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Revisiting Ebert — Games Can Be Art, But Are They? 278

At the recent Game Developers Conference, industry vet Brian Moriarty spoke at length about the old videogames-as-art debate. Moriarty found himself reluctantly defending one part of Roger Ebert's infamous argument against the notion: "No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers." What followed was a thoughtful discussion of how games fit in with the definition of art and how the commercialization that almost universally surrounds them can inhibit true artistic expression. Quoting: "Unlike Mr. Ebert, I have played many of the games widely regarded as great and seminal. I have the privilege of knowing many of the authors personally. But as much as I admire games like M.U.L.E., Balance of Power, Sim City and Civilization, it would never even occur to me to compare them to the treasures of world literature, painting or music. ... Video games are an industry. You are attending a giant industry conference. Industries make products. Video game products contain plenty of art, but it's product art, which is to say, kitsch art. Kitsch art is not bad art. It's commercial art. Art designed to be sold, easily and in quantity. And the bigger the audience, the kitschier it's gonna get."
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Revisiting Ebert — Games Can Be Art, But Are They?

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  • True (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:08AM (#35501792)

    So ture

    • No, it's bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:40AM (#35501958) Journal

      No, it's bullshit.

      Almost all art ever made, was made to be sold and most of it was commissioned by some rich client.

      Probably the best example is the Sistine Chapel. It wasn't done as some work of vision and love by Michelangelo. Michelangelo was good at painting, to be sure, but he considered it an inferior art form and he preferred sculpture. He only did that epic fresco because he was offered a shitload of money to do something he didn't like. I.e., he sold out. And even then he hid various FU-s at the pope's expense in it, sorta the renaissance painter's version of hiding a "fuck the pointy haired boss" comment in some obscure source file.

      Is anyone prepared to say that that's not art, because it's commercial? WTF? When did that idiotic notion originate, anyway?

      Art done as an industry, again, is as old as recorded history. There were plenty of professional sculptors and painters who did it as a full time job, and as their way of earning their bread. In fact, the vast majority of them were, by sheer virtue of living in poorer times when you didn't have the luxury of sitting around on the dole and creating art not tainted by commercialism.

      Many made it into an extremely profitable trade, and were very much aware of money and of what the clients want. E.g., Titian is a prime example of that. He even diversified into grain trade in between painting masterpieces. Is anyone prepared to say that Titian isn't art? You know, THE fucking Titian?

      Many had studios where they created a ton of paintings with apprentices. E.g., since I mentioned Titian already, he started as such an apprentice for Giorgione, and apparently quite a bit of Giorgione's art is now considered to be most certainly done by his apprentice Titian. And when he started working in his own name, Titian too in turn took such apprentices to help churn commercial art to be sold, e.g., copies of his earlier paintings.

      He's not even the only one. Leonardo da Vinci is for example another guy who financed his other studies with selling art, started as a worker in such a painter's workshot, and later had one of his own. Mona Lisa, you know, THE famous painting, is heavily "photoshopped", or rather the renaissance equivalent of that: it appears that what was first painted was rounder face, and then he made her thinner and sexier. Presumably because that's what the paying customer wanted. And in the end it was used by Leonardo as basically a way to sell himself, as a sample of what quality shit he can paint. Is anyone prepared to say that Leonardo's stuff isn't art because he sold out? Or WTH?

      • by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:50AM (#35502008)

        Don't limit art to Michelangelo or Titian either. Art is also things like spinart [], installations like "my bed" [] and art by any definition that includes them should include plenty of games as well.

        • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:43AM (#35502480) Journal

          I'm certainly not limiting art to that. I'm just using those as clearly recognizable examples of famous artists, which, I hope, nobody is prepared to say "it's not art", although they did the exact same things quited as capital sins that make games not art. I could have used a more modern artist as an example, but then some snob _could_ say with a straight face "yeah, but that's not art either." I'm using Michelangelo, Titian and da Vinci to, basically, head them off at the pass. I don't think many from the snob segment are prepared to say "yeah, but Michelangelo isn't art" ;)

          • I wonder how much of that is because Michelangelo is old? So much of what existed in the time is lost forever for all we know he was just decent compared to what they had, it is kinda like judging ancient Greek or Roman art.

            Well as for the subject of TFA, I would point out the original Bioshock and Deus Ex. How anyone could say those two games weren't art is beyond me, as they carried you into their world and made you think, especially Bioshock with the undercurrent of what it means to have free will.

            I could name plenty of others that I would consider "pop art" in that they didn't rise to the level of the above were fun while still trying new things and finding new ways to express themselves which to me is one of the marks of art, to try to find new ways and new expressions, such as No One Live Forever which gave us a heroine that wasn't just a walking set of tits and which replaced the gore which was SOP of the time for humor, or Nosferatu which while everyone else treated horror as a slasher flick used sound, lighting, and a randomly generated castle complete with randomly generated monsters to make us feel we had stepped into a 1930s Universal Monster movie, complete with excellent film score which added to the dark undertones.

            But to judge games simply as trash for mass consumption (Sorry Ebert, in this case you're full of shit) just because few attempt to try to reach the level of art would be as unfair as judging film as a medium for art by the 99.998% of movies released that are just cheap thrills or just plain trash. Remember for every Godfather there are probably 5,000 "Dude, Where's my car?" or worse Battlefield:Earth.

