Roger Ebert versus Videogames

Picked this up on Joystiq: Next-gen blogs in response to Roger Ebert’s ongoing battle with gamers over the artfulness of video games.  I’ll leave you to read Ebert’s article and Keiser’s response, but I would like to point out a few things:

Strict narrative does not good art make. Who says video games should ultimately compete with movies or books or opera or whatever as a storytelling medium? Video games succeed because they are interactive, and a successful videogame may not have or even need an intricate, intelligent storyline. Look at games like Katamari Damacy and Shadow of theColossus. They may not be movies, but they are most certainly artful- I dare say they are the first steps into medium of video gaming as art.

In my humble opinion, games like Metal Gear fail because they try to hard to be like films. They can certainly pick and choose from other media as they wish, and they often do with varying degrees of success. Max Payne is a great example of a video game that is firmly entrenched in its”gameness” but manages to pay homage to other media and integrate a decent, if not entirely original story.

Ebert’s problem here is that he is limiting the definition of art to an extreme. Of course people felt the same way about movies as they were becoming popular so I guess this is simply an issue of changing the guard, but it’s alarming to see such short sightedness from such a well known critic. I suppose in his eyes there is no place at all for non-narrative art? Surely he would laugh at the thought- why then would he place such a demand on a medium that was not designed for narrative and whose most shining examples of the form have very little to do with telling a story.

I should also mention that in the storytelling department there are a number of games that have elicited a great deal of emotion from their players, so again I say the industry is well on its way.

My point is this- video games are art; they may look and act quite differently than what we’re used to, but they are a form of human expression just like any other art. The rules of this form are not the rules of film and such rules should not be applied. Comparing them is a great way to drum up controversy but it really isn’t a useful critique. It’s time to reframe this argument- video games need not adhere to old forms for legitimacy, the culture is already well on its way to recognizing them for their own inherent artistic qualities.  

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One thought on “Roger Ebert versus Videogames”

  1. This is the same claptrap that gets trotted out every time a new medium reaches a certain pinnacle. The exact same kinds of things were said about film 4 score decades ago.

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