Videogames as Art

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Yahtzee Croshaw:
I don't expect them to share those of my eight-year-old self blubbing equally hard at a funeral scene in Wing Commander

Huh, so it wasn't just me (although I was nine or ten, but still).
Thanks for a very good read. I was surprised to see something very rational, instead of all the hate you've been seeing lately.
In short, I agree with you: Ebert's a film critic, not a game critic.

Warning to the TL;DR crowd: Wall-of-text ahead.

I've had and expressed thoughts on this very subject both here on the Escapist forums and elsewhere. Only thing I can say to Roger Ebert is, you are a well respected and prominently successful film critic; however, in my opinion, you may need to expand your perspective.

In my opinion, games are an artistic medium and, therefore, have the potential to be made as art. The unfortunate problem is that only a few games have ever successfully achieved the status of being art or artistic(Yahtzee mentions Shadow of the Colossus; Ico is a personal favorite of mine as an example of the artistic game because of its consistent style, interaction, story, and the emotional connection with the main characters, being the only game in which I actually cared about the protagonists). I attribute this primarily to the source of the game, i.e. the game developer and game publisher. Basically, game developers are cut from the same mold of geekery that many of us are and, thus, usually lack in artistic sensibilities or an understanding of what makes something artistic. Game publishers, being more motivated by pure profit, seek quick sell short-cuts to boost their revenue, hence the high reliance on the more basal aspects of sex and violence in games and a glut of sequels and clones on the market(this is what sells, and this is what gamers are buying, plain and simple).

To me, art is not created by any one singular element in a work, and a detailed, pretty picture is not necessarily art or artistic(any trained monkey can learn how to make a detailed, pretty picture). Art occurs when different expressive elements are juxtaposed and made to cooperatively interact in such a manner to create a coherent expression of an idea, concept, thought, emotion, or perspective. (This is why, in my opinion, a game that has a bunch of cool elements slap together is not artistic; it's just a mess. Art requires its elements to work together to create a cohesive whole. Coolness, unfortunately for art, is the ultimate expression of individuality and uniqueness and does not seek to cooperate with anything; it tries too hard to stand out on its own and competes with the rest of the work for the observer's attention.) Art often forces us to examine the "human condition" and the "human experience." Art also can allow us to explore alternate possibilities of reality and perspective and test how the human consciousness would react and interact with such a reality. Art makes us feel, question, and explore our existence.

In my opinion, most video games don't really take this particular spirit of artistry. Instead, most games seem to be based around trite, mindless violence and a juvenile attitude and perspective of sexuality and adulthood. They're just base, hence, failing to be artistic. Often, game developers try to use extreme detailing of visual imagery as a means of achieving art; however, such efforts often fail to create art for the reason stated above, that detailed, pretty pictures are not necessarily art or artistic.

In my opinion, for games to shift more toward being artistic, gamers have to become more discerning in their taste of games and be willing to support the more artistic games by purchasing them. At the same time, the talent pool of game developers has to become more knowledgeable of art and what makes art(take some art appreciation courses, maybe), as well as learning how to create art as a concept rather than mere repetition of mechanical technique(this is the trained monkey creating the detailed, pretty picture). It would also help if game developers expanded their own repertoire of ideas and experiences, rather than recirculating the same old stale ideas that we've seen time and again. Also, game publishers need to be more willing to invest in innovation and experimentation of new ideas rather than forcing output of the same old junk(how many Guitar Heroes, Haloes, Metal Gear Solids, GTAs, God of Wars, and Devil May Cries do we need?). Finally, the gaming press needs to give more space and journalism to the lesser known but more inventive game titles, rather than fill their publications with a glut of the same games(and the same information about those games) about which we've known and have been hearing for months on end. Basically, give new, fresh ideas a chance to percolate to the forefront. Sure, not all will be great hits, but you never know when you may find that shining jewel amongst the steaming pile.

Wonderful, Yahtzee. Art is subjective and it's almost never worth the energy to get steamed up over such things. People tend to forget that; even I have to remind myself sometimes...

I agree that debate is important.

It is not foolish to put your ideas out there. It is not stupid to think your ideas may change how someone else looks at things.

Just think of how many amazing things would never have come into existence if the original creator had simply thought "Eh, no one cares what I think anyways!"

You know what I do think is silly? Writing an article/post espousing that you don't care about the issue at hand and everyone should keep their ideas to themselves.

One would have to ask: Why didn't you take your own advice?

The point is not to change Ebert's mind. The objective is to make certain a dissenting view is provided. In this way opinions are formed, ideas evolve and eventually change is made.

