I have a bone to pick with Roger Ebert.
… Wait, that makes me sound like an asshole, doesn’t it? Not only is he one of the greatest movie critics of all time, co-creator of a show which never lost in quality or entertainment over the years, but he has also recently passed away, much to the sadness and grief of many, myself included. A shout out to Doug Walker -aka the Nostalgia Critic– from making me discover this great person through his shows.
But I believe a great person like Roger Ebert would appreciate a good counter-argument, even if I bet he already received enough about this, one of his most controversial statements ever. Ebert was firmly convinced that, on principle, Videogames could never be art.
First of all, we must ask ourselves: what exactly is art?
According to Wikipedia: Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities. The article distinguishes between visual arts, performing arts and decorative arts.
Yeah, no much help there.
At the end of the day, and this is my personal opinion, Art is nothing more, nothing less than the act of creation. Art is creating something that wasn’t there before and make it possible for the word to see it. Some religious types could possibly want to crucify me for stating it, but is Art anything else? From the David of Michelangelo to Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, all of these have in common the fact that, at some point, they didn’t exist. Not even in the artist’s mind.
The work of the artist is nothing more than to take a thought, an idea that didn’t exist until he formulated it, and make it so that it can be exposed to the rest of the world. Colors, notes, materials are nothing more than the mediums for this act of creation to be seen by someone other than the artist itself.
Now ask yourself this: how are videogames any different?
Videogames bring to life through the medium of pixels something that wasn’t there to begin with. A very particular vision that it’s unique to that game and that game only, even if it’s purely a simulation -like sports games-. If we go by the logic that Art is the act of creation, why the hell shouldn’t they qualify? Why do so many people argue about this, or flat-out refuse to even entertain the thought?
It’s not a mystery. This happened to comic books, cinema and even secular music: people evaluate videogames using scales belonging to other forms of art.
You can’t evaluate videogames using the same methods you use to review the latest Michael Bay flick. This strip of Little Miss Critical sums it up perfectly well. Don’t suck it up for approval from people who don’t even bother using the right tools. Videogames are not about visual cohesion or insight, even if they can have high levels of both. They triumph over other forms of art in two things: immersion and interaction.
First: immersion. All the other skills and methods other art forms use to accomplish this, videogames can emulate just as strongly. Book lovers will be hard pressed to find twenty books with a writing at the same level of Planescape Torment. Music experts will not be able to deny the talent of people like Nobuo Uematsu. Movie fans will be hard pressed to dismiss the stunning visuals of Shadow of the Colossus and the Uncharted series. Masterpieces in videogames are born when the creative director’s vision doesn’t dampen or interfere with the other people working on the game, but interacts and creates synergy with it.
You hear that, Nomura? Give your collaborators some breathing room and try to respect the source material, if you have some to respect. I miss Cloud’s Let’s Mosey.
Second: interaction. No other form of art lets you interact the way videogames do, because that interaction is an integral part of the experience. If music, movies, paintings, books, comics, only need your attention to be experienced, videogames are a call to action. Videogames make you work for your enjoyment, and good ones make it worth your time all the way to the final goal. They put in your laps responsibility and choices, give you emotions and engagement in return.
I haven’t finished Telltale’s The Walking Dead game because I couldn’t bear the weight of having to decide, in a desperate post-apocalyptic world, who would get to eat that day. Especially since, right after putting that choice in my hand, the game director made sure to give me a panoramic of all my companions staring at me. My stomach lurches at the mere thought of having to make that choice. Who knows when I will be able to do it.
So, don’t bother arguing this matter. Videogames are a form of art, people just need to consider the issue that maybe the same methods of evaluation used for books and movies don’t work as well, if at all. Also, it’s one hell of a form of art, mature enough in its executions and history that I can make this statement:
To all those people who say ‘they should totally make a movie out of The Last of Us’, I say nay. No movie or book could ever deliver the same experience and level of engagement as the original videogame. What Hollywood can do, at most, is make us some tie-ins, if they really want to partake in the popularity.
Because, what The Last of Us does? Cinema can never imitate. -mike drop-
- Critical Miss: ARTARTARTARTFART (escapistmagazine.com)
- Are Videogames Art? My Two Cents (newouyadev.wordpress.com)
- Analysis of New York Times “Indie Games” article (jwylie15.wordpress.com)
- New Study Dismisses Link Between Violence and Videogames (escapistmagazine.com)