            Does that makes films unable to produce art? No, and I would argue as more of these excellent engines are released free for public use and the Internet allows for groups of like minded individuals to come together we will see the birth of an indie movement where just like the indie movies the budgets won't be high or the effects top notch but they will come up with decent stories or new ideas. For an example there is the classic "They Hunger" mod for Half Life, which frankly gave me more creeps and scares than nearly all the horror movies of that time put together, while having a decent story and hellishly scary atmosphere.

            Frankly if any of them are reading this I would have NO problem paying $20-$30 for a game with Far Cry I level graphics or even No One Lives Forever II graphics if the story is good and gives me a new experience. But to judge the medium by the likes of Activision, where the CEO is a major douchenozzle that has said milking any idea into a cookie cutter franchise is his one and only goal? Really not fair to the medium.

            • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:13PM (#35504990)

              But to judge the medium by the likes of Activision, where the CEO is a major douchenozzle that has said milking any idea into a cookie cutter franchise is his one and only goal? Really not fair to the medium.

              What's REALLY sad is that Activision started out as a very different entity - a game company that would give the ARTISTS, e.g. the programmers, credit for their works by putting their names on the box (which Atari refused to do).

              From that humble beginning, to today where said fascist douchenozzle outright steals games from their creators and runs them into the ground by having worthless fucktard "barely capable of imitation" programmers from Neversoft churn out crappy add-ons to the series every 9 months.

              Frightening isn't it?

      • Re:No, it's bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:51AM (#35502018)
        Who defines art, but those that admire it?

        Games are their own art, to put it into a classical sense is nonsense.
        • by OakDragon ( 885217 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:23AM (#35502934) Journal

          Who defines art, but those that admire it?

          The people that create it.

          In the absence of an objective test to determine if something is art, we should rely on the presentation by the creator.

          I have two books in front of me. Both were carefully written and edited, the results of exhaustive research. The authors presumably take pride in their work. However, one is a novel, and the other is an auto mechanics manual. The novel is mean to be art (no matter its actual merits). The manual, although it might be the best manual around, is meant to be a tool.

          • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @11:35AM (#35504458)

            The novel is mean to be art (no matter its actual merits). The manual, although it might be the best manual around, is meant to be a tool.

            Which I think throws the concept back to the admirer. Said author may not have had art in mind when they wrote the manual. But the outcome may be a manual that becomes a fundamental work in it's field. Someone familiar with auto mechanics and the availability of manuals on the subject may understand this and attribute an elevated position to this particular work; consider it a work of art. And while many others may not see it as art or have such high degree of reverence for the work, the same thing could be said about much of what is displayed in art galleries the world over. The same can apply to any other tool. I've got a few favorite kitchen knives that I could consider works of art.

        • by tixxit ( 1107127 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:28AM (#35502980)
          It seems like some people like to define art deductively: "I don't know what art is, but that isn't it." Apparently they feel their word is final. I think your definition is the most correct one.
        • by 517714 ( 762276 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:52AM (#35503252)
          On that basis paintings of dogs playing poker [] are near the apex of man's creative expression. The prints of this series are among the most ubiquitous. These paintings have a certain technical merit, but they don't have an enduring aesthetic quality and neither do games.
      • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:52AM (#35502022) Journal

        Probably the best example is the Sistine Chapel. It wasn't done as some work of vision and love by Michelangelo. Michelangelo was good at painting, to be sure, but he considered it an inferior art form and he preferred sculpture. He only did that epic fresco because he was offered a shitload of money to do something he didn't like. I.e., he sold out. And even then he hid various FU-s at the pope's expense in it, sorta the renaissance painter's version of hiding a "fuck the pointy haired boss" comment in some obscure source file.

        I think you're missing the point entirely. He was paid "a shitload of money to do something he didn't like" - and he could have done something he didn't like. Instead, he produced something incorporating his own passion, manifested in "various FU-s at the pope's expense". It was sufficiently subtle that he wasn't beaten over the head for it, but sufficiently grand that everyone today can admire it.

        On a smaller and less subtle scale, the trololo video is doing the same thing. You write a jolly song full of subversive lyrics and the censors censor it. So you hum the song with such over-the-top enthusiasm that you carry the spirit without uttering any words. Much later, we appreciate the feel-good sentiment.

        Just because you're paid to jump through a hoop, it doesn't mean you can't take the opportunity to do something much greater.

      • by rainmouse ( 1784278 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:27AM (#35502280)
        The real debate is perhaps about the actual definition of art. Something people have been unable to agree on for centuries, I don't see that changing because of a blog or forum post. no matter how inspiring it may be.
        • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:49AM (#35502536)

          Exactly. There are many definitions of art imaginable that would mean most books, films and music aren't art either. So what if most games aren't art, in that case? Movies especially are every bit an industrial product as games are. And indeed, in the early days of the movie industry, it was very much looked down upon. But the medium evolved and matured, and nowadays many movies are considered a form of art. I don't see why it would be any different with games.

          What's more: Van Gogh and many other now-famous painters weren't appreciated during their time either. Many new art forms need time before the mainstream will appreciate them. The real problem with games is that it's hard to appreciate old games. They were written for old machines that nobody has anymore (which is why emulators are so culturally important!), and their old blocky graphics and 8-bit color makes them unattractive to look at. Then again, isn't the same true for black & white movies? Or pre-renaissance paintings? Or old books written in archaic language?

          Appreciation for games as art will come. People like Ebert and Brian Moriarty are just members of the generation that won't get it yet.