Or, you can just sit quietly and slowly cultivate your hatred for the world.

It's up to you.

I think this artcle alone might be enough to prove Yahtzee is more than a professional troll.

Much like many people here, I agree with what Yahtzee has said in this article. Even expressed a similiar viewpoint on the BlogTalk show "Pop Culture America" at this link. The April 25th, 2010 show, specifically.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pophour

Actually what I found amazing about Ebert's comments where his seeming inability to understand why video games wanted to be more than just games where you go from point A to point B while thrashing everything inbetween just to "win." But, hey, that's what I got out of it.

I didn't agree with Ebert entirely, but I was generally unimpressed by the response of the gaming community, which was more or less "Grah, you're old, I hate you", particularly Penny-Arcade who resorted to incredibly petty name calling.
Now, we all turn to the alpha among sweary mean assassins, and what do we get? A mature, well written and argued essay addressing the point respectfully and with well reasoned points.

*Applauds*

Thank you Yahtzee, stellar work.

Quiet Stranger:
He liked Gears of War 2? are you sure?

Well, his final word during that video was that some mainstream titles are popular for a reason: "because they're good, or because Will Smith is in it". It seems to me that he thought it was a bad sign for the future, but a good game in itself. *Shrugs.*

Quorothorn:

Quiet Stranger:
He liked Gears of War 2? are you sure?

Well, his final word during that video was that some mainstream titles are popular for a reason: "because they're good, or because Will Smith is in it". It seems to me that he thought it was a bad sign for the future, but a good game in itself. *Shrugs.*

Since when has Will Smith ever been in a game? (did he actually say that or did you just put that in?) also that's still only 6 games compared to Ebert's love of many more movies

I was worried that this was slipping into Relativism, but perhaps it managed to go into pluralism instead. My, that was shockingly lame on my part.

It was more balanced than I expected, which is good, and speaks to the quality of the article.

I would however argue that Ebert is wrong, not because I am "butthurt" but rather because I believe humans are meaning-making machines who use any medium to create meaning (essentially art). To try and remove some aspect of human communication from the realm of art, really in a sense, removes all of them...

This is the first time Yahtzee has made himself look like a moron, I think hes ego has gotten the better of him.

Videogames are not art for one simple reason, videogames are directly participatory, as such they are entertainment. If an artist relinquishes his art to free tampering by the audeince he is no longer an artist.

When an artist creates a piece of work everything has an implication and the audience simply observe, this immutability allows us to enter the mind and world of the artist.

Videogames remove this immutability, allowing the audience to interact with the world and story, cheapening them by revealing that they are an illusion we can manipulate. As such videogames kill the connection between character and story.

The reason confusion exists is because artists create games, you have concept artists, graphic designers, writers, composers, etc. As such games have artistic elements but the nature of the videogame - the audience being able to edit, change or omit elements of the creation remove the connection with what art is meant to be.

Think of graphics painted on a car, the graphics are art, is the car art ?
The car was created to serve the purpose of transporting people, and does this as always intended.

To claim games are art is to claim that pong or asteroids are also art, as todays games are made to serve the same desires that were being served when they were created.

If one looks at the history of film, since its origins it was artistic in vision and design, films like Nosferatu and Metropolis are evidence of this.

Yahtzees definition of art is so far beyond stupidity I would have fired him if I were the baws. "My personal definition of art is something that provokes emotional attachment."
By this logic beating a woman is art, so is watching your team win the world cup, and going to a gig of a kick ass band.

Do we want games to be art in traditional sense? Aren't they supposed to be fun and/or entertaining? Even if games are art, is it fair to compare movies with games, is it fair to compare a pictures with sounds...as some mentioned, there are different elements that affect our judgement and different things that provoke, again different, emotions.

Even if early games amounted to "I win", that is an emotion as well, yet I never saw a movie, read a book and be happy to have finished it as a reward.

And another thing, for any Godfather, there is a hundred Scary movies, for every Carmina Burana, there is a trashy pop song and yet, we wouldn't say music or movies will never be art, although what is considered art is seriously outnumbered by stuff that serves as entertainment or is just plain rubbish.

I wouldn't criticize Ebert for saying games aren't art, I would judge him for not even considering it or giving it a real chance, not to mention he probably doesn't play them, that is far worse.
And, as someone pointed out and Yahtz kind of said it, is his opinion on this important. Should I ask about my diet and workout schedule, maybe he can recommend what I should wear or similar that really isn't his speciality.

*clap, clap, clap, clap*

for the record: those are my hands clapping, not my cock on the desk.
Nice article Yatzee.

