Tricontahedral Solitudinarian

The name doesn't really mean anything

Video Games Are Not Art?

Posted by Doug on April 24, 2010

Roger Ebert thinks that not only are video games not art, but they are not even capable to rising to the status of art.

The TL; DR version of Ebert’s argument goes a little like this: you can “win” a video game, thus it is a game and not art; and that there is no true masterwork of video games on the same level as the great masterworks of painting, or sculpture, or music, or cinema, and thus it is not art; and most importantly, Ebert himself has decided it is not art, and thus it is not art.

My personal opinion is twofold: first, that art is purely subjective, and any definition of art would be arbitrary; and second, that Ebert is completely wrong. I can’t really define art, but do know some of its features. Art is designed to evoke an emotional response, and art provokes deep contemplation.

Shadow of the Colossus and Metal Gear Solid 4. These are definitely games, but they stand out in my mind as art.

More than once while playing through Shadow of the Colossus, especially late in the game, I had moments where I really, really did not want to kill one or another of the colossuses (colossi?), especially the thirteenth one, the colossus flying over the desert. I was having an emotional response to the game; I felt sympathy, not for Wander, my character, but for the colossus. Certainly, the goal of the game was to kill the colossuses, but killing them was wrong, and that bothered me (and just for the record, I experienced no qualms about mowing down helpless humans by the hundreds in Grand Theft Auto).

Everything in that game seemed carefully crafted to elicit this response from me. But alas, it is a video game, and video games cannot be art.

I hated Revolver Ocelot. I hated him with a hatey hate. For a decade, a grudge against him had festered in my mind, and with each installment of the series, I longed for the chance to defeat him. But atop the submarine sail in Act Five of Metal Gear Solid 4, as Old Snake faced off against an even older Ocelot, the realization struck me: I didn’t want to fight him. There was no reason to fight him. This was no epic battle of good and evil, not by that point, maybe not ever. Engaging in fisticuffs would save no lives, reveal no great truths. It was just two old men, fighting because they had nothing left except to fight. There was nothing heroic there. It was just kind of sad.

Again, everything in that game seemed carefully crafted to elicit this response from me. But alas, it is a video game, and video games cannot be art. Or can they? No work of literature has ever moved me like that, no painting, no sculpture. No film has, either. The interactive nature of the games made me far more invested in the story, in the world, in the characters. Certainly, these are games, but I will contend that these two games elicited an emotional response, and provoked deep contemplation.

These are features of art. What looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…is not a duck?

TL; DR Ebert thinks video games are not and can never be art. I think that they already are art.


Originally posted at the Anime Gallery forums.


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