      • by MrHanky ( 141717 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:39AM (#35502402) Homepage Journal

        Your bullshit detector must be broken, since your "best example" of artistic production was done in an outdated mode. "Most of it" commissioned by rich clients? Your example of one isn't even anecdotal evidence for that. It might have been true for sculpture and painting, back in the days, but it's certainly wrong for literature, film, music (classical being an exception).

      • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:23AM (#35502936)
        And how many prints of famous paintings exist around the world? Copied purely for commercial value?
      • by 517714 ( 762276 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @10:07AM (#35503432)

        Don't forget roadsigns. They are art! Paint applied to a flat surface for other than the purpose of protecting that surface is the very definition of art.

        The fresco of the sistine chapel is paint applied to wet stucco in a magnificent edifice. Games are a painted turd in a beige box; the turd being the operating system.

        • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @11:03AM (#35504010) Journal

          Ironically enough, a bunch of art we still have from, say, the Romans was essentially "No Trespassing" signs. Early Romans used to use a statue of Priapus [] with an enormous erect dick as just that. Often accompanied by a bit of poetry too, to remind would be thieves and trespassers that they're getting it in the ass if caught.

          The Romans, see, were as practical as ever. They didn't mope and wish you ass-rape in prison, they'd just get the job done themselves. That's Romans for you. When they wanted something done, by Jupiter, they'd pull up their sleeves and their tunic and get the job done personally. It's no coincidence that such people built an Empire ;)

          But at any rate, they placed images of Priapus near fences as some kind of "Trespassers will be prosec... err... fucked" sign, in some bars and shops as a reminder for would be shoplifters, and so on. It was the ubiquitous "don't even think about it" sign. Where nowadays you'd have a "no trespassing" sign or a "this store uses video surveillance" sign, you'd have the image of a guy with a giant erect dick.

          So, yeah, even a no-trespassing sign can be art. We have a bunch of those in museums, even.

      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @10:15AM (#35503526) Homepage Journal

        You're missing an important part of the argument, namely:

        It's commercial art. Art designed to be sold, easily and in quantity.

        Video game art, like, say, the design of the latest MacBook, is designed to marketed to vast numbers consumers the artist will never meet. That's a lot different than having to find *one* rich patron, convince him to give you money, and then keep him happy while you are completing the monumental work he can show his buddies as proof of his wealth and refinement. But despite this the product artist doesn't have *less* interference in his work because of another important related point: mass marketed products are collective efforts. So when you're a video game artist you don't just have your boss to deal with, you have committees and departments, and unless I miss my guess that will include people who have their own ideas about how your work should turn out, not necessarily as informed as they think it is. Not only do you have what amounts to a committee directing your art, and they aren't supposed to be doing it based on their own tastes, but on what they think the taste of a typical consumer in some market segment will be (or perhaps advancing their own tastes under that flag) and other factors like what the consumer's parents will think of your work (which might cut either way).

        None of which is to say that you aren't producing art or aren't being creative. Nor is it saying that *fine art* (which is not necessarily better art) isn't influenced by venal considerations. But the essential element of fine art is that it represents primarily the creative vision of a single artist or perhaps the work of several artists working together because of a shared vision. That's part of the cachet of fine art to the patron. He wants to point up at the ceiling of his chapel and say to his buddies, "That Michelangelo is undoubtedly the greatest creative genius of our age, and don't forget he works for me. Look, I had him put Rodrigo Borgia in Hell, get the hint?"

        There's no doubt that this aspect of fine art is a corrupting influence on taste, just as surely as mass marketing considerations can be. That's why people turn to folk and decorative arts. For example the Mingei movement in Japan focuses on inexpensive, functional objects hand-made by anonymous craftsmen for daily use. That is not art made without commercial concern, but it is as close to capturing the aesthetic vision of an individual artist in tangible form as we'll ever get. I think this is a very geek friendly aesthetic, because it's all about cool, well designed things.

        I think the real limitation on games as aesthetically significant works is not their *commercial* nature, but the *collective* manner in which they are made, which limits individual creative freedom and risk taking. Novels are written to be sold, but for the most part they reflect the creative vision of the author, who until he is a known quantity underwrites the labor of creation. The exception are category novels like romances. There's no reason a romance novel can't be great art but we don't expect that. The reason is that they're written to specification. I have a friend who has two fantasy novels coming out next year with Tor. She's sold a third novel to a different publisher as a paranormal romance, and the editors are making her rework it to the remarkably precise specifications of their line. For example, it had to come in at around 80,000 words, have four to five explicit sex scenes, the first of which occurs before the 25,000 word mark.

        Which is not to say that we won't ever see a game that is an important aesthetic landmark in our culture. We may already have, since historically we're bad at recognizing great art. *Casablanca* was a throw-away movie, generally well received, but I doubt anyone realized it was a cultural landmark. The only reason we remember it today is that it was cheap fodder for low-rent media outlets, and it somehow connected with later generations.

      • by NitroWolf ( 72977 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:56PM (#35505542)

        You pretty much hit the nail on the head and I agree with you. I also wanted to point out a couple things you didn't, though.