Yahtzee just handed us a TL;DR..... I don't know how I am supposed to react to this.

In my own opinion, I agree with Yahtzee that there's no sense in getting worked up about this; and as I see it games aren't art, but art can exist in the form of a game (See "The Path"). But again, this is simply my opinion.

Well, Roger Ebert is wrong here but it's just his opinion. Some people don't understand and don't like opera. So? Opinion is just an opinion, especially considering the fact that mr. Roger Ebert does not belong to videogame industry.

My belief is that art is a specific experience designed by an artist(s) whose consumption is the same between users. This is why video games can contain a lot of art, but are not actually art themselves in my opinion. The big issue is the fact that they change as you play them. However, this doesn't mean their not valuable.

As a big film buff and a big video game buff I can say I value both whether or not I consider video games art. I think this is more an debate about the definition of art then about value.

That being said, and I think Yahtzee would agree, even the best video games are pitiful right now. I'm constantly surprised that the best writing out there is Bioware's because their writing and insight is pitiful. I still enjoy their games because there is something special about taking control over something like that, vicariously living something else. I think that as a means of transferring ideals video games have the potential, untapped as it is, to be better then art. Sadly even if we considered video games to be art nothing has come, in the slightest, close to the great films when it comes to writing, storytelling, and insight. Games are stuck in a place where it costs a ton to produce them so that even the "indie" games would be called big budget in the film world. With this much money at stake you can't take as many risks...which I think is really hindering greatly the progression of quality in video games.

Anyways, I think Yahtzee's definition of art is valid, though I disagree with it. I think video games can be equals to films...they just aren't yet.

Haha, those first few paragraphs had me laughing!

Quiet Stranger:

Quorothorn:

Quiet Stranger:
He liked Gears of War 2? are you sure?

Well, his final word during that video was that some mainstream titles are popular for a reason: "because they're good, or because Will Smith is in it". It seems to me that he thought it was a bad sign for the future, but a good game in itself. *Shrugs.*

Since when has Will Smith ever been in a game? (did he actually say that or did you just put that in?) also that's still only 6 games compared to Ebert's love of many more movies

Yes, he mentioned Smith, unless I have truly gone senile at age 21 (not impossible), go watch the video. It was a joke, you see: Yahtzee makes those, every once in a blue moon.

That was only the six that came first to mind, I've got more if you want. Here:

Psychonauts, Prototype, Infamous, Resident Evil 4, Thief 2, Fallout 3, Saint's Row 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Orange Box (Portal especially), Half-Life 2, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (and to a lesser degree Warrior Within and Two Thrones), Silent Hill 2 (and 1, 3 and The Room to a much lesser degree), Left for Dead, LEGO Indiana Jones, Painkiller, No More Heroes, Killer 7, Condemned 1, Gears of War 2, Monkey Island 1&2, God of War, Bioshock 1, Assassin's Creed 2, Guitar Hero franchise (to a point), Spiderman 2, Grim Fandango.

That's over two dozen games that Yahtzee, from what I have gleaned from watching Zero Punctuation, seems to have an overall positive opinion of or at least thinks have very strong points in their favour: more could probably be found if one went through his videos trying to parse his exact opinions on the many games he mentions and/or reviews. It's just that he's never gushing over games, even the ones he loves like SH2, RE4, PoP:SoT and SR2, so the only game he has ever been 100% positive on is Portal. On the other hand, he's only been 100% negative on a couple of games as far as I can remember (specifically Too Human, Sonic Unleashed and Turok--all of which deserved it).

Why does everyone constantly associate art with feelings. As if feelings are the only factors in art. There's a simple and easy definition for art and it's why colleges and universities use the term to designate it's non scientific fields.

Art is the communication of an abstract construct of the mind.

This is why language is art. It doesn't have to evoke feelings but it can. Our minds construct abstracts all the time but most of the time there is no codec to translate it for others. This is why we produce art. It doesn't seem that hard a concept to understand.

I never do this, but I have to say that you took the words right out of my mouth. Everyone has there own definition of what art means and so does Roger Ebert.

And Roger Ebert kicks ass. Even if he doesn't like that movie, wich is also his right to dislike.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
TL/DR: Art is any created work that provokes strong emotions in you, personally. And trying to impose your feelings on someone else is as pointless and time-consuming as trying to impregnate a dishwasher.

This actually mirrors the definition I as given by my (presumably only unless I change to a non-science major) Humanities professor. His assertion was that all it takes for a thing to become art is emotional impact, and I have to say this is the best definition of what is supposedly indefinable I have heard to date.

