Roger Ebert: Video Games Can Never Be Art

I agree with Ebert, completely.

Now that I've got your attention:

Now, he does miss the very simple caveat that videogames are CHOCKED FULL of art. But, as far as I know, all art in videogames is framed in the context of victory. IGN is citing games which are about losing, and I don't know of any such game. Flower is a great example, it is packed full of art from beginning to end, but the point of game is to win, to make it to the end, to solve the puzzles and collect all the flowers on your window sill. Videogames are an art-container, but they are not essentially art.

The other caveat he did not give is that most movies coming out today are also not art by that standard. They contain artistic scenes or themes to various degrees, but the movie is about the audience avatar winning in the end. The emotional payoff, similar to what gamers get when they win a videogame. They have experienced the art, of course, but the art therein is in servitude to the emotional gratification of an objective victory. There is no room for interpretation in Transformers 2, and there's no room for interpretation in Assassin's Creed 2, either.

Now, CAN videogames be art? I imagine they can, tomorrow if a programmer so decides, perhaps it's already been done and I'm not just not aware of it. I think LOVE comes close, but again, the goal is domination and control, nothing more nothing less. Art in servitude of a game, just like if you lined an NBA stadium with paintings. An artistic experience, but the game itself is not an art.

In short, I'm pretty solidly convinced that videogames USE art, but they are not art in themselves. Some would argue that the games use victory conditions to communicate their themes, that the rules are in service of the art, and not the other way around. I don't agree simply because we've seen the victory conditions without art, but we've never seen the art without the victory conditions.

EDIT:

The definition I'm working from is that of art being an experience which is open to interpretation. If your definition is "anything that looks pretty" or "anything that makes me emotional" then videogames are definitely art.
 
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I agree with Ebert, completely.

Now that I've got your attention:

Now, he does miss the very simple caveat that videogames are CHOCKED FULL of art. But, as far as I know, all art in videogames is framed in the context of victory. IGN is citing games which are about losing, and I don't know of any such game. Flower is a great example, it is packed full of art from beginning to end, but the point of game is to win, to make it to the end, to solve the puzzles and collect all the flowers on your window sill. Videogames are an art-container, but they are not essentially art.

The other caveat he did not give is that most movies coming out today are also not art by that standard. They contain artistic scenes or themes to various degrees, but the movie is about the audience avatar winning in the end. The emotional payoff, similar to what gamers get when they win a videogame. They have experienced the art, of course, but the art therein is in servitude to the emotional gratification of an objective victory. There is no room for interpretation in Transformers 2, and there's no room for interpretation in Assassin's Creed 2, either.

Now, CAN videogames be art? I imagine they can, tomorrow if a programmer so decides, perhaps it's already been done and I'm not just not aware of it. I think LOVE comes close, but again, the goal is domination and control, nothing more nothing less. Art in servitude of a game, just like if you lined an NBA stadium with paintings. An artistic experience, but the game itself is not an art.

In short, I'm pretty solidly convinced that videogames USE art, but they are not art in themselves. Some would argue that the games use victory conditions to communicate their themes, that the rules are in service of the art, and not the other way around. I don't agree simply because we've seen the victory conditions without art, but we've never seen the art without the victory conditions.

EDIT:

The definition I'm working from is that of art being an experience which is open to interpretation. If your definition is "anything that looks pretty" or "anything that makes me emotional" then videogames are definitely art.

Ebert has no place talking about video games. He doesn't have a clue.

One game that definitely falls into the art category is Okami. Check it out if you want.

And another thing, what is art these days? I remember there was a display at the Tate in London. It was a pile of junk. No, no LITERALLY a pile of rubbish.

And people call that art? WTF?

How can people call a LITERAL pile of trash art, and not video games such as Okami and Rez and many, many others?

It stinks of elitism.
 
There is no room for interpretation in Transformers 2, and there's no room for interpretation in Assassin's Creed 2, either.

Again holds up a copy of Silent Hill 2.

