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The Arty Party

February 11, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[In this important Gamasutra essay, former game journalist and current EA producer Jim Preston dispels the illusion of an 'art club' that games aren't allowed to enter, suggesting that diversity has made the 'games as art' debate effectively meaningless.]

Last November Roger Ebert reviewed the film Hitman (pictured below) and raised the ante in his ongoing low-stakes game of "is it art?" with video gamers. Instead of simply declaring, as he has done in the past, that videogames are not art, Ebert goes even further to declare that videogames "will never become an art form." The claim that games aren’t an art form isn’t controversial, even among many gamers. But to take it to the next level and deny that they ever can become art is, well, just plain ol’ mean.

Naturally the reaction among gamers was the righteous fury of the deeply transgressed. Many noted that Ebert actually liked Garfield: The Movie while others pointed out the devastating ravages of senility. The desire to be considered an art form, and to get all the benefits of legitimacy that come with it, is natural for any hobbyist. The problem for video gamers, however, is not with Roger Ebert; the problem is that gamers don’t understand the disheveled state of "art" in America.

Most gamers think of their plight this way: there’s this really great club downtown called the Arty Party and all the cool people are in it. George Clooney is getting drunk with Oscar Wilde; Chopin is playing foosball with Allen Ginsberg; and Picasso is hitting on Emily Dickinson -- it’s the best.

Meanwhile, we gamers are out here on the sidewalk in the rain with the comic book guys and the graffiti sprayers and we can’t get in because that cranky bastard Ebert won’t let us through the door. Ebert, and others like him, man the door and glower at us, not letting us in to this one big party.

The problem with this picture is that it isn’t even remotely close to reflecting the state of art in 21st century America. To think that there is a single, generally agreed upon concept of art is to get it precisely backwards. Americans' attitude towards art is profoundly divided, disjointed and confused; and my message to gamers is to simply ignore the "is-it-art?" debate altogether.

Note, however, that I am not saying anything about art per se, or anything about art in any other culture. Rather, I would like to suggest that the U.S.’s constant influx of immigrants, exiles, and refugees has led to a current artistic landscape that is so widely varied that the "is-it-art?" debate is almost meaningless.

Our current cultural attitude towards art is like an enormous cocktail, with so many ingredients added over time that it is almost impossible to digest the final result.

A quick and crude history would be familiar to all of us: the early European settlers and merchants brought a broadly Christian conception of art; the slave trade injected African oral traditions and rhythms that would lie murmuring underneath the surface for decades; the antebellum and agrarian South fully embraced a neo-classical view of art.

The turn of the century saw the rise of the Blues and Jazz from the Mississippi delta; the second World War brought a wave of European thinkers and artists, many of them avant-garde; the post-War era witnessed the rise of rock ‘n roll and abstract expressionism; and the GI Bill sent (and still sends) unprecedented numbers through college, leading to a great blob of theorists who are forced by the economics of higher education to dream up more theories of art or perish.


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Comments


Kirk Battle
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The reason people like Ebert and the New York Times still don't accept video games is they keep thinking "It's just like a movie but with buttons". It's the same reason people complain about the lack of depth in video game plots. You are the depth in a video game's plot. It's not a script, this isn't a play or a novel. It's not a question of "if" games are art, it's "how" they are art. A good video game is like a language. The options to the player, the visuals, the back story, all come together in a series of symbols that allow for personal expression by interaction. A game that lets you express yourself in a variety of ways, communicate emotions & ideas, and express what comes naturally to you is gaming at its best.

Patrick Dugan
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I second L.B. - I think Ebert was grumpilly inspired to make that comment by watching a bad movie based on a videogame, and somehow reasoning that if no game can be adapted to a good movie, game's can never be art. It's like monkeys concluding a calculator useless because you can't get bannanas with it.

