Ebert: \"Games cannot be art.\"

by Peter Eykemans, posted on 19 April 2010 / 2,864 Views

When a figurehead of criticism makes an(other) end-all claim that "video games can never be art," people tend to get offended.

Flower

While it isn't his industry, noted film critic Roger Ebert has finally followed up his old comments about games not being art with more comments about games not being art.

This time around, he based his opinion on a TED Talk given by Kellee Santiago of thatgamecompany. For those who don't know, TED Talks are described as "riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world." From entertainment professionals to humanitarians and generally interesting people, the talks are indeed quite interesting.

Braid

But back to the matter at hand, Ebert sat in at a talk given by Ms. Santiago at USC. Her speech broke down the industries' attempts at art and she spoke specifically about three titles: Waco, Braid and thatgamecompany's own Flower. She claims that "videogames already are art" and those three games "crossed that boundary into artistic expression." But Ebert continues to disagree.

I daresay both parties make good points, but you really ought to read Ebert's entry yourself.

Which games, for you, have crossed the boundary into artistic expression?

Source: Chicago Sun Times via Kotaku


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42 Comments

Pmac3000 (on 20 April 2010)

Art huh? First games to come to mind are. Legend of zelda link to the past,God of War 3,Super Mario Galaxy,Final Fantasy 7,Super Mario Bro's,RE 4,Windwaker. I know there are many many I forgot. To me Games=art.


GuiltySpartan77 (on 20 April 2010)

how are video games not art don't the designers have to draw out the characters and backgrounds first before they put it onto a computer


pariz (on 20 April 2010)

I strongly believe they are art, and so does some people. That should be enough to consider it art. Anyway, let us all stick to our own definitions and to our own experiences. In his articule, he says ""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." To which I could have added painters, composers, and so on, but my point is clear." I guess he doesn't completely undestand the nature of films or music, which are normally the result of a collectiv construction done by various artists. Because of the the medium through which they make art, novelists, poets or painters are easier to notice and identify than a collective that may work today together and tomorrow may not. Arguing that Hitchcok, Fellini or George Lucas are exclusively responsable for the art pieces they've done is an oversimplification, a product of a weak mind. Ok. This is great: "Then she shows a slide of a prehistoric cave painting, calling it "kind of chicken scratches on walls," and contrasts it with Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Her point is that while video games may be closer to the chicken scratch end of the spectrum, I am foolish to assume they will not evolve." Your prejudices are so easy to see, smart-ass. Calling one form of art superior than the other is, once again, an oversimplification. Creating from nothing is not the same as creating from what has already been created. The "technology" you may use to express your art determines, at the same time, the result. And beeing able to spend lots of time (years) educating yourself on techniques and the use of the technology at your hand, is not something a caveman had at his hand when his urges where to survive. I could go on. I think is not worth it. I am just naming this so called eminence an elitist smartass full of prejudices and weak arguments.


evilronnie42 (on 20 April 2010)

its art because its a free expression of designs, drawings, colours combined to make wonderfully coloured environments


ctalkeb (on 20 April 2010)

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fine+art When Ebert says "art" he means "fine art", let's not confuse it with the other meanings of the word.


Endz (on 20 April 2010)

Maybe people are not looking at the definitions of Art and if you say Art can't have a definition then you can't pinpoint Art and can't say something is not Art. I think most people agree that Art can be seen in many different places like the ever popular plastic bag flying in the wind. Most dictionaries have something like: the creation of beautiful or thought-provoking works for the definition of Art. Surprised anyone is saying that something can't be art, things mean differently for different people. Anything created by people can be art, your kids crappy clay turtle can be beautiful and art to you, there is a bunch of weird clay art in the art museum. Anyway, games are created by people and do take artistic skills to create a setting, draw the settings, think of the stories, etc. That all affect us in a deep way. Though some games are more artistic than others. Also I bet many people that work on games took graphic ARTS and many of those kinds of classes as well.


