"Shadow of the Colossus" by Team ICO, image by fellcoda from deviantart

Summary for all those headline skimmers: Ebert says that video games will never be art, I highly disagree and analyze and break down his argument.  Ebert seems to have confused the act of playing games with the creation and the game itself.  The original article spawned a huge reaction, and > 3,000 comments.  Many ideas from those comments are shared by me.

A week ago, acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert posted an article boldly re-stating his belief that “Video Games can never be art”.  His article was in response to a TEDx presentation by Kellee  Santiago defending Video Games as an art form.  Ebert’s argument hit a personal note, because although his focus was video games, to me it almost generalized that no part or product of the software process could be art.

Ebert’s main argument focused on a traditional definition of art, and used the 3 examples provided by Kellee as counter-examples for his proof.  This made me cringe.  Presenting an argument in this form (specifically relying on these 3 examples) to me was a logical fallacy, denying the antecedent.  Video games will never be art, because these 3 games are not art.  Sorry Ebert, you get an D- in propositional logic 101.

To his defense, I don’t feel like these were the best examples to use.  The Waco Resurrection, was a very interesting but bizarre choice to prove a point.  Any academic trying to solidify the credibility of modern video games knows of the stigma that must be overcome to make any progress.  The Jack Thompson‘s of the world  have made it impossible to mention video games seriously without getting the “senseless violence” card thrown on the table.  I acknowledge the original ‘artistic’ intent behind the Waco project, but again, very very bizarre choice to make a point.  The other two examples weren’t as bad, but Kellee quoting their market success just gave Ebert more ammunition.  There are so many other facets of the game industry that could have been brought up.

Ebert seemed fixated on the gamers’ desire to have playing games qualified as art.  This is the biggest problem in the whole debate for me. He unfortunately failed to see that many disagree with his position because the process of making a game, and the game itself is what people want to be considered art, not the act of playing. And instead of starting a fight with an audience, he started a fight with an entire industry. This comment (lost in the mass) by Ebert himself, sums it up.

By jim emerson on April 17, 2010 12:36 AM
Would you concede that a chess set itself can be a work of art, whether or not it is actually played?
Ebert: Yes. But why is that a concession?
The screenshot above is from a PS2 game, “The Shadow of the Colossus”.  I own this game, never played it to the end, but before I even bought it, I considered it a piece of art.