Anonymous
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Great article. I hope there is a day when we can retire the word "art" as a form of exclusivity and keep it around to describe skill. I'd rather praise someone for doing something I could not, than for knowing the right currators.

norb rozek
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The comments on the nature of art in American culture vis-a-vis other Western cultures are pretty much right on the mark. The fact of the matter is that the "fine arts," as they are called, have never and WILL never have the same impact on American culture and society as they do in, say, Europe -- simply because when the French were off hosting their "salons" and writing poetry, we were killing bears and trying to hack out a desperate existence in the wilderness. THERE IS NO ART IN THE ACCEPTED SENSE IN AMERICA. Our mass culture IS our art. Games are already IN the Arty Club, because our Arty Club is a log cabin with a moonshine still out back.

Forrest Dowling
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The divide between understandings of what constitutes art is an important one to consider. I'm not finding it right now, but as I recall Ebert's original post on the matter would have actually ruled out sculpture and painting as art: he seemed to craft a definition that specifically described film. This is not even taking into consideration the last hundred or so years of art, when things like fluxus happenings started to explore the idea of surrendering authorial control as a work of art. These were happening 50 years ago.



The problem is that nearly a hundred years have passed since Duchamp created Fountain, and I'd be willing to be that 99% of America at large would not agree that it's art. This piece is probably the single most important and influential work in the last century, and people still haven't caught up with why it mattered.



If people want to debate what something is or isn't, it helps to have some education on the matter, and it doesn't seem as if this debate is being carried out by many people who do. I include Ebert in this category of people that needs a little education before they start making declarations.



I'd be willing to bet that most people who have spent some time studying art and art history would be unwilling to try and define art, as if anything it is a thing that defies definition and categorization.

Jim Preston
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@ Christian - thanks for the kind words, I'm glad you enjoyed it!



@ norb - You and I are on the same page, then, although I know plenty of people celebrate that fact as what is great about art in America. Too each his own, I suppose.



@ Forrest - You and I are also on the same page. I didn't want to come right out and say it in the article, but the conditions for the appreciation of art also include a minimum level of education. That does NOT mean formal education, however, but at least some appreciation of the ideas expressed in most artworks.



@ Grassroots - sorry, I'm not sure I've grasped your point.

Thomas Grove
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I enjoyed your article!



I think that Pac-man was a more seminal work of art than Fountain.



Two other things to consider in the "are video games art" debate:

1) Are the 3d models and textures in a game art? They are made by artists after all. Another way to ask this question is: are the products of craftsman, artists, and artisans art?

2) Is design art?



I think that Scott McCloud of Understanding Comics fame basically said that anything done by a person that isnít an immediate necessity is art.

Steven An
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These debates are not worth having. Games are clearly art. They let you express systems (which arise from ideas, beliefs, and feelings) as interactive experiences - quite a powerful and unique form of art.



Of course, most games out these days don't express much aside from combat scenarios, brain-teasers, and tests of manual dexterity. So the industry has a lot of work to do. Let's not get distracted by Roger Ebert.



And in all fairness, Ebert doesn't exactly say games will never be art. He says that unless they "morph into something else", they won't be. So even he is acknowledging that it's possible someday. But whatever - let's get back to the task at hand: How do we express ideas in games?

Gregory Koll
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Andy Warhol, when asked what was art? replied " Art is any thing you can get away with."

Jan Kubiczek
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Nice article.



If got one question: why do you pay so much attention to this Ebert? From reading his review I am just asking myself - why the hassle? I am not native English, but he says video games will never be art if films about videogames are as bad as hitman?



You cannot be true! Videogames CAN be as original and thought provoking as any other art form. Although I wouldn't say that the Hitman videogame is a perfect example. I am thinking more of Psychonauts or Okami.

Anonymous
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Ebert has definately scored here a goal for the oldies by igniting my hatred for old movie critics with a wig. How dare he!? I'm feeling more insecure now about my chosen profession and whether it has any meaning. Will my brilliant designs for that swamp level ever be considered as a great work of contemporary art? Or that nicely modelled hand-gun, or that semi-human looking vixen with half a nipple peeking out, ever compete with David? Hopefully some young man looked upon her in the swamp and connected with my despair.

Joel McDonald
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Great article. I started reading this at work before being distracted by, well, work, so I'm glad that I remembered to finish it up at home. Also, I think I loved the links in the article ("My Kid Could Paint That" and "Pearls Before Breakfast") as much as the article itself.



