Video Games as Art

A short history of the debate since Ebert's infamous remarks

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  1. Back in 2005, Roger Ebert said some things that changed the history of video games.

    Here said them here:
  2. And here:
  3. In both cases, his point was the same: Games give the player choices, ruining the author's original point and eliminating the art. As he said, Romeo and Juliet with the choice for a happy ending is no longer art.
  4. To make things more interesting, prominent game designer Hideo Kojima came out and agreed with Ebert, saying games were more museums than art themselves.
  5. Well, turns out the internet didn't like that. Most responses came in the form of comments on Ebert's blog, and most were simply rude and obnoxious. However, some serious thinkers took to other venues to respond more intelligently. One such response came from Clint Hocking.
  6. He was smart, collected, and even responded to Ebert's most direct challenge to name a single videogame that outperformed a great work in another medium by arguing that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had more to say about race and contemporary culture and said it better than the highly critically acclaimed movie Crash.
  7. Another such response came from Kellee Santiago in the form of a TEDx Talk at USC in 2009.
  8. Kellee Santiago: Are Video Games Art?
  9. While agreeing that the medium doesn't yet have its great works (oddly contradicting Hocking's response slightly), she argued that games are in their infancy and compared current games to early cave paintings--not the greatest art, but still with their merit and helping lead to true masterpieces.
  10. At this point, Ebert decided to chime in again, responding directly to Santiago's talk on his blog.
  11. Here he reached his peak pomposity: "Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care.

    "Do they require validation? In defending their gaming against parents, spouses, children, partners, co-workers or other critics, do they want to be able to look up from the screen and explain, 'I'm studying a great form of art?' Then let them say it, if it makes them happy."

    As you might imagine, Ebert lived to regret those words. Of the nearly 5,000 comments he got on the post, in his own estimation maybe 300 of them supported him, while the rest opposed him, most often vehemently.

    So, just a few months later, he wrote an "apology," though really his point was both his first and his last sentence, "I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place."
  12. A year later in 2011, many saw the debate as over and done when the Supreme Court of the United States declared video games as expression and protected under the 1st Amendment.
  13. The year 2012 brought more good news for games as art advocates as the Smithsonian itself recognized the artistic qualities of the videogame medium in an exhibit called "The Art of Video Games"
  14. And in early 2013, even the Museum of Modern Art got on board.
  15. Paola Antonelli: Why I brought Pac-Man to MoMA | Video on TED.com
  16. Recently, Roger Ebert has left this world. But the debate he helped bring to the forefront of popular culture rages on.
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