Ebert's thumb still down on games as art

In 2005, esteemed film critic Roger Ebert found himself on the receiving end of a bout of gamer rage after claiming video games could never aspire to the realm of art in the way that film or literature can. Ebert's reasoning for this was that since games are inherently an interactive medium, they...

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In 2005, esteemed film critic Roger Ebert found himself on the receiving end of a bout of gamer rage after claiming video games could never aspire to the realm of art in the way that film or literature can. Ebert's reasoning for this was that since games are inherently an interactive medium, they lack the requisite amount of authorial control to move beyond craftsmanship and into the realm of art. Not leaving well enough alone, the critic then asserted the rather inflammatory remark that not only are games valueless from an artistic standpoint, but also that they impede most gamers' personal growth by wasting "precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic."

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Posting to his Web site on Saturday, Ebert revised his critique of games in light of British-born horror writer and director Clive Barker's opening keynote address at this year's Hollywood and Games Summit on June 26. With Internet culture aplomb, Ebert picked apart Barker's defense of games as an artistic medium, beginning first by stating that "games could not be high art, as I understand it."

Ebert then launched into a lengthy debate of semantics with Barker's statements. Ebert counters Barker's claim that art is a world where players can run the gamut of emotions by pointing out how absurd it would be if actors in Romeo and Juliet went "through the story naked and standing on their hands," just because they could. Instead, as Ebert sees it, "art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices."

Ebert then takes extended issue with Barker's assertion that games are a great way to escape from the "oppressive facts" that people must deal with in their everyday lives. Ebert says that instead of fleeing somewhere to gain an illusion of control, people should seize the moment and take control of their own lives. Lending action to his words, Ebert went on to say, "Right now, for example, I cannot speak, but I am writing this." In 2006, Ebert suffered complications stemming from his battle with thyroid cancer, which cost him part of his lower jaw, and with it the ability to speak.

Summing up his argument, Ebert states: "Barker is right that we can debate art forever. I mentioned that a Campbell's soup could be art. I was imprecise. Actually, it is Andy Warhol's painting of the label that is art. Would Warhol have considered Clive Barker's video game Undying as art? Certainly. He would have kept it in its shrink-wrapped box, placed it inside a Plexiglas display case, mounted it on a pedestal, and labeled it 'Video Game.'"

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