I think the weakness in your and Ebert's argument is that video games are a new developing artform just as movies were when they first came out. It is a flawed approach to try and judge a new medium by the rules and standards that govern its non-interactive predecessors.

Are they movies? No. Does that make them not art? No, because this is a medium that is still developing and in recent years has begun to make major leaps and strides.

Film recieved many similar complaints in its infancy.
 
Ebert has no place talking about video games. He doesn't have a clue.

One game that definitely falls into the art category is Okami. Check it out if you want.

And another thing, what is art these days? I remember there was a display at the Tate in London. It was a pile of junk. No, no LITERALLY a pile of rubbish.

And people call that art? WTF?

How can people call a LITERAL pile of trash art, and not video games such as Okami and Rez and many, many others?

It stinks of elitism.

It IS elitism, there's no doubt about that. It's art snobbishness of the highest order. The thing is, Ebert presented a functional definition of "a goalless experience" which makes the garbage qualify, and Okami not. As elitist as it is, it does make sense, and it is consistent. I would dare even say it's fair, even if it is a high bar, that, again, most movies do not meet.

I've played Okami, it's an AWESOME game, and it's CHOCKED FULL of art. I don't recall it leaving any room for interpretation or critique as an art form, though, we could critique the story aspect, and the graphics aspect, we cannot critique a game until we have won it, until we have gotten out of it what we are told to get out of it,and in that aspect, the game, as a whole, is not art.

I still like the definition "If it can be beaten, it's not art."

EDIT: Don't confuse quality with value. Just because we can get more out of the art in Okami than we can out of the art in the garbage pile does not make Okami art, unless, again, your definition of art is "how it makes me feel."



Again holds up a copy of Silent Hill 2.

I think the weakness in your and Ebert's argument is that video games are a new developing artform just as movies were when they first came out. It is a flawed approach to try and judge a new medium by the rules and standards that govern its non-interactive predecessors.

Are they movies? No. Does that make them not art? No, because this is a medium that is still developing and in recent years has begun to make major leaps and strides.

Film recieved many similar complaints in its infancy.

I haven't played Silent Hill 2, so you'll have to enlighten me. What makes it more artistic than games like Flower, LOVE and Okami?

I think movies are interactive, as this thread has pointed out, and by the standard that Ebert has suggested, the vast majority (all?) of mainstream movies are NOT art. It's not about being a movie or not, it's about having an objectively correct interpretation. It's about not having a winner. Something film, interactive, has been able to avoid at times. Why should video games be exempt from this standard?

Videogames CAN be art. I think Progress Wars (progresswars.com) is an insanely good satire of Zynga and other Facebook games. There is advancement, but the advancement is in servitude of the message. It cannot be "won." This is the first videogame that I can think of that actually meets the definition that Ebert is talking about.
 
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I haven't played Silent Hill 2, so you'll have to enlighten me. What makes it more artistic than games like Flower, LOVE and Okami?

While those games are undeniably pretty I don't see much more depth to them than say Super Mario Bros.

Silent Hill 2 I put forward simply because of the strength of its narrative which is designed to be experienced/interpreted/re-interpreted. The game is not about blowin **** up, its a journey into the psychological minds of their characters. If you've ever seen Jacob's Ladder, Silent Hill 2 is very much along those lines.

It's about not having a winner. Something film, interactive, has been able to avoid at times. Why should video games be exempt from this standard?

Videogames CAN be art. I think Progress Wars (progresswars.com) is an insanely good satire of Zynga and other Facebook games. There is advancement, but the advancement is in servitude of the message. It cannot be "won." This is the first videogame that I can think of that actually meets the definition that Ebert is talking about.

I'd like to actually hear a bit more about this winning concept and how it disqualifies a work as being art. I have an idea what you're saying but its a bit too vague at the moment for me to really respond to.
 
EDIT: Actually, nevermind. I don't want to get into this again
 
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While those games are undeniably pretty I don't see much more depth to them than say Super Mario Bros.

