The other day Roger Ebert declared that videogames are not, and can never be art. I love ya, Roger, but you’re wrong on this one. Really, though, we’re arguing about the meaning of a word, “art”.
Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob, takes issue and gives a fairly broad definition of art:
Art is more about having a message, about communicating something to people, than about the medium the artists chooses. Anybody who declares something “not art” because they object to the medium is kidding themselves. Art is not the medium. Art is the message, the intent.
I have an even broader definition of art, one I got from my kids’ high school art teacher (and host of a couple of art appreciation trips to the orient that I went on with him).
Whenever humans alter their environment, art is there. Any decision made with an eye to someone’s reaction (not necessarily pleasing, no no) there is art.
“Is this art?” is the wrong question. It’s always the wrong question. The right questions are “How does it affect me and others?” and “How successful is it at achieving its aims?”
And yes, I do believe that freeway overpasses are art. I do not believe that all freeway overpasses are equally successful art, though. And its true that I find a painting by Magritte more interesting. Mostly.
Roger says that Bobby Fischer didn’t consider his chess games to be art. Well, maybe not, but lots of people who play chess and replay his games most certainly do think of them as art. I think maybe its best that creators not be too self-conscious about their art, even painters and filmmakers. “Is this art?” is at least one step away from what you ought to be asking yourself when you are creating something. Maybe more.
Ok, here’s five games I think are pretty interesting and influential pieces of art.
- Adventure. By Will Crowther and Don Woods. Seemingly simple minded, this was the first text-adventure game and succeeded in capturing the imaginations of a lot of us. Simple descriptive passages evoked a quite particular mood.
- Myst. Who remembers Myst? It was Mac-only, a complete pig in terms of resources, and a completely compelling multi-media experience.
- Super Mario 64. The importance of this game is that it explored 3D not just in terms of visuals but in gameplay, too. Succeeding wasn’t about finding the exact timing and sequence of button pushes, but to find one solution among many.
- Portal. This game has more to say about our life, alienation and freedom than most paintings. Could the ideas in Portal really be communicated any more effectively as a film? I don’t really think so.
- Rock Band: The Beatles. Derived work at its finest. Models, sets, audio outtakes from studio masters, fantasy sequences. All of it distills the essence of the Beatles in the format of a video game. It’s an impressive piece of work, and it engages one utterly.
So, in the end, I think Roger needs to either play a few more video games or shut the hell up. And I say that with the greatest affection.