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Saturday, July 28, 2007
Rashomon Can games be art?

It all started back in October of 2005, when Ebert reviewed the film Doom and gave it one star. A few days later, a gamer wrote to Ebert and insisted that he had missed the point---Doom wasn't supposed to be a good, watchable film; it was supposed to be a tribute to a seminal video game. The Kurosawa film Rashomon was mentioned as comparable in terms of---shall we say---seminality to the game Doom. In response, Ebert planted the seed that would eventually grow into the vine that we are all still climbing. He wrote, "As long as there is a great movie unseen or a great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games."

A few weeks later, Ebert expanded on that point, claiming that books and films are better mediums than games. A few weeks after that, Ebert dropped his first explicit "games can't be art" bombshell, citing the lack of authorial control, due to player choice, as the hurdle that would forever keep games from catching up with art-capable mediums like literature and film.

Ebert kept quiet about games for a year or so after that. Then along came Mr. Clive Barker, who, somewhat clumsily, claimed that games can be art (a video of his full keynote would be nice---anyone got it?). Just last week, Ebert responded to Barker in mock-dialog style, somewhat revising his former position: games can be art, but not high art, as he understands it. Kotaku just posted a worthwhile feature that responds to Ebert's latest.

It's time for me to chime in here, and I'm going to continue the mock-dialog style. I don't know Ebert, but I feel like I do, because I've been reading his reviews for years. This man knows film, and I respect him deeply.

Read the full debate over at Arthouse Games.

Labels: ,

15 Comments:
Anonymous Anonymous said at 7/28/2007 12:33:00 AM:  
I consider Ico and Shadow of the Colossus to be High art.
Anonymous Anonymous said at 7/28/2007 01:03:00 AM:  
The problem isn't wether video games are "art" or not. The real issue is people not having the same definition of one word, in that case the word "art", and arguing pointlessly while they are in fact not talking about the same thing.
It's an old issue, and the reason philosophy exists in the first place ;)
Blogger Chentzilla said at 7/28/2007 01:18:00 AM:  
If there's a single man who thinks that games can't be high art, we can leave him to his opinions, Ebert or not.
Blogger konjak said at 7/28/2007 03:46:00 AM:  
The PROBLEM is, people fight about it being art instead of playing games for fun, which is all that matters.
Blogger Dominic White said at 7/28/2007 05:41:00 AM:  
The difference between 'Low' and 'High' art is an entirely subjective line drawn in the sand by whoever wishes to define it. Just wanted to chip in with that.

Also, the gamer who tried to explain away the badness of the Doom movie by saying that it's based on Doom should be smacked around the face with a particularly odorous trout. Videogame origins or not, it was horrible, and only a grade or two above the Super Mario Bros film.

The current argument about whether videogames are art will look very different in another 30 years, when the current youth growing up with games are the ones telling the world what is or isn't art (in their oh-so-perfect opinion).

The bottom line is that art is inherently subjective. There's a lot of people who don't consider 'modern art' to be art at all.
Anonymous Anonymous said at 7/28/2007 06:43:00 AM:  
Who is art?.

Simply :

if an artist worked on it then it's art, if a good artist worked on it then it's "high level art". So, can you name a game where a good artist worked on it?... yes, there are plenty of it (usually in music but also in direction).

Also, a arts can be measured by the very own aestheticism of the works, for example Silent Hill the movie is just a average movie but for a artistic expression is almost a masterpiece, also the game.

So, videogames is art?. yes but more a compound of genre rather a simple art, videogames have music (art), pictures (art), direction (art), performing (art), writting (art) and such.

Anyways, a "high art" (a truly subjetive concept) is fairly different to the products is good or bad, funny, sad or scaring, for example Citizen Kane is IMHO a boring and such lame movie and i don't care about "was the first.." really don't care about this crap, and Star Wars (catalogued like a bulls### by the critics) are kinda funny.

see ya.
Anonymous Anonymous said at 7/28/2007 06:54:00 AM:  
Konjak has it so right. What the fuck you care, just play the god damned games and have fun. If people label'em as art or shit, what difference does that make?

