Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Define "Wasted Time"

Roger Ebert is in hot water with gamers for declaring that video games can never be art. On the surface, I disagree wholeheartedly with this statement. I've actually played games that I feel are more concerned with art than fun gameplay, such as Fable 2. Granted, I enjoy Fable 2, but the game definitely feels like it's more concerned with fulfilling Peter Molyneux's vision than ensuring fun times had by all. That alone gives it a snooty art gallery vibe.

The thing is, while I disagree with Ebert's statement by my definition of art, do I disagree with his statement by his definition art? Art is in the eye of the beholder, after all, and what his eyes behold as art may not be compatible with video games. Are we even arguing about the same thing if we aren't in agreement on the definition, and does the entirety of what we're arguing about wind up boiling down to that definition?

I hate to say it, but the infamous Bill Clinton line "define sex" has the right idea. People are capable of arguing for absurd periods of time without really understanding the other side of the argument because neither side clarifies what exactly they mean by a particular key term. My presence during debates has a tendency to shorten them because I make certain both sides are arguing about the same thing as it's strangely common that they're not and I find it insufferable.

So what is Roger Ebert's definition of art? No idea. Seriously, I stopped reading early on. I looked at the length of the article and the number of comments and reached these conclusions:
  • Ebert's definition of art might not be compatible with video games.

  • What he means by "video games" could be limited to the games as a whole while ignoring the individual components, such as the graphic design, writing, music composition, etc. He could also be referring to some other particular aspect of the games that keeps them from fitting his definition of art.

  • Ebert simply hasn't seen the right video games needed to convince him.
None of the above are things I care about. If his opinionated view of what is and isn't art doesn't include video games, that's his right, and the amount of comments suggests a heated argument that boils down to semantics. The same applies to what is meant by "video games", and I would be surprised if there's actual clarification to be found either in the article or the comments. As for the last one, I have better things to worry about than whether Roger Ebert has played Fable 2.

I like Roger Ebert. I might not agree with him on many things and I avoid reading his reviews before seeing movies because I've found they're spoiler-tastic, but I like him as a person and respect his passion for movies. Nonetheless, I just don't care if he doesn't think video games are art. Our definitions differ, or he's an elderly gentleman who doesn't "get" video games, or both. It's ultimately not a big deal if we don't agree on this.


  1. There are as many definitions of what is Art, as there are Artists and Critics in the world who seek to define it.

  2. If movies like Inglourious basterds are art, then it would be hypocrisy to say that video games aren't.

  3. The thing is, almost any definition of art that includes the traditional mediums(sculpture, painting, music, etc) will include video games. The only way to exclude video games is to limit it by medium. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
    I'd find it pretty hard for anyone to justify excluding video games from that if they've seen anything produced in the past 10 years.

  4. I think one section from Ebert's blog shows a lot of what he is thinking:

    "One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them."

    In other words, he wouldn't define the great "art" games necessarily as games at all. the key difference seems to be that, according to his personal definition, you experience art, you interact with games. Of course, one might point out that many people, Ebert included, have "interacted" with movies on many levels. However, I feel that there is quite a difference in the emotional interaction I can have with a great movie and the physical interaction I can have with a great Rock Band game.

    Personally, I believe that many individual components of video games can be art. One only needs to attend a Video Games Live concert to be convinced of that, and I don't think that Ebert would argue against that point. However, I have yet to play a game where I would be willing to say that the entire thing, top to bottom, was art.

  5. half the outrage with eberts comments isn't so much that he criticized the games (people saying they don't consider games art is common I'm sure to all of us) but parts of the blog seem insulting to them. at one point he implies that gamers should give up on trying to get there medium acknowledged. and on another he was downright insults braids writing, and not just in the fashion of stating it's not good, but refers to it in terms of a fortune cookie because he can't be bothered to read more than a paragraph.

    if the article actually came off as some one stating there opinion I would have no problem with it, but he presents his opinion more has fact and borders on attacks on the medium at points.


    Two games that were designed more as art then games.

    You have two types of art.
    1: Art as in what is in the world; Any thing can be art you just need to see it that way.
    2: Refined Art; people that like to argue what is art.

    I saw a blog post not long ago of a guy taking photos of M&M's and then making up scenes. (3 yellow M&M 1 blue = Simpson, blue, Red, Green lined up in a row = papa smruf turning into the hulk.) stupid? probably still art? yes.

  7. One game that is the perfect definition of art in video games is The Void. It has slight-to-little gameplay value, but it's much more art than it is video game. It definitely blurs the line between the two, at least.

  8. I agree with you on many levels.

    But thing is people like arguing for its own sake.

    Everyone has an opinion. We all know that. Some opinions might be different to ours. We might define things differently. In a "perfect" world we'd all politely talk semantics and agree to disagree. In "real life", people loooooove fighting over things they like. Just for the rush of it.

  9. Thanks Zerrer I'll have to check out "The Void" It sounds a lot like The path.

  10. Hm... First time poster on your blog, and felt that this was as good a time as any.

    Ebert is a film critic. An OLD film critic, at that. He has little to no experience with video games, from the sounds of things. I will concede his point that a Shoot-em-up, which unfortunately seem to dominate the market, is most likely not art. However, Ebert, who goes on for so long trying to justify why VIDEO games cannot be art, then says that a chess match CAN BE.

