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Roger Ebert: 'Games Will Never Be Art'

Roger Ebert Says Videogames could be art

You'd be lucky if you found any gamer these days willing to entertain the 'games as art' debate.  We've heard the talk from both sides of the camp ad nauseam, and to this day no one knows the answer.

'Are games art?' is right up there in the list of cultural taboos one does not bring up in mixed company, like religion and politics.

That didn't stop Roger Ebert revisiting his famously explosive stance on the matter once again on his regular blog for the Chicago Sun Times.

Mr. Ebert is by no means an empty voice to be ignored.  His movie reviews are raw, honest and entertaining appraisals - serious fresh air in an industry plagued by false promises and hyperbole.  He is a rational person that calls it like he sees it.

However, in his most recent journal entry, he came to drop bombs:

"Having once made the statement above [Videogames Can Never Be Art], I have declined all opportunities to enlarge upon it or defend it. That seemed to be a fool's errand, especially given the volume of messages I receive urging me to play this game or that and recant the error of my ways. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say "never," because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form."

The unfortunate catalyst for Ebert's rant was a TED talk given at USC by Kellee Santiago, a designer and producer of video games.  It's a shame that this presentation, above all others, was the argument Mr. Ebert chose to eviscerate.

Having watched the talk myself, I certainly wouldn't consider it a solid argument on the matter, worthy of converting the non-believer.  If anything, Kellee Santiago's talk aimed low and stayed low, citing such predictables as Braid and Flower being  prime examples of games being art.

Plus, it's hard to argue her case when Mr. Ebert's closing paragraph is this:

"I allow Santiago the last word. Toward the end of her presentation, she shows a visual with six circles, which represent, I gather, the components now forming for her brave new world of video games as art. The circles are labeled: Development, Finance, Publishing, Marketing, Education, and Executive Management. I rest my case."

Could it be that Kellee Santiago's presentation was more a comprehensive justification of gaming in general?  Closing a talk about games being an art form with a bombastic showing of financial success is a serious misstep, if this wasn't the case.

I know this is a touchy subject for some, but ultimately, do you - the gamer - really care if a game is viewed by others as legitimate art?  Personally I play games for enjoyment and stimulation.  I do not play games in order to feed my inner art critic and to further justify my pastime as legitimate to the folks who look down their noses at such things.

I myself sit somewhere in between both sides of the argument.  I believe games are art, if art is something created by people - that appeals to people for reasons other than purpose and functionality.  If a game can appeal to me in a myriad of ways and make me feel things that only humans can feel, then it is art.  I certainly do not think Braid, for example, is art.  Braid is pretty to look at and to listen to.  The mechanics are interesting and yet the script is laughably over-achieving.

So, yes, I believe games can be art.  The irony is that I really don't care.  The industry is far beyond having to justify itself to anyone that doesn't get it.  I'm frankly surprised that Kellee Santiago felt the need to present this at TED at all, especially in 2010.

Roger Ebert, for better or worse, has rekindled this old flame, challenging us once again to defend games to people who don't understand.  Arguably, if he has never played a video game, which he has claimed to be the case, is he really voice worth listening to in this matter?

I'm looking for some strong audience participation on this, because this is such a polarizing topic, and I'm really interested in your opinions.  Is Ebert 's opinion valid?  Can games be art?  Sound off!

Source: Roger Ebert's Journal

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