When somebody tries so hard to label games as "art" is because that person is so insecure and wants to seem all cultivated that he has to label a stupid hobby as art so he doesn't get laughed at.

In the other hand, the ones who try to dismiss games as art is because something that's considered childish, hollow and crappy (I'm not saying it is, that's how many people that's not into gaming see games) shouldn't be compared to their movies and other artsy crap.

Bottom line is, don't give a shit, play the fucking games and never expect the definition of games as art or not art to be unified. Just have your opinion and bear the others'.
Anonymous Anonymous said at 7/28/2007 07:10:00 AM:  
Consice Oxford English Dictionary:

Art - the expression or application of creative skill and imagination, especially through a visual medium such as painting or sculpture.

Well, modern video games match this very well.

I wonder if smartass Barker could argue with this definition of art.

If you're such a snob and consider playing video games a lowbrow activity - well, don't play them bastard. Leave them alone, you arrogant piece of shit.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 7/28/2007 07:10:00 AM:  
Even if art is subjective it doesn't mean people shouldn't talk about it or try to understand it. There are a lot of things that are subjective (like love) that we talk about and try to understand.

I'm not sure I agree that "fun" is all that's important about games. If games were just for fun, how would they be any different from masturbation or roller coaster rides or partying or drinking? They're not just for temporary pleasure, the best of them can have a long-term positive effect on a person. Games should be fun, but games can be more than fun too.
Anonymous Anonymous said at 7/28/2007 11:05:00 AM:  
Ironically, i think that nowadays games are too much trying to imitate movies instead of focussing on being a game and... you guess it: art.

I fully agree with what anonymous said at 7/28/2007 01:03:00 AM: Without a clear definition, it is pointless to discuss "what" something is, since words are just labels - if the meanings differ, the label is useless. Further, this means that it doesnt even matter if the word "art" applies to computergames. Just as it doesnt matter if it applies to movies. Fuck trying to fit into genres and classifications - you know what is part of innovation? Right, not caring about classifications, but instead focussing on what YOU want to create. A work is what it is. Applying a classification to all works which use a certain medium, is a prejudice - it means that you care more about the medium, than the contents!

Thus, i can honestly say: "I dont care about what kind of artificial barriers and definitions other people create - i will break them anyways!"

- Lyx
Anonymous abiyasa said at 7/28/2007 12:45:00 PM:  
My friend who is an artist said that you can call something is an art if it gets an exhibition or published on an art museum ^_^

Even if it's just a Merde d'Artist...

I think we just have to concentrate on getting our video games published on a famous art museum
Anonymous Alonso Martin said at 7/28/2007 02:08:00 PM:  
I think video games are potentially the best art medium available--next to film, but film isn't interactive. We haven't seen the equivalent to Tarkovsky, Bergman, Kubrick or Kieslowski in games because they're so focused on the commercial side (Miyamoto, Lucasarts--even Spielberg when he made The Dig). I really, really wonder what things would be like if one of the previous directors would've made his masterpiece a computer game.
Blogger Michal said at 7/28/2007 02:47:00 PM:  
Forgive me for not reading all of the comments, though I feel Dominic has touched on what I have been trying to express for a while.

My recent commentary (and I guess continuing coverage of the this part of the scene) is now available here.

I will try to get the rest of my planned posts up soon, though I don't think all of them suitable for IG.
Blogger Moshboy said at 7/29/2007 12:57:00 AM:  
Personally, I couldn't really give a crap about the whole 'can games be art' argument anymore. I love videogames, especially the indie ones - they are fun and art is completely subjective to the individual anyways. The fact the Ebert doesn't know videogames shows his ignorance, regardless of who is right in this debate.

Why should I listen to someone that doesn't play videogames (or won't make the time to play them) about this subject?

Videogames are capable of provoking feelings just like movies, paintings, whatever.. but honestly I still don't necessarily agree with one side or the other - videogames haven't explored every avenue yet. I just play and enjoy. Who cares about the rest?
Blogger Steve said at 7/29/2007 05:58:00 PM:  
I'm a hardcore gamer, and I think Ebert is right. Games are their greatest aren't a patch on movies. Yes, Colossus etc... Are amazing. But they pale in comparison to most movies.