Saturday, April 17, 2010
So I think in my Noby Noby Boy review I mentioned that Roger Ebert doesn't think video games are art. This was a statement made a while ago and it pretty much endeared me to hating Ebert but recently... well you just can't hate the man. He's kind of amazing. So I don't hate him anymore but I think he's pretty much totally wrong. Still, I understand his point better.
The article in question is basically a point by point hairsplitting of a presentation given by a developer for that game company, which made both fl0w and flower for the Playstation Network, usually hailed as the most artsy games can get. She pretty much just makes a lot of points that have already been made; that games are art already for the following reasons.
So Ebert rebuts all these, and honestly I'm pretty much with him for a lot of it. But there's some confusing lines. Like when he explains that while the video game version of Waco (see the video at the bottom of the link) had no impact on him, the documentary did, but then he says that the documentary isn't art either. Are films not art then? At the end of it he says that early films like "A Voyage to the Moon" have "superior artistry and imagination" than that of their video game equivalent. Not directly contradictory but strange.
Whatever though, I'm splitting hairs. I still agree with his assessments that the games she presents aren't really that appealing (the Waco one looks like a pile of shit) but disagree with the over all assessment.
The thing of it is, art is a huge HUGE topic. HUGE. I write this not as a gamer but as someone trying to become an artist. There are too many definitions for art, which is pretty much the problem. I'm honestly of the persuasion that art is what it is to individuals cause it's so hard to nail down. Pragmatically, art is in the eye of the gallery owner or juror, but they don't get to make the rules either really (if only because they have and will change). It's not about definitions.
Duchamp thought that art was in the realm between the viewer and the piece; that the two are like poles creating electricity, and that energy itself is the art. I think that's pretty spot on for a lot of art today, and generally, honestly (if not just because of the paradox of the "tree falling in the forest" variety of "is it still art if no one can experience it?").
I guess that yes, I am one of those "everything is art" guys. But the line drawn is where it's good art or bad art. I don't mean that everything is art, but when there's an artist to call it that, it's art, even if it's dogshit (figurative or literal).
So basically then it comes down to the matter of taste, naturally. I think it really is that simple, that definitions aside, it comes down to what's good and what's not, and that's totally within the individual (Maybe what I'm really getting at is that art shouldn't be defined ooooo).
Ebert doesn't define art either, instead concerning himself with the caliber of whatever he's discussing. "No one will quote video games like we have quoted the great novels, poems and plays" (or something to that effect). I almost agree that now, sure, there aren't innumerable quotes from vidja games like there are from poetry and books, but to say there never will be is basically lying. No one can know that, and it's ridiculous to make a claim like that. Books and poems already have centuries of a head start anyway.
If you take the general consensus of the art world, by which I mean that the people who are exhibited in museums are artists and their works art, then Ebert's argument is flawed too. One of his points is that games have objectives and goals and points and that that makes them incapable of being art. Games that I like, and games that I consider art, have them in more abstracted ways then say, Pac Man. Pac Man eats the dots because that's all their is to do. Raziel enacts his revenge on Kain because of a masterfully well put together plot that keeps the player entrenched in the story at every turn. It's the same as watching a movie but it's has so much more impact because you don't just sympathize with Raziel, you are Raziel. You are directly responsible for his triumphs and failures.
There's also an artist that actually makes kindof altered versions of existing games, like billiards with one of the balls being a pendulum, and a foursided ping pong table with a pond in the middle. He was featured in Art 21 and is widely exhibited, but he makes games. So there's a precedent for some kind of game in the world of "high art".
There's a lot of the article that's also Ebert wondering why gamers care as much as they do about whether games are art or not. Well, it's because wondering if they aren't is ridiculous. At the very least, the very very least, video games have a visual language that is composed by artists (draftsmen and women, at least) and scores composed by composers. As Penny Arcade's Tycho so elegantly put it before I did, does combining these creative processes (some strait out of cinema) in a game somehow invalidate them?
Every single art form that is now widely accepted in museums has gone through the same ridiculous arguments, that pretty much boil down to "it isn't art because it isn't art". Music wasn't considered high art once. Nor was photography in it's heyday. Almost every major artist in history has been under scrutiny for being too outside the box (Picasso, Cezanne, Duchamp, Pollack) and by the same kind of jackass logic Ebert uses.
I totally understand that Ebert has all these countless great, truly incredible movies to compare to games (even if he isn't calling movies art, in which case, c'mon man!). Even though I think Half Life 2 is pretty much one of the greatest things ever made by anyone, I'll give him that I might like my favorite movie, The Life Aquatic, more than my favorite game. Maybe even all my favorite movies combined fair better than all my favorite games, but who cares? They're all great.
The biggest point he seems to make is that none of the games presented move him, but as far as I know he still hasn't played any of them, or any others. Anything. That should put it to bed right there.
Bottom line is, I take issue with the ridiculous generalizations. Even though he concedes the point that games may, in the distant future, be art, the article is titled "Games can never be art". Just because one person doesn't get it, is the whole medium now and forever artistically bankrupt?
Do I really have to ask that question?