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Why Ebert Was Right

Zonk posted more than 9 years ago | from the large-man-big-ideas dept.

Games 102

Next Generation reports has an article examining how, in some ways, Roger Ebert was right when he criticised the artistic merits of gaming. From the article: "But Ebert cannot be discounted, because, while he may not be the foremost authority on videogames, he knows a great deal about storytelling. He's not even completely ignorant on the subject of gaming; in fact, Roger Ebert is credited with at least one game review, a piece on the obscure Cosmology of Kyoto published in Wired in 1995. He reviewed it positively - he said it was wonderful."

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And I'm right when I say (4, Insightful)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188758)

Citizen Kane is overrated. And Touch of Darkness contains lame cliched stereotypes of Mexicans and pot smokers.
Ebert can bite me. He is probably less qualified to comment on games than I am to comment on movies. I'm sure I've watched more movies than he has played games and read more books on film and hell even edited broadcast video.
The art in games is not just the matter of telling a good story. Games are not experiences where you passively absorb a story that is dictated to you. Game mechanics and design are just as important if not more important than story, art or music.
Ebert tries to interpret games in the same manner that he does movies, as a visual and aural experience. He completely misses the point. Which isn't surprising given where he's coming from. Just wait another 30 years and games will be an excepted art form just as movies are today. Recall that when movies came out they were considered inferior to stage plays. As TV was considered gimmicky compared to radio dramas. It's just the old guard's reaction to a new medium.

Wasn't this one of the point Ebert made? (1)

ZephyrXero (750822) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188991)

That's one of the problems though...how do you determine who's qualified to rate anything. I'd say 90% of the reviewers who work for print mags and 99% of online ones aren't qualified to rate games either. Just because you play games doesn't mean you are qualified to tell other people whether they are good or not. A reviewers job should be, ideally, to filter out the bad from the good for the people who dont' want to have to dig through all the garbage to find the good stuff. Unfortunately most reviewers just give glowing reviews of all the over marketed, over hyped garbage while completely ignoring the interesting titles out there. And don't bring up Katamari....that was a fluke. Go to one of the major game sites one day and look through the news and such for that day, and look at how many of those games are produced by a small/indie developer? Hell just look at the ratio of original titles to sequels...it's sickening. Yet these "critics" keep giving these lack luster games great ratings.

Back to my point... just because I've watched a few movies before, does that make me an credible film critic? Hell no... To be a good game reviewer you need to go out and play every game you can possibly find, even the ones you know are gonna suck. Then you write articles on the games that fall through the cracks, the ones that really do go beyond being just a game and are actually pieces of art. Madden 200X will never be a piece of art...so quit wasting our time reviewing it...they've got enough advertising already as it is! What makes a game art has been discussed numerous time on /. so I won't bother again here...please, don't bother me with replies on that either...it's off topic ;)

Still at the end of the day, Ebert needs to point the finger at his own industry first... all the entertainment mediums are going to shit right now, and probably due to people being more concerned with hype and sales rather than artistic merit.


Re:Wasn't this one of the point Ebert made? (1)

JabberWokky (19442) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189127)

all the entertainment mediums are going to shit right now

I'd say that television has been going through a period of renewal and several quality shows have been appearing over the past couple years (or the past several years if you add in HBO and Showtime). I've heard various theories that it is a reaction to reality shows or simply new time slots opening up as the reality shows wane in popularity, but there seems to be a nice trend toward quality recently.


Re:Wasn't this one of the point Ebert made? (1)

ZephyrXero (750822) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189206)

Still, for every good show that comes out there are 30 awful ones released too. That's not a very good ratio (even if I did just pull it out of my ass) ;)

Re:Wasn't this one of the point Ebert made? (1)

JabberWokky (19442) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189337)

I don't disagree. It's just that the top quality seems to have gotten better, and the ratio of good to bad has gotten better.


Re:Wasn't this one of the point Ebert made? (1)

grimharvest (724023) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189362)

Guess you weren't around it the seventies when they were making shows like the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family. It doesn't get any worse than that. Same goes for movies. They sure as shit didn't have anything like Lord of the Rings back then, but they certainly had their share of mundane cop shoot'em ups.

Re:Wasn't this one of the point Ebert made? (1)

secolactico (519805) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190258)

Well... Star Wars did come out in the 70's, and the Godfather parts I and II, and Jaws...

There were a lot of crappy movies, to be sure but so there are now. For every Lord of the Rings you get tens (or more) Dooms.

Now, TV shows, I can't comment much, except the cartoons that I see on that cartoon network retro channel. They suck, mostly. Cartoon "violence" was being eliminated, so you get Tom and Jerry working together to save fluffy puppies and the like.

And Citizen Kane is an overrated movie.

Re:Wasn't this one of the point Ebert made? (1)

macshit (157376) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190898)

Well... Star Wars did come out in the 70's, and the Godfather parts I and II, and Jaws...

There were a lot of crappy movies, to be sure but so there are now. For every Lord of the Rings you get tens (or more) Dooms.

Seriously, there were a lot of great movies made in the 70s, maybe more than in the 90s. Sure the 70s had its share of embarrassing fashion trends and awful television moments ... but so did the 90s, the 80s, the 60s, the 50s -- and the '00s will too.

90% of everything is crap, this hasn't changed, and it's unlikely to do so in the future. Nothing to see, move along folks.

Re:Wasn't this one of the point Ebert made? (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189684)

I agree that the majority of reviewers in the industry are pretty useless. I also don't know why half of every magazine has to filled with re-written press release previews. Well, I do know why and it has everything to do with advertising dollars and nothing to do with quality reporting on the industry.
To be fair, just because a game may be "good" doesn't mean everyone will enjoy it. It's all subjective. What I usually look for in a review is explanation of the gameplay itself. That's about the only information that a reviewer can give me which will allow me to judge if I think the game will be enjoyable.
I would love to see more indie game reviews myself. One of the reasons I like Computer Games magazine is because they will review some oddball items. Web only releases or niche products such as hardcore sims or wargames. Some of the most fun I've had recently was with a game called Oasis [oasisgame.com] . Computer Games is the only place I've seen it reviewed. Which is a pity because it is a great little puzzle/strategy game which is really a lot of fun. I couldn't care less about the latest Madden but I am really interested in unique games that due to lack of exposure slip through the cracks.

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189084)

excepted art form

Ummm, games ARE and excepted art form. That's what Ebert is saying. I think you should look forward to the day when games are an accepted art form.

Re:And I'm right when I say (1, Insightful)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189154)

Citizen Kane is overrated. (...)


The thing about Citizen Kane is that, in addition to being an amazing technical and creative achievement, is that it's actually a damn fine movie. By anyone's standards, or anyone who isn't predisposed to be against it by its reputation. It's not some (f|shm)ancy art house flick, it was seriously made to be entertaining, and it is.

It's told with energy, style, and it's got a surprising number of laughs too. That musical number at the party was stuck in my head for a week. And if you watch it again, you'll catch something else. And if you watch it a third time, something else.

Ebert's seen the movie dozens of times, he sometimes watches it with film classes, and he's always finding new things in it.

I can't think of a movie that better deserves its reputation. I wouldn't part with my DVD of it for the world.

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189584)

Which is exactly the point I'm trying to make because I've heard plenty of people say "Citizen Kane is boring" etc. It may be subjectively so in their opinion but they are not necessarily qualified to critique the film within the greater context of movie making as a whole.
As Ebert is not qualified to critique gaming.

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190667)

You've heard people say Citizen Kane is BORING?

Let me guess, they think appreciatively of Armageddon?

But while it's true that Ebert doesn't have the knowledge to compare a game against another, it is untrue that he is biased against gaming. I myself remember seeing him and Gene Siskel playing NES Tecmo Bowl on a TV special once. Their verdict, if I remember correctly, was thumbs down, because it was too addictive.

Further, he has a right to speak about games, because 1. he is definitely a thinking individual and not a paid shill, and 2. he is a human being, and you can't shut them up over anything, nor would one want to.

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190863)

"You've heard people say Citizen Kane is BORING?
Let me guess, they think appreciatively of Armageddon?"

That's probably about right. There is a reason a lot of crap movies come out of Hollywood, apparently a lot of people enjoy crap.

"Further, he has a right to speak about games, because..."

Sure he does. I would never say that he didn't have a right too. I am merely saying his opinion on games is not worth all that much. It isn't his field of expertise. He can talk all he wants but when you hear what he has to say it's obvious how removed he is from gaming.

Re: Touch of Darkness (2, Informative)

Crazy Eight (673088) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189197)

You're thinking of "Touch of Evil".

Re: Touch of Darkness (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190872)

Yes, thanks. Heston rocks.