        Video games (at least some of them) are appreciated as "high art" by those able to appreciate the aspects of the game most people are not. Just like the Sistine Chapel and other pieces of "great art," how do you know they are great? Because someone told you they were? Most great pieces of art from our history fall into this category. If you knew nothing of the Mona Lisa and happened to pass it in the mall, would you stop and say "Holy shit, that is epic art?" Most people probably wouldn't; They would say "Huh, interesting," or "Hey, that's nice" and then move on.
        It reminds me of an "experiment" that Joshua Bell did at a metro station. He is widely regarded as a virtuoso and an amazing violinist. He is the definition of an artist and produces great art - anyway, he played in a Metro station in Washington DC. Very few if any people stopped to appreciate the fact that he was playing one of the most intricate pieces of violin music on a 3.5 million dollar violin. Why? Because they wern't TOLD it was great art.

        I would bet dollars to donuts that if someone with "authority" (whomever that might be in this case) said "This game here, this is great art. It's amazing art. The best ever." suddenly games would be art.

        It all boils down to the fact that many/most people don't even understand why a game would be great, art wise vs one that's just fun to play. Ebert et al. simply don't understand what makes a game great art, not that some games aren't great art. Those of us who are more attune to what makes a game great and what simply makes it good are far more qualified to judge if a game is art or not. But it is absolutely ludicrous to say that at least some games are not great art, simply because you don't understand what great art in the realm of games truly is. Chances are, you don't know what great art is in other areas, either - but it's there, too.

    • by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:52AM (#35502020) Homepage

      Quick, everyone! Don't read the article, just reply to out-of-context lines in the summary, or maybe just the headline! Make sure to be angry and call the writer stupid!

  • by selven ( 1556643 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:09AM (#35501794)

    You are attending a giant industry conference. Industries make products. Video game products contain plenty of art, but it's product art, which is to say, kitsch art.

    No shit, Sherlock.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:30AM (#35501888)

      He's not Sherlock, he's Professor Moriarty ...

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:05AM (#35502722) Homepage

      So basically games can only be commercial art in the way the works of Michelangelo and da Vinci were commercial art in their time.

    • by chemicaldave ( 1776600 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:39AM (#35503112)

      You are attending a giant industry conference. Industries make products. Video game products contain plenty of art, but it's product art, which is to say, kitsch art.

      No shit, Sherlock.

      Is he even making a distinction between "big-budget" games like Call of Honor 7: Return to Glory and other gems like Bioshock? The fact that Ebert refuses to compare video games to novels indicates that he doesn't. It's hypocritical to the extreme. As a counter-point I could say that novels aren't art because of the money-makers like Twilight. Furthermore, video games have only been around for a few decades. How long as the novel been in existence? Has anyone actually sat down with Ebert and explained the differences to him? You don't need to match specific video games to specific works of art, that's detracting from the central argument that videogames can be art. Although, it seems when Ebert gets called out he just argues about the semantics.

      One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.

      It all makes sense now! All the sidestory plot elements didn't mean anything because I was playing a game!

  • by srussia ( 884021 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:13AM (#35501810)
    Art lies in the artistic act itself. Whatever tangible result produced by the artistic act is but its trace.
    • Re:Artifact != Art (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tooyoung ( 853621 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:49AM (#35503214)
      How do you moderate a post as pretentious?
      • by Tetsujin ( 103070 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @11:44AM (#35504580) Homepage Journal

        How do you moderate a post as pretentious?

        Pretentious, maybe - but it seems to me that's unavoidable in this discussion.

        I mean, arguing about what is "art"... And everyone seems to have their own idea, which they generally justify on the basis of their own sensibilities...

        It seems to me people confuse the notion of "art" with the notion of "good art", or "noteworthy art", or even just "art I like". There's also a huge degree of (undeserved?) weight lent to the stuff that gets classified as "art" - all manner of offenses are forgiven because It Is Art and Sophisticated People Are Supposed To Like It.

        I mean think about it. How many people would lead off in this kind of discussion by saying "I wouldn't compare video games to works by the great renaissance masters, but..." or something like that? Now, how many of these people do you think made their own mind up about how much respect they give to the great renaissance masters? How many viewed all these works and thought about them, and drew their own conclusions about them, even if those conclusions went against the expectations of their peers and/or teachers? How many look at Mona Lisa, maybe don't like it, and are willing to stand by that conclusion even as everyone around them says it's one of the great masterpieces?

        I believe there's a tendency to overvalue those things classified as "art" and undervalue those things seen as "not art" or "lesser art". But what, really, is the relevant distinction? Does such a distinction even exist?

  • by kyrio ( 1091003 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:14AM (#35501812) Homepage
    There are games that are made for artistic purposes, such as The Graveyard []. There are other games that are so beautiful, in audio and video, that you can call them art (ICO may be part of this group). There are games like LSD [] that end up being extremely artistic without actively trying to be such. There's also a small genre of games like Yume Nikki [] that some may consider art, even though the graphic style of the game is generic, the game itself is like a good novel.
  • Again? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ifiwereasculptor ( 1870574 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:15AM (#35501816)
    The article has to be trolling. Are we supposed to point out that many novels, books, paintings etc. were also products of an industry? Plus who cares what is or isn't art, anyway?
  • by Tigger's Pet ( 130655 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:16AM (#35501824) Homepage

    I feel that anyone seriously considering responding to this should probably do a little more reading first. A good start would be a published article by Aaron Smuts (Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin) which was published in November 2005. []
    He puts far more detailed discussion and argument in there than TFA listed above. At the end of the day though, as Len Wein said, "Art is always in the eyes of the beholder." If you think it is art, then for you - it is art. Doesn't really matter what anyone else says about it.

    • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:04AM (#35502104) Journal

      It's strange to me that these people cite the big sellers, the AAA titles, the garbage being pushed and acclaimed mostly because of graphics and some new, interesting facet of gameplay. A lot of that stuff is still pretty raw and flimsy, artistically; it's a bunch of show. Bioshock is a good example: a lot of morality based decisions, and a fair sci-fi story, but it's not really more amazing than, say, Xenosaga. Xenosaga was less acclaimed for anything besides being a movie with short gameplay segments; but it would have made an excellent novel (I wish for a novelization often). You can call these about "even" artistically, but Bioshock got a hell of a lot more attention and lauding.

      You'll find a lot of the same with games like i.e. Halo, which its fans say has a "deep story" but really it's the flimsiest expression of any kind of story possible. The game is simply an FPS with rainbow sprinkles; but Reach got so much serious attention. This is what these people are looking at, instead of the deep RPGs like Xenosaga or Tales of Symphonia, or games like Legend of Zelda (often a masterpiece of visual and architectural [Level design!] art, with light but well-integrated story elements; apparently Miyomoto wants to avoid heavy drama, too bad...).

      • by theantipop ( 803016 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:12AM (#35502160)
        It sounds to me like you agree with GP but you don't know it. What you're saying is the games (or more specifically, genres) you like are more worthy of being discussed as art, but the games you don't think have a deep enough story for you aren't.
        • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:35AM (#35502362) Journal

          It sounds to me like the original articles are written by people who look at the TV or at XBox Live stats and go, "Let's play the most hyped up series ... oh, this game is crap. All games are crap." These aren't people who have searched for something; they're picking them up and going, "Hmm, you see? This sucks. Okay moving on."

          The fastest way to qualify something is art is to put a powerful, well-designed, emotionally moving story behind it. People can bicker over paintings of soup cans or chunks of welded metal; but they have difficulty arguing when the arrangement of dyes and inks makes words (even poetry and haiku), or when the same ugly sculpture is chiseled out of stone with a hammer. Thus I usually point to things like Golden Sun to make my point, because even if you don't like it, you can't argue that the story isn't there unless you're functionally retarded. (The Legend of Zelda reference above was a stretch in this respect, and likely to be laughed at by these sort of people as "not art.")

          You can argue that someone picked a stock beat, stock bassline, and cursed a lot into a microphone and called it music; you can't look at a deep and complex story and argue that somebody just clicked a few buttons and pumped this out in 10 minutes, even if it's "just another guy wanting to be Tolkien" (the stock response to "fantasy book I didn't like" -- mind you, one of the best series I've read was a sci-fi series that the author directly admits is a retelling of Wagner's "The Ring Cycle"). People accept movies as art because it's a medium for telling a story, and people accept all written word as art by default. Make the same association with video games and you win the argument.

          Realize that even this article is, "Okay, well video games CAN be art but... they're not." It's not "These games I played, they're not art;" it's "I admit they can be art, but nothing anyone has ever produced in this form was ever of any artistic value, ever." There is an inherent fallacy in this argument: the converse accident. Everyone I've met speaks English, so everyone in the world must speak English, yes? What would you suggest to combat the argument?

          • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:35AM (#35503052)
            But is the *game* art, or just the story inside the game? Thinking of the story like the other independent artistic elements (images, music), do the rules of the game or the playing of said rules produce art? I say yes. Ebert says no.
            • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:51AM (#35503230) Journal

              If a scifi/fantasy writer rewrote Xenosaga cannon as a novel, the novel would be a different expression of the story. It would be a completely different form of literary art. Storytelling itself, however, is art; as we have acknowledged the story is art, then we must also acknowledge that the game represents an execution of the story, and is itself an artful attempt to immerse the user in that story.

              Listen to audiobooks a little. The one for 1984 is well-performed; some others (imagine if Vincent Price read an audiobook--the guy that voiced Vincent van Ghoul on The Thirteen Ghosts Of Scooby-Doo) would be amazing for horror stories. Others, still, are lifeless and flat. Storytelling is an art-- not just the story, but the telling of it, the voicing of the exact same words, the use of hand movements and props and pictures, acting, even the base writing can come as different sets of words that paint the exact same scene in various tones of emotion and levels of detail. If you can argue that something tells a story, you can argue--powerfully--that it's art.

  • by clyde_cadiddlehopper ( 1052112 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:18AM (#35501832)
    The motion picture INDUSTRY cranks out product art too. Green screens and CGI abound. But Hollywood puts on better self-congratulatory award shows. Sometimes. []
  • Art Snobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    Video game products contain plenty of art, but it's product art, which is to say, kitsch art. Kitsch art is not bad art. It's commercial art. Art designed to be sold, easily and in quantity. And the bigger the audience, the kitschier it's gonna get.

    People who talk about "Kitch" art are generally the kind of people who think that true "Art" consists of splotches of paint on canvas and rusty iron walls. I'm not going to dwell on this, but I will add that yes, some art is crass and cheap.

    But some art is heartfelt, and worked hard on, and that shows through in the final product. And there are video games which meet that standard.

    Since art is in the eye of the beholder, we could all list off a half dozen games which we consider to be artistic or art, or artsy. These all generally follow some notion of what the general public considers to be "high art", or at least we'd like to think they do. I'm sure art critics would probably scoff.

