Monday, April 19, 2010

Roger Ebert simply will not believe that video games can ever be art.

As loathe as I am to give Ebert even more press than he already gets,this interested me.
As a functioning artist and gamer, this mystifies me. I feel there have already been several experiences of art as video game. Perhaps it is because I am not an art critic that I am mistaken? Perhaps some video games are potentially an evolution of art? I like that idea.

Do we have to discuss everyone's interpretation of the word "art"? Or the word "game"?

Shall we?

Discuss: Y/N


Mr. Pony said...

I like Roger Ebert, but I do think we need to define terms, because his use of the word "art" seems to be undescriptive and unuseful (although common). He circles the idea that calling something art means that it has crossed a certain threshold of awesomeness. (At one point, he defines art as "the creation of one [individual] artist, but then retreats from this definition, using "art" to mean "good" for the remainder of the article.)

Actually, I think we can stop there, because no matter what your concept of art is, we're really just reading about the momentary tastes of one guy, based on his limited information; and not a pronouncement or redefinition by a philosopher king.

I don't even need to link to Passage.

Fugu said...

Definitely Passage. Braid seemed to come close at times, too. And wasn't that the whole point of Noby Noby boy? It really strikes me as weird that Ebert would miss the subjectivity of art, or of what counts as an enjoyable gaming experience, for that matter.

sokeripupu said...

yeah that whole thing was kind of weird. he not only calls the games he critiques not art, he also kinda calls them not games (because he thinks you can undo your mistakes in braid [you can and you can't], because he can't see a way to score points in flower). never mind that his evaluation of the merits of these games was by watching promo videos and reading descriptions, not by actually playing them.

oh well.

Lungclops said...

I agree that "art" doesn't have to be awesome--there's plenty of bad art that's still art. But something tells me that when a "gamer" (ugh. agree with the Ebert commenter who called the term tacky) proudly claims that word for video games, he's working off that same stupid definition. He's being defensive, for some reason. Ebert has a good point when he asks why some people are so intent on including games under the art umbrella. It's like they think that once video games are accepted as art, the Wizard of Oz is gonna pop out, give em all a fucking diploma, and say, "Congratulations, boys, you're in!"

Something in me revolts against the idea of video games as art. It's not that I think that game making doesn't take talent and skill and taste. It's on the consumption side of things that the art label bothers me. Playing a video game is too "easy" somehow to be considered legitimate art consumption, or at least good art consumption. It's not really intellectually or emotionally challenging/enlightening on the level of what I would consider good "adult" art. So yes, maybe the video game makers are artists (or at least craftsmen), but game players have been, are, and always will be empty-headed, artificial-cheese-dust-on-their-fingertips lowlifes.

Galspanic said...

Anyone think he's trolling?

Galspanic said...

I respectfully unagree with you 'Clops. At least, as far as game playing and art is concerned. I was thinking about this last night and wondered to myself, "o.k. you fucking asshole, what games do you REALLY think of as artforms, as opposed to just games?" I realized, it was games that I couldn't finish. I got too emotionally involved, and so I simply couldn't finish the games. I think that is where the game breaks out of the realm of merely being a game and becomes a form of art. Like a book you have to re-read or a movie you see over and over again. I think if it can affect me to the degree where I get that emotionally involved, where it stops being about winning, or finishing, I think that is a sign of art to me. If I don't want it to end and I keep going back and visiting, to me that is a "precious object".

I'll wager this is a point of contention with others here. Let's find out.

Lungclops said...

I had a love affair with a little mid-80s PC platform game called Starflight, and I think I understand these feelings you speak of, 'panic. Still, after a marathon Starflighting session (or later in life, a marathon Red Faction or Katamari session), I always felt like I had basically spent the day masturbating, or doing acid. My brain tends to feel like mush. I don't feel that way when I've put in a lot of time reading a book or even watching a few non-shitty movies in a row, and I don't think it's some psychosomatic guilt-driven thing. That's all very subjective, of course, but I'd like to add that to the general survey you initiated in your previous post: anyone else get that masturbatey feeling after playing Zork for 4 hours?

Galspanic said...

I definitely understand the mausturbatey feeling. It's especially frustrating if you haven't actually done any masturbating recently, and you just wasted all your masturbation time playing some game. I do get that feeling from playing many games. Especially now that I have little dudes that eat up all my free time. I feel like time is really precious now, so the game better be awful damn good, or at least be a really good masturbation substitute. I haven't played a game that I'd consider art in a long while now. I kind of don't have the energy to invest. Most of the game I play nowadays is simple, fun, grindy adventure or tactics. Enough to keep my brain occupied, but i don't have to think about it like I did when I was addicted to the 'crack.

kamapuaa said...

I stopped listening to Ebert when I ran across the massive array processor that is rottentomatoes.

Mr. Pony said...

There were games I loved so much that I played the shit out of them until I finished the game, and then stuck around, if I could, (Spider-Man 2, GTA Vice City) but I haven't yet played the game that I got so into that I didn't want to finish it. In fact, being into a game kind of makes me want to finish it! The last game in recent memory I did this with (LEGO Star Wars), I played to 100%, a number I used to prove to myself that it was time to get on with my life.

Momentary digression back to the topic, which is really bugging me: The confusion I believe Ebert might be suffering under is the idea that all things we refer to as "art" all have the same intention. Conceptual art comments on a system, attempting to create a dialogue by allowing the viewer to see that system in a new way. In this, I think the meta-games mentioned already certainly qualify, but by lumping this stuff in with Renaissance masterpieces and cathedrals, the whole thing gets messy and weird. "But is it art?" isn't a serious question; it's a personality test.

