Trouble Thinking

April 19, 2010

On This Whole Roger Ebert “Games Aren’t Art” Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized, Video Games — Tags: , — Chris @ 4:17 pm

For those who don’t know, film critic Roger Ebert recently posted an entry on his blog, revisiting his conclusion that video games cannot be art. He hasn’t changed his mind. I’m not here to get into an “it is or it isn’t” argument, but before I go on I want to just point out that the whole “are videogames art?” argument is entirely inconsequential. What defines “art” is so vague and indeterminate that the word is practically without meaning. Besides, whether games are art or not is not going to in anyway affect the enjoyment you take out of them, nor the amount of effort developers put into creating new, exciting games. It’s just a label, stop worrying about it.

Now, onto Roger Ebert. I dig Roger Ebert. The man is one of the best film critics out there today, and every week I go out of my way to read all of his reviews, whether I plan to see the films in question or not. He is a top-caliber writer, rarely fails to provide some level of insight, and is an expert on all things film. He doesn’t know jack about games though.

Asking for Roger Ebert’s opinion on videogames is like asking Stephen King for his opinion on women’s fashion. It is so far out of his realm of expertise, that while he clearly has some sort of opinion, it’s not based on any sort of knowledge or experience in the field, and therefore doesn’t carry with it a hell of a lot of weight. Ebert doesn’t play videogames, and Ebert doesn’t know videogames. As much as I respect the man, he’s not exactly the first person I’d field the question of “Can videogames be art?” to.

Ebert doesn’t even really know what videogames are. He practically says so himself in his article, writing, “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009.” If you play videogames, I don’t really need to explain to you that, say, Bioshock, isn’t a game in the same sense that basketball or Mah Jong are games. The latter are about contests of skill, while the former is about relaying a story and a set of ideas (specifically an argument against Ayn Rand style objectivism) to the player through an entertaining, interactive medium. To non-gamers, however, this distinction is nonexistent.

This, I think, is the real source of the debate. To gamers, the difference between Bioshock and basketball is obvious, and they can’t understand how anyone could equate the two. For someone who’s never played a videogame, however, the confusion is excusable. After all, they’re both called “games.”

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, don’t worry about it. Whether Roger Ebert thinks your games are art or not, isn’t going to actually affect their status as such—and even if they aren’t, you’ll still enjoy them, right?


  1. On that note:

    Comment by Maggie — April 23, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  2. Good points. It’ll probably still bug me a bit because I’m rather irrational, but this did soothe the irritation a bit.

    The only thing is since he has no expertise in the field, he shouldn’t really be making comments on them as if his opinions on video games have weight. I’m not sure how intentional that is, but still.

    Comment by taekwondogirl — April 27, 2010 @ 11:32 am

  3. I think it’s self-fulfilling at this point. Nerds can’t stand when people don’t love the things they love, so after he made sort of an off-hand comment about it a few years ago, people just keep bugging him about it trying to convince him otherwise, and he feels obligated to keep responding.

    Comment by Chris — April 27, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

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