Video Games: To be Art… or Not to be Art? That is a Good Question!

Mr. Hancock proposed a very interesting question at the end of Monday’s lecture. Are video games considered art?

To begin this debate I want to introduce you to Roger Ebert. Ebert is a renowned screenwriter and film critic most famously known for establishing the thumbs up thumbs down system of evaluating movies. However, he is also notorious for voicing his belief that video games can never be “art”. Ebert defines art as a reproduction of reality that is filtered through human consciousness. With this definition in mind, one of the reasons he suggests that video games can never be art is because they are based on objectives. (Essentially, he is saying that if you can win its not art). According to Ebert art is not something you win, it is something you experience. He says for example, you wouldn’t call a sports star an artist. Ebert also suggests that video games can never be art because art is not a collective creation, it is singular. He thinks of art as the product of one artist. (For example, paintings done by one artist, dances created by one choreographer etc…) In this sense, video games can never be art because they illustrate the interpretations of many contributors rather than one individual. To successfully create a video game you must utilize programmers, developers, designers, artists, testers… and the list goes on. (As does Ebert’s reasons why video games can never be art). If you would like to take a look at Ebert’s article you can visit the following link:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/04/video_games_can_never_be_art.html

So, my question to you is… Do you think that Ebert is correct in saying that video games can never be art?

Personally, I would have to disagree with him. For one, I don’t think its fair to say that video games can never be art because they are more about winning and completing objectives. I think Video games today engage more with the gamers experience with the game and how they play it rather than “winning” it. I also think that Ebert’s definition of Art is a little ironic in the sense that you could use it to describe video games themselves. Aren’t most video games some sort of reproduction or representation of reality? With the ever-evolving technologies used to create video game graphics the “art” now lies in how well they reproduce reality, or some sort of representation of reality.

In his article Ebert bases a lot of his argument on another article written by Kellee Santiago, a video game designer and producer. (She argues that video games can be art). But the main problem here, and the issue that I think arises in all debates concerning this topic is the loose definition of art. How can you say classify something as art when no one concrete definition exists.

Thoughts? Do you know of any examples of video games that could be classified as art?

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3 Comments

  1. As a game scholar operating at the time Ebert’s article was first published, I have to say that it was the equivalent of a bombshell in the game community, scholarly or otherwise. It should be remembered here that Ebert is speaking from a discipline (cinema) that went through its own very tumultuous and contentious period before anyone was willing to acknowledge it as art. (And Ebert, of all people, should recognize that, for a film especially, an artwork can be more than the work of a single creator.) Obviously, my stance on this issue is going to be that games are art, but a common response by gamers is–who cares? It doesn’t change anything about the games, so why bother placing labels on them.
    Personally, I think “art or not” is a very important label–and that there are reasons on both sides, gamers and nongamers alike–that defining games as art changes the conception of games. (I did like kairos88’s point about games’ win/lose ending not a valid point for denying them game status–that’s important, since all measurements show that over half of all games started are never completed at all.)

    –MH

  2. …I used “all” three times in that parenthetical sentence. That’s why you proofread, folks.
    –MH

  3. The debate of “x” as art or “not art” is one that can be seen again and again throughout history. Due to the various technological advancements in society, digital media has now entered the ring and come under heavy fire in this controversial debate. At first we established art as the product of various painters, novelist and poets. Then came the camera, followed by the debate as to whether or not photography could be considered art. After this, we could say cinema took over as the new contender against poetry, paintings etc. Then in 2010 Roger Ebert made famous the video game debate and re-ignited the discussion all over again. However, as a side note… I too think his stance against video games as art is a strange one, especially considering his involvement with film and the critique of cinema. Nevertheless, the “art vs. not art” debate is a really interesting one, and it makes me wonder… where did this debate come from? Why do we as a society need to classify everything as one thing or another? What is our obsession with “art” and why do we feel the need to compare everything against our definitions of art?

    I also thought Ebert’s article was interesting because the tone and diction he used was so final. For example, he doesn’t say “right now video games can’t be considered art” or “we don’t think of it this way at this moment”. Instead he says video games can NEVER be art. (End of story.) This is quite shocking as the same used to be said about film and photography. I also thought it was strange that a man who has probably never played many video games or had a high interest in the diversity of the gaming sphere was being so bold in his opinion regarding a field he perhaps knows nothing about.

    In the end, what really intrigues me is mankind’s obsession with “what is art” or “x is/isn’t art”. I wonder what will be next? 3D films? Architecture? A painting made by a robotic arm?


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