AndrewE (on 20 April 2010)

Are games artistic? Yes, obviously. Are they "art"? Probably not. They are interactive, visceral experiences meant to invoke pleasure and emotions through our own physical actions and reactions. Art isn't just about what was put into the piece, it's how that piece is interacted with by it's viewer. Just because many aspects of a videogame are artistic doesn't mean it can be defined as art.


almcchesney (on 19 April 2010)

this douche bag doesnt know what hes talking about, if any game crosses into art it is both braid and flower. and NekoSOM i completely disagree, a painter guides the eye by using focal point and movement throughout a peice mutually decided by the artist and viewer, but isnt that acheived also through stage design, that an experience is altered by where the artist allows you to go, both are scripted both an art peice and a videogame.


NekoSOM (on 19 April 2010)

I've had this debate for many years, and I'm glad to see someone prominent agree with me. Videogames cease to be "art" at the point you interact with them. One could argue that the "art" is the way each individual plays a game; that the player is the artist and the game is the canvas. However, the game itself is not art. True, the term "art" is broad, and if it is merely meant to convey a visual medium, then yes, it is. But that's not what Ebert is arguing. While he's certainly making a logical fallacy by arguing from ignorance considering it sounds as if he's never played a video game, he's still correct. Video games aren't about the creator, but about the player. Through paintings, movies, books, murals...the artist is expressing his or herself through that piece, and the viewer is experiencing it. Video games are determined by the actions of the player however. The character is our avatar, as we experience the world the artist created. What happens in that world is mutually decided, both by the artist in their design, and the player in their decisions. When and if that relationship is ever broken, then video games will then be art...but unfortunately they'll then cease to be video games. Thus the catch-22 for designers. Games not being art is not an insult...it's just the truth.


jedi5diah (on 19 April 2010)

pple are jealous...simply is an art to agree to disagree lol...


Paperdiego (on 19 April 2010)

neither are films... they are both DESIGN, whats the problem here?


RockMan10 (on 19 April 2010)

Video games are definitely art... i mean you hire artists to make them right???


uno (on 19 April 2010)

according to dictionary.com Games may be art http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/art


justin.newton11 (on 19 April 2010)

ebert is retarded...who cares what that grandpa thinks. noone respects his ratings anymore anyways.


Tridrakious (on 19 April 2010)

Who cares what ebert says about games? He's not an art critic. He's a movie critic, which doesn't gross as much as the video game industry.


brandnewchair (on 19 April 2010)

of course video games can be art. it's stupid to even debate Ebert about this. ebert is trolling in the worst way. he's just trying to get a reaction, to take the place of his lower jaw.


mjk45 (on 19 April 2010)

i think pop art is the place for vg if you label it at all, iam sure andy worhol's prints fit in perfectly with vg as art or do you have to make a set of prints of a screen shot to have vg seen as art .


LordChris915 (on 19 April 2010)

Screw you Ebert! I fart in your general direction! Go boil your bottom you drain dwelling dimwit!


NightAntilli (on 19 April 2010)

If movies are considered art, games are art. Games have to deal with a lot more variables. There's an art direction branch on itself. That alone is art already. Turning that art into interactive entertainment with respectful visuals and presentation is pretty much state of the art art.. Lol. Anyone who claims games are not art is ignorant..


Hephaestos (on 19 April 2010)

Is any painting art? even a monochrome? is any drawing art? even a cartoon cell? is any music art? even rap? is any book art? even a dan brown thriller? is any photograph art? even a view of a city? is any movie art? even the likes of Borat? All tell a different story, a desire to immortalize, to get a reaction. VG have become art since a color was added to black and white, since there were more than rectangles and squares on the screen, since music was added to them, because ever since then, they convey a message, the story of a journey and try to have the audience react. What was on the screen was due to the desire of transmitting something more than just balck and white, squares or blips. The decision, the intent is what makes VG art. What people dislike about VG is the very fact that they are interactive, thus not set in stone by the author.... If I took a brush painted on a canvas or took a chizel and fashioned out of stone or if I twisted metal to show a man jumping over a pipe, it would be art. If I took my camera and took a picture in black and white or if I took a film of the same man jumping over pipes with only music and text in between scenes, it would be art. But If I let someone else than me decide when the man jumps, it's not art anymore? is this the boundary, the fact that it is not a finite creation?


