Monday, April 19, 2010

Are Games Art Part 4: Roger Ebert Won't Shut Up About What He Doesn't Know

Roger Ebert is famous for his movie reviews, and I'm one of his devoted followers. He's also infamous for writing an article claiming that video-games are not art, and never will be.

He has wisely not sought to expand or defend this ridiculous claim over the years, until now. After watching a TED presentation by Kellee Santiago on games and art, he has chosen to restate his original assertion, largely as a response to the presentation. (Roger's article, the presentation below)

Roger summarizes the presentation, bandies around various definitions of art, deconstructs Kellee's choice of a definition, and then sniffs at the three games that Kellee presents as steps in the direction of greater art. Because, after seeing half a minute of each within the presentation, they didn't move him as much as he has been moved after experiencing a complete film on the same subject.

And he repeats, from his original assertion (about which Kellee also, strangely but erroneously, agrees): "No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets."

Roger is an exemplification of the line from Simon and Garfunkle, that "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." He asks, "Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?" To which I reply, why are you so intensely concerned that games not be defined as art?

You know damn well that I, and anyone else, can define art as whatever the hell they want to, and so, by definition, games are art, if I so choose to define them so. So you have to ensure that only what you define as art is art. You conveniently choose a definition of art that allows you to draw the boundaries where you want. Just like, in the over 1,000 comments you have received on your post, the only ones on which you comment are the ones where you can correct the commenter who got something wrong about which you wrote. All the others, who cogently disagree with you, remain unanswered.

"No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets." I'm in the game field, and I hereby assert that the game of Go is worthy of comparison with the great filmmakers, novelists, and poets.

I think I know something about games, certainly far more than you do. Furthermore, I am not unfamiliar with great films (I have experienced many of them from beginning until the end), great works of literature, and great works of art. The latter two, I'm sure I am at least as familiar with as you are.

Now, since as far as I know you've never experience a single game of Go from beginning until the end, nor several dozen years of playing Go, which is where and how the art in Go unfolds over time, I think any opinion you have on the subject is simply irrelevant. How can you justify continuing to talk about what you don't know, and about art which you've never experienced?

Roger, you haven't played games. You haven't done research. You look at thirty second samples and remain unmoved.

Looking at a few video games from the outside, without experiencing them, is like looking at a film trailer or reading the blurb on the back of a book. And, even if you've played a game or two and were not moved by them, so what? You are pre-disposed to not be moved by it. Plenty of people sat through The Godfather bored out of their mind, or looked at a Rembrandt or listened to a concerto while checking their watch. Your subjective opinion on a piece doesn't mean much, when you're not even remotely familiar with the medium about which you're judging.

(part 1, part 2, part 3)


Chris said...

Personally, I'm very grateful to Ebert for continuing to grind this axe. Because honestly, what the gaming community is perhaps not appreciating is just how useful this attention is in validating the artistic elements of art.

Had Ebert simply conceded the argument, the attention granted would be minuscule. But Ebert has almost single handedly rocketed this issue of games as art into at least the possibility of serious attention.

Honestly, I don't think most people will be able to attend to Ebert's argument from his angle of attack, as I can see how games get excluded from art in his view and it isn't a point of possible debate. Certainly expecting him to play videogames is a hilarious mistake, and not even relevant to the debate.

But that the debate can continue, thanks to Ebert's decision to respond to Kellee's presentation, is for me a source of delight.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the article. I'm actually quite sick of people who have never played games talking about it...stop making assumptions..and Roger stop acting like your opinion is the truth/ so important

Rick said...

Chris makes a good point. It's nice to see the attention given to gaming - especially in a more positive light: "Are games art?" Instead of the usual: "Are games driving our children to violence/demon worship/etc.?"

I would ask Ebert if all films art. Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 is the lowest ranked movie on IMBD - is even this movie art? Or are only certain movies art. Is all music art? The list goes on.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you say "what you define as art is art."