If you’ve been paying attention in the past few weeks, Roger Ebert is back in the video game news again. I have talked about his position on games as art, but apparently he has amended his statement. Now instead of saying that games can’t be art, he says that games can’t be high art.
N’Gai Croal dissected Ebert’s arguments way better than I could.
If Ebert had done a bit more research–well, any research–he could have bolstered his argument by citing some notable game designers–e.g. Hideo Kojima, Shigeru Miyamoto and Keiji Inafune, each of whom has gone on record as saying that they don’t believe that videogames are art–and engaged what game creators themselves have said. Or he could have elaborated on the distinction that he’s drawn between high art and low art. No such luck. Instead, he’d rather dismiss videogames with the sarcastic magnanimousness of “Anything can be art. Even a can of Campbell’s soup,” as long as we vidigoths don’t attempt to desecrate the Temple of High Art, where presumably the gods of Cinema stand comfortably next to those of Theater, Dance, Painting, Sculpture, Opera and Literature.
As you read, you’ll find that Ebert’s writing is meant to persuade without letting the reader think too much about the topic. Ebert isn’t trying to engage anyone in a discussion about video games as art. When headlines are run as “EBERT VS THE GAMERS” for articles featuring everyone’s favorite film critic arguing against the sometimes incoherent arguments of 12-year-old Halo fans, how can a reader who isn’t familiar with video games not believe that “the things that make it a game” are “scoring, pointing and shooting, winning and losing, shallow characterizations, and action that is valued above motivation and ethical considerations.” Never mind that there are many counterexamples of games that are not about scoring, shooting, or winning.
My favorite part about the article was Croal’s well-researched point that I had guessed was the case in a previous post: when film was only thirty years old, there were plenty of critics who considered it a base form of entertainment for the lowest common denominator. There was no way that film could possibly aspire to anything greater.
And yet, here we are.
Ignoring Ebert’s opinion on video games (again), what are developers doing to create art out of games?
Last month, Warren Spector wrote about his frustration-driven creativity. After finishing Paper Mario for the Wii, he felt that it was fun but left him with nothing afterwards. What frustrates me is that Paper Mario is typical of so many platform games–nearly all games, when you get right down to it.
As developers, we almost never think about what games can do to enrich our players and, as players, we almost never encounter anything that informs us about the human condition. The audience certainly doesn’t seem to be clamoring for anything more than diversion. … There’s no other medium that routinely and without much self-reflection offers consumers so little.
For the most part, games are all surface, no subtext. They’re about doing–they have to be about doing–but rarely about the WHY that drives the doing and even more rarely about the consequences of doing whatever it is you’re doing in the game.
You know, he has a lot of the same arguments as Ebert…except when Spector talks about it, he’s analyzing. He’s thinking. He’s not dismissing the entire medium. He’s talking about the problem of games not being more than they currently are as something that can be solved.
It took about 60 years for “Citizen Kane” to arrive. I can see Spector wondering what the video game equivalent would be. When he talks about what games can be, I’m thinking about it, too. Ebert’s arguments only serve to shut down the thinking process. Thanks, but I get enough of that kind of talk in politics. Give us more thoughts like Spector’s, and we can figure things out for ourselves. We can’t help but actually think about the issue when the option is presented.