Videogames as Art

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and no im not questioning your opinion, your awesome

Why would questioning his opinion have to mean you didn't think he was awesome? I like his writing and respect him as a critic but differ with a lot of his opinions. Sometimes the people with whom we agree aren't as fun to read.

no no no i was saying that i wasnt questioning his opinion because i implied that i would be having sex with a dishwasher, and saying hes awesome was a little endnote

Sounds as if you have one of those antiquated dishwashers that lacked a viscous appendage insert. The newer ones have more attractive "features."

Couldn't help myself. Took the plunge.

Roger's my favorite film critic, you're my favorite video game critic. So it's by some compulsive need for symmetrical satisfaction that I share my message to Mr. Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-down:

Hey, Rog. Longtime listener, first time caller. Fan of your work, actually.

I'd truly love to break down your arguments and compliment all those thoughtful witticisms with my own brand of empirical gymnastics, but as a lifelong gamer and enormous fan of all artistic mediums I have to say that this blog entry pisses me the fuck off.

You don't play games! You don't play them. So how in God's Green Earth can you ever expect to make a rational argument against their merit?!

Attempting to judge video games without playing them is like attempting to review a film without a goddamn head! Interactivity is the whole point of the exercise, it's the genius stroke that raises the bar on the emotional experience. Identifying with a character you see on the screen is one thing. Being that character on the screen is something exponentially more effective.

I feel honored that I have been around long enough to witness the full evolution of video games, and am humbled by its remarkable, practically geometric growth. The modern production of a really good game--the design, the music, the writing, the acting... the out-and-out, dare-I-say ARTISTRY of the undertaking, should be enough to put the whole claim to bed before it's even an issue. But I won't start there. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Pac Man is art. Donkey Kong is art. Robotron 2084 is art. Space Invaders is art. They were art straight out of the gate, because they were able to draw the attention, interest, and psychological stake of several generations straight into the heart of the machine with a few well-placed pixels and some primitive bloops and bleeps. I can't understand how somebody can give Tron a four-star rating and not know this already.

Of the thousands of games created during the 80's boom, only a relative handful really stood out. Already, there is the implication that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that designers, still scraping off the afterbirth of their medium, had to innovate far beyond the technical limitations of the hardware.

And even if I was to smooth down my bristling hairs and accept that every single game from that period was nothing but a timewaster, and mindless, and not worthy of whosie-whatsit even if they stimulate several senses simultaneously in practically the exact same way as have long-accepted artforms, my jaw just has to drop at the head-exploding gall it takes to completely ignore the incontestable progress games have made in every single conceivable way since.

You're a fuddy-duddy! A few drops of the quarter, a few involuntary "aww-shucks" jerks of the arm at the decimation of your player, and you not only gave up on playing, you gave up on an entire medium, and I can't think of anything sadder for someone who has based his entire existence on critical thought. You had made up your mind about video games back at their inception, back when you could truly boil down the tenants of each individual experience to a--at best--five-to-ten minute slice. But they have grown, my friend, they have improved, and they are wonderful in ways I truly don't think you are capable of imagining.

Yes, the truth is that both video games and Roger Ebert do not need each other to continue, as I'm sure you both will, with relative success. But it pains me to think that we lost a possible ally so early in this battle for respectability, especially considering how much video-games have increasingly emulated older-brother cinema over the years. I'm sure you had to defend film against the poetry-sculpture-ballet-Shakesperian snuffheads from time to time, and many of those arguments would be transferrable to electronic entertainment. I can give you a personal assurance that the appreciation of either one of these mediums need not be mutually exclusive. I have no doubt that a majority of the video game fans you are alienating with your comments are in fact loyal fans of film.

But you're caught in this paradoxical bubble, from which it would require an incredible amount of effort and will on your part to escape: games are not worth your time because they are not art, but in order for you to harness the potential to appreciate them, you have to play them.

And that would be fine, but you were the one who made your claim, you were the one who decided to re-open this can of worms, to base your entire thesis on a single fifteen-minute lecture, designating that speaker as the unofficial emissary of the millions of dedicated gamers out there.