Litcube said...

Interactive video media has the potential to be art, but games are entertainment by definition, no? Some games might have the side effect of being art, but what the fuck do I know.

I think X3 Terran Conflict might be as close to art as I've seen, while still being produced by a game shop in it for profit. The visuals are as breathtaking as any Brom, and the style of play (total open sandbox) is completely up to the player; he/she sets their own goals, subjective interpretation, etc..

I think a distinction between art and entertainment that might be useful here, is that the former tries to express emotion of the creator, whereas the latter tries to elicit emotion of the consumer. A lot of things are both, maybe, but I think if you lined up goals of creator's projects on an axis, I think you'd find Art more on one side and Entertainment more on the other.

Fugu said...

Here's my 2 cents (please try to read this as if I were not insane): If video games can never be art, then the very definition of art would need to exclude some fundamental characteristic of what it is to be a video game. Or, the contrary would have be true: the definition of a video game would need to have some inherent quality that prohibits all video games from being considered art.

Take the definition of a chair: an object a person can sit on, typically with four legs and a back. Anything could be a chair as long as it has these characteristics, right? Also, the definition excludes anything that by it's nature cannot have these characteristics. A fossilized piece of dinosaur shit carved in such away could be called a chair. A documentary on dinosaur shit could never be a chair, because the physical components of a documentary prohibit this. Is this not a fair analogy? I seriously can't see how any entity (A) could never be included in group (B), unless there is some mutual exclusivity there that forbids it. And I can't think of anything mutually exclusive between video games and art.

And if a movie is considered art, what about games that are basically interactive movies? Take Myst, for example. Is there something inherent in it's interactivity that means it can't be art? Because without the interaction it's basically a boring movie. But then what about interactive art? That's still art. So would Myst not be a game, then? Of course it is. So what am I missing here? Is it something to do with quality? Of course not. Emotional reaction? But there's plenty of art out there that has less emotion invested in it than Myst. Maybe intent, then. So you could still say that games intended to be art have all the potential needed to possibly be defined as art.

So LQ's distinction between art and entertainment would be useful here. Intent is important. Arguably, 99% of video games out there were not intended to be art, and likely should not be considered as art. I keep coming back to Passage. The intent here was to be considered as both art and video game. It has all of Ebert's "rules, points, objectives, and an outcome", and I don't think it's possible to play the game and not leave feeling emotionally screwed up in a way that has nothing to do with playing a game, and everything to do with experiencing a piece of art that completely fucks up your world view.

Fugu said...

Since I'm already ranting I thought I'd pick at his essay, specifically. The whole thing seems to be just a collection of sophomoric arguments, distractors, and semantic definitions that in the end never actually address the title of the essay. Here's the detailed bits that I got from it:

1. "I repeat: No one… has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets." That's part of his argument? Is that how he's defining art? This seems to say that he judges the potential art-ness of something by it's inherent craftsmanship. So what happens when we get a nobel laureate to write the next Half-Life installment and resurrect Gauguin to do the graphics? This could happen just out of spite, and then what. Ebert then might say that craftsmanship doesn't matter: its the nature of a "game" that excludes it from being art. So… then why even bring it up? Talking about "the greats" has no other purpose than being a distractor, and goes nowhere useful.

2. His obsessive argument of comparing video games to chess and football is weak and insulting. Saying that video games could be art, centers on the idea of an intended shared story or emotional experience, right? Neither are even remotely true of football or chess. They are completely different animals. Ebert is making a giant generalization here, akin to saying that since Garfield is not considered literature, then Maus (pulitzer prize) or Sandman (seventh paragraph) could never be considered literature.(note that my analogy above isn't the same, since it was an analogy of logic structures, not between the entities of "chair" and "video game", mother fuckers.)

3. His essay seems more of a rebuttal to a TED talk about the economics of art and gaming (true, I didn't watch it), and by refuting this, he thinks he's won the argument. At least as he references it, the lady talks about "Development, Finance, Publishing, Marketing, Education, and Executive Management". …What? This has nothing to do with anything. No points for you here, Ebert.

4. And he doesn't actually refute the game examples she brings up. This was weird.

Braid: "This is a game 'that explores our own relationship with our past... but there's one key can't die.' You can go back in time and correct your mistakes… [this] negates the whole discipline of the game... She also admires a story told between the games levels, which exhibits prose on the level of a wordy fortune cookie."

--> so wait, where in that did he explain why Braid can't be art? He defines it as a game, seems to say that it contains (crappy) art, that it "negates" some discipline or other… so what was his point here? Why can't it be art? WHY???

Flower: the same problem. He complains about it, admits he doesn't understand it, and therefore writes it off as not art. This strikes me as curmudgeonly and thoughtless.

5. If you ignore all the filler in his essay, I can't find any kind of summary statement to explain why video games can't be art. He never actually says it. That's it. Sure, I agree that 99% of the games out there aren't art, but of course it's possible. This is purely philosophical stubbornness, you see.

Galspanic said...

Fugu, Points 1 through 5 of your rant is exactly why I think Ebert is trolling. He's making a statement that just begs to be proven wrong. But it can't be proven wrong because he doesn't really care about the reader's response in this instance. But he knows that the reader will read, and want to respond to what he writes because it is so obviously confrontational to a large niche of the populace. This is classic trolling.

Mr. Pony said...

So are we ready to go tell him all we've discovered?

Litcube said...

I think we're ready. We have a thesis, problems, implications, and pay-offs.

If I can schedule a meeting in Seattle, are we all game? I figure that's probably a good inbetween.

Mr. Pony said...

Hey, look.