    But under one of the primary definitions of art, something that evokes emotional response or intellectual thought, it's actually very clear that games are art. I think most people on the forum will have played a game--however primitive--which moved them deeply in some way. And moved them in a more genuine and heartfelt way than any picture of circles has ever moved any art critic.

    I'm sure that for many years, if not forever, games will be dismissed as shallow, sophomoric art. And while it's true that many indeed are, such prejudices will always deny truely great games the recognition, or even the respect, that they honestly deserve.

  • by Azuaron ( 1480137 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:22AM (#35501856)

    ...treasures of world literature, painting or music. ... Video games are an industry... Industries make products. Video game products contain plenty of art, but it's product art, which is to say, kitsch art. Kitsch art is not bad art. It's commercial art. Art designed to be sold, easily and in quantity. And the bigger the audience, the kitschier it's gonna get.

    It's not like there's a giant commercial industry of movie makers. Or novelists. Or painters. Or musicians. Is this guy high?

    • by tepples ( 727027 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {selppet}> on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:33AM (#35502340) Homepage Journal

      It's not like there's a giant commercial industry of movie makers. Or novelists. Or painters. Or musicians.

      I see your sarcasm. But unlike the video game consoles, those media don't have a cryptographic lockout preventing those outside the "giant commercial industry" from even getting started.

      • by Haeleth ( 414428 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:54AM (#35502604) Journal

        unlike the video game consoles, those media don't have a cryptographic lockout preventing those outside the "giant commercial industry" from even getting started.

        Actually, games are easier to get started in. Good luck getting your music airtime or getting your movie into theaters! But with games, all you have to do is not target consoles. There's a thriving indie sector on the PC, which has precisely no barrier to entry whatsoever. And perhaps you spotted a recent post on this very site from some guy who's sold more copies of his game on iPhone and Android than most console titles ever sell?

  • Obviously... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by itsanx ( 1534709 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:25AM (#35501864)
    ...he hasn't played Psychonauts by Tim Schafer. It is absolutely masterful in its depiction of humanity. While maintaining an amusing cartoonish style, it touches on the most difficult and painful parts of life. Like art, it teaches us something about life that cannot be taught in any other way.
  • by dingen ( 958134 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:25AM (#35501866)

    In my opinion, intent defines whether something is art or not. The way I see it, if the intent of creating something is to sell it to people, it can never be considered art. And if the intent of creating something so that it will be useful for other people, it can never be considered art. Only when the intent of creating something simply for the sake of creating that thing, it can be considered art in my view.

    • by theantipop ( 803016 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:15AM (#35502178)
      So in your view, art is dead?
  • by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <> on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:25AM (#35501872)

    Why do video games have to reach some mythical, arbitrary level of artistic worth? "Hey, that's a great game that's fun to play, but....oh, it's not a 200 year old painting of nude fat women. Sorry, it's worth less now on the Society Scorecard".

    Get over it already. So some people think video games aren't art. Hell, so what if 99% of the world feels this way. So fucking what? Dickens wasn't writing to make art, he was writing to entertain and sell a product. Michelangelo created David because someone paid him to do so. In another 100 years people may start really feeling this way about video games....or maybe they won't. In the end, it doesn't make a shit bit of difference. Play video games, enjoy them. Stop worrying what other people think about them.

  • by metacell ( 523607 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:25AM (#35501874)

    I think it's a mistake to look at the storyline in a computer game and compare it to literature, look at the graphics and compare it to movies or paintings, etc. You need to look at the game as a whole to make a meaningful assessment. And to do that, you need to get your hands dirty and actually play it for an extended period of time. Only then do the strengths of computer games appear: interactivity, immersion and problem-solving.

    Different forms of art compete in different categories. If motion pictures had been judged by the standard of stage plays when they first appeared, they'd have been dismissed as shallow, crude and completely lacking in dialogue. And it would have been just as unfair as comparing computer games to literature or visual arts.

    Perhaps there are no computer games which can be considered truly great works of art (although I think the original Civilization game should qualify), but popular art is also an important form of art.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:16AM (#35502860) Journal

      Yes, thank you! Games are not novels or movies, and they shouldn't be expected to be art in the same way. A game may have crappy plot and characterization, but a Jackson Pollock doesn't have either, and it's still art. Games are a different form of art from either the visual arts or narrative forms. As art, games are closer to dance or architecture or woodworking than movies or novels.

  • by Lord Lode ( 1290856 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:26AM (#35501878)

    Go take a look at at the variety of games including fun, experimental, commercial, indie, weird, user-created, ...., games. Then try to say this is not art.

  • by shish ( 588640 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:35AM (#35501916) Homepage

    the treasures of world literature, painting or music

    I think these things are kind of overrated; if we rated them realistically, it'd be easier to see that games are equally worthy of attention (where the worth is "sure, enjoy them if you want, but they aren't universally life-changing")

    Industries make products

    There are also literature, painting, and music industries; and indie games created by individuals with vision

  • But is it art? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lisaparratt ( 752068 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:37AM (#35501924)

    I didn't realise art had to be *good* to be /art/. Like, I've seen loads of mediocre paintings, etc. and I'm pretty sure they're still counted as art.

    This whole thing sounds like pretentious BS to me, and that whole world revolves round having something to look down on.

  • "Modern" art. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the_raptor ( 652941 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:42AM (#35501962)

    If what passes for "modern" art is art than even the most kitsch, banal, and derivative of video games is high bloody art.

    It is true however that there are few "high art" video games. Most games if they were translated to movies would either be 2nd rate summer blockbusters or "made for TV". But that is due to the market not the genre. Most movies and books are similarly crap.