Not Art (1)

jjlilj (634861) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189306)

In brief, take a look at the Mona Lisa. A sitter is posed with an odd look on her face. Nice background, use of sfumato. A good bit of realism. But does it tell a story? Does it make a point? We can contemplate it, sure, does that make it art? We can study it and come up with dozens of theories about the silly look on her face, does that make it art? Does the fact that it was painted make it art? Micheangelo's David isn't painted, is it not art? Was my yearbook picture art? I've got a silly grin. No, the Mona Lisa is not art.

Well actually it is. The problem with modern people is that we are surrounded by art all the time. Virtually every product we buy has a design (by an artist, often many) on it. The cars we drive, the houses we live in, the white stripe underneath the word Coke. All of it, art.

For Roger Ebert to claim that Film is art and games are not is ludicrous. Film and television have a different artistic language than any prior artistic medium. Imagine the theater conniseur in 1924 going to a cinema and walking out saying "That was nice, but its not art!" Well its not theater!

Video games aren't movies. The artistic langauge is different. Most creators of TV, Film, painting, sculpture, and the rest would love the praise: "You made me feel like I was part of the action!" Well in a video game, that is a given. Do the artists behind the video game use this language to thrill or do they use it for more? Sure their is eye-candy video games, well there's eye candy movies. But they are ALL art.

Next a symphony conniseur is going to claim that heavy metal, industrial and particularly rap are not "music". Please, if your subjectivity of taste is that short sighted. Spare us and spare yourself from looking silly.

Re:And I'm right when I say (2, Insightful)

buffer-overflowed (588867) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190497)

Nah, citizen kane isn't overrated. It just has a hell of a lot to live up to. You go into a movie like that expecting the greatest thing since sliced bread without a bunch of context and you're going to be disappointed.

Ebert's big thing is that he favours the 'auteur' theory of filmaking(the best movies are made under the artistic control of single individuals[Kubrick, Kurisawa, Hitchcock, etc.]). Games, well, whire there are a few designers like that, it's really too drastically different a medium to really feel the individual designer truly coming through. Passive v. Active. How much Shingeru Morimotosan is in LoZ? How much does he and the game provide vs how much you provide yourself?

That's where Ebert is coming from. Disagree with that or not(a lot of people don't buy into that), does that make more sense?

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190922)

"Nah, citizen kane isn't overrated. It just has a hell of a lot to live up to. You go into a movie like that expecting the greatest thing since sliced bread without a bunch of context and you're going to be disappointed."

Exactly my point. You quite simply refute the opinion I state by saying it's based on ignorance. And to say "Citizen Kane is boring" is based on ignorance. Obviously a well thought out response from Ebert on the film would be more useful. It's his area of expertise.
I think that there are "auteurs" in the gaming world. Sure their may not be many, but people like Will Wright, Peter Molyneaux, Sid Meier and John Carmack definately imprint their touch upon the games that come out of their studios. Even if they aren't the lead designer - their touch is obvious. On the otherhand did the director of Deuce Bigelow 2 imprint his auteurship upon the film? There is just as much shovel ware in film as there is in gaming.
I do understand where Ebert is coming from, I just don't feel that his analysis of gaming (at least what I have read) shows him coming from an outsiders viewpoint. His comments about how gamers are wasting away their precious hours in particular bothered me. Just thinking about how many precious hours Ebert has wasted away watching shit like Deuce Bigelow 2 for example. I guess he would say he suffers so that his viewers need not. Or something.

Oops (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190935)

"I just don't feel that his analysis of gaming (at least what I have read) shows him coming from an outsiders viewpoint."

Duh. This should be:

"I just feel that his analysis of gaming (at least what I have read) shows him coming from an outsiders viewpoint."

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

buffer-overflowed (588867) | more than 9 years ago | (#14191149)

I can't really refute your opinion. I agree with it anyway. Citizen Kane is boring. But then again, at this point having any surprise over what rosebud is is akin to being shocked that Jesus gets crucified in the Passion of the Christ, so yea, that tends to sap the entertainment value unless you're a film geek. What I can refute is if you claim it's not a great piece of film, it is, I can give technical and artistic reasons why.

Ironically, Ebert is an outsider to film review(english and literature, not film background). That's why he's so good at it. Yea, he has his pet theories and his pet tastes, but he's also willing to drop the pompousness of a typical reviewer and say something is simply fun to watch. It what makes him one of the few great surviving critics. He can judge things rather fairly based both upon the entertainment and art aspects. He also tends to geek out at things. If you know Ebert, you get a lot out of his reviews about a movie.

Technically he was getting paid to watch and filter the crap. Which he, unlike most game reviewers, is actually fairly good at. So nah, it's not a waste of his time(I mean, he's getting paid to watch Deuce Bigalo 2, it's not like he's paying to watch it). I'm also pretty sure Ebert plays video games, he's an incredibly geeky SoB who likes anime and has written a game review or two in his day.

His point was, that even the best of games aren't at the level of personal enrichment that a great piece of film, music or literature are. Miyamoto, Kojima, Meier, Molyneux, etc. they have produced some great games. But let's stop and look at our reactions to them. How did, say, super mario brothers, pirates, doom, black & white, MGS, or civilization make you reflect upon the human condition(we're coming from an english lit background here, remember gotta work in that phrase, "human condition")? The medium just isn't at that level yet, and may never be able to get there. At best stories hit the level of a godzilla picture or king kong and even in the great open ended games, any such revelations or insights aren't provided by the "auteur" they're provided by the player. It's a wierd distinction, but I see it.

Are they a waste of time? Absolutely, they're pure entertainment.

Re:And I'm right when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14193373)

How did, say, super mario brothers, pirates, doom, black & white, MGS, or civilization make you reflect upon the human condition(we're coming from an english lit background here, remember gotta work in that phrase, "human condition")?

Answers to your questions:
Super Mario Bros. taps into the internal whimsy of the human spirit. The modern world forces, through both materialism and empiricism, forces most of us to suppress our creative impulses, or at least channel them into very limited socially acceptable activities. The surreal nature of the Super Mario Bros. universe and its intentional flouting of the expected "rules" is a temporary liberation to that all too neglected part of the human psyche.

In Sid Meier's Pirates you are given freedom to explore and make choices in a game world based on a historical setting. While not a true historical piece it delivers an appropriate setting and context for these choices. In Pirates you could be a law-abiding merchant captain, a privateering entrepreneur, or a ruthless pirate. The moral and economic choices you make are far beyond the scope of what most of us can do in our normal lives.

Doom satisfies the primal hunter instinct that in a non-destructive way (Jack Thompsons of the world take note). It is an example of the continual conflicting virtues of civilization and savagery that modern western people have inherited from our cultural past. In the universe of Doom these two disparate sets of virtues find a way to co-exist and complement each other. The more civilized impulses provide the goals to the player, to stop the destructive and literally hellish hordes unleashed on an unsuspecting humanity. The savage virtues of quick reactions, decisive action, and the ability to bring down your enemy provide the means to the end.

I'd have something to say about MGS, if I knew what you were referring to...

Both Black & White and Civilization are not only entertainment but vehicles to explore the structure and evolution of societies. Black & White does this by creating a fictional island and setting different cultures, with different mythologies, in competition with each other. Civilization takes a more historical and secular path, as well as looking at the issue at a much larger scale. Regardless of the details both games let the player consider and explore more about large-scale group dynamics. They also allow the player to answer the common question, "What would the world be like if I was in-charge?"

Can I have a cookie now?:)

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 9 years ago | (#14197066)

"How did, say, super mario brothers, pirates, doom, black & white, MGS, or civilization make you reflect upon the human condition(we're coming from an english lit background here, remember gotta work in that phrase, "human condition")?"

Anonymous coward had a pretty good reply for this, I'll add in some comments from personal experience.
As with films, not all games are going to make you "reflect upon the human condition" or more generally expand your thinking process (although I would argue even a twitch game increasing your hand eye coordination is more useful than Deuce Bigelow 2).
For particulars:

Pirates. Well I hated pirate movies when I was a kid. I just didn't find anything interesting about the whole pirate era. I avoided everything pirate related. Until this game came out. One of the first open ended games, in a way Pirates is like a pre-cursor to what critics harp on about GTA (come on you sail around in your pimped out err ride, scoring spanish bling, boat-jacking, hooking up with a ho in every port... ok I'll stop). All of a sudden this era was exciting to me. The game made me interested in the nature of piracy and privateers in that era and the interplay between the nations in the new world. It compelled me to learn more about the era. Everything from the economics and politics to the music (thanks to the Commodore 64 renditions of classical music included in the game).
Civilization was more of the same. Civ put me on a total non-fiction reading kick (keep in mind I tend toward sci-fi and the likely geek suspects) because I became fascinated in how civilization developed and how technology, resources and location impacted the growth of nations and empires. Sure Civ is not 100% accurate, but certain things that have proven true in the history of the world apply in Civ. Controlling resources, developing trade routes, being the first nation to develop certain technologies. Even the difference between being isolationist versus being actively involved in the politics of your neighbors.
The oddest one of all would probably be Black and White. While not the greatest game, it was a great experiment. It goes down in my personal history as being the first game to make me "feel bad" for an action I took. The pet you have in the game has certain "emotional" reactions. In my case I was frustratingly dealing with my villages when my pet gets upset because he's not getting enough attention. He starts acting up. Throwing poop at my villagers, stepping on them, eating them. Basically throwing a complete tantrum. I'm so pissed off at this pet I grab him and whale on him. Of course he becomes very sad and despondant after that. Molyneaux had modelled typical actions of a kid "acting out" in response to lack of attention. And I reacted and played the role of bad parent by beating the crap out of the pet. Reflect on the human condition? It sure made me.