    He seems to have the same attitude as many of my professors, or at least similar, in that he thinks that his definition is the only way to be, and everyone else is biased and wrong. We may be biased, but there are artists out there who don't seem to think that comics can be art, either. (I.E., the ones not in the industry.)

    Ebert is not an artist, he is a critic. Critics seem to see symbols in everything, and when they can't find them, they think that it is lower art, via the French Academy. They put things like still lifes at the very bottom of the hierarchy, because they could. Because it was simple, practice even. But still lifes are HARD. harder than a portrait, in my opinion, not that I'm any good.

    Back to the point. Ebert does not define what he thinks is art. He says a Chess Game is, but a video game isn't. Chess has rules which must be followed. A video game will often have no set formula to victory. Does he LIKE formulaic movies? I doubt it. Movies have to come up with something out of the box to make any money, as do game designers. He probably doesn't see Graphic Design as any sort of art form either, even though it requires a lot of knowledge and skill. So does movie making, and movies, like games, require scripts and massive groups of people. I would liken a video game to a piece of performance art: it requires interaction. And what are movies classed as? hmmmm, Ebert?

  11. As long as game developers obsess over obtaining the "art" label, they'll never reach their full potential.

  12. I'd care more about his opinion if I knew for a fact he'd played more then 5 video games in his life.

  13. Personally, I usually have no qualms about people saying that don't consider video games as art, but you see the problem HERE is that Ebert isn't just anyone, he's probably one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) authority amongst critics and his "opinion", I'm afraid, is no longer free.

    Now other people have mentioned this already, but in that review he came off as both ignorant and insulting, which is probably why alot of people are angry with him.

    That and gamers are net people, they're generally an angry, impulsive and reactive bunch.

  14. Wait, I don't understand. You've written an article to say that conflict is often the result of people not taking the time to clarify definitions, but you don't want to take the time to read the article where Ebert discusses definitions? The article isn't that long, I read it in five minutes at the most and he isn't even writing about video games as art, he's responding to a rebuttal to his original statement that video games aren't art. You don't have to read the thousands of comments that come after it: anyone who spends a day on the blogosphere should be able to guess what they say.

  15. As a side topic to the conversation, I'd like to bring up the idea of the critic for a second. Especially in regards to this recent blog post and Ebert's one-star review of Kick-Ass, I find that a lot of "net geek"-type people respond with some variation of "This is why I hate critics/critic hate us, don't listen to them." Unfortunately, this attitude completely misses the point of what a critic does. Any mildly-informed person who has an opinion is a critic. At a very bare-bones, bedrock level, there's not much separating Ebert from the latest 17-year-old poster on AICN. What Ebert, and other critics of the print generations, have going for them is journalistic training and decades of practice writing day in and day out. They're really good at expressing their opinions, be they wrong-headed or absolutely dead-on.

    Just because a critic expresses an opinion does not mean that they belittle anyone that does not agree with them. It's their job to write truthfully about their experiences when watching films, playing video games, dining out, or whatever else they're reviewing. If Ebert writes a one star review of Kick-Ass, that means that he, personally, did not enjoy it, and he outlines his reasons why pretty well in his review. This is so his readers can make an informed opinion about whether they think that they will feel the same way. He's definitely never shied away from a dialogue with the "geek" community. After negatively reviewing Fanboys last year, he received an extremely angry response from one of the co-hosts of the Forcecast podcast. Instead of ignoring it, as he easily could have, he posted it on his website for everyone to see. As I see it, if a critic has created a dialogue about a subject with his readers, then he has done his job. Now, this doesn't give a critic license to bash everything in site. There's a difference between creating a dialogue and trolling.

    Back to the video games, now. Ebert has said that he doesn't believe that video games can be art. However, I don't recall him ever saying that "not art=bad". Art is one of those words that carries much more subjective than objective meaning. I wonder, not why Ebert can't see the art in video games, but why the gamers are so insistent that he does? It's like arguing over whether rap is really "music". Does the answer actually matter all that much?

  16. As I said in the article, I don't care how Roger Ebert defines art. I heard about this whole affair as a result of people commenting on it on gaming sites, Penny Arcade, etc. My comments were driven by the nature of the debate, not the debate itself.

  17. And I haven't "written an article". This is a personal blog ^^;

  18. To one of the previous commenters, Ebert said that he believed if you define anything with depth of meaning as art, a chess game would be an equal form of art to a videogame. He wasn't saying it was art, only that it was under that definition.

    That said, Ebert only seems to be looking at games as the mechanics that run them. He ignores other factors and seems to believe they all have writing that's as poor of quality as Gears of War.

    He has a right to an opinion, but I with-hold the right to be annoyed by someone holding an opinion based on spotty facts. The dig at Braid was a prime example of this. it's a game that's narrative could not be expressed as adequately in another form of media. And he hasn't even played it. Now, if he played it, or was at least more informed regarding it, and still didn't find it to be art, I'd be more accepting of it. As it is, I have too much respect for the man to consider that article anything more than the opinion of the uninformed.

    The dig at gamers as a whole is also disheartening. He implies that all gamers who believe games are art only want to be able to justify wasting our time by saying "I'm studying art".

  19. I can define waste time the last 10 months 2 weeks on my job.

    The company went bust, and the on taking over is bringing in their own system so my services and the work I put into it have been utterly and completely useless.