Roger Ebert Asks a Good Question

Illustration for article titled Roger Ebert Asks a Good Question

The Chicago Sun-Times film critic has finally revisited his old contention that games can never be art, to defend it "in principle," and to dispute about that which cannot be disputed.


He also asks a great question. "Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?" Ebert's got a point. This is a zillion-dollar industry pumping out dozens of enjoyable games, with experiences longer than those offered by a film and more interactive than those proposed in a novel, and none of this changes if isn't accepted by critics, academics or the general public as art.

Ebert uses a rebuttal of one person's argument - Kellee Santiago, of thatgamescompany - that games are art to reinforce his contention that they're not, and to lay out some of his standards for what is, which are reasonably conventional. You guys can take that on point-by-point if you like, it's all at the link below.

But note that I said "his standards," not "the standards." The latter, which would imply some kind of objective criteria to be met, does not and never will exist for any form of art, because art is fundamentally built on the subjective: inspiration, interpretation and appraisal. To me that underlines the pointlessness of the current debate for or against video games as art. It's an argument neither side can win, and games as a pre-infancy medium relative to literature, dance or painting, comes to the discussion with fewer credentials to offer.

So for me, the more worthy point to debate is that question of why it matters, right now, whether games are considered an art form. The orthodoxy in the games community holds that they are, so we've obviously resolved that the medium has earned a title that somewhere, someone important isn't giving it. Why does this matter? Is being accepted as art the final piece of mainstream acceptance? Does ascending to art status this soon in the medium's lifespan make them something greater than sculpture or music? Is there some validation the games community seeks but isn't getting right now?

Video Games Can Never Be Art [Roger Ebert]



So for me, the more worthy point to debate is that question of why it matters, right now, whether games are considered an art form.

And the answer is, it doesn't.

Gamers want games to be defined as art because they have an inferiority complex about them, and they don't like this nagging suspicion that their hobby makes them a loser in the eyes of others. If games are art, then what they do with their spare time is no different than what people who study the impressionists, or who spend their weekends visiting MoMA or the Louvre do. It suddenly makes them appear cultured.

I personally think gamers really need to get over it.

By the way, the older you get, the less any of this matters. I probably would have been really militant about stuff like this when I was like 16. Now that I'm 38, I really couldn't care less what anybody thinks of my game playing - I'm happily married, own a business, have lots of friends. If somebody's going to snicker because I go home and play Final Fantasy, it doesn't even warrant a "screw them", really more of a shrug. And when you stop caring about that, then it stops mattering whether games are art.

In fact, I would argue that they are not. They are entertainment. Like Fox News, or porn.