I don't think it is our desire for validity that is the driving force behind the cavalcades of dissenting opinions you've invited into your life. Speaking of my own frustration with your take (it's not the first time I've come across it amongst non-gamers) is the utter bafflement that stems from the blind-sided double standards. You're telling us that a work of art comes from the collaboration of a bunch of artists. And like our beloved film, we know that the games today are not merely the products of programmers and technicians but writers, directors, set designers, composers, actors--basically anything you can get an Oscar for and more. But it's not art, because you can win the game... That's pretty arbitrary. That's crazy arbitrary, and is about as reasonable as claiming a poem ain't a poem if it don't rhyme.

"Winning" is only part of it--albeit a sweet part--and it is the covenant the collective makes with the game designer to ensure the full experience of the title is fulfilled. Victory, yes, overcoming the intrinsic challenge, yes--but the whole point of "winning" is to let us know that we've actually finished the fucking game. Metaphorically, it's turning to that last page of a book, and realizing, having no more words to absorb, that you are finally in a position to reflect upon and perhaps judge the individual work. Not before. You quit before you finish, you may judge the experience, the slice, but you are opening yourself to the cinematic equivalent of a mere trailer.

Exactly how far did you get with Braid before you deemed it "pathetic?" Please, in the name of all that is just and holy don't tell me that you based your conclusions on the two minutes worth of footage on your blog. If it's true, we'll work around that, but don't tell me that--because it would utterly destroy any hope that you were truly considering the evidence. You would never judge a painting by only looking at the bottom left corner. You wouldn't judge a Shakespearean play by any one of its monologues. And you hopefully wouldn't walk out on a film before it even got through its opening credits. Braid is art, a true achievement in game design, you need only not ask the people that refuse to play it. And I don't believe I'm ruining anything by saying that the nothing-short-of life-altering ending to that game can Usual Suspects, Sixth Sense, Rose-fucking-bud it with the best of them.

I'm not exactly sure why you abandoned your earlier claim within the Clive Barker Beat-down of 2007 that video games were art, just not high art. That's somewhat reasonable, that at least keeps you on the playing field. But now you are staking your reputation on your indomitable clairvoyance that a medium you have made no reasonable attempt to understand will fail to evolve to your standard of worthiness for at least another century. If you are that sure about your opinion, why stop there? Make the jump into eternity, we won't fault you for being off by a few millennia.

But the question in every gamers mind is, "What would it take?" What would it take for you to decide that video games were indeed art, and that it's never too late for you be suddenly right about something you were too stubborn to admit?

My humble answer to you: play Portal. Beginning to end. Think of it as a Stanley Kubrick companion piece. It's relatively short: you can finish that sucker in about three hours. Keep a veteran gamer around, perhaps a family member, just to get you through the tough patches. We are legion, and any gamer worth his salt would be willing to hold your hand throughout the process, for the good of artistic integrity, even amongst the indignity of finishing a game we've already played. That's sort of what makes us what we are.

There are choices--there are in fact innumerable ways to accomplish your goals, but why should that be a setback? The ending is the same no matter what you do. Just like you or any member of a movie-going audience will experience the film by identifying with different characters, different perspectives. It's all the same ride. You're allowed to sit wherever you want.

We love our games, we love our movies. That the two artforms continue to influence one another is undeniable. We want games to be considered works of art, because it provides the opportunity for game designers to create great games. What we need is an exceptional movie to be made from a video game. It hasn't happened quite yet, admittedly. John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd) is said to be developing a script for BioShock.

Fingers crossed...

this guy is stupid, every step of making a game is an art form in itself, lets see warhol make concepts of alien worlds or model a character in 3d.

What is art? Art to me is something that makes you re-evaluate your past and future experiences (at least to some degree). The movie Brazil is art. Jackson Pollocks creations are art (even if only in the context of painting itself).