Silent Hill 2 I put forward simply because of the strength of its narrative which is designed to be experienced/interpreted/re-interpreted. The game is not about blowin **** up, its a journey into the psychological minds of their characters. If you've ever seen Jacob's Ladder, Silent Hill 2 is very much along those lines.


I'd like to actually hear a bit more about this winning concept and how it disqualifies a work as being art. I have an idea what you're saying but its a bit too vague at the moment for me to really respond to.

I see. Very interesting. I'd need to play to comment on it in depth, but it does seem to lean towards the 'experience' aspect rather than the 'winning' aspect.

The concept of winning is pretty straightforward: an objectively victorious state. "I beat that game." I transcend the game, not the other way around. There is no alternate way to interpret my actions other than victory. In that sense the art is limited to the game's ability to provide me victory, not just to continue, but to continue to objectively reward me for my actions.

In virtually every game I've ever played or seen, the art lives in subject to the victory. Shortly after the victory is concluded, the art ends. The only way to experience more art is by attaining more victory. The art of a video game is virtually never an end unto itself.

Some might argue that this is a player choice, that they can choose to focus on the content or the framework within which the content is delivered. My issue is how the art is accessed.

Have we ever known a game with multiple equivalent endings? From my experiences, there is always one superior, best, good or 'real' ending.
 
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Thats kind of a flawed argument though... By the same token, don't we watch movies to get to the end, or find out what happens? I think a very similar attitude is applied for games as it is with movies, as far as the viewer is concerned. For story or narrative based games, I don't play to finish, I play to engross myself in the story and enjoy the characters journey...

I always think of games as a nice cross between a book and a movie... They have the visual stimulation of a film, with the personal interest and engagement of a book, and a medium that you can participate in at your own pace. In this instance, the artistic merit of game is quite prevalent, if you think of games like first person shooters, or horror games particularly, where even though you have limited control over what direction you face or what weapons/items you use, there is still a linear path and the game developers still manipulate the players feelings and emotions using this. Think of a game like F.E.A.R... It doesn't matter how you play the game, if you turn the corner, there will still always be a ghost or vision or something there to scare you... That has just as much artistic merit as any horror film, and in a way is more innovative in the way it manipulates and creates a truly immersive horror.
 
Thats kind of a flawed argument though... By the same token, don't we watch movies to get to the end, or find out what happens? I think a very similar attitude is applied for games as it is with movies, as far as the viewer is concerned. For story or narrative based games, I don't play to finish, I play to engross myself in the story and enjoy the characters journey...

"The End" != "Victory"

Well that's cool, but with the definition that I'm presenting, a goalless experience, your ability to engross yourself in the story doesn't make it "art."

A person may watch movies to get to the end, just a person may play Silent Hill 2 just to walk around and enjoy the experience. It is not a matter of the intent of the consumer, but of the ability of the work to remain subjective. To remain impartial to the consumer, in a way. A movie may have an end, but it doesn't have to tell you if the ending is good or bad. A videogame, by the paradigm that virtually all games use, does.

Contrast Transformers 2 - we know the good guys won, thus, not art - with Arlington Road - the guy gives up his life to save his daughter, iirc. Is that good or bad. Up to you. Hence: art, by this definition.

But you are right, if I thought movies, as a rule, were art, then my argument would be very flawed.

EDIT: I don't think I'm talking about artistic merit. Okami has much more artistic merit than a pile of garbage, there is more art IN it, than in the pile of garbage, but the pile of garbage, or the single white dot on a black canvas is just art, nothing more. Okami is art, inside a victory condition. The game itself is just a container, it is not, itself, art, no matter how much art, emotion, merit, etc is inside the game.
 
Clearly you have no understanding of contemporary art. Art can be subjective, but subjectivity doesn't define something as art. And I hate to break it to you, but yes, even Transformers 2 is art. It might not be particularly good, but the quality doesn't stop it from being what it is. I think you have too literal a definition of what you think art is.