In this same regard, I would generally agree with Ebert - few games have actually resulted in a tangible emotional impact beyond the simplest emotions (Exhiliration at victory, tension in a scary game and so forth). Few games would qualify as art for me, and most are simply excellent entertainement experiences with no emotional depth.

I fully agree with you Yahtzee... for the most part. On the other hand, I agree with Robert Brockway of Cracked.com on a very important point.
That point is what his statement implies. Brockway asks himself at the end why we should even care, and he then points out:
"Anybody who's ever felt even an inkling of something like that from a game is going to be understandably "concerned" when you insist that they're lying."
And that's the point. Deep down, we don't like that some bloke, not even speaking on his own field of expertise, has basically told us we don't know what we're talking about. That our opinion is wrong. That we're lying.
Unsurprisingly, we don't really like that.

That was a rather sober article this week, but in a way it holds more weight than most of your previous commentaries.

BlueInkAlchemist:
This was a very professional and well-reasoned response to Roger's claims. I think it's some of Yahtzee's finest commentary on the subject.

Well what exactly do you think explained Yahtzee's standing in the community already? As for games are art, I'm surprised nobody else of note made this remark before Yahtzee came around. Things are art if they're done well and can convey emotion as he said, which just shows even in Roger Ebert's line of work, there are certain things we'd rather forget. For every Schindler's List, there's a Scary Movie 2 (or Chronicles of Riddick, insert bad movie name here and move on.), for every Mona Lisa, there's gonna be some pretentious scribble on the wall, for every Portal, there's going to be an ET for the Atari 2600. In short, art is relative but hey... we know what we love and we're not afraid to say it, and that's what matters.

As a games writer who is just starting out, but who has experience as a media theorist and film critic, and who therefore ALSO would prefer to be a "critic" rather than "reviewer," am I allowed to feel smug in that I said pretty much precisely what you did on Bitmob last week? *grin*

I think this notion of "criticism" is what is lost on many gamers, hell, many Americans (as I can only speak for my countrymen). Roger Ebert is a critic, which means while he certainly has emotional components to his reactions, his job is to temper them with sound argument. That's "criticism," and it often depends on established language when it comes to art.

Part of the problem with any "artistic" discussion of video games is that we really don't have that language. Your work, Mr. Yahtzee, is more critique than review, but look at the form it has had to take in order to be palpable to the gaming community. If your work was purely text-based, do you think you would have had the reception in game media that you've had? I used to be a "just a gamer" until mid-February when I began writing, and I'd heard of your web animation, but naught else, and mostly because it was outrageously funny, not serious criticism.

Now that I *am* writing, and looking around for voices that speak to my inclinations, I look at your work in a much different way...and I think that you understand Ebert's point because you understand the notion of "criticism." I think most gamers don't, which is why they don't know how to engage with Ebert, or understand why his opinion is to be respected.

I don't disagree with Roger Ebert. He disagrees with me.

And that why it's stupid to get angry and butthurt about it,

Well, Yahtzee confirmed for 4channer.

Well said. If people insist on getting angry about one thing, one person said, then they become no better than fundamentalists.

I have a feeling that Roger Ebert will be changing his tune in the next decade or so. There is a lot to be seen from the industry. I think that Heavy Rain is just the beginning of a really interesting movement in the way that game narratives work.

By the way, I think, on this issue, we ought to remember that Ebert is old and dying. Don't be too harsh on him for being uninformed in this (even if he'd have done better to stay quiet on what he doesn't understand, in my opinion).

I mean, yes, of course 'gaems r art': they are composed of elements that in isolation are invariably termed art, created by artists, and put together in an artful (or occasionally commercial) manner, just like TV shows and movies both live-action and animated are. They merely add an additional element, that of interactivity, which in my opinion means they have perhaps the greatest potential of all art forms (how often they realize that potential is another matter).

Uncompetative:

Well, here is the thing. This is the one all important question that the whole "Is it art?" false debate is continually used by creators as a smokescreen to prevent anyone from moving on to that more significant question and dismissing it for the crap that it so often is.

image

This famous urinal is asserted to be an artwork by its creator Marcel Duchamp (he evidently didn't have the courage of his convictions to sign the damn thing with his own name, though). Is it art? Actually, yes. I won't bore you with why... but trust me, I have a degree in Fine Art and it just is. Accept it. It is not even a matter of taste or subjectivity, but as a development in the history of philosophy in culture. Now we can move on to the significant question: Is it any good?

No.

Finally, we can do something really interesting. We now have three cultural artefacts (sic) and as they are all art we can rank them in order of how good they are:

Disagree?