I'm glad you wisely took the position that games can eventually be accepted as art, and not the stronger position that games actually *are* art, since, like you said, that comes down to the yet-to-be-decided essence of art.

Chris Rock
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Regardless of whether or not you believe games are art, there is a pragmatic reason to label them so.



The popular view is that games are "for fun" and therefore they somehow "don't count." It doesn't matter what game is, they're played to kill time and be forgotten and created for nothing but a profit.



Art on the other hand is a serious matter and in that respect intimidating. It must be studied; it is a discipline. It requires philosophy and education.



I don't care whether someone agrees that games are art, but I do care if they limit games to "fun" (a meaningless term as it is). By saying games are not art, you discourage their study and limit their progress.



There's nothing to be lost by admitting games as an artistic medium. Not for "artists" and not for game developers. Can we stop being such scaredy cats about it?

Jim Preston
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@ Jan - Ebert is probably this single highest profile movie critic in the U.S. today. That doesn't make him the best, of course, just the most popular. Also, he is one of the few who have been willing to engage videogamers in the debate about art, so I think that's why he gets the attention.



@ Joel - Thanks, Joel, I'm glad you enjoy the links.



@ Chris - Agreed. There's another pragmatic reason to label them so: the political benefits that come with such legitimacy. You don't see politicians trying to pass obesity taxes on films, or trying to enable stronger labeling laws on books, and that is because both of those mediums are fully accepted as art forms even if the vast majority of actual films and books fall far short of that ideal.

Tobias Bodlund
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I like your article, and I fully agree that people stop worrying about these things. Except perhaps when it comes to legal issues such as being eligible for grants or prizes promoting artistic expression.



However, I disagree with the uniqueness of the US that you argue:



Over here in Europe, I don't see anyone with a generally open view of art feeling they need to discuss whether games are art or not (those who do are generally the people who also question whether movies/cubism/rock music/whatever is art).



I feel the culture here in Europe is generally past that sort of nitpicking of which mediums are allowed for creating art - the US might not be as unique in that respect as you think.



The "hunting beavers" theory of norb rozek, while it certainly evokes an amusing image, is off the mark too. If you are talking about the 17th and 18th centuries, there was hardly the kind of public mass-market art discourse that we have today (not even in Europe...) - rather, when the early yanks were busy hunting beavers, most of the early Europeans were busy ploughing fields or, well... even hunting beavers :)



When it comes to creative art, Europe and the US have always been and continue to be very very similar.



Great article, I like your perspective on the issue!

Anonymous
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Very good article!



I feel it is also worth pointing out that all art requires some degree of interaction. Books, movies, and music lose their meaning if the observer refuses to indulge themselves in the work. Even the observation of art is, itself, interactive: You have to witness the beauty to appreciate it.



Consider "Flight of the Bumble Bee." Remove the listener and it is simply a string of notes. A child might be amused by it because without context it is a silly string of scaling pitches. A layman would likely not appreciate it because it doesn't tell much of an acoustic story - which is sensible, as it was written to simply close an act in an opera. Myself, having learned to play an instrument, I find it astounding that anyone can play the first few bars without tying their fingers into knots. In appreciating the piece for the mastery required to play it, I have interacted with it and created meaning for it, which makes it art. This is a classical, educated appreciation of the work. If, instead, the music conveyed in me a sense of flight, then I have experienced a sense of flight with it, which is an interaction. This is a romantic appreciation of the work.



My point is that appreciation requires some kind of interaction, psychological or otherwise.



For Ebert to state that the involvement of a player precludes video games from ever becoming an art form, he precludes his own passion from qualifying. You cannot claim to have watched a film without watching a film, and that point seems to have escaped Ebert. You cannot judge a film's dialogue without first listening to it. You cannot critique an actor's performance without first watching it. Regardless of how you appreciate the art: whether it convey an emotion, is masterfully executed, is ornately decorated, provokes thought or question, or satisfies any other criteria, you must experience something for the art to be meaningful. Experiencing something always involves interacting with it, even if this interaction is entirely psychological.



I can't even come to terms with the idea that Ebert might be advocating that art can only be appreciated in a classical sense; my film appreciation professor forced me to read far too many of Ebert's reviews in which he rants about the romantic qualities of the film. Ditto, vice-versa.



