For You, Mr. Roger Ebert
On April 16th, 2010 at 9:50 PM, Roger Ebert posted a blog entry entitled, "Video games can never be art." Throughout the blog entry, Ebert dissects video games, and his reasons for why they can never be art, in his usual fashion. He structures his argument against a TED talk given by Kellee Santiago in 2009, using many of her business based arguments as jumping off points for his own thoughts. Give it a read to gain some context, or not, the choice is yours.
On March 16th, 2012, the Smithsonian opened their "The Art of Video Games" exhibit, fully equipped with a few jabs at the film critic (the game "Flower" is included, a game that Ebert referred to as never having crossed the boundary into artistic expression). For many, the Smithsonian exhibit is the culmination/justification of/for years of arguing that their favorite hobby is an art form.
In this gamers opinion, both forms of argument are part of a larger problem, one that may never be solved.
What it is...
The World English Dictionary defines art as "the creation of works of beauty or other special significance." Does this seem like complete and utter poppy-cock to anyone else? Art is like love, indefinable. There is no one person, organization, or deity that can point to the work of another person and universally define that work as art. We historically define the works of past brilliant minds as art because they gathered popularity over a period of time, not because the first person to look at the product declared it was art and it was known hence forth as such.
The very definition of art is a misnomer. It implies that art be viewed as an appeal to aesthetic human interests, though one rarely makes a final judgement based on such interests. Yes, aesthetic qualities lay the base for claims of art, but they do nothing more. True art has never been about what you see, hear, touch, taste, or smell, but about the emotional response to these stimuli. True art rips through your mind, causing you to reevaluate what you believe. True art changes the way you view the world. True art changes you.
What I see...
When I begin to question whether or not video games are a form of art, I look not at the tireless developers who pour everything they have into these games, I look not at the producers who sell, I look not at the gamers who play, I look not at the generational and socio-economical biases piled against the platform...I look inward. I look at the disappointment I have felt, the joy, the actual tears I shed expressing both. I see that video games are no longer just a hobby to me, but an integral part of my being, much like music. I see them as a shared experience with the love of my life. I see them as my golden ticket into a community that has shaped who I am today. I see them as art.
So, Mr. Ebert, when I hear you say, "Video games can never be art," I weep, not because you are a critic with reach, but because you may never be privy to the experience you so easily cast aside. As a critic, you take what many people spend years creating and boil it into a TV show, blog, a simple hand gesture, or rant, forging your own path to what I am sure you have admitted more than once, is art. Critics are the parasites of the creative world and you number among the elite.
I leave you with the thoughts of an artist whose work has forever etched itself upon my mind, Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"A painter told me that nobody could draw a tree without in some sort becoming a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its form merely...but by watching for a time his motion and plays, the painter enters into his nature and can them draw him at every attitude."
I say to all who doubt, come enter the nature of gaming, discover what you may have missed with your cursory glances.