FantasySky (on 19 April 2010)

i think anything is art it just depends whos looking at it. basicaly dif people think something is where as others wont


Onyxmeth (on 19 April 2010)

It really depends on what art is to begin with. If you feel art is something that can collect a group of elitist scumbags to crap all over everyone elses' opinion, then YES videogames are art! The real issue though is if videogames are art, then aren't other forms of software also? Is Windows 7 art? Is iTunes art? What's the difference in the coding, graphics, sounds and interactivity of a piece of computer software and Super Mario Bros. in regards to it being art? In the same token, is a game art? You know like Monopoly, or baseball, or business? Most games are more akin to games because of their competitive nature. So really it depends on what art is in the first place. There's no denying there is art within a game, but they play music over the loud speakers and show things on the big screen and there's a winner and a loser at Giants stadium during a football game and that's not art.


gekkokamen (on 19 April 2010)

First and foremost, the defition of "art" should be clarify (something I think is subjective as best). Architecture is called art, even when it serves a purpose (which is why they're built 90% of the time) Paintings are art, even when it's just a mess you would think a dog took a crap on the damn thing. Sculpture is art, even when it's one of those abstract things you'd think the author did little else than put pieces together at random. But what's art in itself? do we refer to the "work" itself as art? or is the "artistic process of the making" considered to be art? or is it what any kind of work expresses that should be touted as art? Can something meant for entertainment "express" ideas, feelings, views, etc? I certainly think so. Why not? Because it's interactive? All the better! You play around with it, you manipulate it, it means something to you in a personal way. Because you make it personal when art is supposed to be perceived as the author intended, then it's not "art"? who the F comes up with such nonsense? The criticis who look at a piece of "modern art" and tell you that it's art? A castle or cathedral can be art, but Uncharted can't? What about movies? they're called the 7th art, but that doesn't mean every movie is art now are they? What part exactly of Fantastic Four Rise of The Silver Surfer is art? oh, I know not all art has to be "good" or popular, but same thing applies to videogames or any other works. I can't take my couch and say it's art, I really shouldn't. But who knows, maybe in 200 years my couch will be art! That's the thing about art, you can't define it as math. EVERYTHING CAN BE ART, so videogames ARE art. Period.


binary solo (on 19 April 2010)

'GameOver22 says: "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." This is Ebert's quote that is essential to his argument, and I would agree with the quote. You could argue he is establishing to strict a standard for art, but accepting that standard, I would argue no game has come close to that level. Its also important to note he does not advocate a precise definition of art. If a game is to be considered art, it must share some basic resemblance or similarity to the great works of literature, cinema, etc.' To the Ebert quote: that's not a legitimate criteria by which to decide if something is art. It's the techniques, creativity and the ABILITY to be subject to aesthetic assessment that defines art, not it's merits relative to the greatest of the great in the traditional artistic fields. This quote really demonstrates Eberts elitist attitude towards art ratehr than adds anything meaningful to a discussion about what constitutes art. As to your last sentence, the need to share some basic resemblance or similarity. Well every video game I've seen meets that criteria at the basic level, visually at least. From the "cave painting" efforts of the very first video games up to the impressive efforts of today. Who is this Ebert person, or anyone for that matter, to deny someone who considers what they do in the videogame field is art?


ctalkeb (on 19 April 2010)

It seems obvious to me that video games can be used as raw material for (fine) art, the question is whether they seize being games when thay start being art. Is painstation, that was actually conceived as art a game? or is it just art in game form? Interactivity is what games can bring to the table, but that isn't new to art. If one game is art, are all? Merely separated by quality?