I've generally dismissed Ebert's article as close-minded and poorly considered. To me, it is little more than intellectual noise, and I'm surprised by how many people continue to think about it. Perhaps he deserves some credit for being bold enough to state his opinion, but it doesn't negate the fact that he seems to have entirely missed the point of his own article. Perhaps, if someone can tell me how I've missed the point, as well, then I can learn to appreciate his opinion in the way that I've learned to appreciate Fountain. Until then, I think I've devoted entirely too much thought to the issue.

mike salmond
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....Full disclosure I am an art professor so am perhaps biased. In general I would say that as Duchamp explained with his readymades, "anything" can be art - it's all about intent and context. If your intent, in any medium, is simply to entertain then it's probably not art. If you are attempting to do more with your chosen medium, and you contextualize and conceptualize the work and call it 'Art' then it is.



No one medium is safe from the artists' creative impulse Assuming they have access (and we usually do). There are many artists working in and with the videogame medium. The big problem is that games have quickly become very complex to make and as such tend to attract the more hardy and/or technically proficient of artists. There's never been a medium that is excluded from art.



The question - as yet unanswered is - "What *kind* of art do we make with video games?". Is Halo art? No. Is Electroplankton? - Iwai intended it to be a commercially viable interactive art/sound project - so it is.



There is no argument, it's happened/is happening but no you can't just label any game Art (well you can, you can do whatever you want) not unless there was artistic intent and an attempt to bring new interpretation, expression or point of transcendence to the medium. Same argument with film, is Die Hard 3 art? No. Is Eraserhead? Yes.......and so on.



m

Jim Preston
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@ Tobias - I can't really speak intelligently on Europe's attitude towards games as art. My hunch is that the average European has been exposed to more art history, theory and appreciation than the average American student, and as such have a more developed conception or theory of art, but I could be completely wrong.



@ Anonymous - You make an excellent point about interaction. While it is true that videogames are an "interactive" medium while, say, the novel is a passive medium, consider how much active reading you have to do to appreciate a great and complex piece of writing. A truly challenge work of art is quite interactive, as you point out, whether you are the performer or the viewer!



@ Mike - I'm not sure what to say as I thought the role of "the artist's intention" had been thoroughly rubbed out of current theories of interpretation. The classic example of Frost's "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" shows how it supports three very different readings, and the fact that Frost deeply objected that his intention was to write a poem about suicide, the fact of the matter is that the poem supports that reading.



I don't really see how intent can play any role in determining the artistic worth of anything. You claim that Halo isn't art, but then point out that Electroplankton must be simply because Iwai intended it to be. How do you know that the developers at Bungie did not intend the same? And even if they did intend it, why would that, ipso facto, make it art? Surely the thing can only be judged on its own merits, and the artist's intent has no bearing at all. So I half agree with your interpretation of Duchamp - it's all about context, not at all about intent.

Florian Dhesse
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Very good article.

Jim, I agreed on your point that art is also about context, but not at all when you last said in response to Mike that it's not at all about intent.

The question could be: who makes art? the maker or the viewer?

I agree with Mike: most of the people in the industry do games based on the market, the audience and the technologies. Sadly, most of them don't try to say anything through their creation. Things must simply work and be fun for the player. So videogame is like building a car: you make a product. That's the same difference you find between painting and commercial illustration, sculpture and product design.

Now, you have sometimes people in the industry who try to say something, who conceptualize their work, as Mike said.

If Bungie just wanted to make a very good and successful game (like we all do), then no it's not art. If any of these guys tried to express something through his work (like an artist working on a specific building), then his piece only is art, not the whole game.

Now, if the creator of the game conceptualize his game, then you may consider it as an artistic vision, therefore as art, no? Of course, it doesn't mean that his whole team would do the same, they would just help him achieving his vision, but that's the same for music, movies, etc. As long as there is an artistic lead, then you can start considering the whole as art.

Again I agree with Mike on videogame as a medium any artist could use to create art. But because it's so expensive, it's really not easy for them. When we'll have more products like Torque and Flash for example, and even more easy to use, we'll see more art coming from this medium.