In terms of narrative in film, games or books even, it isn't art purely on the basis of having subjective meaning. Alot of the most powerful art out there has bold, clear intention of meaning behind it.

In this day and age on contemporary art, with new media being utilised just as much as canvas and paint, art can pretty much be any form of expression of creativity, through any medium, with the intention to evokes emotion or a reaction from an audience. Nothing more. But also, what needs to be said, is that this is just my definition of art, as an artist. The game developers may have a different definition, because in the end, it's the artist who determines what they consider art, not the viewer. Because at the end of the day, its the intent and the expression that justifies the art, not validation from an audience.
 
Clearly you have no understanding of contemporary art. Art can be subjective, but subjectivity doesn't define something as art. And I hate to break it to you, but yes, even Transformers 2 is art. It might not be particularly good, but the quality doesn't stop it from being what it is. I think you have too literal a definition of what you think art is.

In terms of narrative in film, games or books even, it isn't art purely on the basis of having subjective meaning. Alot of the most powerful art out there has bold, clear intention of meaning behind it.

In this day and age on contemporary art, with new media being utilised just as much as canvas and paint, art can pretty much be any form of expression of creativity, through any medium, with the intention to evokes emotion or a reaction from an audience. Nothing more. But also, what needs to be said, is that this is just my definition of art, as an artist. The game developers may have a different definition, because in the end, it's the artist who determines what they consider art, not the viewer. Because at the end of the day, its the intent and the expression that justifies the art, not validation from an audience.
 
"The End" != "Victory"

a goalless experience, your ability to engross yourself in the story doesn't make it "art."

A person may watch movies to get to the end, just a person may play Silent Hill 2 just to walk around and enjoy the experience. It is not a matter of the intent of the consumer, but of the ability of the work to remain subjective. To remain impartial to the consumer, in a way. A movie may have an end, but it doesn't have to tell you if the ending is good or bad. A videogame, by the paradigm that virtually all games use, does.

Contrast Transformers 2 - we know the good guys won, thus, not art - with Arlington Road - the guy gives up his life to save his daughter, iirc. Is that good or bad. Up to you. Hence: art, by this definition.

But you are right, if I thought movies, as a rule, were art, then my argument would be very flawed.

EDIT: I don't think I'm talking about artistic merit. Okami has much more artistic merit than a pile of garbage, there is more art IN it, than in the pile of garbage, but the pile of garbage, or the single white dot on a black canvas is just art, nothing more. Okami is art, inside a victory condition. The game itself is just a container, it is not, itself, art, no matter how much art, emotion, merit, etc is inside the game.


Hmm, I don't know if I agree with your definition as a whole. The basis of your argument in this quotation, at least as I understand it, is that moral ambiguity = art, whereas I think that is far to narrow of a definition to be of any practical use and is almost TOO restricting in a way that is counter intuitive to the creative process.

Is Punch Drunk Love, a movie Ebert seems to regard highly, not a piece of art simply because it has a happy and clear ending? To say no seems cynical.

Clearly you have no understanding of contemporary art. Art can be subjective, but subjectivity doesn't define something as art. And I hate to break it to you, but yes, even Transformers 2 is art. It might not be particularly good, but the quality doesn't stop it from being what it is. I think you have too literal a definition of what you think art is.

In terms of narrative in film, games or books even, it isn't art purely on the basis of having subjective meaning. Alot of the most powerful art out there has bold, clear intention of meaning behind it.

In this day and age on contemporary art, with new media being utilised just as much as canvas and paint, art can pretty much be any form of expression of creativity, through any medium, with the intention to evokes emotion or a reaction from an audience. Nothing more. But also, what needs to be said, is that this is just my definition of art, as an artist. The game developers may have a different definition, because in the end, it's the artist who determines what they consider art, not the viewer. Because at the end of the day, its the intent and the expression that justifies the art, not validation from an audience.

Nicely said.
 
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The thing is, how many people play games with the sole motivation to beat it?

