Oops, Ebert did it again. The famed movie critic has once again ruffled the feathers of gamers everywhere with his recent article unabashedly titled “Video games can never be art.” The article has already garnered 3,965 comments.
In the past few years, the subject of video game art has been studied and examined intently. Many believe that video games have achieved a level of artistic integrity while others believe video games will never be a high art like film and literature have become. Where there is Roger Ebert’s argument, there is the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s 2012 exhibition The Art of Video Games.
Mike Tash is a Game Art and Design student at The Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. Throughout his life, Tash has been an accomplished artist, winning multiple awards and scholarships for his drawings, paintings, sketches, and complete pieces. Tash chose to express himself through video games as opposed to more traditional artistic mediums. “The main reason I decided on video games as a means to express myself is because they have always had a profound impact on me on an artistic level. The art in some games makes me want to go out and see the places that it was referencing, the least of which motivate me to make my own art. Not just the visual arts either in a game, the music has the most power I believe. But then again I’m not a musician but I am an artist. I one day hope to become a lead designer on a game so that i can apply my artistic views and someone else’s musical abilities to make a game that doesn’t just entertain someone, it moves them, makes them wiser, and keeps them coming back to buy the sequel; part of the industry I guess.”
What this debate could come down to is what people believe video games are and what exactly defines “art.” “Art” is a fairly ambiguous word with multiple definitions. Three lines of text is considered art. A painting of a soup can is considered art. The latest single by Lady Gaga is considered art. But why? “I guess I would define art as anything that makes people wander into places in their imagination that they don’t normally reach,” Tash said. “For instance, seeing a beautiful meadow out a window is art. Without the window it is still a beautiful scene, but the window sort of captures it for us, makes us wonder what’s on the other side of the window that is making everything look so wonderful.” Video games have been known to move people but if they aren’t art, then what are they?
Video games have taken many different forms over the years and pinpointing exactly what a game is has become rather tricky. Obviously, video games have been considered art by many. They have also been considered sport. Competitive gaming is the most popular form of gaming today. If at any time you want to compete with another person in a game, you can just turn your system on and play a few rounds of Call of Duty or play a game or two of NHL 10. Tournaments have been held for quite some time now to see who the best players are in a particular game. More recently, the MLG has been created for professional gaming. MLG stands for Major League Gaming and it has been featured on ESPN and is sponsored by Dr. Pepper. Tournaments have been televised and the major players in the leagues are able to live comfortably with the money they make through the “sport.”
Video games have also been used as time-wasters. Gamers and non-gamers alike have spent countless hours tending to their virtual farms in FarmVille. There are multiple simulation games like The Sims and Animal Crossing out that have no clear ending but simply mirror life in unique ways. Does it kill time? Definitely. Is it fun? Based on the popularity of them, yes. Is it art? Is it even sport? Probably not. Roger Ebert argued in his original article that video games are more sport than art. A video game does not have to be sport and it does not have to be art. It is flexible and can become pretty much anything the designers want. The creators of Final Fantasy VII wanted to move people to tears and they did it. To Tash, video games “are art, they are sports-like, major time wasters, and much more.”
So, are video games art?
I think most can agree that individual segments of a game are artistic. The visualized worlds in games are unique in that anything is possible while still looking very realistic. Mario’s mustachioed face and Master Chief’s green armor have become memorable images in our society. The music and sounds in video games have become iconic in pop culture. If you played the Super Mario Bros. theme song to a random person, chances are they will know what it is. The compositions in games such as Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, and Halo have been celebrated in concert by full orchestras performing the songs to large audiences. Video Games Live is an orchestra dedicated to exclusively playing compositions from video games and to reveal just how compelling they can be.
However well done each segment is, the combination of the elements is what makes the games so special and unique. The Prince of Persia movie coming out soon will in all likely cases not give the same experience playing the game did. Being able to climb, swing, and jump your way through the levels is the fun of the game. A Bioshock movie would never come close to capturing the experience the game delivered as the idea of a video game is part of the final message of the game.
Grand Theft Auto IV could not be delivered any other way because it would lose its rich satire and tenacity, elements that make the game so memorable. The game is a modern take on the American dream. The New York Times called Grand Theft Auto IV “a violent, intelligent, profane, endearing, obnoxious, sly, richly textured and thoroughly compelling work of cultural satire disguised as fun.” The same could not be said if GTAIV was a movie or a book. The story and the social satire would be greatly lessened and the impact of the final product would be null. These stories are well done and should be experienced by everyone but the only way to truly deliver them is through video games.
In Roger Ebert’s latest article about the debate, he asks why video gamers care so much that video games be considered art. I would say to most gamers that they should believe what they want and move on. Like in any other debate, each side is often too stubborn to abandon their original beliefs and Ebert will die believing video games will never be art. Maybe one day they will be, but until then, why not the fact that gamers can experience something others cannot and possibly wish they could.