"any such revelations or insights aren't provided by the "auteur" they're provided by the player"

I disagree about this. In a linear story driven game it is provided by the auteur in the same manner as revelation in a book or film. In an open ended game the specific event that you experience is not dictated directly by the auteur, but the game and rule system that allows the event to happen IS dictated by the auteur. The moment I had in Black and White is precisely the type of response that Molyneaux was working for. Indeed one of the problems with the game was that so much focus was placed on creating the interaction between the gamer and the pet that the rest of the game seemed tacked on. As such it's obvious (and confirmed by interviews with Molyneaux during the game's production) that the imprint of the auteur is in that interaction. He and the development team was so enamored of that aspect of the game that it shines at the expense of the actual gameplay. And to be fair it is the one element of the game that was truly ground breaking.
And for the record, I do generally like Ebert's reviews, but I don't really agree with much of what he has said about video games. I understand his position, I just don't think it's the proper way to look at things. Maybe proper isn't the right term. I guess I don't think it's the way a gamer would look at games. I feel like I'm getting a lot more out of the games I play than I do out of most movies or television (now books on the other hand... hmmm).

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

patternjuggler (738978) | more than 9 years ago | (#14191329)

Ebert tries to interpret games in the same manner that he does movies, as a visual and aural experience. He completely misses the point.

"That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept." [suntimes.com]

He's saying games can be works of art visually, but that what has come so far isn't yet good enough. He doesn't talk about the possibility of 'gameplay' being an artform, but I would suspect he would claim that even if it was an artform it also does yet not match up to the art of other media.

Game mechanics and design are just as important if not more important than story, art or music.

True, but does that make it art? (I don't really want to get into defining art though...) Even if the act of designing a game is an artform, does it necessarily mean that the product of that art is also art? Craftsmanship is a perfectly acceptable term I think, even if it falls short of being art. Is chess or football art, were their designers artists?

Can playing a game be an art form? A skilled athlete or non-sport game player may sometimes be considered to have artistic qualities, perform moves that are artistic, but the real focus remains on the game, the mechanics, and winning.

To me, a lot of gameplay taps into something basically nonverbal and non-emotional- button pressing is sometimes a muscle memory thing, other games require the player to develop complex internalized models of what's going on in the game- but there's still no great human truths to be uncovered in that territory- great primate/mammalian truths perhaps, but lacking something somehow higher ellicited by words and images and sound- games can use words and images and sound to achieve that effect, but like Ebert says it hasn't been done as well as the greatest yet and when it does it's not because of the gameplay but because of the words/images/sounds that are already present in other media. It may be possible to encode complex and deeply meaningful messages into gameplay itself, but I don't think it has happened yet.

He goes on:

"video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic."

I interpret this as saying that games are too long. The ratio of time spent to great art experienced is too low compared to other things out there to be enjoyed. Games may be fun, which makes up for the lower art density for most of us, but apparently not Ebert.

I think you can follow this thought further- how can one really hold up a game, or part of a game, as an example of art when the barrier to experiencing that art is so high? There is some correlation between difficulty in reading books and playing games- there's a certain amount of work required to experience them fully unlike passive works like film that propels itself forward whether the viewer is engaged in it or not. Very difficult books, with complex use of language invented and only used by the author are hard to read, analogous to hard games. Books and movies have built-in cheating methods- you can flip ahead a few pages, or even to the end of the books and fast-forward a movie.

Video games are problematic to use as references. If I were to write a paper citing the nth mission of some game, there is no way for someone to go experience that level without playing the entire game to that point or investing time in finding cheat codes, or getting someone to give them a saved game for that point. There needs to be a uniform way of experiencing any part of any game without having played any of it before hand.

How do I 'quote' a game? Screenshots and videos don't really do it, because the gameplay is removed- there needs to be a way to generate a fair use demo of any part of a game and distribute it along with another work making use of that 'quote'.

There's a renaissance for text and images on the internet because they are so accessible to computer algorithms and people- text is way more accessible to computer tools than images, but in a short amount of time we will have search engines that can determine the content of pictures automatically without human tagging. Games and the content in them are locked away inside proprietary engines, and therefore are left out of this revolution. This ties into the legitimization angle but I'll leave it at that.

There's so much going on with games, some of which does and some of which doesn't have artistic qualities, but it seems like they lack a certain purity of form to really be wholly art products at least most of the time. I think the games that are going to be considered art are going to be sort of like installation art- you would use a 3d engine to walk around a space and experience things, and even effect the course of events with your actions, but winning/losing type gameplay would probably be removed.

Thinking about games as an art form is far more interesting than thinking about games as a professional sport in any case. Those are two sometimes conflicting ends to the vague movement to Legitimize Video Games Right Now, although I suspect we'll have to wait a few decades (30 years as you suggest) until every person in the country was a gamer or knew one at some point in their lives before it really happens.

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

overbom (461949) | more than 9 years ago | (#14193667)

this word excepted, it doesn't mean what you think it means. ebert is more qualified to criticize art than you, it's what he does for a living. ebert is basically an art critic.

I'm with ebert. games themselves are not necessarily art, at least not in the same way as a painting or a film.

Re:And I'm right when I say (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 9 years ago | (#14196040)

games themselves are not necessarily art, at least not in the same way as a painting or a film.

Well, obviously. Neither is a book or a musical piece. Each medium has its own "language" and it's obviously futile to expect another medium to use the same language. Games convey messages completely different than movies do. A game can nudge you into a direction and make you see the message while thinking you thought it up yourself. A book can do the same but a book does so in a different way. Games also interact with the user (art can be interactive, modern theatre often is to a certain degree), which prompts completely new ways of conveying a message. You can, to a certain degree, react towards the user's thoughts.

Of course games aren't made to be art. Movies, books, music, etc isn't made to be art but to entertain the audience and convey a message. What were Shakespeare's plays during his lifetime? Entertainment! To argue that art should be more important than entertainment is stupid, the master will weave both into each other and never lose sight of the primary purpose of his work (entertainment), which is why those works are regarded as great. For games that means the game has to be fun to play. A fool would make "art" by putting lots of conventional art into a game without thinking about the user experience, a master will make a fun game AND a work of art in one piece, defining and using a "language" unique to games. Movies didn't have their own language at first, they were basically filmed theatre acts. Now they have their own distinct language to convey a message in.

Doesn't ring a bell (2, Funny)

general_re (8883) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188798)

...Roger Ebert is credited with at least one game review, a piece on the obscure Cosmology of Kyoto published in Wired in 1995. He reviewed it positively - he said it was wonderful.

Anybody play that one? How was it?

Re:Doesn't ring a bell (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14188839)

Hmm, get it here:

Cosmology of Kyoto [the-underdogs.org]

If you've seen one game... (1)

hackwrench (573697) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189553)

Yeah... I get that "If you've seen one game you've seen them all," vibe.

Re:Doesn't ring a bell (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190532)

It's a graphical text adventure.

I couldn't figure out the command to get past the monk and get into the temple.

subject (4, Insightful)

Frizzle Fry (149026) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188810)

Anyone who says "To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers" has never spent serious time playing Tetris.

Re:subject (1)

ZephyrXero (750822) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189186)

Squaresoft? ;)

Seriously though, when I played Final Fantasy VI (FF3 in the US) for the first time, I realized what a great possiblity there is for gaming to become the ultimate art form one day. It takes all prior art forms, rolls them into one, and then lets you interact with it.

Re:subject (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189552)

Not as long as the art is spoiled by running around in circles to level up, or figuring out which repetitive combo of spells is the most effective.

Re:subject (1)

ZephyrXero (750822) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189678)

FYI, you don't have to level up in Final Fantasy games...that's optional. I don't ;)

Re:subject (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | more than 9 years ago | (#14191520)

Not anymore. In FF2 I got to a cave with a poisonous floor and had to run in circles for 3 or 4 levels to gain "levitate." Turns out I'd been too speedy and hadn't been killing as many baddies as the designers expected.

Re:subject (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 9 years ago | (#14196097)

That doesn't explain why I'm stuck at a boss in FFX that can wipe my party with one attack because I didn't level enough.

