Discussion Topic: Video Games as Art? Roger Ebert says ''No''
A few years ago, film critic Roger Ebert announced that he does not consider video games to be an art form. Here, he has (at the bottom of the page) a thoughtful exchange with a reader.
I'd like you to look beyond whatever gut-level reaction you might have, in order to address the reasons why Ebert is predisposed to think the way he does. What lenses color his perception of video games? What lenses color your own perception, contributing to your own take on the subject? Where are some assumptions that Ebert and his questioner make, and how can we usefully challenge those assumptions in order to learn more about the debate? (Note -- this isn't about making your opinion look good by mocking people who hold different opinions; this is about looking for paths to agreement, on the assumption that we come closer to truth by examining multiple different answers to a question, rather than trying to "win" by calling the other guy names.)
Q. I was saddened to read that you consider video games an inherently inferior medium to film and literature, despite your admitted lack of familiarity with the great works of the medium. This strikes me as especially perplexing, given how receptive you have been in the past to other oft-maligned media such as comic books and animation. Was not film itself once a new field of art? Did it not also take decades for its academic respectability to be recognized?
There are already countless serious studies on game theory and criticism available, including Mark S. Meadows' Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative, Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan's First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, and Mark J.P. Wolf's The Medium of the Video Game, to name a few.
I hold out hope that you will take the time to broaden your experience with games beyond the trashy, artless "adaptations" that pollute our movie theaters, and let you discover the true wonder of this emerging medium, just as you have so passionately helped me to appreciate the greatness of many wonderful films.
Andrew Davis, St. Cloud, Minn.
A. Yours is the most civil of countless messages I have received after writing that I did indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.
I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.