Desktop Tower Defense is probably not art. Psychonauts may be art. The Game of Life (Conway's game) is art (even if only in the context of computing). I know RPGs (Exile II especially) have affected my dreams (searching for important items, etc).

So, applying my definition of art, what games have made you re-evaluate your point of view?


Firstly, it seems obvious to me that any argument differentiating video games and film by labeling one 'art' and the other 'not art' misses the fact that a lot of games these days play like films. Heavy Rain etc etc. Some games these days have scripts that are far better written than a lot of films. Games and film crossover, if only in one direction (gaming doesnt exactly manifest itself in film, although, saying that, the style of some games has been used in film). So to call one art and the other not is a little shortsighted.

On the topic of defining art, its a tricky fucker. Many have tried and failed to do it. This is due not really to the subjective nature of artistic experience but to the nature of language. Use of the word 'art' covers many different phenomena. It is much like the word 'game'. There are some activites you would call a game which have no characteristics in common with other activities you would call games, but you still name them all 'games'. Much like art. Some art is merely aesthetic. Some expressive of emotion. etc etc. A multitude of artifacts and activities bear the label art, some having nothing in common with one another. A definition cannot encompass them all.

As for Yahtzee's definition, i recently wrote an essay criticizing a similar position. The problem is, its very easy to find counterexamples to definitions. Artists spend a lot of time purposefully creating these counterexamples.

A created work that provokes strong, personal emotions. Well, something that belonged to my dead grandfather might provoke strong emotions in me, but its not art.
Also, conceptual art like One and Three Chairs or Four Minutes and Thirty Three provokes ideas, or contemplation of the nature of art, or music. In most cases it likely doesnt provoke any strong emotions, but these surely must be accepted (and have been) as artworks.

I can sum this up with a sentence containing vulgar language.
Who gives a flying fuck?

I agree with Ebert's veiw as games not being art. If he'd played a game (I don't know if he did or not) he'd understand that it's more of a stroy, rather than art. And why people are hoping for someone to throw a counter-comment is that this would further people to bring the hate on videogames. Though I'm sure bashing videogames is not his intent, it is for a large number of people.

Interesting article! I liked it :)I think many agree that art is subjective, and it's meaning isn't really something that can be controlled.

Kind of stupid that we get mad when Ebert says games are not art, but when Hideo Kojima says essentially the same thing, no one bats an eye. Then again, when do we care what he says?

Link if anyone's interested.

dude, I think they're sayin totally different things: Kojima's "point" is that games shouldn't be thought of as art because each video game is meant to like to 100 people, whereas a true artist focuses on expressing his idea and doesn't care how many people out that hundred like his shit, as long as at least someone gets it. I think Kojima's wrong and some games are indeed art because beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if some people cry when Aeris died etc. it's only fair for them to call it art. some of Michelangelo's greatest work is indeed "meant to like to 100 people", or maybe his thing was painting on church ceilings instead of canvas.

as for Ebert, he's just dumb. he talks of a single game, ok, an "artsy" game, but wtf? so one of the ideas in this game is against the very rules of chess, a GAME HE LIKES very much. so I guess that makes time travel stupid and boring. (some)games aren't about winning only. it's like saying a film's about telling a story alone.

Very good Yahtzee, couldn't agree more.

"The truth you speak has no past and no future. It is and that's all it needs to be."
-Richard Bach

No, I have not read the entire XX pages of the thread. However, after reading the article a single statement is poised highest among them all: "Because art is subjective." <----- <end thread>

I'm usually not one to post in forums, (call me a troll, whatever) but movie critics critique movies, written entertainment critics (or whatever they are called) critique books/novles/etc and gaming critics critique video games (cinematic or otherwise) and anyone who thinks otherwise is just plain off-page.

It's really great to see Yahtzee once again breaking his "sweary ninja" stereotype.

I hope Ebert reads this and I know it won't change his mind, but I hope he is a big enough man to agree that it is a valid opinion.

I heartfully agree Mr. Croshaw. While people are crying about Ebert's opinion about "Video Games are not art", Ebert has some good points about it.