    However video games can impart an experience in a much more powerful way than any other form of media due to the amount players can relate to the character. When you as the player have to make an important decision it is much more real than reading about a character making that important decision.

    "Art" games are rarely made because there is little professional recognition and support compared to "art" movies or books. Which is needed because the public doesn't buy "art" enough to make it commercially viable.

  • by igreaterthanu ( 1942456 ) * on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:47AM (#35501986)

    No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers.

    Didn't some University have an English class that studied the game BioShock in place of a text?

  • by vadim_t ( 324782 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:54AM (#35502042) Homepage

    It seems to mean "everything but games" at the moment.

    What kind of things are art?

    Well, the Mona Lisa is definitely art. But so is a big, black square []. Geometric shapes [] also work. Scribbling a beard and moustache on the Mona Lisa is also art, if you're famous enough at least.

    Of course it doesn't have to be a painting. It can be pretty much anything. An urinal [], a room with a light that goes on and off, the artist's shit [], wrapping the Reichstag in cloth, or apparently even a dog starving to death in an art gallery. Movies initially weren't art, but now they are.

    It doesn't need to have an intention behind it, even. If you make up any random bullshit [] and manage to convince enough people that is art by inventing some convoluted explanation, then after you admit it's all made up nonsense [] everybody else will just say that you can make art without intending to.

    I think Duchamp really nailed it by proving that whatever you can get an art gallery to exhibit becomes art. So there's an easy way of solving this: somebody just needs to figure a way of getting Tetris exhibited in a gallery, and problem solved.

  • by Nrrqshrr ( 1879148 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:03AM (#35502098)
    Braid was Art. Deus Ex got more depth than half the books my mother reads. Art is subjective and we only agree on the tip of the iceberg's looks. Everyone agrees that Braid IS art. But then we can name and argue about the rest, just as we can argue whether Bieber's musique can be put in the same category as Shakespeare's litterature. And second, it's true that "video games" is an industry delivering products, we just can't say Half-Life is similar to CoD. For each it's own appeal, feeling and nature. And just because one of them is less "Artistic", it doesn't mean that what is similar is also "Not-Artistic".
  • by twistedsymphony ( 956982 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:09AM (#35502144) Homepage
  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:13AM (#35502166)
    The thing that bugs me is that everyone is comparing games to contemporary art. But books, plays, and music have been developed and refined for centuries, millenia even. Games have been around for, if you stretch things, fourty years.

    If you're going to make comparisons, make them to the early works. Compare games to the early classics - make comparisons to Homer, Euripedes, Aristophanes. There's some surprising parallels between the Illiad and Super Mario Bros., come to think of it.

    If you must make comparisons to films, make comparison to early films. It was fifty years after the invention of film that we got our first real "masterpiece", Citizen Kane. By that logic, we won't have a game masterpiece for another decade.
  • by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:29AM (#35502298)

    Video games are an industry. You are attending a giant industry conference. Industries make products. Video game products contain plenty of art, but it's product art, which is to say, kitsch art. Kitsch art is not bad art. It's commercial art. Art designed to be sold, easily and in quantity. And the bigger the audience, the kitschier it's gonna get.

    You need to stop looking at the video game industry, and start looking at individual titles.

    There is a movie industry, but there are still movies that are called art. There's a publishing industry, but there are still novels that are called art.

    But as much as I admire games like M.U.L.E., Balance of Power, Sim City and Civilization, it would never even occur to me to compare them to the treasures of world literature, painting or music.

    And you need to look at video games for what they are, instead of what they aren't. You can't really talk about plotlines and character development when you're looking at a painting. You can't talk about colors and media usage and brush strokes when you're looking at a novel. And dissecting video games based on the criteria we use for things that aren't video games just isn't going to work well.

    Video games offer immersion and interactivity that traditional media like painting and sculpture and film and prose do not. You aren't told how a room looks. You aren't given a static image of the room. You aren't given a nice camera pan of the room. You actually walk into the room, choose what to look at, approach the things that interest you.

    The characters in a video game may not qualify as art. The graphics and imagery may not qualify as art. The soundtrack may not qualify as art. But, taken as a whole, the experience of moving through and discovering this world may very well qualify as art.

  • by biovoid ( 785377 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:37AM (#35502388)
    I am Reversebert. I have played thousands of videogames, and consider myself a well versed videogame critic. The other day I watched Transformers: The Movie. And I read a Mills & Boone novel. Then I played Shadow of the Colossus. Based on that, I have decided that movies and books can never attain the level of art that games have. I couldn't interact with the movie or novel in any way! I was a passive spectator and felt like both experiences were already determined for me. Based on such an unfair comparison, neither movies nor books can ever hope to attain the level of art that videogames have.
  • by SpinningCone ( 1278698 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:50AM (#35502552)

    there's about as many games that could be argued are 'art' that there are movies.

    was spiderman 3 art? then mass effect 3 could be art...

    is ICO art or just a moody puzzler? was schindlers list art or just a history lesson? did you care more about the girl in the red coat or about Aeris (Aerith) when she died?

    I mean they put this crap [] in museums as "art"

    *anything* can be art or artistic. games can be moving and emotional visually stunning just as much as movies. both have independent branches and corporate franchises. the concept of art is up to interpretation and the argument is all a bit silly.


