Video Games Aren’t an Art Form According to Roger Ebert

April 17, 2010 Written by Jonathan Leack

For more than a decade fans of video games have tried to argue that games can be considered considered an art. Imagination, imagery and more are all found within the realm of gaming, but many critics disagree. The popular film critic Roger Ebert is an example of someone who argues against games being art, and in a recent article he went into depth about why he thinks such.

Roger Ebert has written a large article on Chicago Sun-Times arguing that video games can’t be considered a form of art. The article spans more than 20 paragraphs and includes games such as Braid and Flower as examples which he argues against. In one paragraph Ebert states the following:

Her next example is a game named “Braid” (above). This is a game “that explores our own relationship with our past…you encounter enemies and collect puzzle pieces, but there’s one key difference…you can’t die.” You can go back in time and correct your mistakes. In chess, this is known as taking back a move, and negates the whole discipline of the game. Nor am I persuaded that I can learn about my own past by taking back my mistakes in a video game. She also admires a story told between the games levels, which exhibits prose on the level of a wordy fortune cookie.

Ebert goes on to argue against the popular PS3 exclusive Flower as well:

We come to Example 3, “Flower” (above). A run-down city apartment has a single flower on the sill, which leads the player into a natural landscape. The game is “about trying to find a balance between elements of urban and the natural.” Nothing she shows from this game seemed of more than decorative interest on the level of a greeting card. Is the game scored? She doesn’t say. Do you win if you’re the first to find the balance between the urban and the natural?”

It seems as though instead of seeing unique gameplay elements and great graphical direction as art, Roger Ebert believes that these instances can be explained just as simple variances of gameplay. It is clear at this point that Ebert understands that some games are regarded as artistic feats, but can be explained merely on the surface level. He goes on to say:

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?

Comparing video games to chess and sports is definitely an unexpected twist by Ebert. He clearly believes that there needs to be new level of interaction between the consumer and media which is in his opinion “lacking” in order for videogames to be considered an art form. However, even if there were that new level of integration in gameplay, Ebert believes that videogames can NEVER be art, or at least not in this lifetime. An interesting note is that Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear series, was also quoted as saying that videogames weren’t art back in 2006.

The question is, what is art? Are videogames art? Who makes the decision?