AI: Video Games as Art

The Time Lords are among us! I’m currently at PAX East having the time of my life, but I wrote this message ahead of time and am now sending it to you from the past to the present. Hm. That doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as sending messages back in time.

But the gaming convention reminded me, it was almost a year ago that Roger Ebert wrote on his blog a phrase that, to me, was more hurtful than when he gave Jumanji a bad review: Video Games Can Never Be Art. It was a puzzling statement at the time because Dragon Age and Mass Effect were redefining how storytelling was done in a game context. He later softened his stance but the blow had been dealt, and perhaps more optimistically, a challenge had been issued.


Roger Ebert, with his new robotic jaw, thinks your video games are stupid. Thanks to Nadir Balan for the image.

So  I inquire: Do you agree with Ebert? Is there some line that will prevent video games from ever becoming ‘fine’ art? Did you once agree with his sentiment and then change your mind? Tell us about it. Let us know what you think about technology as art in general, especially since nearly a year has passed since the original debate. I’m eagerly awaiting your responses!

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.


Maki Naro is an artist, incurable geek, and lover of cooking, public radio, small animals, and Blade Runner. He comprises one half of the Sci-ence Webcomic's dynamic duo.

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  1. Your time travel is weak Maki; I’m sending this from next month.

    There already are games that are art. They tell compelling stories with interesting characters with which you can become emotionally involved.

    R. E. is not going to accept video games as a valid art form any more than his parents accepted the rolling stones. It’s a new medium and he’s not going to appreciate it unless he chooses to invest the time. He has clearly stated that he does not WANT to.

    Even if he did, I would be surprised if he could get involved it them like we can. He hasn’t been raised with them or immersed in them. He has as much chance of really appreciating the power of the medium as I do of learning to love ballet.

  2. The Ebert picture is a tad tasteless in my opinion, but that may just be me.

    As for “Games as art”, I think the whole art/not art debate is generally futile. It’s best to unpack people’s definition of what “is art” is, and then see if it applies to games. For me, it does.

  3. One thing that has always bugged me about the art world is the amount of time spent trying to define what is and is not art. Or maybe it’s just those who feel they have the authority to make that call.

    ‘Okami’ was a beautiful achievement. To me, it was art. That someone thinks so is all the definition really needs.

    At the end of the day, all art needs to do is affect someone emotionally (in whatever capacity that may be). Ebert assumed that it matters who that someone is.

  4. If engaging video games that draw the player into the story and keep them captivated with unfolding twists and turns aren’t art, then movies certainly aren’t art, and therefore, as a movie critic, Ebert knows nothing about art.

  5. I have to agree that when attempting to define art we tend to discover that pretty much anything we say is art necessarily is (See Duchamp 1917).

    Those of us who play video games know what they can do. Aeris’ death had more impact on me than any movie or novel had at that point in my life. But for those for whom gaming is a foreign country, immersing themselves enough to experience the same level of emotional involvement as they do in their art form of choice is impossible.

    Ask an opera officianado to appreciate the nuances of slam poetry; I suspect that you will find very few that can make that leap. Not because either are not art, but because they require an entirely different perspective and life experience to appreciate.

  6. “Let us know what you think about technology as art in general, especially since nearly a year has passed since the original debate.”

    “Technology” comes from the Greek for “art,” which comes from a Latin word for … art. I’ll side with the wise ancients for once. Like others have said, one can point at something and call it “art,” even if it’s a natural object. The fact that Roger Ebert pointed at something and didn’t call it art doesn’t change the situation except in his own mind.

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