Monday, April 26, 2010

Roger Ebert's rant

Let me start by saying that I don't agree with what Roger Ebert said about video games not being art. First of all, the debate over what makes art "art" is a long, endless assault of opinions and the lack of unity on that point makes the entire argument moot. Having said that, I personally define art as the act of creation with intent. Within that, there is obviously good art and bad art. I think good art is measured by how successful the artist was in communicating what the intent WAS, and then achieving it.

Now let's talk about what Ebert MEANS to say, which I think can be summarized by one of his own quotes;

" '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.' To which I could have added painters, composers, and so on, but my point is clear."

Now on this point, I ALMOST agree, but not quite and my disagreement is three-fold

1) There's this wonderful romanticized notion that older=better, and it's just not true. Well at least it's not automatically true. This notion exists EVERYWHERE though, and it's an idea that has woven itself in the minds of appreciators of movies, video games, t.v. shows, books, comics, animation etc. Now I think a lot of the time, people say this because older material sets the precedence for techniques and ideas that will influence the later generations. They do this because they're the first, and they have the opportunity to set the standard for how the medium will be used from then on. Progression is usually slow and gradual after the initial birth of a new medium. Limitation also usually forces creativity and it also usually forces things (like movies) to center their techniques and methods on the basic essential principles of their craft. Video games are no exception to this.

2) Not all video games are meant to be storytelling, a lot are meant to be more about the interactivity and experience of actually PLAYING the game (tetris? katamari?). This is a principle of video game creation and it's something Roger Ebert doesn't seem to understand. It looks to me like he's comparing video games to movies as though games are a slight alternative, and like I said, this isn't always the case. I personally enjoy the cinematic, story-oriented games more, but I know that's not what all games are about.

3) There ARE some games that compare, even on the narrative side. Half Life is a big, fat juicy example of amazing storytelling, amazing immersion, amazing character development, amazing EVERYTHING. There are very few other examples but I don't even need to go beyond this one.

I think Roger Ebert may be right when he says "no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form." but it's only probably because nobody will want to give the medium the respect it deserves until it's old enough to automatically deserve it.


Anonymous said...

I was not aware that Ebert made this particular comment, but as a huge fan of video games, this is a debate that I have been familiar with for some time. You worded the counterargument very well in my opinion.

Part of the problem, which I believe you touched down on, is that video games are lumped together, ignoring the wide variety and intent of video games. If movies can ever be considered art, then I believe that within our lifetime, we will see videogames considered as art as well.

Take Uncharted 2: Drake's Fortune and put that up against any movie that's come out recently. Story, acting, character development, cinematography, you name it. This game blows away many of the more recent movies.

I am hopeful and optimistic that within our lifetime, our generation of individuals who grew up with videogames being as common of a medium as movies, painting, music, etc. will also recognize the true artistic contribution that some videogames are able to offer.

Anonymous said...

Video games' closest artistic comparison would be cinema, yet not all cinema is artistic.
There is a world of difference between, for example, Pan's Labyrinth and The Hottie & the Nottie.

With games like Uncharted 2 and Okami pushing beyond the perceived boundaries of games and forging a new path, I believe that we are finally entering a position where some games may truly be considered an art form.

Games will be considered art within our lifetimes, even if it takes the gallery-going public a while to realise it.

Anonymous said...

Shadow of the Collossus.

Even if the original director does not think the game itself can be interpreted as an artform, art has always been in the eye of the beholder (as in, how else can you define something as art if you cannot be objective about it?)

I personally see something as a work of art if other professionals in the very same field are using influences from that work.

With Shadow, Im seeing alot more of character designs in other games which have subtle AND not so subtle features in their makeup.

In games like God of War (which admittedly, Ive never been much a fan of) has stapled that interactive "PUSH THIS BUTTON NOW" motif that invokes a dazzling mini-cinematic which in itself is being copied EVERYWHERE in games.

My point is that art (either still art or moving cinematic art) influences and inspires. While some games wont make it pass the realm of
"endless button mashing", others are an expression of opinion or point of view or what simply "could be". Heavy Rain is a prime example of such.

Of course, at it's most basic sense, even in ancient hyroglyphics (spelling?), art can simply be the imagination run amuck and a another form of opinion, as such making just about ANYTHING an art form... even film criticisms.