But what happens if we do convince Mr. Ebert that Video Games are Art? It's not gonna change anything.

I quote from Jerry Holkins from Penny Arcade:

Also, do we win something if we defeat him? Does he drop a good helm? Because I can't for the life of me figure out why we give a shit what that creature says. He doesn't operate under some divine shroud that lets him determine what is or is not valid culture. He cannot rob you, retroactively, of wholly valid experiences; he cannot transform them into worthless things.

So what if a famous movie critic says that video games aren't art? That doesn't make it true.

I think that's true of ALL critics, Yahtzee included.

No critic can truly claim to represent all of the films audience (intended or otherwise). Except for Metacritic Omega of course, but Humanity is barely on the cusp of realising the glorious revolution and the installation of the hivemind that will make all entertainment critisism perfect for the rest of humanity and the universe itself- but I digress.

I've certainly played games that make me feel emotions that other art does. Hell, even old games like Mario Brothers made me feel. Aural Joy at the 8-bit beeps and boops that have become synonomous with an entire generation of gamers, hatred at that goddamn mushroom who keeps getting kidnapped. Hell, the immense satisfaction that I get from beating Bowser for the final time and getting that kiss.

I've also always truely believed that art is not about making people think about the art, but rather making them think about themselves in relation to the art. Let me use an exmple:

Forgive me, but I can't for the life of me remember the name of the piece, but recently at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Modern art exhabition in Brisbane, there was a fantastic installation work, which in essence was a hollowed-out Combi filled with nick-nacks and memorabilia, all useless bric-a-brac, none of which had any real artistic merit. But looking at the piece made me reflect on old family holidays, and indeed travelling alone.

Now look at a game like, say, Fallout. Most of the time I kept thinking to myself "hell, I wonder how I'd survive in a post-nuclear wasteland, with only my wits and natural skills to keep me from death?" Made me think about myself in a whole new, barely-touched-upon light: How I'd do come the apocalypse.

I'm going to wrap this up before I re-break my Pretentious-appendix, but I'll leave you with one more:

Consider that some of the greatest "art"works of all time were considered propaganda in the original context: The famous photograph of Che Guevera, Raising the flag at Iwo Jima, The stories and sagas of the Greeks and Romans, Hell, even movies like Casablanca.

Now think about recent WWII games, like Medal of Honour, the first few Call of Duty games, Brothers in Arms, etc. etc. They're all pro-American (/Allies), anti Nazi propaganda machines. Granted, they're sixty years too late, but don't the achieve the same effect that the former "True art" were striving to achieve in the first place?

You know, it's possible I lost my train of thought halfway through this and am actually replying to a forum thread about puppies, but bear with me here.

Finally someone with some sense! Ebert's opinion is just that, an opinion. Everyone I was talking to was thinking "Oh, Yahtzee is probably going to word rape that stupid Ebert's entire article." I think gaming gets a black mark in the art community because of our more extreme fanboys who would rather burn the Mona Lisa than admit that Ebert can have an outsiders view of video gaming. That said, I disagree in the extreme but not to the point where I'll go burn his house down for being the wrong kind of critic.

Ah, but that's where you fail.

All great art has had it's obsessive psycopaths in both extremes. We have ours. Didn't The Magic Flute instigate a riot between those who considered it great art, and those who wanted to kill The conductor himself? Aren't people who acknowledge Banksy split between those who want him arrested and convicted, and those who consider him a modern-day folk hero?

Aren't... Yeah, I'm gonna stop.

Yahtzee, you're right.

You're not funny when you're not being mean. :-P

Aww, you want me to post a picture of a hastily-drawn cartoon penis? That'll calm your Yahtzee tremors.