Re:subject (1)

ZephyrXero (750822) | more than 9 years ago | (#14197113)

addendum: You don't have to, but it'll make things easier ;)

PS. Which boss? I didn't do any extra leveling and remember having a pretty hard time with Yunalesca

Re:subject (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 9 years ago | (#14197367)

Seymour, second (?) reincarnation, in the snowy area after the catmen mountain. Right after a looooooooooong path without branches or points of interest, random encounters every five steps (which I ran from after an hour or so of being annoyed and bored, that was half a dungeon, shouldn't have made enough of a difference that I'd survive his attacks, I'd need almost twice as many HP) and a fifteen minute (when skipping as much as possible) cutscene before the boss fight. That was the point where I decided that this game isn't meant to be finished, it exists only to piss the user off.

Re:subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14197278)

Don't forget Chrono Trigger!

Re:subject (2, Insightful)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189205)

When you speak of great dramatists, poets, composers and filmmakers etc, you speak of literature and art. Things of high social impact.

While Tetris is a fine game, and perhaps one of the best we've ever witnessed, it has nothing to say. It has as much impact on culture and thinking as the game Tic-Tac-Toe. Sure, common culture might reference terms within the game such as "Cats game" or some such, but as a work of art it communicates nothing to the player, and most if not all attempts to claim the opposite are heavily contrived and require incredibly deep thought that few who've played the game have. For example, you might that combined with the communist Russian background of the author, the game is a subtle commentary on how capitalism requires its people to work harder and harder to compete, and your ultimate demise will be an inevitable inability to match pace with the status quo. I'm sure you can do better though.

I must repeat that I deeply appreciate Tetris, and have spent many an hour on similar games like Crack-Attack (an open source openGL variation on Tetris-Attack), and plenty of other games. But Tetris does not appear to be an artistic expression of anything other than Asperger's Syndrome.

Re:subject (1)

Frizzle Fry (149026) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189570)

Well, it's a philosophical issue so I don't think I'm going to convince you otherwise, but rest assured that for many of us the purpose of art isn't to be a narrative that is designed to spoon-feed a simple message or story. Art is beauty and is an end to itself. If the best way for the artist to achieve that is through represntational art or narrative stories, that's fine, but abstract movies, music, games (Tetris), etc., can certainly be great art as well.

Re:subject (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189620)

Certainly a beautiful creation in some way is a reflection on the human condition?

Re:subject (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 9 years ago | (#14196197)

If you're a follower of Freud you'd say it's all related to sex in some way. The "in some way" qualifier means that even an absurd explaination will be accepted and I'd call that useless. It's like saying "everything is in some way related to the number 23". Sure, there are always some strange ways of computing that number but when the way there becomes too complicated it might be worth questioning whether that is really the point.

Re:subject (0, Redundant)

jchenx (267053) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190205)

Does the game have to "say" something to be artistic? How about a book, or a movie, or a painting? There are lots of ways of communicating impact to the viewer. Movies and books mostly do it through things like dialogue, good storytelling, etc. Paintings employ something entirely different (brush strokes, style? I'm not an art history major, so I wouldn't know). What about photography? Modern art? Sculpture?

Games will employ a little bit of everything above, and then some. Some games, specifically RPGs, I consider artistic because of their storyline, dialogue, character development, etc., much the same way I consider many books/movies to be artistic. However some games like Tetris, I consider artistic just because of the effect it had on me. I wouldn't say it's the "fitting of blocks into lines" that did it, but somehow the gameplay and the addictiveness of something so simple, yet gave me so much joy over time ... I think that's art in some way.

I'm not a creative person, nor an good writer by any means, but I'm sure a decent one should be able to write about Tetris in such a way, and convey the essence of what it means to play it, to enjoy it, to non-gamers. I think that's what the game industry really needs. Our own Ebert.

Re:subject (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190688)

I think there are a great number of people out there capable of equalling Ebert's film criticisms. There's plenty of such who are also good enough writers to form the online magazine The Escapist.

I just really don't think that a video game nessecarily qualifies as "Art" in as much as the word art has any meaning. Tetris is simply a puzzle with time as a dimension, and a time constraint. This isn't to say that games can't be art, but that Tetris in my opinion, qualifies as an excellent game that isn't art. Tetris is simply too abstract to be art. Tic-Tac-Toe: boring game, not art. Deus Ex: good game, decent art. Rez: bad game, decent art. Nethack: decent game, bad art.

Artistry is simply orthoganal to the quality of game. Think of it this way: if I place an image of the Mona Lisa in a game, is the game now art? What if I place an image of the Mona Lisa with a mustache in the game instead? Once the term art comes to include more than just a visual expression, the meaning must dratistically change to acommodate what we consider art these days: writing, music, and film.

Essentially Ebery is right for the wrong reasons. Most games aren't art. Most of the games he thinks are art aren't art. Most of the people who tell us that games are stories don't understand games, or at least aren't talented enough to come up with something truly better than what we have today. Ebert is wrong that authorial control is lost within a game. A game designer can still have tragic things happen to the player character without a loss of play (though few have taken the efforts to do so). A game designer could offer a series of decisions to the player while still maintaining the illusion of a single authorial control. Game storylines are best represented with a decision 'tree.' Most story lines either look like a line or at least have several joining edges where the plot forks left and right but either way eventually meets up with the other. Games have a far greater potential for artistic expression that has thus far remained untapped.

It wouldn't be difficult to make a game that qualifies as both a good game and good art. The question then is economic; whether the effort to make good art is rewarded. For Square, you might say they have been. For most PC games, I'd say the answer is no.

Re:subject (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189246)

But the thing about Tetris is that, its richness is largely played out.

Unlike chess (which arguably is a work equal to the classics by virtue of its longevity), Tetris has been mathematically exhausted. We know that, given an infinite time frame, that all players are doomed to fail at Tetris, for there exist block sequences which cannot be survived. Indeed, there are versions of Tetris you can download that purposely try to give you the worst block you can get. Which is an interesting variant, perhaps, but it's still not Tetris.

Tetris is addictive, sure, but it doesn't hold up well to heavy thought. That means it's fairly trifling, as serious works of art go. We may still be playing games of Tetris fifty years from now, but you won't find Tetris grandmasters playing it competitively for large sums of money.

Re:subject (1)

Frizzle Fry (149026) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189499)

I don't understand the argument that Tetris is "mathematically exhausted" because each game of Tetris must eventually end, while chess is somehow different. Every game of chess must eventually end also. That doesn't change whether it is beautiful. Why is the inability to last for an "infinite time frame" relevant? I think that is part of what makes the game great. You must last as long as possible and do the best you can while you are still there, like in life.

Quite the contrary actually: If it were possible to sit there and churn away at forever without losing and rack of an inifinite score, for me that is the point where it would be "exhausted" as a game. I'm glad that that isn't the case.

Re:subject (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190674)

That exhausts Tetris, sorry for not saying this explicitly, because there aren't a large number of possibilities for game within that space. Tetris remains interesting for a while because of its action-oriented nature. Meanwhile in Chess, even relatively minor changes to many positions can have profound consequences for the game, and the game's movespace has never been exhausted even by very powerful computers.

Depth plays the greatest role in the longevity of a game, just as depth (of a different sort) plays the greatest role in the longevity of a work of fiction.

Re:subject (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189651)

As far as art goes- the fact that you won't see people making gadzillions playting Tetris is a point in its favor, not against it. Art is not about making money. Its about art for art's sake. Having commercial implications neither makes it art, not eliminates it from being art.

Re:subject (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190654)

But my point about people making money playing Tetris isn't directly about finances, and more about the depth of the game. Chess, which is a closer parallel to a lasting game design achievement than comparing games to movies, does have that depth. Tetris, for all its strengths, does not; it's already been superceded by other Tetris-type games, like Puyo Puyo, as far as competitive play goes.

Re:subject (1)

gauauu (649169) | more than 9 years ago | (#14191938)

Three thoughts in response to those statements:

1. Although tetris has been superceded in competitive gameplay, it was one of the most innovative games ever created, and definitely qualifies as one of the most important game design achievements of recent times.

2. Chess went through quite a few changes to become the current game we now know as international chess. I choose to believe that "chess-type" games such as the ancient indian Chaturanga, and chinese chess (Xiangqi), are important works of art and design in gaming. They laid the foundation for the improvements, over many many years, until we have our current chess. Tetris could be compared to Chaturanga. Is there this high level of competition in Chaturanga? Not as much....its value is in innovation, and laying the foundation for the better game.

3. Why do mathematical proofs of the game lessen the game's value? This game swept the world, being known and loved by all sorts of people, gamers and non-gamers alike. Just because the hardcore gamers have realized that there may be more competitive variations doesn't mean that the game isn't fun, accessible, innovative, and very interesting.

Re:subject (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#14193985)

Those were some well-thought-out responses, I thought. Let's see about responding to them:

1. Yep, it's certainly innovative, and a milestone game design. No one's arguing otherwise. Whether it'll be looked back upon, in the future with the kind of intensity that we use to look at classic works of literature, or even movies, is less likely.

