Roger Ebert

I actually meant to comment on this a little while ago but completely forgot, so I suppose there’s no time like the present. For those who don’t know, he apparently said that games aren’t art, and after presumably receiving copious amounts of hate mail, responded on his Answer Man column (third question down). Responses to his response have ranged from the predictable indignant “j00 sux0r” to Edge calibre missives on the subject.

Unusually for someone who cares so much about this industry, I actually hate the whole “are games art?” debate because I don’t think that they should need whatever kind of validation that art status gives. I like to play games and I like to talk about games, and I don’t give a shit if that’s more or less of a worthy pursuit than arthouse cinema or a trip to the Tate Modern.

For the vast majority of people culture or art means stopping for five seconds on BBC Four on the way to watch Celebrity Circle Jerk, so at least games engage the brain and develop coordination instead just vegetating in front of a television. It’s another of my pet hates that people who spend five hours a day, every day, watching the crap on TV can look at me like I’m a maniac when I say that I finished a 12-hour game in a few days, but that’s another rant.

In his case he says that games aren’t art because the interactive side means that they give up a certain “authorial control”, and so can’t have the structural artistry of a well-paced film, a carefully constructed painting, or a great piece of music. Does this mean that jazz isn’t art, since although it’s performed by an artist it’s not in a defined structure? What about painting done by random brushstrokes? Anyone could do that, but what makes it art? Few would argue if you were to call Pride & Prejudice art, but that’s ultimately just a story – most games have a set narrative, so couldn’t they be art in that respect?

What about games like Electroplankton which are designed as free-form interactive art? Or something like Shadow of the Colossus, which takes a fixed narrative and a beautiful setting, not to mention a cinematic ending (can parts of it be art but not all of it?), but commits the cardinal sin of letting you interact with it?

My point is just that art isn’t so simple to define that you can throw a whole medium out the window and declare that it’s not art. “Art” is just the application of creativity, and if you don’t think that the creation of great games requires immense amounts of both skill and creativity you clearly haven’t been playing the right games.

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