And I was moved to tears by most of How to Tarin your Dragon. No seriously, I was. That film... I'm rambling.
I wholeheartedly agree with you, Yahtzee! (If I spelt it right)

The fact that I know, off the top of my head, who John Carmack is is kind of sad.
Having taken an Art history course, I can tell you the definition of 'art' is very inconsistent. In the modern age, (or the 'postmodern' age if I really want so sound like an art fag) art is generally perceived as something that cannot serve any purpose other than existing for its own sake. Like paintings and sculpture. Why you try to apply this modern perspective to ancient cultures, it can be odd.
"Is this 5-centimeter tall statue that was most likely used for ritual worship purposes 'Art'?"
"Is this drawing art? Even if it's just a satirical political cartoon?"
It gets even muddier if you apply something like that to modern culture.
"Is this wristwatch 'art'?"
"No, because it was produced by machine."
"Then what about this 'original' watch, that was produced by a craftsman in a workshop, by hand? Is this art? If the original is 'art', but the copies are not, what about movies on DVD? Or games? Are they not art because they are copies of something else?"
Very murky territory.

The whole debate on whether or not video games are art or not is, in my opinion, nonsensical. Art is in the eye of the beholder, it cannot be defined by it's medium. There are many things in the world of art that I wouldn't consider art. Such as photographer Andres Serrano submerging a photo of a crucifix in urine and creating portraits using his own feces, Gregor Schneider's newest artistic endeavor which involves a volunteer who is willing to die in a museum in observance of spectators and although I can't recall the artist's name, I vividly remember reading an article about an "art exhibit" featuring a chained up dog being starved to death. In my opinion that is NOT art, yet these people are huge figures of the art world making a living out of what it is they're doing... Some people may consider a game art, and others not. Neither are right or wrong.


i agree with the whole, everyone to their own opinion thing, i just found this one sentence odd

"Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form" - an extract from the quote Yahtzee took from this Ebert

couldn't i just re-word that to say
" Let me just say that no movie watcher now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form"
"Let me just say that no painting-viewer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form"

i find that sentence somewhat stupid... but maybe i'm just the stupid one and have misinterpreted it...
I am sure, afterall, that people have spent much more time playing one singular game, then any person has ever spent looking at a painting... i may be mistaken however (i am sure the artist looked at it longer)... i cannot say, with confidence, that people spend more time on a single game than another person would spend watching a single movie... i swear my little sister has capped 30 hours+ watching a particular chick-flik

And indeed the novel was seen as a pointless past-time by most when they first emerged - novel-reading was for silly women, who stayed in the library instead of learning to crochet and finding a good man. Silly women like Jane Austen, as it turned out, one of the sharpest minds of her time (little competition in the days of fluffy-headed romanticism, the picturesque fad and hot-blooded revolution (not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that!) but you take my point).

Roger Ebert is not an academic, or more pertinently a philosopher, and people are angered by his dismissal of games - and his elevation of chess ABOVE video games, which just cements his clear role as defender of the status quo.

I personally feel there's nothing wrong with the old use of art to mean skill, as in "by his/her art it is made". This allows for technical death metal and conceptual art, concrete poems and novels to live under the same roof: whether a skill is practical or intellectual, the application of that skill is art, and something we can all admire.

I loved this article, one of the many extra punctuations that make me genuinely admire Yahtzee as a journalist. May he sell out and become an old media print whore like Charlie Brooker, and end his days making scathing remarks on gameshows with David Mitchell.

i can't quite see why you quoted me... but i got a message saying i had been quoted and it was a joy to read your post, i enjoyed reading everything you said :)

Well said, good sir.

You write as good as you talk, keep fighting the good fight.

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. ok. heres the entire solution. FANBOYS SUCK. he is just overobsessed about movies and i dont see why anybody should value his opinion.

Fair enough that the concept of art is subjective and different to each individual, but Ebert's statement striked me as having a sort of absolute resonance, as if his opinion is more or less the be all and end all. Though this is expected coming from a critic.

While we might say that we choose to agree or disagree with critics, it is nevertheless their job to essentially tell people what to like and not to like.

Either way, while we can't criticise Ebert for his opinion, it is my own opinion that we can critisise him for (perhaps only seemingly) attempting to force an opinion over his readers.

Of course this is just my own impression of his statement and comes down to interpretation of the wording. For all I know this was far from his intention.