2. Chess ancestors and variants. Of course Tetris has value as an ancestor of other games. And whether those games are better than Tetris is a matter of debate, for I find that most of them lose something in their simplicity when compared to Tetris.

The thing here that I think should be considered is that a game's quality is not the same thing as its staying power. Whether some work lasts through the ages (and thus becomes viewed as classic) is more a result of its ability to withstand sustained, focused examination and still bear fruit than whether people simply enjoy it. There are many enjoyable things, so they tend to get washed away when something else enjoyable comes along, but there are far fewer things that'll hold up to intensive study.

3. When you say "the game's value," here, I see you confusing the game's enjoyability with its longevity. (And by longevity, I mean its survivability over centuries, not years). I'm not disputing that Tetris isn't great: I've played quite a lot of it myself. I'm merely saying that, to be viewed as a classic over time, that a work requires a different kind of greatness.

Re:subject (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189416)

Has anyone asked? I could name a couple that I would rank very highly. I just got done playing Shadow of the Colossus, and felt that it was a very artistic game.

I think that he also forgets that movies in the past were equivalent to what games are now. And Shakespear's plays were originally equivalent to a Hollywood blockbuster of today. They were written to entertain people too.

Re:subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14192164)

Or Go.

Next Generation doesn't tell the whole story (1)

j-turkey (187775) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188813)

Ebert may be onto something when he says that gaming is an inferior method of storytelling -- it may well be (depending on perspective). However, this isn't the whole picture behind Ebert's contraversial statements.

Ebert has been claiming that he doesn't consider video games an art form in the same way that he considers movies, books, music, or even comic books to be art forms. This and his storytelling statements are quite dissimiliar and should be treated as such. Nice try with the trollish title there.

Re:Next Generation doesn't tell the whole story (1)

Rydia (556444) | more than 9 years ago | (#14191079)

Uh, they deal with that cricism, and he (Ebert) gives a solid reason for his claim: That viewer-based progression is inferior to author-based progression.

While I don't disagree with this in practice, I do disagree with it as a theory. You may have a version of, say, Price and Predjudice (for instance), where Darcy decided he was going to be honest about his past to Elizabeth from the start. I would argue that it would be possible for it to be a fine novel still if a user were given a choice, as Darcy, in a prompt for "Tell the truth? [y/n]" at that point, with complete stories written for each. However, in PRACTICE you make an incredible number of decisions in a game. Not are very relevant, but they give enough variation that permanently changing the story to reflect it would take an inordinate amount of effort. Whether or not there is an aesthetically "ideal" way to present your plot is an entirely different discussion. As someone whose philosophy espouses an objective standard of quality, I'm tempted to say yes, but I could definitely be wrong.

People arguing RPGs disprove Ebert's claim are actually proving it. His definition of video game is as something intensively user-driven, where the decisions are made by the player. In most RPGs this isn't the case. I think Dragon Quest was the game that gave me the most choice in any RPG, but choices in any game are superficial, like "Do we get this chracter" or "do we take the high road or the low road?" They almost never affect plot in any meaningful fashion.

There are ways to rememdy this, I believe. All this focus on "nonlinearity" has completely missed the boat. In order for a story to be successful, as Ebert said, it needs a very strict and linear progression. However, then they're just clicking through a novel. My solution to this would be to have an RPG with a very, very strong and indellible central plot (perhaps with several possible CHARACTER-driven endings, ala Star Ocean or Baldur's Gate), but have an absurd number of small, interlocking character-driven side quests. That is where, I believe, games fail spectacularly telling a story. Stories aren't just "he did that," or at least they rarely are. Stories since the advent of the novel are psychological affairs, and we need to get the player involved in the character's past, his temperment, and his decisions AS AN INDIVIDUAL, rather than simply a member of the party. We need more than just a few small "party huddles" to get this. Expand star ocean's private action system, perhaps, by letting the player take the perspective of a party member other than the main character. This won't disrupt the narrative; it's already 3rd-person omniscient. I think that making all this optional would be the only way to do it, however.

Not an easy problem. I suppose if I decided to go into design instead of law I would've spent my whole life trying to puzzle it out.

Re:Next Generation doesn't tell the whole story (1)

buffer-overflowed (588867) | more than 9 years ago | (#14191202)

My opinion is here [slashdot.org] . But anyway, what about Vagrant Story [gamespot.com] ?

Just curious, last time I played it, while it's almost as shallow as say a godzilla film, it seemed to do things you mention well.

agreed. (2, Insightful)

The NPS (899303) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188821)

I agree. While there's nothing artistic about Burnout 3, and there's nothing artistic about countless Diablo 2 runs, some games contain sweeping scenary, beautiful music, timeless storytelling, and wonderful character developement. Sure, those games that integrate all those factors are few and far between, but they're still there.

Obligitory KD reference (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189285)

If there was ever a game that I would call artistic, Katamari Damacy is it. THAT is, ultimately, what the future of games should be.

Re:agreed. (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190559)

Keep in mind that there is nothing artistic about Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Re:agreed. (1)

gauauu (649169) | more than 9 years ago | (#14191952)

The problem is, you're trying to force the art of games into the same form as other visual arts. The art in gaming is not about music, scenery, visuals, etc, or even storytelling and character development. Those can be pieces of it...elements.

But the art in gaming is making a GAME to play. Making something that people want to play. Some other poster talked about tetris....that is one butt-ugly looking game, and some variations had some nasty music and sound as well. And there's no character development or plot. But in the art of gameplay, it was very well done.

You and Ebert's comparisons are like a painter looking at a piece of sheet music, and thinking, Huh, it's only black and white, and what's with all the lines and dots? That's clearly not very good art.

Re:agreed. (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | more than 9 years ago | (#14192270)

How many would call Chess or Monopoly art? To be good at them requires skills, but art? Then compare them to the "art" of swordfighting, then Chinese martial arts that are realistically only meant for performances. The artistic elements relate to dancing and expressiveness. Hollywood swordfighting has expressive elements, but fencing, not so much. Coming back to Chess or Monopoly, there's little expressiveness, so they aren't arts, and neither is Tetris.

Re:agreed. (1)

The NPS (899303) | more than 9 years ago | (#14197461)

I didn't mean to insinuate that a game could only be artistic in a visual or aural way ... but sometimes videogames qualify as art based on those criteria. I think that anytime someone puts something human in a peice of work, something genuine, it can be art. In Tetris' case, it's an intuitive and fun game that appeals to most everyone and is fun to play. I would call that art as well.

I just think that even when based on the criteria of a movie, book, picture, or peice of music video games frequently succede in being art. To quote Ebert directly:

"to my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers."

What makes art worthy? That could largely be a matter of opinion, and in my opinion he is wrong about that. I know of some beautiful and artisitic videogames. I wasn't saying that art can only be defined by those terms, but that some video games certainly are art according to Ebert's criteria.

It's not just gaming though (1)

ZephyrXero (750822) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188849)

The problem isn't with gaming as an artistic medium like Ebert suggests, it's with almost all media made today. Nobody cares about artistic merit anymore...all people really care about is sales, including consumers...most people won't go see a movie if it's doing poorly at the box office, or won't listen/buy a CD unless it's already in the Billboard top 200. Sure there are a few of us who care, but the vast majority don't...and that's the real problem.

Beg to Differ (2, Informative)

ReverendLoki (663861) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188855)

"he knows a great deal about storytelling."

As one of the poor unfortunates who has sat all the way through Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls [imdb.com] , I respectfully disagree on this point.

The author missed the point (1)

manno (848709) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188911)

I thought that Ebert said that "games are not art."
The author here is saying that games aren't the best medium to tell a story with... I agree, but that's not the same as saying games are not art. Games are art, regardless of how well they tell a story.


The Problem (2, Insightful)

Apreche (239272) | more than 9 years ago | (#14188918)

Ebert was mostly right. His only problem was in his over generalisation. There are indeed games that I would consider great works of art. And the fact is that 99.9% of games are complete shit. Maybe you can call them art, but only if you recognize they are bad. I've played quite a few games in my time. I've had joystick firmly in hand since the Atari 2600. There have been many games I've enjoyed over the years, but very few I can consider good works of art. In the past two years I can only name Katamari Damacy, and it doesn't even have a story. That's one out of thousands.

Ebert seemed to imply that no existing games were art, which is wrong. The correct statement is that most games are terrible art.

Disagree? Make a list of which games you would put in a museum and hang them on the wall for people to play hundreds of years from now. Divide by the number of games that exist. I rest my case.

Re:The Problem (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14189027)

Shadow of the Colossus should definitely make the "art" cut as well. It's not just the graphics or cinematic treatment - every little bit of the game contributed to an atmosphere and experience that was complete and immersive in a way that few games can even aspire to. Sands of Time and RE4 certainly approach this level of immersion, though the constant pausing to switch weapons in RE4 hurts it just a smidge.