Dan Supan
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Many of you have made excellent points but I still think the focus is a little blurry.



If someone were to ask if fencing was an art they would likely say no, it is a sport. Yet, if other fencers were to witness some of the champions of the world they would beg to differ. Those champions show the potential art that fencing contains.



Chess, a simple board game with limited amount of moves creates such a foundation of possibilities that the world has held tournaments trying to decide who has become a master at it. Yet chess in itself is displayed in many different shapes and forms. (from LOTR to basic shapes)



Let's not forget a great deal of game design is taken from board games...



Perhaps video games and designers alike should be asking if a game would be just as complex, fun, and challenging if the visual arts/music were taken away? Try mentally replacing high poly models with stick figures, replace tanks and soldiers with basic geometry, view animation as actions that have assumed results (due to rules). Is your game still fun? Is it still challenging?



Many of you will argue with me that all of those elements I just pulled out of the game take from the experience. This is where games fails to become an art. If a game is providing an experience that is 'artificially' enhanced then it is trying to accomplished what every movie tries to accomplish(great music, stunning special effects, drama, emotion, and immersion).



Sure, paintings(textures), music(sounds effects), and acting (drama) are all art forms in their own right but why do people feel they need to fight that games are an art form when they hammer multiple art forms together to try and cover up what their real focus is.



It is all about the foundation of a game that gives it potential to be an art. Chess is played daily because its simplicity is the art. Granted video games need a few extra elements to built its foundation: input layout and sound effects. Video games have potential to be art forms but very few games have been able to balance the elements involved for them to be considered art. The high poly counts are just a new mask for the game play to take, nothing more.(very similar to a new looking chess board)



Games have the potential to be art when their foundation is well built and they don't ruin themselves with art(poly, sound effects, and AI) that is below the caliber of it's foundation. Sure it is possible for video games to become art assuming all of the different parts are assembled to create a true masterpiece (which I've yet to see, and don't expect to see in my lifetime).



Another way games could be viewed as an art is when players take the excess aesthetics out and play them like Chess or fencing. Player vs. Player. Forget the computer(AI), the graphics, and the music. Give the player a worn sword or a home-made chess board. If players take the environment (the board/sounds effects/interface) and use it to outsmart their opponent is when a game can become an art. Yet this art can only be appreciated by people who take the time to watch or have taken the time to learn the art themselves.



Sadly with the environment built on games today it is unlikely that this view will gain any popularity. Players with real skill are criticized for hacking, looked down upon with jealousy, and ridiculed. Without a respected environment we will never see video games as an art in America.

Jim Preston
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@ Florian - I'm glad you enjoyed the article; I certainly enjoyed writing it. My point to Mike is of course unrelated to the article, because in the article I am advocating a political position while in my response to him I'm going off that message and advocating an aesthetic position.



Unfortunately, I'm going to have to politely disagree with you as well. Intention has absolutely no role at all to play in determining some thing's artistic value. In fact, the idea that intent plays any role whatsoever has long been dismissed by philosophers and critics as simply the "the intentional fallacy" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_fallacy).



Consider the absurd conclusions it leads to: anything done to be popular or successful cannot be art. Likewise, anything done with artistic pretensions must therefore be art. Finally, a single collaborative work can both be art and not be art because one particular member, as you put it, "tried to express something through his work" while the others did not. Do I really have to go and poll every member of collaborative work to find their intentions before I can call a piece art? These are, of course, ridiculous conclusions.



I would simply suggest that art and commerce are not the oil and water you make them out to be. Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and Coppola's "The Godfather" were all wildly popular but also considered artistic masterpieces of their form. Why are we to say that "Halo 3" isn't art simply because it too is popular? We cannot go and ask the makers, as I'm sure everyone who labored so long and hard on the game would probably say, yes, they expressed something in their work.



Finally, I would return to Duchamp. His work "Fountain" is considered by many to be one of the most important works of art of the 20th century. Do you think the mason who created the original urinal intended for it to be art or plumbing? I'm afraid I must agree with Duchamp; the original intent for something matters not all, it is all of context and analysis.



