Yes, Roger Ebert recently decided to restate his previous argument: that games are not, and can never be, art. And yes, the internet promptly rose like a fire-filled tsunami against this tiny agressor. And yes, I’ll be surprised if the poor man doesn’t wake up with every hackable machine in his house programmed to scream “GAMES ARE TOO ART, YOU MORAN” every time he logs on. And yes, yes, yes, I know I’m a bit late to the party. But I’ve got an open letter full of well-researched Ebert-bashing prose under this jump, and I think you just might be interested in reading it. Go on. I’d advise you read the original article first, though.

Mr. Ebert (I begin, chortling at strange irony of being polite on the internet), your attempt to prove your hypothesis through sheer power of rational, philosophical thought alone (as if you’re a  theologian attempting to prove or disprove the existence of god without ever personally meeting the chap) is commendable – but trying to argue about something you don’t know much about is always going to seem ridiculous. More than that – on our side of the debate, it’s extremely hard to defend a genre without using any examples from it.

(The entire comments section right now is “Ok ok ok, but THIS GAME, you HAVE to try that one. It’s totally art.)

You repeat your argument that “No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.” – Well, the comments section has been citing games right and left. I don’t blame you for not trying them all, but at least don’t claim to KNOW that no game is art based on a video of three games shown at a lecture.

You’re also missing the point when you mention that games have Objectives, while Art does not. The AUDIENCE never has an objective, true, but the CHARACTERS in any decent story certainly have objectives. They also must follow rules, stay within boundaries, and use procedures to achieve their goals- these are the basic building blocks of any decent plot, as much as they are for games. Games place the audience inside the role of a character- of course they must then give them objectives! A movie where no character had any goals would be no less worthless than a game without objectives. Oh, I suppose Ebert could cite stories such as Waiting for Godot, but I would say then it ceases to be a story and becomes a representation of a series of events.

(Oh ho ho! Notice how I cleverly use Ebert’s own argument against him, hoisting him on his own proverbial petard! Truely, I am a wordsmith of the highest caliber.

Having routed his main arguments, I go for the kill.)

To defend one of the few examples Sangtiago gives: Flower proves, if nothing else, that games can be Visual art, as much as a painting. But, what am I saying- we are no longer debating whether or not games are art, we are debating about whether or not they are GOOD art, or HIGH art, which every single person on this comments section has a different definition for.

I personally believe that anything that can make at least these primitive attempts – any medium that can make BAD art – is capable of eventually making good art. These examples are poor, yes, but I hope you won’t say that you can’t see the potential. And of course, almost every gamer on this board seems to believe they have played a game that is art. Even assuming we are all idiots: Would it be too corny of me to say that 3300 comments can’t be wrong? I’m sure someone up there must have made that joke already.

-Jack McNamee

Student, Gamer, Artist(???).

(No, I didn’t actually sign my name at the bottom in the actual comment. That always seems pretentious.)


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  1. searingscarlet Says:

    I don’t really want to feed to Ebert’s blog, and I really couldn’t care less about whether he validates something I love or not. That’s even without looking into the definition of “art” which on its own could be take a few posts and no one would agree on anyway.

    Having said that, I have lost a good deal of respect for Ebert. Not because he doesn’t think video games are art, but the entire time he was saying “I don’t understand this media. I never have anything to do with this media. I don’t want to ever try out this media. But I’m going to criticise it anyway from a superior point of view even though I’ve spent last several blogs admitting I have no idea what I’m talking about”. To me, it’s just right unprofessional for someone who’s been in the critic business for so long.

  2. The Machination Says:

    Alright, it looks like Jack is too busy taking his fine new computer I built him out for a spin to tend to our fine readership, so here’s my take on the matter.

    I’m pretty well in agreement with you; Ebert is not a bad critic when it comes to film, however all of these years have probably just made him feel indestructible in the eyes of his readers and opponents. So, in all of his audacity, he plunges his bigotry into an area that he assumed everyone would appreciate his bold stance within. Unfortunately, it just revealed him to be a jabbering fool. The problem is that, as stated above, he really takes fine slices of information in order to build his opinions which pretty much ignores all of the relevant details, including the fact that he, himself has not played the games he discusses, and that his points are really just a summation of extraneous details.

    I think the biggest flaw in the argument, and one that will go down with the ship until the end of time is that you just can’t universally define “art”. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Sure people will bicker about it for all eternity, and whether or not games at some stage are deemed as art, it doesn’t mean that everyone will always agree.

  3. searingscarlet Says:

    I thought about this a little more because there were something else nagging about the whole saga, which coming down to it was exactly what you have described.

    Much of the agreement with Ebert falls under the “simply because you like something it doesn’t mean it’s art”. That I agree with whole heartedly, but to me it is still not the core issue with Ebert’s statement. I can say right now that I would be horrified to find out that some other things I’m passionate in life are considered as “art” due to the conflict between what my personal definition of art is and how it don’t fit with the criteria. IMO even take away trying to blank a universal statement on what everyone should consider as art, as an individual drawing the line the following three factors should at least be considered:

    1. Have some idea on what we are talking about.
    2. Have a well defined criteria defining if something is “art”.
    3. Compare the criteria against what we try to define as “art”, then decide whether it is or isn’t.

    In Ebert’s case, we could loosely argue that he did the third, slippery on the second and completely unqualified for the first.

    As a perpendicular situation, I thought of another person’s statement about something else I love, and how he described it shouldn’t be art. The speaker is Anthony Bourdain. The subject matter was cooking. Unlike Ebert however, I agree fully with Bourdain as he had met all the factors needed to be a valid critic:

    1. He is a professional chef. He knows what he’s talking about.
    2. He set clear criteria on what is art. Something that is one off, could result in volatile unpredictability, experimental, pioneer of ideas.
    3. He thinks that regular restaurant cooking could be but ideally should never be “art”, because he believes that his customers should expect something reliable and replicable, and if anyone wants to be artistic with their food do it in their own damn time not in his kitchen.

    For that, I am bought.

    I have a vague, vague smear of memory on Hideo Kojima commenting on why he didn’t want to make games that are “art”, and from memory he raised some similar, valid points. I don’t want to paraphrase too much though, as without the article on front of me there are just too much room for error.

    In short, I can fully accept that some people believe that video games are not, or can never be art. What I can’t accept are filmsy argument based on “I am a big shot na na na na na”.

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