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The art of faux critique

Roger Ebert: Video games can never be art
The catalyst for his recent diatribe was a talk by Kelle Santiago at TEDxUSC last year. I was at TED when Santiago made that presentation. I've attended her other talks at USC as well and this probably wasn't her best effort (due to the time constrains). Regardless, Kellee made that presentation because she wanted the art students at USC to look at games as a possible canvas for their work and to generate interest in where the medium is going. That's what the entire event was about. Exploring and sharing of new ideas.  

TED's promotional line 
TED's promotional line 
I think she made some fair points in the process and Ebert dismissed them without even playing or understanding the games in question (Braid, flower and Waco). That's just lazy and bad critique on his part. A life-long critic like him should know better. I don't understand his hatred for the medium either. If he doesn't care, then why does he continue to make arguments against it's validity as an art form. Because of his experience and standing, people pay attention to what he has to say but he is using that leverage to attack something he clearly doesn't know enough about.

Missing the point 

His closing shows his lack of knowledge about the subject and what Kellee was trying to accomplish: 

Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care.

So why do we need validation ? I think by accident, he asks a good question. And my answer is that game developers need artists to do their job. The industry needs good writers, visual illustrators and musicians. And games needs validation for their sake. The engineers who write the code and the players who play the games aren't concerned with the artistic merits of a game. We just do our jobs and enjoy the game. But a game wouldn't even exist if not for these very artists. And if you attack the validity of their work by saying "this isn't art", you're demeaning their work and essentially driving them away.  
Validation is also important for the proper growth and maturation of a medium. Given his strong liking for movies, Ebert should realize this since it went through a similar struggle in early 20th Century. Kellee talks about this in more detail in her presentation and I must reiterate what she said: if we don't pay attention to these issues now, games could devolve in something resembling reality-based television. We need good storytellers to take an interest in games so the medium can continue to grow in the proper direction.
Also, Bobby Fischer and Michael Jordon didn't need writers or illustrators to play chess or basketball. Games need these artists to exist.

*No artists were harmed in the making of this game*
*No artists were harmed in the making of this game*

He finishes the blog by cheery picking Santiago's presentation, as to somehow conclude that there is absolutely no art involved in the process:

I allow Sangtiago the last word. Toward the end of her presentation, she shows a visual with six circles, which represent, I gather, the components now forming for her brave new world of video games as art. The circles are labeled: Development, Finance, Publishing, Marketing, Education, and Executive Management. I rest my case.

The six circles labeled by Santiago are essential in creating a platform for an artist to show his/her work. It's true for games and it's true for movies as well (something Ebert definitely sees as art). I don't see how any of those invalidate the artistic merit of a game.
At the end of the day, the problem is quite simple. Ebert doesn't get games but still has a vested interest in the subject matter. He is a respected critic and his words might influence students looking to get into games. If there is one thing the industry needs, it's more artistic flair and variation. And comments like this don't help.

Just get me more flowers!

Games are probably closer to playgrounds than an art house but they have certain merits that are very similar to an art piece. I play flower regularly and I find it just as peaceful as a beautiful painting. It's very calming. This response is evoked equally through gameplay and visuals. It's the gameplay part of it that intrigues me most because great visuals are available in any other medium. You can't explore the insides of a scenic painting but you can do so in flower. Art cirtics can continue to argue semantics. I just want more games like it because I enjoy them.