrival, the better.
“Shadow of the Colossus” Playstation
“Legends of Zelda” Wii
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