However, I do think that you, me, and Mike would all agree that videogames are certainly a canvas upon which art can be created, regardless of whether we agree which particular game is art or how it is to be interpreted.

Anonymous
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I also politely disagree with Mr. Supan's point that the textures and models in a game do not factor into whether a game is art. It seems that the beauty of games is sometimes in the environment the game is set in, and their capacity to draw the player into the environment such that the player sees the world as if they were standing in it instead of their avatar.



Consider Myst. Without the artistry, Myst is little more than clicking to navigate through a maze and solving puzzles. Would Myst be nearly as involving or entertaining if it were solid colors and basic shapes? Why, then, did the developers spend so much time on everything else, if it added no meaningful value?



I agree with Mike that the proper question to ask is "how" video games are artful, and I submit that the answer changes, sometimes within the context of the very same work. Sometimes the art is the enjoyment of play, as with many, many multiplayer games. Sometimes the art *is* the models and the texturing. Sometimes it is the story of the game, or the music of the game. Many, many things can contribute to the artfulness of a game.



In fact, it seems that asking how videogames are artful is analogous to asking how writing is artful. Writing encompasses several art forms, including poetry, calligraphy, storytelling, and more. I have never seen Elizabeth Browning's penmanship, and clearly the literary field doesn't consider it relevant to the admiration of her poetry, else they would be certain to reproduce her works complete in her own handwriting.



If an art form as old as writing can be artistic separately from its storytelling, why can't video games be artistic for more than their fun?

Glen Isip
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I'd have to second Mr. Supan's notion that a game's "artistic" capability is directly rooted in the gameplay itself. It is, after all, what distinguishes gameplay from the visual arts, music, and film. After all, you can't appreciate a painting without looking at it, a piece of music without looking at it, or a film without watching AND listening to it. It stands to reason that the best way to appreciate a game is to play it.



While I have deep appreciation for both game art and game soundtracks (with the arguments that game-art books and game-music performances are both popular) they are usually appreciated as visual or aural pieces, not as a game experience.



Tetris is the old standby, but that's because it really is a good video game: it incorporates a gameplay mechanic not practically realized elsewhere (infinite falling bricks magically disappearing when a line is formed) and throws in enough variety to make it simple yet addictive. You can't get the experience any other way; you can only understand Tetris if you actually PLAY Tetris. That's what makes it a game worthy of an "art": the inability to recreate the experience in another medium.



Graphics and sounds are beautiful, but when games mimic other art forms too much, it cheapens the gameplay and therefore lessens the ability for gameplay to become art. Games that try to emulate movies, or get by purely by their graphics, sound, or story, are always trying to measure up to another standard.



I'm not saying that I don't enjoy a story and good graphics and sound, but there are very few games that truly weave the player into the game experience and make it something you have to play to appreciate. I felt Ace Combat 4 was a very good example of how narrative brought out the "game" experience; while gameplay is largely similar throughout the AC series, AC4's story was one whose impact could not be told through a movie, book, or musical piece. If you have no idea what I'm talking about when I refer to Ace Combat 4's story, I can only say that you have to play the game; there's no other way to capture that unique moment. And if you can't play the game...



...you miss the experience. Ebert's comments are shortsighted, to say the least, but he's acknowledging a key factor: games are inaccessible to a good percentage of the population. It's easy to appreciate catchy game tunes, or beautiful game graphics, or even spectacular game story writing, but until more video games tap into their inherent appeal -- accessible and enjoyable gameplay -- it's going to be an unnecessarily long time before their charm is appreciated on a greater level.

Joe Schultz
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It's a coffee house argument, which is to say has very little weight in the real world.



That said, my perspective (::sips from his tiny cup of strong coffee::) is this:



-Ebert hasn't been to a modern art museum in a while; realtime 3D is all over the place and growing (not just in the US either).



- Ebert has a point, even though I find his outlook primitive and dated. I believe Ebert is reflecting a very real aspect of modern video games; an aspect that articles like this do not progress a discussion on (out of fear?).



This aspect is the fact is that most game makers have very poor taste; on average, we make derivative, immature, uninspired violence, wrapped in a pretty package that appeals to the lowest senses... that's the average.



