As I'm sure most of you out there know, about a week ago, maybe more, Roger Ebert wrote a column
in which he declared that video games can't be art and are NOT art. Needless to say, this caused a bit of a kerfuffle across the internet and in the gaming world, exhibit A being the 3000+ comment thread cluster fuck found on the link I provided above (seriously, don't click on it unless you have a super computer or something because it will crash your computer loading all of that outrage).
Now, before I go any further with this, lemme say something: I have enormous respect for Roger Ebert. I love movies and, therefore, have read countless numbers of his reviews, I used to religiously watch Siskel and Ebert at the Movies until the unfortunate loss of Gene Siskel, and for a time I myself actually reviewed movies for an online magazine and grew to appreciate and understand the art of critique, especially when it has to go through the filter of an editor and the public. Also, the dude lost his jaw about three years ago, endured all kinds of horrific surgery, and now can't talk or eat properly, yet trudges on doing his thing writing great reviews and eloquent columns and still knows how to rip apart a movie when it comes down to it, which is when he is at his best as a writer, I think.
Your movie sucks.
All of that said, I think he's wrong. Now, I know this whole "are games art" thing has become this huge debate and, frankly, I'm in the school of people who don't understand why there's a debate at all.
Virtually every traditional aspect of traditional art as we know is somehow represented in a video game, from artists making the textures and skins and graphics, to people being employed to write the game's story and dialogue, to even more traditional forms of art like sculpture being used as part of the development process. Games ARE art. There is no question of this at all. They are a creative endeavor that, despite their focus on being interactive and being financially successful, fits all of the established criteria for being art.
So, on that point, I think Ebert is far too quick to dismiss video games.
Maybe a lot of people who didn't grow up video games think it's just a lot of people getting online, calling each other names, and living out revenge/murder fantasies for a few hours every night before crying themselves to sleep. And, frankly, I don't blame them since the media has largely portrayed games and gamers as...unstable at best. This is changing, obviously. Culture is evolving and accepting games as something other than just Mario jumping over those damn turtles because now it's everywhere. Even "mature" adults who might be managers and business professionals are playing games in the form of casual titles on their iPods or Blackberries or whatever. Video games are part of culture now, at least in first-world countries, and it's really inescapable that it's presence sort of irks people who never "got" games and never played them and always felt left out of it. Such is the way of a new generation of technology. Now of course, you may not think Bejeweled has much artistic merit compared to, say, Shadow of the Colossus, but it's still art on some level. I mean, your box of Super Oatmeal Crunchy Thingies that you eat every morning might not be exciting and might be a generic, shallow piece of commercial product, but it still took a rote, technical level of "art" to make that box and design it so that the product could be put out there. Doesn't mean it deserves a place in the Smithsonian, but it's better to debate the merits of it than to just dismiss it outright as something that doesn't effect our cultural realm as "art."
Admittedly, I'm surprised that someone like Ebert who has sat through countless brilliant works of movie art (as well as countless stinkers) wouldn't really see this. It almost shocks me. But, I respect his opinion more so than, say, that Newsweek writer Jack Kroll who, a few years back, wrote a similar column about games only he decided to take the route of trashing games and gamers and fueling the impression that games are for unhinged lunatic peoples. (well, maybe they SORT OF are, I mean look at the comments on my last blog.) Now I realize that a lot of people who take the "games can't be art" position argue that art is an expression of creativity that is guided by the artist for the sake of the art, whereas games are designed with users in mind and the tastes of an audience and are basically about making money on some level. This is true, I will admit, but I don't think these factors instantly nullify games from being an artistic project. Obviously there are cynical cash grab games farted out for no reason but advertising, but certainly that doesn't paint the entire realm of games.
Maybe I'm reading too much into all of this and, ultimately, when it all comes to an end, what makes a video game "art" is the perception of those that play it. The people who feel something when they're engaged in it. Who see beauty and hidden detail and feel emotion over it. That connection that is only there between the player and work itself. In a way, I wish everyone could find that experience for themselves. especially the Roger Eberts of the world.