Well, you're partially on to the red herring of the question "is X art?". But it's not a matter of creators pulling wool over viewers' eyes--though that happens--as much as it's people not knowing how to approach art themselves. The question presupposes that art is something which has an authority before which the viewer should prostrate himself. Answering either yes or no, allows one to stop thinking about the object in question. This is why the question "is it art?" is both the most popular and the most boring question in the world.

Rather, the question is "how is it interesting?", and this is all the more important in an age where aesthetics is no longer the driving force of art.

I also think you're off about Duchamp's cowardice. Presenting the object free of any signature leaves it devoid of anything that would verify it as art except for the fact that you've found it in an art gallery for which you have paid to enter to see art. No signature allows for a fresh, clean, shocking approach to the fountain. You can't use the art as a medium to get at 'what the artist was trying to say'. I'm also a bit confused as to why you're not calling the Fountain good--at least it seems that way--but I'll not bother about that, other than to suggest that you at least qualify your criteria for 'goodness'.

But last, certainly we don't engage art objects to arbitrarily rank them, and your post hasn't prepared us for that task anyway, truth be told. What matters in art is the moment of engagement between the viewer and the object. So it's no wonder why discussing this private moment in public becomes awkward and either intentionally or unintentionally obviates what's really at work. (I'm writing only because these unintentional obviations do damage to how we engage art.) Of course, I'm not leveling quality in the name of subjective opinions, but public opinions are hardly a measure to take either--unless one's concern is culture instead.
In short, rather than calling A good and B less good and C not good, only concern yourself with what engages you in A so that you might engage it better, and if you find it worthwhile, questioning yourself about how B and C can become interesting, again so that you can engage it better. Much is not worth engaging and is overlauded by people who love art because of the praise they put into it, but that in no way brings calumny to your own engagement with art A. Perhaps that leaves A with a smaller audience, but as much as you want A to be shared, it's not numbers that determine its value.

Anyway, I've responded not to be combative, but helpful. You may also be interested in reading my previous post right above yours.
In any case, wishing well,

wait... so you're saying that I CAN'T impregnate a dishwasher...?
Well, fuck there goes my night.
hope you're happy, Yahtzee T_T

ostro-whiskey:
This is the first time Yahtzee has made himself look like a moron, I think hes ego has gotten the better of him.

Videogames are not art for one simple reason, videogames are directly participatory, as such they are entertainment. If an artist relinquishes his art to free tampering by the audeince he is no longer an artist.

When an artist creates a piece of work everything has an implication and the audience simply observe, this immutability allows us to enter the mind and world of the artist.

Videogames remove this immutability, allowing the audience to interact with the world and story, cheapening them by revealing that they are an illusion we can manipulate. As such videogames kill the connection between character and story.

The reason confusion exists is because artists create games, you have concept artists, graphic designers, writers, composers, etc. As such games have artistic elements but the nature of the videogame - the audience being able to edit, change or omit elements of the creation remove the connection with what art is meant to be.

Think of graphics painted on a car, the graphics are art, is the car art ?
The car was created to serve the purpose of transporting people, and does this as always intended.

To claim games are art is to claim that pong or asteroids are also art, as todays games are made to serve the same desires that were being served when they were created.

If one looks at the history of film, since its origins it was artistic in vision and design, films like Nosferatu and Metropolis are evidence of this.

Yahtzees definition of art is so far beyond stupidity I would have fired him if I were the baws. "My personal definition of art is something that provokes emotional attachment."
By this logic beating a woman is art, so is watching your team win the world cup, and going to a gig of a kick ass band.

Improvisation Theatre is considered art and that is interactive.

Woah, don't everyone get in a rush to do something BESIDES tell Yahtzee that he's the most brilliant man who ever lived and everything he says is the word of the gods.

(He's wrong by the way, games are art and this issue does matter.)

As others have pointed out, while I don't give a pair of dingo's kidneys what Ebert thinks about games, it's not his medium to judge, the "populace at large" tends to expand his expertise in film critiquing out into all mediums, so he becomes the defacto judge of what is art to all those out there who aren't gamers. It's not his fault, but then he doesn't help it with articles that could be summed up by "I know movies, so therefore I know what art is."

So when I'm trying to explain the artistic merit of some game, I inevitably get "oh well Ebert said", at which point I spend all my effort keeping my fist of death in check, and silently counting in my head before calmly pointing out that just because he's a film critic doesn't mean that he's qualified to expertly judge a fine wine, a chili cookoff, or any other field in which he's not an expert...

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