GameOver22 (on 19 April 2010)

"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." This is Ebert's quote that is essential to his argument, and I would agree with the quote. You could argue he is establishing to strict a standard for art, but accepting that standard, I would argue no game has come close to that level. Its also important to note he does not advocate a precise definition of art. If a game is to be considered art, it must share some basic resemblance or similarity to the great works of literature, cinema, etc.


strunge (on 19 April 2010)

@Miss piggy if that is the extent of your ability to defend video games as art and dispute Ebert's argument, I'm afraid he isn't the one who is an asshole. instead of being an emotional wreck over his critique, causing you to lash out with the ever so logical dispute "what an asshole," how about you actually form and expres an opinion that supports video games as art and disputes his position. if you can't, you aren't qualified to either judge him as an asshole or video games as art to begin with.


The Ghost of RubangB (on 19 April 2010)

Pong, StarCraft, Call of Duty, and many similar games are sports. In fact, right now the biggest games of all time are more sporty than arty, like Wii Sports, Halo 3, Modern Warfare, and Tetris. Games that are sports aren't really art. But games that are more like toys... like say, SimCity, which is just a virtual city-creating toy with no rules, no lives, no way to win or compete, I think that has to be art. Toymaking is art. But I think they're both 100% right.


Cueil (on 19 April 2010)

is it art? I don't know... the idividual peices are art for sure... but is the combination of those peices art


Miss piggy (on 19 April 2010)

With so much trash sold as (expensive) art someone would dare deny to videogames becoming art ? What an asshole ! For me even Pac-man is art-like...


irtz (on 19 April 2010)

**lan babay ka lpc ebert** then wat can be art mr ebert


CommonMan (on 19 April 2010)

It's okay, he said "IMHO" in the article. :-P Seriously, I'm an art detractor (save music, that is), so IMHO video games>>>>>>>>"art"


Staude (on 19 April 2010)

After reading his whole piece. he seems ignorant. He is quick to point out that they are not art, yet he is not willing to try to experience them. I would particularly debate flower as art (out of the three chosen).


Wildchild_cob29 (on 19 April 2010)

Well, it's a matter of perception. We can't deny the fact that there is art within VG and we can't deny the fact that what makes VG unique is that u can interact with what is presented to u via gameplay. You want the best musical experience, go listen to some real bands (or VG music is really good too ;)), you want the best visual, screenplay and voice acting experience, go see a movie (not saying there is no great visual in VG). Like i said, it's a matter of how we see things. I'm a musician in real life, so i simply can't ignore that there is often great music in videogames, but i respect and understand all the other aspects of the thing.


Silver-Tiger (on 19 April 2010)

When something influences a whole culture or country, the I would pretty much call it art. Just look at South Korea, Starcraft changed an entire generation.


Uberkiffer (on 19 April 2010)

If voice acting is an art, screenplay writing is an art, creating music is an art, directing is an art, if "creating" is an art.. which I would think that any actor/actress/painter/muscian/director would claim, then video games are an expression of art as well.


WIzarDE (on 19 April 2010)

Art ? what is art ? To me art is a bunch of bull glued together for eccentrics people that dont have anything better to do with their money... And seeing as a games value decreases with time it therefore cannot be art xD


Monteblanco (on 19 April 2010)

I don't have an answer for games as art question but I think most of the proponents are searching for validation more than anything else. Alias, I agree with Ebert regarding the three examples.


kowenicki (on 19 April 2010)

@ssj12 yes i know... thats why i said it.


badgenome (on 19 April 2010)

His whole argument against Flower being "games as art" amounts to "WHAT I DONT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT????" In principle, a person who doesn't have a jaw isn't really a person.


ssj12 (on 19 April 2010)

kowenicki - thats because Linger in Shadows isnt a game at all. Its a demoscene.


kowenicki (on 19 April 2010)

I have only "played" one game that was more of a performance art than a game, and that was 'lingers in shadows'. conventional games aren't art imo.