video games can never be art

Roger Ebert asserts that video games can never be art.

I had planned to take apart the argument piece by piece but upon reflection and talking with Spinach I realize this comes down to an old discussion. The discussion is “what is art?” I want to point out a couple of flaws in Mr. Ebert’s post but then also point out that there is not a clear and concise answer to the question nor to the challenges posed by Ebert.

“Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”


To this I disagree, and if I may point to Jason Rohrer’s Passage without getting poo flung at me for choosing something so obvious then I would also comment that this simple game plays like a poem, or like a short film. It uses the decision and direction of the player as part of the changing story that is told and can in fact be experienced many ways, though the end is essentially the same. However and this is key, one must play the game to experience it fully.

This is a fatal flaw in Ebert’s commentary, he is happy to judge games by a little video, maybe a snapshot and some commentary. He would never do this with a movie.
Does it make sense to judge George Melies’ “A Voyage to the Moon” (1902) from a single image or a series of images? No, and in fact the proof that it is a work of art is in the exhibition and experience of the whole work.

Games are meant to be played. One cannot judge the quality of a game without playing it. Rather what kind of judgement can one make about a game without playing?

Ebert says, “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.” This is wrong because I do believe that this assertion has been made. Ebert however will never be able to verify this, as he will never play these games. This is a man who has a great depth of knowledge in a field attempting to extend it and to argue about something of which he knows little or nothing.

Finally I want to comment about the idea of art because so many people are just getting this wrong. The definition of art has changed time and again and will likely continue to do so. The problem is that many people who want to say that something is (or more likely is not) art are just not experts. I am NOT saying that people should stfu or anything like that, but if a work is accepted by the community of artists, historians and museums then it IS art whether we like it or not. There is plenty of art I do not like, but that does not make it less art than the stuff I do like.

To that end WACO Resurrection is a work of art, it was made by artists (Eddo Stern, Peter Brinson, Brody Condon, Michael Wilson, Mark Allen, Jessica Hutchins) and has been exhibited at art venues

Gamezone Festival, De Singal, Antwerpen, Brussels
Slamdance Film Festival, Park City, Utah
Ars Electronica, Linz, Austra
Australian Center of the Moving Image(ACMI), Melbourne, Australia
Grand Arts, Kansas City, MI
Next Wave Festival, Melbourne, Australia
Rotterdam Film Festival, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA
The Kitchen. New York, NY

and is accepted by the new media arts community and historians as a work of art.

If you do not like it that is your prerogative but you are being silly if you claim it is not art. It may not be a masterpiece, but it is by a young group of artists who show a great deal of promise, whose work may eventually fulfill the challenge laid out at the beginning of this post. But these people are artists and not game designers per se. Artists will make art.

Finally I want to say that I think the whole discussion “is this art” is a dead end. I hope to find the time to post again and talk about the influence of Marcel Duchamp on the world of art. Picking at the difference, and claiming one thing is not art vs another thing which is, reading “value” into an object of art vs one that is not art are spurious. I could care less if something is art, a better question is: Is it interesting? or What does it mean?