Joho the BlogCan video games be art? - Joho the Blog

Can video games be art?

Roger Ebert has a thoughtful an respectful response to a TED Talk by Kellee Santiago, in which she says that video games already are art.

Besides a general annoyance that there already is a body of thought about what constitutes art and maybe it’d be helpful not to have to start over every time we talk about these things (insert an old man’s sigh here), I feel like we’re in definitional hell: If it looks like art, Ebert will say it’s not a game, and if it looks like a game, Ebert will say it’s not art. What’s the point?

Well, maybe the point is what Ebert asks towards the end: “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?” Good question. One answer is that they want to be taken more seriously than they are.What they’re doing aren’t merely games. Some are beautiful. Some are funny. Some are occasionally morally challenging. Some are well-told tales. Some are astonishingly clever. That doesn’t make them art, but, you know, we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona last week, and there are galleries full of art that don’t look a lot like art either.

And, unlike Ebert, I leave the door fully open for games to be art. Mass Effect 2 may not be great art, but it’s better than a lot of pretty good TV shows I’ve watched. The Path has a numinous quality. Bioshock had a narrative twist that Hitchcock would have liked. Why can’t they be art? Unless, of course, you say that games always have to be won or lost (they don’t — Wittgenstein covered this pretty well) and that art can only happen when you’re pursuing artistic experience in itself (it doesn’t).

In fact, I’d pass Ebert’s question back at him: Why is he, a film critic, so intensely concerned that games not be defined as art? The answer is, I’d guess, that he sees that games are becoming aesthetically competitive with movies.

Art happens in any form of human sematic construction that is developed long enough. Of course art can happen in video games. It’s not the medium or the rhetorical form that holds them back, but the commercial constraints.

34 Responses to “Can video games be art?”

  1. Ebert doesn’t seem to have played any of the games he comments on in his article. He never quite comes out and says it (although he comes close), but he certainly gives that impression. For that reason I thought the article was about as interesting as reading the opinions of a movie critic who hasn’t watched the movies they’re reviewing.

  2. […] post: Joho the Blog » Can video games be art? Tagged with: asks-towards • defined-as-art • ebert • intensely-concerned […]

  3. Has a debate over what is or isn’t art ever accomplished anything? It seems ridiculous.

    With the number of tedious and pointless things that get called art I don’t see it as a badge of honor. But I’m usually in the minority when it comes to labels.

  4. […] […]

  5. i just thought this blog is somewhat interesting…anyway the “art” thing is in the eye of the beholder.

    Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions.That’s why video games can be an art.

  6. Anything posed or questioned as art is art. Thus if I hold up a pebble and say “Is this art?”, it is art simply because it has been elevated into artistic consideration. What isn’t art is that which no-one considers as art.

    So, if a computer game is presented as art by a developer that considers themselves an artist, it is art (even if no-one else considers it art).

    What remains in question is how ‘artistic’ a game is perceived to be by those invited to consider it a work of art.

  7. […] post: Joho the Blog » Can video games be art? Posted in blog | Tags: beholder, intention, somewhat-interesting, the-eye, […]

  8. “Art is anything you can get away with.” M McL (The Medium is the Massage)

  9. I love Ebert, but as Michael says, he dismisses games without having played them. The games that cross the line into art (or at least try), do so by engaging emotions and unlike film REQUIRE interaction to do so.

    But even if Ebert were to get off his high horse and PLAY Flower (or flOw, or Auditorium, etc). his HIS terribly limited definition of a game as requiring “rules, points, objectives, and an outcome” ensures that he’ll be right.

    “It’s an interactive art piece,but it’s not a GAME.” meh.

  10. Also I’m not sure I’d classify the majority of films as art.

  11. FWIW – I can easily come up with a definition of movie that disqualifies Koyaanisqatsi /Powaqqatsi and could likely stretch things enough by insisting on linear narrative to disqualify Memento, Battleship Potemkin and Citizen Kane.

  12. […] Joho the Blog » Can video games be art? […]

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  14. yes, i am game be art, art is nothing special it just anything posed. so you can said video game be art.

  15. I agree that video game is art, for it can be very beautiful to give us visual enjoyment.

  16. Useful post, i agree the autor’s views …

  17. For that reason I thought the article was about as interesting as reading the opinions of a movie critic who hasn’t watched the movies they’re reviewing.

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  20. I think Video Games should be artistic so that it can arouse fans’ interests.

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