Video Games, Art, and Time

Roger Ebert was feeling cranky the other day and declared that video games are not and can never be art.

The whole thing seems rather pointless, like a kid going out of his way to kick over somebody else’s blocks in pre-school.  But the man is a professional cinema critic, so it is probably tough to take off that critic’s hat when you get home.  And, of course, now other people are throwing out their own opinions on the subject.

The crux of Ebert’s argument seems to be that video games are interactive and, thus, not art.

This is a point of view to which no small number of artists, people who Roger Ebert would likely recognize as artists (who is an artist being a whole different argument and even more slippery than who is press), would object.  Interactivity is not at all an uncommon aspect of art.

My own pass through Art Appreciation at University was with a professor (and artist) who had a very inclusive view on what was art.  Or at least I think he did.  I was still working out negative space while he was going on about that.

Art is more about having a message, about communicating something to people, than about the medium the artists chooses.   Anybody who declares something “not art” because they object to the medium is kidding themselves.  Art is not the medium.  Art is the message, the intent.

And, looking at it from the other direction, merely using a recognized artistic medium does not make something art.  All movies are not art.  Every time a brush is applied to canvas, art is not magically created.  All those photographs people take, they are not all art.

Now, I would certainly entertain the proposition that no current video game has been created as art.

I would say you weren’t looking hard enough.  You’re not going to find art using a video game format as the medium on the shelf at GameStop.  It is as likely that something create to be a video game would be immediately recognized as art as… no, I’m not going to create a distracting analogy that people will argue about rather than the point I’m trying to make… let’s just say it would be unlikely and leave it at that.

But that is just my opinion.  Anybody trying to come up with an absolute definition of art is on a fool’s errand.

And all of this leads to another notion, one put forth by Lore Sjöberg in a piece he did for Wired, that video games are too recent to be seriously considered as art.  That, as a medium, video games haven’t aged enough to be viewed as art.

And while his column is pitched as humor, it does have a ring of truth to it.

In the end, I don’t know art, but I know what I like.  Or something like that.

7 thoughts on “Video Games, Art, and Time

  1. Toldain

    I have an even broader definition of art, one I got from my kids’ high school art teacher (and host of a couple of art appreciation trips to the orient that I went on with him).

    Whenever humans alter their environment, art is there. Any decision made with an eye to someone’s reaction (not necessarily pleasing, no no) there is art.

    “Is this art?” is the wrong question. It’s always the wrong question. The right questions are “How does it affect me and others?” and “How successful is it at achieving its aims?”

    And yes, I do believe that freeway overpasses are art. I do not believe that all freeway overpasses are equally successful art, though.


  2. Analogue

    I go for the personal, parochial definition of art – if it stirs something in my soul, that’s good enough. And on cynical days, the “If I can do it, it’s not art” definition. (IE you must be more talented than me in a medium for me to view your contribution as art).

    Basically I probably consider a lot of things art that art critics wouldn’t, and a lot of things they call art, I call a waste of time. But that’s the nature of it. And also why I prefer engineering. Nobody has to ask “is that engineering?” They know it when they see it.


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  5. gwjanimej

    So, TL;DR, Roger Ebert is still being a pretentious douchebag? Can’t say I’m surprised by that, nor do I understand why he’s so insistent on the ‘games aren’t and can’t be art’, as though it’s threatening his livelyhood or something.


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @gwjanimej – Actually, I think Roger Ebert spends most of his time lately just being dead, a pastime he took up back in early April of this year.

    Sorry, I re-read this article the other day, noticed a typo, fixed it, then WordPress, in its own strange way, decided that this post was totally worth of re-injecting into my RSS stream.


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