Monday, July 5, 2010


Roger Ebert recently expressed the view that video games were not - and never could be - 'art'.

He started wishing he'd never brought the subject up in the first place almost immediately.  Endless people pointed out to him that devotees of literature and live theater said the exact same thing when film came along and endless people sent him suggestions of games to try that would prove to him games could be art.

Ebert was learning the central lesson of life online:  Don't feed the trolls because their hunger is savage and unending.  His climbdown came quickly and came down to an admission that he had no right to challenge the artistic legitimacy of video games if he had no intention of playing any. 

The problem comes down to a misunderstanding about the word 'art.'  It isn't a value judgment word, its a category word.  Saying that something is 'art' doesn't mean its good art or high art, just that it falls into the category of creative endeavour.

Of all the definitions and deconstructions of the concept of art that I've seen, Scott McCloud's from his magnum opus Understanding Comics resonates with me the most.

Art is simply any human activity not concerned specifically with survival or reproduction.  Anything we do that is extraneous to these pursuits is art.  

Of course it can be related to those urges, but it's impulse comes from somewhere else altogether.

There's no doubt in my mind that games like Bioshock are art.  With a mix of compelling story-telling, trenchant social commentary and beautiful design, any single component of the game could be considered art on its own - why once it became an interactive experience would it stop being art?

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