Games like Bioshock, The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Fallout... I don't play them just to "win it" or "beat it" or whatever.

My sole motivation is to play out the story. I think that motive is quite common, especially with RPG games, where you actually play a role, you design the character, you make the characters choices that determine the outcome of the story. Will you be a good guy or a bad guy? Things like that.

See guys like Ebert probably don't even realize there is games like that. Games where you don't play it just to beat it. You play it because you want to finish the story, just like the way you watch a film to see the story.
 
thrillho said:
Clearly you have no understanding of contemporary art. Art can be subjective, but subjectivity doesn't define something as art. And I hate to break it to you, but yes, even Transformers 2 is art. It might not be particularly good, but the quality doesn't stop it from being what it is. I think you have too literal a definition of what you think art is.

In terms of narrative in film, games or books even, it isn't art purely on the basis of having subjective meaning. Alot of the most powerful art out there has bold, clear intention of meaning behind it.

In this day and age on contemporary art, with new media being utilised just as much as canvas and paint, art can pretty much be any form of expression of creativity, through any medium, with the intention to evokes emotion or a reaction from an audience. Nothing more. But also, what needs to be said, is that this is just my definition of art, as an artist. The game developers may have a different definition, because in the end, it's the artist who determines what they consider art, not the viewer. Because at the end of the day, its the intent and the expression that justifies the art, not validation from an audience.

Nice one. Another thing to consider is the whole idea of interactive art installations. I've seen so many fantastic art works based around interactivity or experiencing the art work, like one where you just enter a dark room and look through peephole, or an awesome one where there was a room filled with photos of Native American Indians, but the whole floor was filled with like a half metre of raw corn kernels, and you had to take your shoes of and walk through them. This is a different form of art, where it's not about just looking at an image and drawing your own meaning, but the journey and the experience of said art. That same principle, I think, perfectly applies to some of the deeper video game experiences.
 
this isnt art?
prince-of-persia-4-screens-20080715053150813.jpg


valkyria-chronicles.jpg


ratchet-and-clank-a-crack-in-time-screenshot-2.jpg


street_fighter_4_video_game_image_ryu.jpg
 
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The thing is, how many people play games with the sole motivation to beat it?

Games like Bioshock, The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Fallout... I don't play them just to "win it" or "beat it" or whatever.

My sole motivation is to play out the story. I think that motive is quite common, especially with RPG games, where you actually play a role, you design the character, you make the characters choices that determine the outcome of the story. Will you be a good guy or a bad guy? Things like that.

See guys like Ebert probably don't even realize there is games like that. Games where you don't play it just to beat it. You play it because you want to finish the story, just like the way you watch a film to see the story.

I know I don't play games just to beat them. The ending is just the cherry on top to give a sense of satisfaction and closure after the long struggle the story takes you through. In no way do I ever pick up a game thinking, "let's just get this over with as fast as possible so I can say I won and beat this." I pick up games with the gameplay, story, and just overall journey and fun to be had on the way in mind. In fact, with some RPG's I'll quit over half way through and restart. To me the start of a lot of RPG's armed with knowledge of how to optimize your character from a second play through is the most fun.




Personally, I say if you completely rule out the possibility that games can be art you either don't play games, or haven't played the right ones. If you say games can't be art, then neither can movies as many games have shown the ability to have the same cinematic awe as a Hollywood blockbuster (Uncharted 2, Batman AA), a Noir film (Heavy Rain), an Epic Medieval Tale (Dragon Age, Demon's Souls), or even an Indy. If a game like Valkyria Chronicles can't be art, yet a Hollywood CGI fest can...I'd like to think we need to re-evaluate the meaning of art. Interactivity should not disqualify a game that looks like a moving painting, or one that tells a tale with a rich story as well or better than many novels.
 
I think the only plausible part of the whole "Video Games aren't art" argument is in regards to the marketing side of games, whereas art isn't traditionally about money, whereas money usually determines the success of a game. In that regard though, you can look at people like Tim Schafer, who's games have never really hit commercial success, but recieve wide critical acclaim. In that regard, the game and experience of it was important than say, the Activision style of business model.
 
