Home > Game Language, Shooter > The Great “Games Are Art” Debate

The Great “Games Are Art” Debate

Film critic Roger Ebert recently set the video game world in its collective head with his “games can never be art” post.  I have read quite a few web pages and blogs blasting him and asking gamers what they think.  It amazes me that this debate has gone on for as long as it has.

Read the first two words of this blog post again: film critic. Ebert has no business making professional comments on games.  His problem is that he, and so many others, think that video games and film should be compared.  If it were the case that game developers wanted their products to be the new film, then Ebert would be the right person to comment.  However video game are not movies any more than movies are books.  Yes, some games strive for photorealism and immersion, but never forget that games are interactive media.  The game experience is different from the film experience. For far too long critics, researchers, and gamers alike have been applying the language of cinema to video games.  Let’s be clear: video games are not, nor should they ever be, movies.

As a gamer and a video game scholar, I would think my opinion counts as much, if not more, than Mr. Ebert.  So let me jump into the debate by stating that as of 2010, video games are not art.  However I believe that games are on the cusp of becoming art.  Ebert writes that games will not become art in our lifetimes.  Not true.  What games need to do is to tell good stories.  In order to do that, games need to make us care about the characters and what happens to them.  To date games are action driven.  And while that makes for a good time, playing a game is not as memorable as the greatest television shows or movies.

Simply put, we don’t care about the characters like we should.  When I become Marcus Fenix or the Master Chief, do I want to see what happens to them or is it simply that I want to play a great game with constant action?  Do I even remember the names of the characters from Modern Warfare?

Now there are some games that have come close.  The Mass Effect and Uncharted series have done a lot of the little things right that make me care about the characters.  But not enough.

Next time I will dive in Mass Effect 2 and write how developer BioWare can move the franchise from great gaming to art.

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Categories: Game Language, Shooter
  1. July 2, 2010 at 06:18

    i suppose this whole question depends on how we conceptualize art. adorno & horkheimer might consider neither film or video games art as long as they are “mass” produced in the “cultural industry.” i don’t know that i have a good definition of art myself. is it something that causes us to see the world in new ways – in which case, anything could qualify. is it something that’s aesthetically superior? that would exclude indie film shot on 8mm film. i dunno. it’s a tough question and maybe it gets to the point of does it matter? why conceptualize art in the first place? arguably, that’s a way to define normative standards for what is appreciated, appreciation which requires social training, social training which is made more available to those with the time and means to explore, collect, and differentiate, thus, creating a system of elite interest based on an intersection of class and (high) culture.

  2. JLJ
    July 2, 2010 at 08:24

    You know this something I never really thought of before. But now that I’ve given it some thought, I don’t know if I agree with Adorno & Horkeimer. However I really don’t have a definition either. It seems to be one of those things where you just know. As a researcher I feel the need to place it in some type of category in order to study it, yet this concept will not be so easily contained. Even if we go with the idea that art can be mass produced, most of us can only tick off a few pieces or texts that would be “art.” I can claim this movie over here and that text over there, but I wonder if our standards are so high that very few pieces or collections ever fit the bill.

    But getting back to Ebert. I read today where you blogged that he was on point for his views on casting in The Last Airbender. We readily listen to him about film, and yet I hesitate when he extends his “expertise” to gaming.

    That would be a long-winded of saying “yes, I agree with you that ‘art’ is subjective at best.”

  3. JLJ
    July 2, 2010 at 12:18

    As it turns out, Mr. Ebert has modified his statement somewhat after reading thousands of replies to his blog posting. I think this is a debate that will go on for quite some time.

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