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Film critic Roger Ebert still believes "video games can never be art"

BlogPopular film critic Roger Ebert (who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times) is standing by his previous argument that "video games can never be art".

He refers to a talk by Kellee Santiago (video game designer, producer and President & Co-Founder of thatgamecompany1) who made various points against Ebert's claim. His core argument is:

No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.

He also said:

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.

Do they require validation? 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.

Santiago cited games Waco Resurrection, Braid and Flower (which was made by Santiago's company thatgamecompany2) as examples of art. She also argued that early silent films like "A Voyage to the Moon" (1902) are "equally simplistic".

Ebert has my respect as a film critic as he normally reviews films based on the target audience and therefore often rates films higher than his own personal view of the film. Yet clearly he does not view video games as art. Personally I do not really mind, no matter what your definition of art is at the end of the day it is your definition and your opinion. Same as film criticsm people can view games and pretty much anything else however they choose to.

Yet in the comments to his article a large number of people felt they had to jump on and cite various games and examples as to why he is wrong. As Ebert points out, why are gamers so concerned about the media being defined as art? Does it really matter what the wider community thinks? Games while more mainstream these days (especially with casual gaming from platforms such as the Wii and iPhone) still are not integrated enough that your average person would consider them art.

Do we have to argue about the merits of games? I don't think so, I'm happy enough to discuss them with someone that will listen but if someone disagrees that's fine. I'm sure not every game I like is liked by all that I know, and vice-versa. A lot of the films Ebert loves I no doubt do not, and that's fine with me.3




  3. Roger Ebert's Journal

  • Posted by Alex

Film critic Roger Ebert still believes "video games can never be art"

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  1. Some crazy guys (namely Fumito Ueda and Akira Yamaoka, among others) have convinced me that games can transcend their commonly accepted role of escapist entertainment and become an art form. Not all of them do, but there are a handful that are simply magical experiences that changed the way I look at entertainment, and jesus christ that sounds corny as all hell but it's true, dammit. There are diamonds in the rough of this industry. I'm not letting anyone's opinion sway me otherwise.

    Concerned about a film critic dismissing videogames? Not really. But I look forward to when he plays the game that blows his mind and makes him wonder how he could ever have thought this. It's just a matter of time...

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  2. Reading the comments on his blog is impossible. Way too many walls of text that ramble and don't make much of a point. I can't say I completely agree with Roger, but for the most part I think he is spot on.

    Video games creation (art is a process, not a product) is a new art form. I don't think Roger could argue with that, even if he think everything that's been produced fails at being good art (because good art is what he actually means when he says, art). It is a form of mixed media and having trouble separating out what it wants to be because each part of it has some preconception about it wants to be. But when comparisons are made it falls short. And then there is this messiah we bow down to called gameplay that seems to be at odds with the whole concept.

    When it comes down to it, films are just rail shooters with all the shooting taken out of it and you're left just following a rail. I guess whoever can figure out how to keep the shooting and drop the rail (figuratively) and be just as effective will win the day.

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  4. Sir -- Ico and Braid surely, but what's so artistic about Mondo Medicals?

    Also, have I told you how much I love it that you link to the subjects of your discussions?

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  5. I think for me (and will hopefully be part of my later cinema studies) games are not an alternative form of cinema, rather than a separate media form that takes things from film and blends it with others (such as interactivity, goals etc) and to a lesser extent vice-versa.

    As I said in the post, art is what you make of it. I could look at some of the most famous paintings in the world and just not "get it". Therefore I would only be calling them art because that's the general consensus. Screw that, as long as I continue to find unique and fun experiences in video games, especially those titles that manage to stir me emotionally I will be happy calling at least certain games art.

    Ebert's very right as Nels pointed out when he says that video games as a product run against 'art' but he forgets that a lot of films are also products of the studios that make money. Art cinema itself propels the creator of the work into the limelight as opposed to the money grubbing hands of American studios. How often do you read reviews/articles around say Pixar films that go on and on about how good Pixar is as opposed to say how influential John Lasseter has been in the animation industry? The same can be said for Disney, and numerous other films that people may associate more with actors than the mind behind the concept.


    Edit: Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft has written an open letter in reply to Roger Ebert's arguments. Read it here.

    While his main argument that Roger Ebert is not a video game critic and therefore is not in a position to realistically judge whether games are art I still find it funny that people insist on arguing. He says he is not interested in defending video games as an art form yet bothered to write the letter in the first place.

    As film/media theory evolves more and more people will write about games, just wait people!

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  6. @Alex Roger will very quickly admit that the vast majority of movies should not be considered art. Even ones he enjoys.

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  7. I couldn't read past "I am not interested in defending video games as an art form. Ironic, as I make my living..." Give me a fucking break.

    The writers at Kotaku are so full of themselves. It may be a blog, but the headlines are injected with so much subjective drivel that I can't bear to click through.

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  8. @Matt
    Totally. that letter's obviously compensating for something with those pictures of classy '60s women...

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