If ever there was a time for a massive tonal shift, this definitely was it.

All that really needs to be said is that art is created through a process, wherein someone takes the time to create something that they put their heart into. Building new worlds, galaxies, inhabitants for them, stories, etc., games do all of this. They just do it in a way that immerses their viewer.

You're not watching John Connor fight the Terminators, you /are/ John Connor.

Also, someone get Ebert a copy of Half-Life 2. And maybe Portal.

I don't know why people get so riled up about one person's opinion. If we believe that video games are an art form, then good. If some random movie critic doesn't, then who cares. Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but that doesn't mean that everybody's opinion is true. So, instead of trying to prove to this guy that we are correct, we should instead show everybody what games can really do.


Art is an individual perspective, for example I look at (using Yahtzee's example) Tracy Emin's work and to be brutely honest I think its lazy, unimaginative and just crap, it doesn't come from an "inner" place in my opinion. But I can look at Gabriel Rosetti and Monet and I think their amazing while others will think the latter, its the same with games. I can think of five games that have an amazing landscapes and just fantastic art, Fallout 3, Bioshock (which I believe won an oscar), Assassin's Creed, Heavenly Sword and (dare I say it) Tomb Raider: Underworld. Asthetically beautiful and the content is brilliant too (though I think far too short in the case of TR and HS). If anything they contain the most important mediums of art, writing, picture, and movement.

As does film except as it was said by Yahtzee gaming is more interactive, but the gamimg industry is far more popular and safer than what film is. Gaming IS overtaking the film industry, personally I love both and without film or the works behind it there wouldn't be gaming if you think about it, and without simulations from pioneers in gaming there wouldn't be a lot of aspects of film. So I think if the man had a go at some of the games and had a look at the concept art behind them, he might understand them a bit more. I just find it shocking the level of artistic work that goes into games and he doesn't even appreciate that, though I respect his opinion I think it comes from a place of pretentious arrogance. I certainly don't agree with it, I think if he had a go and still thought the same I could take his opinion a little more graciously.

Great article, Yahtzee. Personally, art never really came to mind when I think about gaming, of course that was before I got into role-playing games and started realizing that some games were actually telling stories. I was in fact moved by Final Fantasy VII and there isn't a single FF game I don't like (except for the first ones, I don't care if they're classics, they're broken). Then of course there are games like Shadow of the Colossus and Okami that just honestly blew my mind. You're definitely right though. It's all very subjective. I have friends that find all of the games I just mentioned absolutely boring and I can't be like, "Oh, you prick. How can you not like it just because it's a whole bunch of galloping?!"

I think that Ebert is afraid that video games are becoming a more popular medium than movies and this is him saying if you don't like it reject it.

Video games are art. The process of making a game is arduous,making a game that is well balanced, looks good, and plays good is a feat. Some developers spend years on 1 game like Square Enix. Visually it takes a real artist time to design characters, objects, and entire environments. I don't know a whole lot about programming but I'm sure it takes a lot of skill and dedication to make a game that functions properly. Most games would be pretty boring without sound and it takes people with certain talents to produce the sound effects and music for a game, even good voice actors play in movies time to time and acting is an art. I'd say Ebert is flat out wrong about his assessment.

One thing i really disagree with is when people say "Well SOTC or Okami are definately art but pacman is'nt). I BELIEVE THAT IS A VERY INCONSISTENT POSTION! Just because something is more developed doesn't make it art why is Final Fantasy 2 not art when Final Fantasy 12 is? There is a difference between 'Art/not Art' and GOOD and BAD art. I believe all games are art but competion stops something being Good Art. Old games are more competetive by nature (high scores) but still are art. Its why Sport is not a Good Art (solely competetive) yet Dance is (rarely competetive).

ALL GAMES ARE ART EVEN PACMAN. Erbet is a tool and should read a book on aesthetics before he comes to an ilinformed bias opinion. A great place to start is Tolstoys, What is art?

Art is worth fighting for it is of upmost importance in this weary world.

Keita Takahashi is the Duchamp of video games

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