  • by The Grim Reefer2 ( 1195989 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:55AM (#35502612)

    I love this idea. It means I can tell my wife she's stifling my artistic studies when she nags me to stop playing that video game at 3:30 am. ;-)

  • by Arctech ( 538041 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:03AM (#35502700) Journal
    Going to repost a write-up of an acquaintance of mine because he has this all summed up quite nicely. It was originally in response to Ebert saying games "could never be art" a few months back.

    I am usually the first person to defend Roger Ebert, but he is just talking out of his ass here. The terms of his argument are ludicrous, he's operating from extreme prejudice and ignorance, and he's using highly loaded terms that are selectively defined in a way that most supports his point of view. I don't care what he has to say here. Either games have provided meaningful personal moments for you or they have not.

    I'm going to refer back to Angel's post because I think "games as art" conversations become immediately bogged down in vapid comparisons to other media. The unique element of games, of any game, are the rules - a collection of agreed-upon (or enforced) mechanics that interact with player choice and action to facilitate some larger meaning.

    Chess is a great game. Its elegance and complexity and apparently limitless depth makes it compelling and endlessly intriguing. It clearly taps into something we find really, really fascinating. The game board is both entirely abstract and deeply metaphorical. If you don't want to call chess a work of art, then you're just being pedantic or snotty. How many artists have employed chess in their works? As a marker of intelligence? As a symbol of rivalry? Of friendship? As a metaphor for the futility of war, or its strategy and beauty? How many chess terms have entered popular vocabulary?

    Games are meaningful creative works. They've been around for a very long time and have long informed our popular consciousness, and video games are just another form. Games help people understand how simple ideas (i.e. rules) can interact in complex ways, or how complex ideas can interact in ultimately simple and exploitable ways, or how certain ideas will inevitably lead towards certain outcomes.

    When a great game comes to a climax, it is not because some animator somewhere really nailed an awesome cut scene. The climax of a great game involves a moment when all of the various rules come together in a way that reveals the meaning and depth of their interaction. In chess, this happens with a checkmate - a moment when the game comes to fruition, where the meaning of every previous move becomes clear, and when player actions intersect in a decisive moment.

    This is why Roger Ebert doesn't give a shit about games: because he doesn't play them. You can't understand games without playing them. You can't have someone sit you down and try to explain Flower with a powerpoint presentation. Games are about learning, not experiencing. When you play a game, you're learning it, and you're playing for those great "Oh" moments where something emerges out of the rules that you didn't expect or couldn't appreciate without seeing those rules in action. Some games do this once or very few times (such as "Train" or "Passage") but are nonetheless great. Other games do this many times (such as Chess).

    It's really frustrating to see essays like Ebert's. It's not because he upsets me (who cares?), but because gamers everywhere insist on ruminating about the "future of games" when in reality games are old as hell. Video games have done some great new things with them, but games are still games, and there's absolutely no reason to defend them when they've done a great job being important parts of our culture for the past few thousand years.

    src, []

  • by Syberz ( 1170343 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:15AM (#35502844)

    Some people think that covering a room in spaghetti or throwing paint randomly on canvas is art.

    I don't consider it art because any 4 year old can do it. However it still is art.

    Others think that industrial gore metal (or whatever that banging of instruments and screaming is called) is art.

    Again, I don't consider it that because it sounds horrible, however all of the fans of that music would disagree with me. Notice I still called it music, and music is art.

    On the other hand, I think that games like Alice, Half-life 1&2, Doom and Mario Bros 3&64 are art. Many gamers would probably agree with me, many other people probably feel insulted at the thought.

    The definition of Art should be: Something created to serve no other purpose than entertainment, i.e. to be enjoyed by those who want to enjoy it.

  • by ifrag ( 984323 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:33AM (#35503038)
    I think that Portal easily qualifies as "worthy of comparison". In fact, it beats the hell out of the lesser entertainment forms he mentions. I don't even see why people care about having games defined as "art", the great games go so far beyond that. The experience is much more personal in games, you are not forced to spend your time from the outside looking in. You spend your time actually in it. This tool Ebert admits to not have the credentials to make a valid comparison so I don't see why anyone even cares what he thinks.
  • by sesshomaru ( 173381 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @10:13AM (#35503508) Journal


    Look, people need to understand something about this stupidity. Leading beigocrats like Ebert mean something stupid when they talk about Art (pretentious capital letter implied by the beigocracy). They mean, "Art that doesn't offend anyone that matters." Often, this is Art made by people who are long dead, although in film it includes films that win Academy awards.

    Often, Art that is dismissed as garbage when it comes out, but which still becomes influential will be inducted into the canon. Stuff like a A Clockwork Orange which was scary when it came out but is now safely confined to a small number of film buffs. The important thing is that it has to be safe.

    Fight Club is another one of these movies, Ebert claimed it was fascist when it first came out. [] By his low score review and his claim of fascism, he was basically claiming it was not Art.

    Now, with video games, beigocrats like Ebert are still comfortable dismissing the entire form. So, they can make stupid claims like video games are not capital 'A' Art. Ebert will even argue, stupidly, that video games are not small 'a' art, just out of sheer bloody minded beigian fanaticism.

    Ebert is offended by the entire videogame form, and he speaks for enough of the beigocracy, for the time being, that he is safe in dismissing all videogames. Really, though, all he's doing is what some people's parents do when they say, "That's not music, that's noise. Now the Beach Boys, that was music," just on a much larger scale.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. - Voltaire