The whole 'games as art' debate is getting very tired now, with people on both sides of the fence doing little more than scoring points for their own preferred medium of entertainment, but this is one of the funnier examples of the argument, if only for the fact that it typifies those who refuse to accept videogames as art perfectly -- they absolutely suck at games and can't understand them.
The Washington Post's 58-year-old book critic, Michael Dirda, spent a week with the widely praised BioShock without any help from mommy and daddy, and managed to get all the way to Neptune's Bounty, even though he hasn't worked out how to use First Aid kits in the game. He has one, he just doesn't know how to make it work. "I've got a first-aid kit, but I haven't figured out how to use it," he whines in what most gamers would call a cry for help.
Dirda admitted that what he managed to play of the game had artistic merit and was immersive, but that wasn't enough to qualify it as art for him. Apparently, something isn't art for Dirda unless it allows you to be depressed which ... is a new one. It seems that the only thing that qualifies as art then is anything by Nine Inch Nails. Or American Idol ... I know watching that show depresses the Hell out of me. Dirda rules that until games are depressing, they aren't allowed to be art. Seriously, how is it that people can decide what makes something art based on such random and arbitrary reasons? And who in their right mind has been depressed by a painting? I could claim paintings aren't art because paintings can be framed and anything that is in a frame isn't art. It's just as nonsensical and random as Dirda's argument, yet he believes what he says holds merit.
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Of course, many games have had sad moments, despite this book critic's statement. I'm sure I can get one or two of you to admit you wept when Sephiroth killed Aeris. Even I will admit that several games have gotten to my emotions before. Since the last game Dirda played before BioShock was Myst, he doesn't even have the authority to say that games can't be depressing. Play more games, then come back and try again, ignoramus. We've moved on from the days of Galaga.
Ken Levine, the outspoken man behind BioShock, probably has the right idea in his own rebuttal to Dirda's claims. "Is BioShock art? I don't know, and I guess I sort of don't care," he answered. "All I care about is, does it work -- does it have an impact on an audience?" Any of us without a stone heart was definitely affected by BioShock, and nobody can argue it wasn't an artistic triumph. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be enough for some people who often give off signs that they find the relatively new medium of videogames almost threatening.
Claiming that something isn't art is a purely pretentious practice, since art is boundless, unclassifiable and totally subjective. Videogames are art because I say videogames are art. You can't debate this with me because you can't debate the validity of things that are made valid only by one's own personal perception. Anybody who tries to resist such logic can do nought but fail.
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