Monday, April 19, 2010

The Art of the Game

Roger Ebert, who is still very much my hero, has posted an article about how video games can never be art here. What follows is a response I posted in the comments section, so the opening paragraph might be a bit mistifying. Suffice to say Lujo is a character who has posted a comment that is so ignorant, so vitriolic and so tasteless, I had to address it right at the beginning:-

I am torn here. Part of me, an minuscule part, but a part nonetheless wants to applaud Lujo. I don't think I have seen scatological insults of such rich and entertaining diversity ever before. On the other hand, I assume he is human, at least in shape, so it depresses me to no end that we share a common species.

Anyway, moving on, you keep mentioning that any art needs an original vision, which is why movies and architecture can be art. Maybe you are not aware of this, but many games do begin with one man, generally referred to as game designer. People like Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima, Sid Meier etc. all 'direct' games, for lack of a better word.

I must also agree with many here who complain you are commenting on an art form you know nothing about. While one understands that it is your blog and your personal opinion, I believe your logic is flawed and opinion uninformed. Maybe you have given some thought to this matter and it is not a knee-jerk, I-hate-anything-new reaction some are accusing you of. However, the point is that you are not equipped to speak on video games for the simple reason that you have never FELT video games. You, of all people should know how important feelings are in relation to art. When described and deconstructed, the Mona Lisa is just a picture of a smiling woman, David is a statue of a well - built man, Pickwick Papers is a humorous, imaginary travelogue and the Maltese Falcon is just a detective movie. It's only when you see, read, watch them that you can experience them. And until you do, you can never know what they really are.

Elsewhere, you have compared video games to sport. Again, a flawed piece of reasoning. Playing video games is certainly a sport, but then neither is watching cinema an art form. It's the creation aspect of video games that we defend. Playing a game does not make us artists, but those who make the beautiful worlds for us to play in and engaging characters for us to get to know surely are.

Later in the article, you argue that games cannot be art because it has rules. Because there is an element of winning and losing. Partially true. Partially, because many games do NOT have an element of winning or losing. But again, you are confused between the audience and the creator. It's the gamer who has to follow the rules decided by the creator. If (s)he decrees I can fly, I can fly. If (s)he decrees I have to stand there and listen to what another player has to say, I have to do that. Here, you might argue that even the creator is bound by certain rules. But so does every artist. Does a musician not have to follow rules? Or a mime ? Or a director? Every art form has its own set of rules, both for the creator and the audience. Can you claim to enjoy The Gold Rush with your eyes closed?

Ultimately, I believe the mistake you and most others make is in trying to equate games with other art forms. Video games represent a unique art form, something that borrows a lot from others but cannot be exactly compared to any one. Games that forget this and try to be something else (like Heavy Rain) inevitably fail. Just like movies, music, poetry, sculpture etc. cannot be compared to each other, nor can video games be compared to them. Except, possibly in how they can make someone feel a range of emotions even though none of them have any direct, tangible impact on the audience's lives. You keep saying video games cannot be art because they are sport. Have you considered that video games can be both art AND sport?

Oh, and one last thing. You wonder why we are so emotional about the subject? Why we want our hobby to be defined as art? Well simply because it is, Mr. Ebert. Simply because great video games have made us feel the same way great movies, great music, great paintings and great poetry all have. Simply because there is logically no other category to define them by. Simply because great games can make us laugh, weep, shudder and grimace, even when we are not winning, or scoring points. Unlike sport, how we feel when playing a game isn't always directly related to how we are playing it. Winning doesn't always give us pleasure, losing doesn't always give us pain. Many of us play games not to compete, but to experience them. And I really feel that is the truest definition of art. It is what you experience for the sheer joy of experiencing it. Thank you.