Though for my vote, Super Smash Bros. Melee is the absolute best piece of game art out there. The definition of art regarding games needs to be expanded to accomodate all the things that games ARE that other mediums AREN'T. SSBM isn't particularly atmospheric or dramatic, certainly not in the way a movie is, but the controls, design, execution, and presentation combine to make a technically and aesthetically perfect game. When film was in its youth, most narrative movies were presented in the only way people knew how; theater, with a static camera and a stage and everything! Why must video games adhere to cinema's standards? In the lifetime of the video game, it may be too early for a true "masterpiece," but if any game would qualify it would have to be Melee.

Re:The Problem (1)

ZephyrXero (750822) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189272)

"Disagree? Make a list of which games you would put in a museum and hang them on the wall for people to play hundreds of years from now. Divide by the number of games that exist. I rest my case."

But that same problem falls upon movies, music, and books too. "What is art?" has always been a long going discussion, and unfortunately, then games of today or the last couple decades that really were art, won't be decided till many many years from now once they've stood the test of time.

Re:The Problem (4, Insightful)

Ayaress (662020) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189319)

Now, do the same thing with books, movies, paintings, poetry, and plays.

It's like comparing Vanilla Ice to Beethoven. The argument could be made taht Vanilla Ice was indicative of the state of music, at least in its genre, but can the same be said of Beethoven? When Beethoven was alive, new symphonies came out like movies do now. A few new ones each week, if not more often than that. Some of them were ok, some were excellent, some didn't get the recognition they deserved because the composer couldn't get a venue to play it, some weren't that great, but were made by a locally popular composer and got much more attention than they were really worth.

What we have now is the music of that time that survived the test of over a century.

A better example would be movies. They came out even more rapidly years ago than they do now. Ask your grandparents: They'd go to the theater and watch the newsreel, a movie they'd never seen before, a few serials (usualloy half-hour TV shows, but on the big screen), and then another new movie. You can do this every saturday, and there were usually still choices. Saginaw had three theaters back then: Temple, Court, and another one on the east side that's been torn down. Often, each one would have a different set of movies running.

How many of those movies do you still see on DVD or the classic movie channels today? Not many. You see the ones that have stood the test of time and were accepted as among the best of their respective time. Not everybody agrees. Just like you find people who enjoy obscure classical music you've never heard of, there are people who prefer one of Carry Grant's hundred-some-odd movies you don't see in the DVD racks.

Books are even moreso. There are thousands of books written any given year. If you were to accept the books you see refernced in most discussions of classical literiture as the entire artistic output of their time, then it would lead us to believe that only a few hundred books were written in any given century. It's just not the case.

Some people comment that most modern art doesn't look as good as older works of art, but it's the same effect. People have always produced weird and stupid stuff and called it art. Five years later, it may still be remembered, but fifty years later, a lot of it is forgotten. Time distills the vast creative output down into a relatively small subset which could be considered best, or perhaps most representative.

Some bands were popular ten years ago, but now we're all ashamed to admit we even listened to them, let alone that we can still recite Vanilla Ice lyrics on demand. Two hundred years from now, few people will even recognize the name Vanilla Ice, but they'll still recognize Beethoven or Bach, and they'll remember some subset of singers from the last twenty years.

The same will happen to today's playwrites and authors, directors and actors, and even to our games. Some of games will be remembered some day as works of art, some just as simple fun, others may be studied to see the core aspects of the genre, the same way a professor today will pick apart Chopin to demonstrate the overall style of music, or Michelangelo's David to see the thousands of very simmilar works of religious art from the time. And then again, the other thousands of them will probably fall into obscurity, and some may even be lost entirely over time.

Heck, a few may even be remembered for being complete travesties. Some of the worst movies ever made have earned the same immortality that the greatest have.

Grim Fandango (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189060)

Grim Fandango had an excellent story and characters. Remove the puzzles and it would be a great interactive movie where the player felt like he was moving things along, and clicking on objects to hear the inner monologue of Manny Calavera's thoughts. But it's the puzzles that detract from the art. One definition of art is that it explores the human condition. That is why great movies like Casablanca or The Godfather are considered art. By some in the art world, any game that includes puzzles or other distractions from what makes the piece meaningful, will never be art.

There have already been art installations with computer generated projections and videos. The next step is to really make them interactive where the art responds to the people, or leads them to discoveries. But puzzles and gunfights in games will probably never be art.

lame comparison (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14189185)

Ebert's reasoning: "There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control."

If this is the case, then why make the comparison? I don't understand why you would take games and compare them to films when both of them have very different strengths and weaknesses -- and then have the arrogance apply a value judgment. It's kind of like comparing a movie and a campfire story and then try to say that a movie is better than a campfire story because has more authorial control than another? Totally lame. It all depends on who you ask.

This whole thing is totally silly. Wouldn't it be better trying to explore what games can do rather than sit around talk about how movies are a better art form?

Re:lame comparison (1)

Evangelion (2145) | more than 9 years ago | (#14193637)

If this is the case, then why make the comparison? I don't understand why you would take games and compare them to films when both of them have very different strengths and weaknesses -- and then have the arrogance apply a value judgment.

Because the comments stemmed from a review of the Doom movie, in which movie sequences were designed to resemble a video game.

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14189204)

He is right, videogames are not considered an art form by people, then again, neither was photography for its first 100~ or so years.

Re:Well... (1)

fwitness (195565) | more than 9 years ago | (#14193530)

The funnier part is that when photography was invented, that's when the best art done by painters started to reveal itself. Before the camera, painters kept trying to accurately portray life. Once it was shown that the camera could do this easier, quicker and more accurately than painting, then artists had new ideas that could not be done with a camera (cubism anyone?)

I keep hoping that the same thing happens with games. We keep pushing graphics to reach photorealism, on all game consoles. Once all the manufacturers reach that goal, there will be nothing to distinguish them as there is only one way to be photorealistic, and the time for innovation will finally begin.

Re:Well... (1)

Ayaress (662020) | more than 9 years ago | (#14194164)

That's already started. Graphics haven't advanced much in realism in the last few years, but there are now new graphical styles that weren't explored in the past. Cell shading and other unusual graphical styles are becomming more common, not less as your statements would suggest.

When the status quo has been perfected, then new innovation is much more likely. Look at the Atari games: Some people wax nostalgic over them, but how many of them followed the same basic pattern as Pong and Arkanoid? How many more were variations on mazes inspired by Pac Man? And many of the others were much like Space Invaders or Pitfall.

They did that for a very long time until Nintendo came out with Super Mario World and shattered a lot of common conceptions about games. Remember that first time in the game? You get to the end of the screen and you KEPT GOING. It was a shock, you'd rarely or never seen that before. But you sure saw a lot of it over the following ten years. Hundreds of variations on the same concept, even taking older styles like Space Invaders adding the scrolling screen in place of the old static playfields. By the time the Playstation rolled around, that style had been played out, and I had trouble mustering any enthusiasm for just another platformer.

Every genre of games have gone through that too. Several times, in some cases. For a long time, every FPS followed a simmilar pattern to Doom. A lone gunman against hordes of mindless cannonfodder. And there were a LOT of FPS, and they started to become stale. Periodically, something completely different would come along. Half Life, Max Payne, Deus Ex, and it would bring some new life to the genre.

Apples and Oranges (1)

Jipster (894511) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189208)

The problem to me is that Ebert is automatically dismissing games as an art form because they cannot tell the stories that the greatest novels and the greatest movies have in the way that books and movies do. I can agree that a game trying to be a movie is probably better off as a movie. However, games as an artistic and storytelling medium have the added dimension of being interactive, something that film and word cannot claim. As a result, a player can take an active role in the story, and likewise the story can attempt to make an active impression on the player by putting them in someone else's shoes.

Ebert is right that games have to give up a certain amount of control by being interactive... that the pacing and even the narrative itself is often left to the whims of the player, not the writer. But can't these differences be used as an advantage for games to tell unique stories that passive entertainment like film and literature could never aspire to? I think so.

The argument is BS, apples and oranges (1)

cthulhuology (746986) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189228)

The question of whether games are art or not is a BS argument. Games are art, interactive, auditory, visually, and tactile. Compare a game to a painting. Both involve composition, use of lighting, and the same techinical skill applied to the subject matter. Some is crap some isn't. No one claims that a Jackson Pollock painting isn't art because it lacks a coherent narative voice. Similarly, no one claims that modern interpretive dance fails to be art, because each dancer contributes their own interpretation of the underlying metaphors, and no two performances are exactly the same.

