Are Video Games Art? Roger Ebert Reignites the Debate

No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.

That’s the thesis of Roger Ebert’s latest rant proclaiming that video games aren’t art.

My counter argument is pretty simple.

Video games contain:

  • Painted or rendered graphic design
  • Written dialogue and stories
  • Original music

Sometimes the graphics are great, sometimes they are good, and sometimes they suck. Same goes for the writing, and music.

However, the exact same thing applies to movies.

Roger Ebert reviews some god awful movies, occasionally he even gives them good reviews. The man gave Avatar four stars even though the story had essentially no originality, but that’s besides the point. What is important is that he will take the time to give a movie one star. In doing so, he is saying that the movie isn’t worth anyone’s time, but it still is art, because that’s his job, he reviews art.

Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren’t gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care.

The difference is that there is no writing, no drawing, no scoring to these. None of these competitors are crafting an experience that is designed to provoke an emotional response. If there is any scripting in these competitions, then someone is breaking the law. However, the people who designed the many chess sets that Bobby Fischer plays with are artists.

Games have grown since the early days of Pong and Mario. At some point, games grew up, and so did gamers. We wanted a deeper experience, and game developers have delivered. Games like Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain aren’t perfect, but they will provoke an emotional response from a human who isn’t a sociopath.

3 thoughts on “Are Video Games Art? Roger Ebert Reignites the Debate

  1. Most video games are created by animators and animators (depending on the level of their skill) are artists. Therefore, most video games are art. The question should be, ‘should the animator-creator be considered an artist?’

    This was the same issue applied to Photoshop ‘doctors’: Should they be considered artists?
    Doctoring a picture requires the skill of a steady hand. Therefore, they are artists (depending on their skill level again).

  2. I agree Poch. One other point that I neglected to include, is in response to this comment by Mr. Ebert:

    “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?”

    I think the better question is:

    Why does Roger Ebert need to have games declared not art?

  3. Right reply D.
    If Ebert is an artist, he’s just a high-browed snob.
    If he isn’t an artist, he has no right to declare who is an artist and who isn’t.

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