What he doesn't see (and perhaps may, and possibly then, retract his controversy-inciting attitude) is that all of that is changing for the better...



As we mature, as we draw on more influences than game designer's trifecta of Lovecraft / D&D / Tolkien, we're seeing game's mature and draw on more influences and as a result resonate with more of humanity on deeply personal & creative levels.



Video games are changing RIGHT NOW, but it's not coming from the big game companies (it cannot due to the priorities existent in a big game company); Ebert is too disconnected from it all (I think he'd agree) to see it for what it really is.



This type of article doesn't help anyone IMO; well scratch that, it helps a big corporate game maker with notorious production principles and no scruples about working teams to the breaking point, feel better about pushing out the next derivative uninspired tripe and calling it "quality".



FUD pure and simple.

Jim Preston
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@ Joe - I agree that games are changing right now, but to say that it's not coming from - or indeed cannot come from big companies is almost as silly as Roger Ebert saying games cannot in principle be art. The Wii, World of Warcraft, Spore, Guitar Hero, Xbox Live Arcade all seem to be coming from some of those evil corporations that you oppose with such nobility.



Surely smaller companies outside of mainstream publishers will continue to be constantly innovating, but I give Nintendo more credit than anyone else in pushing games forward, and I don't think they're that small.

Glenn O'Bannon
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There was a timely article in the Feb 16, 2008 Wall Street Journal. In it, Terry Teachout shows us the result of worrying too much about trying to make a heralded work of art--a malady that Steven Sondheim dubbed "importantitis." Teachout tells us about Leonard Bernstein after West Side Story, Orson Welles after Citizen Kane, and Ralph Ellison after Invisible Man. Each tried desperately to make a masterpiece instead of simply trying to create more fine examples of their craft. As a result, each man gave us very little of the type of work that put them on the map. Teachout's First Law of Artistic Dynamics then is, "The best way to make a bad work of art is to try to make a great one."



So let's try to make the most fun we can, in the best way that we can and leave the determination of what is art--let alone great art--to history.



In other words, let's strive for excellence, not greatness and avoid that dreaded "importantitis."

Wesley Thompson
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Great article! I think the term "Art" has been so twisted over the years that it almost seems to have lost all definitive meaning.

If you could get a famous art critic to declare that Hitman, the game is art and have it displayed in a gallery,then it would magically become art. So I don't really see the appeal in associating gaming with a word that has no real concrete definition.



Instead of asking whether or not games are art and having to deal with the question, what is art, we should be asking what is gaming and how can we deliver concepts, stories and experience far better than any piece of fine art!

Lior Messinger
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This brings to mind the definition of 'art' as something that isn't useful. When that Frenchmen pissed on the urinal, it made it useful and took from it its artistic essence, and that's part of why we are so shocked.

Same usefulness definition could be applied to games, of course.

Jonathan Lindsay
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I am certainly not a philosopher, but Arthur Danto's view is that art is anything with meaning which also embodies that meaning. There are not many games that have a meaning and if they do they are often not worth knowing. I guess the 'meaning' doesn't have to be delivered via story, i guess it could be via gameplay. Can't think of any games which also embody their meaning either, maybe ICO? Any other games? Got a gut feeling that 'Beneath a Steel Sky' may be another example, but I haven't played it.



Here is a link to one of Danto's books on google.books http://tinyurl.com/2qgqls , the only bit I have looked at is 'Art and Meaning', it was certainly interesting, especially since he doesn't seem to be a pompish snob.

Jim Preston
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@jonathan



Danto is certainly one of the most challenging contemporary philosophers writing about art. You've linked to an excellent example of his work, but "After the End of Art" is another one that I think most people who want to think deeply about current art will enjoy.



The only thing that I would caution you against is reading Danto's idea about "meaning" as purely "literary" meaning, that is the kind that comes from story or words. Danto's a big fan of performance art (which includes playing a piece of music, not just the goofy stuff that goes on at the MoMa) and games would qualify more as an act of performance by the player than an act of story creation by the developers. The gamer is the artist, the developers simply create the paint and canvas via the game.


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