Games are art, but need to be judged on their own terms. Games must be judged by their tactile aspect, the actual physical game play. Game must secondarily be judged by their visual appeal and cohesion and also by their use of sound to help suspend disbelief and its relationship to game play. Games may be judged by the stories they tell, but the story is tertiary at best to the artform as a whole. A game's mechanics, the way the game plays, the balance between forces, is the primary art. And critics like Eberts just aren't accustomed to judging this form of artistry. They lack the technical familiarty with the subject matter to judge it. The same thing goes for critics of concert violinists, or abstract painters, without the proper context and familiarity you can't accurately judge the relative merits of the works beyond your subjective reaction.

Claiming a game isn't art because it lacks a cohesive narative voice, is no different from saying "a painting isn't art because it isn't a movie", or "a novel isn't art because it doesn't involve flashing lights and people prancing about in skintight pants". It is a new artform, and games like PacMan are obviously art. Beautiful in their simplicity, and evocative of an era. Centuries from now, people will realize some games are crap, and others pure works of beauty. Games are a very complex artform. They require new rules to judge.

But that's just my 2 credits worth..

Postmodernism and broken walls (1)

Satorian (902590) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189237)

I wonder if Brechtian theater that seeks to involve the spectator and intentionally breaks the Fourth Wall is less art according to Ebert than traditional theater. Asides, there are enough art theories that make the reception and interpretation, which are (re)actions by nature, an integral, sometimes even neccessary, part of art itself.

Ebert's opinion is just his opinion, and his theory of art is his theory of art, which makes it just yet another one.

I like some of his commentaries and some of his reviews, but I disagree with him about as often as not. Still, he's free to have his own opinion and I'd guess he leaves everyone the same freedom.

Ebert has the wrong definition of art (1, Interesting)

Rosebud128 (930419) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189341)

Spare me the 'there is no definition of art' cliches. But art does have a definition, and Ebert is using the wrong one. Ebert believes art is a passive 'greatness' that everyone else absorbs. Art is not the 'finished product' but the act of creating it; art is holding the mirror up to Nature.

The art of a statue is not the statue but the sculpting of it. The art of a symphony is not listening to song but the playing and composition of it. The art of literature is not the reading of the book but the writing of the book. We are not a civilization like the Far East or Middle East who conceptionalizes things with the mind. We apply the hand. How else would the gothic cathedrals or symphonies or paintings come about? Art is not a frozen eternal object, it is the fiery act that created it.

A great example would be Shakespeare. There is no 'final version' of a play of Shakespeare. The actors, the acting, the direction, the vision, all make the play different each time it is shown. Ebert, sitting in the audience, thinks art is defined by the perception of the audience. Rather, art is the doing.

Take the example further. The great poems of Humanity were only recently in a 'final form'. They have been sang, with parts added, parts deleted, all for centuries. The great books of Humanity were actually only recently in a 'final form'. They, too, have been written, re-written, with additions added and subtractions made. It is not the book that is the art but the scribbling of the pen. It is not the play that makes the art but the act of 'playing'. It is not the poem that makes the art but the act of singing/chanting/writing it.

Only in this context can video games be understood. Toys are to help children understand (and play) in the world just as art is to help adults understand (and play) in the world. While paintings and movies might be art to the eye, the symphony as art to the ear, it is video games that is art to the hand. Video games revolve around the use of the hand (and when video games refuse to with cutscenes or slideshows, we instinctively refuse to call them video games).

When you play a game (say Mario) and you fall into a hole, you laugh and try again. Ebert would look at that and think it was a bad story, as you fell down the hole. But the player knows that is not what keeps him playing. It is his control, his hand input, that defines and varies the electronic canvas in front of him (within certain game designed rules which the player tries to break anyway).

Ebert might call video games 'fun playing around' but not art. But what else is art but 'fun playing around'? Shakespeare had 'fun playing around' with his plays, that is why he was so good. Mozart had 'fun playing around' with is music. Dickens, Twain, and all the rest had 'fun playing around' with their literature. The reason why academics can never create art is because they never have 'fun playing around'. All great art exudes a sense of play because it was the play that made them.

There are many 'great books' that are sneered by academics because they are 'too enjoyable to read'. The same goes for movies (they hated Star Wars and only praised the boring wacky films). Video games are getting the academic sneer simply because they are FUN. Academics have brainwashed themselves and everyone else that art is not supposed to be fun but to be SERIOUS and that we all must be SERIOUS. And then they wonder why they can't understand why one of the most beloved Shakespeare characters is Falstaff.

Let them be the word pinching tyrants of joy that they are, I'll take Falstaff any day over Ebert. He, at least, knew how to play.

Re:Ebert has the wrong definition of art (2, Insightful)

MyMistake (620068) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190017)

The reason why academics can never create art is because they never have 'fun playing around'.

Bullshit. I know plenty of academics who have fun playing around. It's just that their media is art. Mozart riffed on musical themes, Shakespeare riffed on humanity (as he saw it), and I've known academics who riff on Mozart, Shakespeare, TS Elliot, Jesus, and plenty of others, and had a ball doing it.

Your definition of academics as "people who don't have fun" is blatantly wrong.

Land of Theory (1)

Rosebud128 (930419) | more than 9 years ago | (#14196361)

No, my definition of academics is not people who do not have 'fun', it is people who do not 'play'. It is impossible to 'play' with the academic mindset. Of course academics 'riff' the greats. It is common for common people to tear down great people just to elevate themselves.

Here is a sample of Einstein quotes on academics:

"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

"Education is only a ladder to gather fruit from the tree of knowledge, not the fruit itself"

"I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."

Mark Twain even said, "I've never let my school interfere with my education."

Shakespeare even wrote a play that revolved around the question, "What is the end of study?" Interesting enough, his answer to those academics (of that time) was to see life through women's eyes. The play ends with the 'thinking Biron' to be sent to the hospital for 6 months to help the sick and dying. If he does not make them 'laugh', then the woman would not marry him. It is a common theme for Shakespeare to mock ambition and intellectual narcissism. No wonder Jaques was left in the forest at the end of "As you like it"!

Academics have no sense of 'play'. In the same way, Ebert has no sense of 'play'. To Ebert, art is authority. It is the academic who perverts art into "authorities". This is why academics can never equal the greats. This is why our richest, most influential people are college drop-outs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Rush Limbaugh, among others.

Academics cannot become great because academics are 'risk averse'. This is why they seek tenure in a soft university womb instead of blazing the risks of the outside world like real men.

Instead of being 'serious all the time', academics need to take more risks instead of hiding behind a brick wall of 'theory'. I want to move to this Land of Theory where all these academics emerge from, then I could be always 'right'!

Games aren't always about linear narrative (1)

dacaffinator (750403) | more than 9 years ago | (#14189855)

David Jaffe makes a few good points [typepad.com] on whole are games art discussion.

Here's a couple of relevant quotes on The Sims:

At a conference I went to, Will Wright talked about how the SIMS was designed to be read as a metaphor for greed and how as you got more and more and more stuff, it became more of a hassle to take care of it all and eventually things began to break down.


games can- by USING THE INTERACTIVE MEDIUM (not using film technique) SAY something via play/interactive mechanics...

Now this Ebert guy may know about story telling, but by his own admission he has no experience of the very thing that makes a game not a film. A linear narrative isn't even necessary in gaming, Ebert doesn't understand that and will never be able to give meaningful criticism unless he bothers to spend some time playing.

But games aren't strictly art (1)

winmine (934311) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190209)

If you're going to let the game lead you around, like the example from the article, you're not experiencing art. To some point, the gamer is responsible for developing his own playstyle. A game as it sits on a store shelf is an incomplete set of materials. Both the developers and the gamer must be the 'artist'.

Typical elitism... (1)

Meneudo (661337) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190405)

"There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control."

So undermining the authorial control leads to something not being a work of art? Are video game designers not 'artists' because they cede this control to the player?

Elitist asshole. Go masturbate intellectually more.

Re:Typical elitism... (1)

Tickenest (544722) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190992)

So undermining the authorial control leads to something not being a work of art? Are video game designers not 'artists' because they cede this control to the player?

Yes. What's the #1 complaint people have about Xenogears? Endless dialogue, because the player has to sit through it and has nothing to do in the meantime. But by the classical definition of "art", Xenogears is closer to "art" than practically any other game. So do we tweak the definition of "art" to encompass this new medium (games)? We can, but we rob the term "art" of its meaning if we do so.

And "Elitist asshole. Go masturbate intellectually more." doesn't speak well of the author of the post.

Is there a definition of gameplay art? (1)

shoptroll (544006) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190526)

If I want to read a story, I'll read a book. If I want to watch a scripted sequence of explosions and dialogue, I'll watch a movie. If I want to see acting and dialogue, I'll go to the theatre. If I want to stare at scenery, I'll go to an art museum. If I want to stare at scenery from every angle, I'll go outside (or get one of those 3d/panorama quicktime thingies).

If I want to challenge my brain by stacking 4 square linked together, I'll go play Tetris.

I really wish the industry would get off its kick of trying to define "videogame art" in terms of other mediums. I've finally decided that until someone provides a definition of gameplay (or to some degree interactivity) as art, then I'll finally begin to believe games are art. Because that's the only thing they have that the other mediums don't.