Well the same can be said of movies.

9 times out of 10 movies are made with the sole purpose to make money.

But movies can be considered art but games can't? It's utter bollox.

See Ebert has proven he has no right to say anything about video games. He is so ignorant on the subject he thinks we all play games just to beat them, or win. Which is totally not the case.
 
The only game that I think qualifies as art is:

Shadow of the Colossus.

Not only does the game look gorgeous, which everyone seems to think means it's art already, it also completely throws out all the tricks of the usual video game and turns it on its head... causing the player to THINK instead of just play.
 
Shadow of the Colossus is awesome.

But it isn't the only game that makes you think whilst playing.
 
I find it disturbing how askew some peoples definition of art is....

Ace of Knaves said:
Well the same can be said of movies.

9 times out of 10 movies are made with the sole purpose to make money.

But movies can be considered art but games can't? It's utter bollox.

See Ebert has proven he has no right to say anything about video games. He is so ignorant on the subject he thinks we all play games just to beat them, or win. Which is totally not the case.

I would say that for games, there needs to be a sufficient artistic vision to it, either in terms of story, or visual direction, or format. I wouldn't consider games like Guitar Hero as art, because that is essentially more just a musical simulation than anything else. It's about as artistic as karaoke.

What worries me is the simplistic attitude some people have to what they think art is... it's bordering on "What, art is them things up on the walls n that."

Edit: Btw Ace, not implying you were one of those people, just realised it looks like that lol. I was addressing your comment as a separate thing.
 
Clearly you have no understanding of contemporary art. Art can be subjective, but subjectivity doesn't define something as art. And I hate to break it to you, but yes, even Transformers 2 is art. It might not be particularly good, but the quality doesn't stop it from being what it is. I think you have too literal a definition of what you think art is.

In terms of narrative in film, games or books even, it isn't art purely on the basis of having subjective meaning. Alot of the most powerful art out there has bold, clear intention of meaning behind it.

In this day and age on contemporary art, with new media being utilised just as much as canvas and paint, art can pretty much be any form of expression of creativity, through any medium, with the intention to evokes emotion or a reaction from an audience. Nothing more. But also, what needs to be said, is that this is just my definition of art, as an artist. The game developers may have a different definition, because in the end, it's the artist who determines what they consider art, not the viewer. Because at the end of the day, its the intent and the expression that justifies the art, not validation from an audience.

Are you sure I have no understanding, or is it just that I disagree with you?

The reason I'm not using this particular definition of art that you put forward is that it removes the ability to define anything as art since, to a degree, emotion is expressed in virtually everything, including how one beats an otherwise emotionless videogame. In other words: everything is art. An all-inclusive definition is meaningless, isn't it? And it doesn't sound like there's anything contemporary about it. The only thing new is digital, which is one of a billion possible media to convey artistic thought. If everything is (or can be) art now, it was 1000 years ago as well.

And out of curiosity, what is an example of powerful art with bold clear meaning? Btw, any value: physical, philosophical, intellectual, financial, spiritual, social, etc can be questioned to provide subjectivity, not just moral.

I really could care less what movies Ebert holds in high esteem. Don't confuse my value of Ebert's core thought in this article with any esteem of him as a critic. But to be fair, just from the wiki, I personally question if the characters in Punch Drunk Love getting together was a good thing.

The definition I'm talking about is cynical/literal/elitist, I agree. I simply find it more useful for the purpose of discussing art. The definition you're using is more useful for creating art, since it accounts for expression in things such as videogames, or making piles of trash.

Is there anything more that needs to be said about this? I don't really have anything further to add.
 
post x2
 
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People don't play games just to beat them though. Ignorant people might think people play games just to beat them. But who gives a **** about what they say, they're ignorant.

I didn't go out and buy Fallout 3 just to beat the game.
 

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