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Ian Welsh

Ebert admits to having never played a video game. I like Ebert a lot, but he should shut up.

Timmy mac

A movie uses writing, editing, lighting, design, pacing, music, mood, dialogue and whatnot to give me, the viewer, a specific and profound emotional experience (fear, joy, whatever; the whole fear and pathos thing Aristotle talked about).

A video game uses writing, editing, design, lighting, pacing, music, mood and dialogue to give me, the player, a specific and profound emotional experience.

Why in the world would the movie be art and the game not?


Ebert's not right, but I think he's more right than a lot of his gamer opponents (full disclosure: I probably play enough video games to be considered a "hard-core gamer" in terms of time kicked in, if not attitude). The fact is that games are already art, they're just not very good art. Ebert engages with at least one game with artistic intentions, Braid. And the fact that he is able to engage with it artistically proves that the game is, in fact, art. But it's not very good art. Neat game, not good art. The creator will tell you that he had a bunch of stuff about quantum mechanics in mind, but no one seems to see it but him, which makes it failed as a public piece of art as far as my concept of art goes. Braid seems to mainly be about a relationship lesson most of us learn when we're in our late teens and early twenties.

The question I find interesting is not whether games can ever be considered art, but whether games can ever be considered both good games and good art, and I think that's a far less determinate issue.

Ian Welsh

I would say Planescape:Torment is good art. (Not great art, but good). But then, so much of this is a matter of taste.

I am reminded of the start of film, when many theater types thought it could never be art.

Most games are not art, but then neither are the vast majority of films, even if you take out porn (and porn is the vast majority of films, itself.)

Really, as I said before, Ebert is talking out his ass. Would he listen to someone who said "films can never be art like paintings, and no, I don't need to watch any films to know this. It's obviously inherent in the medium."

Of course not.

Steve Whitney

Roger Ebert is an old guy putting down an art form of the younger generation,like my parents did when rock and roll appeared. I'm an old guy who is both a traditional painter and a longtime videogame player. Ebert is wrong both about videogames and cave paintings.

Videogames, like movies, are a medium for artistic expression. Some rise to the occasion, most do not. Same for movies, books, paintings, sculpture, architecture, dance, opera, and most any other art form you can name. Videogames have not yet produced art equivalent to the Sistine Chapel or Beethoven's Fifth, but neither have most painters or musicians.

The cave paintings of Lascaux, Altamira, and other locales were done for reasons about which we can only speculate. That there were great painters in Pleistocene Europe is a truism that hardly needs repeating, but we have no idea, really, whether the painters of Lascaux were great or even amongst the better painters of their day. Likely they were, but we don't know. Pleistocene cave paintings insprire us not because they are the work of stone-age Rembrandts but because we are amazed that humans so long ago had achieved such expressiveness and realism. This is a form of "proto-racism", like being astonished that African carvings are so sophisticated or that Navajo sand paintings rival the finest modernist abstractions.

I have played videogames that were stupid and videogames that were moving or beautiful; and I have never seen a 10,000-year-old cave painting that didn't astonish and inspire.


Daniel, good point about Ebert and Braid. You said something that I'd like a game designer to address:

The question I find interesting is not whether games can ever be considered art, but whether games can ever be considered both good games and good art, and I think that's a far less determinate issue.

I think one of the things Ebert's arguing is that because the goals of art and game design aren't the same both can't be pursued at the same time. That's a question for designers.

Ian, I think Ebert should try playing a few games, but I have a question, Do I need to read a Harlequin Romance to know that it's not art?

Steve Whitney

The question is it or is it not (whatever it is)art is ultimately a pointless question. If you love something, does it really matter whether someone else thinks it's art or not? And if you dislike something, do you really care if someone else assures you it is art? No. People actually making what they consider to be art never give it a thought. You don't do art to "make art"; you do it to experience the high that comes with creating something, anything.

Do you have to read a Harlequin Romance to know that it's not art? No you don't because you have defined "art" a priori as not being a Harlequin romance.



Friend of mine dropped me a note on this telling me that it's not up to me to say something's art, it's up to the artist or self-styled artist. If the artist says a work is art then it's a work of art. What I and Ebert and the rest of us then get to do is decide if it's good art or bad art.

Steve Whitney


I think I agree with your friend, although that position also has problems, as when Marcel Duchamps declare a found object--a toilet--to be art. Philosopher Dennis Dutton discusses this and other problems associated with defining "art" in his supremely sane and readable book, The Art Instinct.

BTW, it's possible that the Lascaux cave paintings were considered kitsch by contemporary artists and critics. :-)


All of which brings us to Andy Griffith in Hearts of the West. He was speaking specifically of writers, but I think it's safe to generalize to artists: "If a person saying he was something was all there was to it, this country'd be full of rich men and good-looking women. Kings and queens... you know what I mean? Too bad it isn't that easy. In short, when someone else says you're a writer, that's when you're a writer... not before."

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