In my opinion, this is also the growing pains problem that the industry and gamers are facing. Do we (the games) want them (the industry) to keep pumping out pretty games with little gameplay, or do we want something that pushes the gameplay envelope that may not have 3million polygon scenes complete with HDR on an HDTV 1280i screen?

But Games do something the others can't (1)

xMonkey (154829) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190553)

I for one typically don't play games for stories, but I understand that is the goal of many games.

I agree that games are sort of opposed to story telling. The more story telling the worse the gameplay.
There is a balance there. Or at least that is the best we can do right now.

But games can do something movies, books, etc.. can not. They can create stories. Especially in MMOGs. And of course there is a whole struggling genre of Dynamic Story telling in games.

Can games tell stories, yes. Can movies create stories, nope.

Cinema vs. Interactive A. I. (1)

Sundroid (777083) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190571)

Ebert is simply being territorial. Blame him for being a film enthusiast -- it's like hearing an energetic sushi chef tell us that Japanese food is better than French cuisine.

One common point between viewing movies and playing video games is the "pleasure of encountering surprises". When we watch a movie, we may guess that A, B, C might happen, but in fact, X, Y, Z occur, and if the director is smart, we may feel gratified by the unpredictable twists, which is a sensation similar to, during a video gameplay, when we are suddenly attacked by a "surprise monster" which we engage with pleasure (or pain), but in the end are happy about the virtual engagement.

What is different is this: when watching a movie, we prefer to be "outwitted" by the filmmaker, whereas in video gameplaying, we prefer to overcome the artificial intelligence thrown at us, meaning, the pleasure of video gameplaying is in the notion (perhaps erroneous) that we have "beaten" the game designer -- and there lies the art of video game design, as we, the players, are "fooled" into believing that we have the authorial control.

Cloud game (1)

CrazyJoel (146417) | more than 9 years ago | (#14190623)

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned that cloud game [thatcloudgame.com] . If that ain't art, I don't know what is.

Re:Cloud game (1)

Mad_Rain (674268) | more than 9 years ago | (#14191142)

If that ain't art, I don't know what is.

All I know is that it makes me go "what the fuck was that guy smoking? I want some!" ... Which is true of a lot of art as well. ;)

Sigh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14191855)

Someone just HAD to bring this up after I finish a session of Mario and Luigi 2. The game, when played at its best, is like a dance - quick, but directed, every step the fulfillment of an intention. After a while, you're playing just to experience the sheer rhythm of the game - hit points be damned. I get a similar feeling just from watching Ikaruga being played. Games like that evoke a sense of intellectual nimbleness that is rarely seen or sought after in storytelling.

So in other words, I respect Mr. Ebert's opinion, but I think that if you're seeing a great game and not getting this kind of feeling off it, you're missing something.

Re:Sigh... (1)

earthbound kid (859282) | more than 9 years ago | (#14192291)

The NYTimes had a quote the other day where Spielberg proves he doesn't get it [nytimes.com] . "The medium will come of age, he said, 'when somebody confesses that they cried at Level 17.'"

A.) Who numbers levels in this day and age?

B.) Ah yes, because painting will never be good until people cry when they see Guernica.

C.) Games are known not to induce any emotions whatsoever. That's why gamers are known to be so passive and unexcited, "Oh, I win? That's good I guess. Well, so long as my pulse isn't pounding, I guess it's time for a nice nap."

You're right, games are more about rhythm than 'story' or whatever. Games have stories, but that doesn't mean that games should use stories the way movies do than the fact that movies have sound means that all movies should be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. Games are trying to do something different. Deal with it, yo!

Re:Sigh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14192661)

Emotion from games(spoilers below for several games, so don't read):

First off is sadness: Aeris's death would have to be ranked at number one, simply for the number of confessions of people saying they cried(it seems that Spielberg is somewhat out touch). Ico, and the terrific ending that amazed us with. Naked Snake killing Boss at the end of Snake Eater (where the gamer is actually pulling the trigger as opposed to simply watching it like in MGS when Sniper Wolf died).

Elation: Whenever one defeats a really tough boss, that sense of accomplishment cannot be emulated in almost any other artform (even if games are designed so that everyone can beat the bosses even if they're "hard"), I still have to get Shadow of the Colossus, but I think there were many of those here, not to mention defeating the Weapons of FF7, some random guy in an online fps,

Fright: pick your favorite survival horror game that takes people's blood pressure for a roller coaster ride (I'm in a safe room, so now I can relax, but wait, what's Nemesis doing in here!!!).

And one thing that some games do much better than most other art is the interactiveness allowed. Sure bands can have a great time playing instruments together, and dancers and actors can go flail on stage, but that takes a talent that most people can't develope (what with real lives and all). Going to the movies, looking at a painting, or listening to music with friends can be nice, but usually one is simply inside one's own mind when doing so. Videogames, and their larger genre Games in general (board games and card games, etc) have the added benefit of the designer making art that people socialize by (instead of talking about the latest music or whatnot, people are actively inside the art). So whether is's 4 people trying to land their monkey on an island, or having a lan party, games as art allow for more social partaking than other artforms.
(note, I said "allow for", which doesn't actually translate to real life, what with gamers demographics and all)

78 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14192304)

78 comments about games being art and nobody has said a word about planescape torment?

Apples and oranges (1)

PhakeDC (932887) | more than 9 years ago | (#14192487)

Games like MGS and even Snatcher have some very interesting character development and plot twists, not to mention music and dialogue that pips much of what Hollywood has to offer today. The "codec" implementation alone is pure genius.. Other stellar titles, like Shadow of the Colossus and Grim Fandango demonstrate how much the industry has advanced since the days of Pong and Pacman. Those delusional/senile elitist psuedointellectuals like Ebert really get on my nerves. I mean, by contrast most paintings don't register with me at all, and I'd be hard pressed to label many films as "art".. The only difference of course is that people listen to critic arseholes like Ebert who think they know everything, yet haven't bothered to get seriously involved with games to begin with. Get lost you old tosh!

No credibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#14193091)

C'mon, people, he gave a thumb up to Daredevil.... He probably likes Bon Jovi too...

Why Ebert is wrong (1)

RaggieRags (897395) | more than 9 years ago | (#14194455)

...video games are an "inherently inferior" storytelling medium. He writes, "There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control."

In other words: "the way video games tell a story is inferior, because they do it differently than the mediums that I am myself used to."

Ebert fails to do one thing: explain why authorial control is a requirement of a good story, and why player choices make a story inferior. In my opinion, player choices make games a *superior* storytelling medium, because it involves the player. Even a story that is fairly weak can feel like a very good story because it involves us, the people who are experiencing it. And when the story in a game is *actually* good (in a way its at least as good as in a good film or book) like in Gabriel Knight 1&2, then boy do they feel like brilliant stories!

As far as I am concerned, it is a proven fact that games can have excellent stories. Ebert just has not played them himself. If you dont believe me, get your hands on Gabriel Knight 1&2 and tell me thats not a good storyline.

Look at the game not the art around it. (1)

xtieburn (906792) | more than 9 years ago | (#14197190)

I think the article misses the point. I dont think Ebert said games arnt art because the stories need to be improved for it to get there I think he was saying games arnt art because the act of playing a game isnt artistic.

As an example the majority of games tell you a chunk of story which can often be brilliant. You then go in to the game play for a while and then it gives you another chunk of story. The story is fine but its told through movies and text, two mediums that are already recognised as art. The game itself wasnt anything to do with it. Even a game with such an intrinsic plot as Plane Scape Torment has its story line told nearly entirely through conversations and movie sequences. The actual gameplay doesnt really have a bearing despite how fun it can be to upgrade your character and such.

The best thing I can liken it to are those books where you choose an option and go to the page number it tells you. Saying a game is art would be like saying that the process of flipping through the book to the correct page was a form of art.

So I can fully understand why Ebert doesnt see games as art. The only art that is within them is typically in the form of previous mediums. You could argue that the game world and its textures and such is a form of art but really it exists for its functionality not its artistic merit. The moment you make an area purely for its art and once again youve no longer got a game youve got a 3D sculpture or 2D art work.

I would say Rez comes closest of all games to breaking this rule. Its music its levels both exist as an art work and at the same time as the games method for progression, but its still debateable.

That said ive swayed between thinking games are and are not art about 20 times tonight so I think its definately an area for discussion. I am more dissapointed at the articles in response than the idea that started it. A lot of people have responded by insulting Ebert, the article the other day insulted the magazine reviews, this article is better but again I would say it was missing the bigger question by just attacking an aspect of gaming.

It's simple, really (1)

LilSerf (580945) | more than 9 years ago | (#14197237)

If the movie version of DOOM is Art, then so is the game it was based on.
It's not much of a stretch to extrapolate from there.
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