Roger Ebert: Games Are Not Art and Never Will Be

From the Guardian:

Five years, ago film critic Roger Ebert wrote that video games were inherently inferior to film and literature. When questioned on this stance by one of the readers of his Chicago Sun-Times column he responded:

“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. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.”

His argument provoked a furious response from games writers, pundits and players, many of whom mistakingly understood his position to be generally anti-games – and therefore evil. Perhaps because of vociferous barrage his comments gave rise to, he has refused to clarify his position.

Until late last week, when he wrote a piece unambiguously entitled, Video games can never be art.

[Read more at the Guardian]

26 Comments on "Roger Ebert: Games Are Not Art and Never Will Be"

  1. I would agree that most games are not art. However they can contain artistic elements.

    The one game that instantly springs to my mind as art is the fairly obscure Panzer Dragoon Saga; a life-changing mindfuck of a game. Sadly, the English-language version is rare and only for the Sega Saturn, so it can never reach a wide audience. NiGHTS into Dreams was another game that greatly affected my brain, but perhaps that is more due to the artistic elements making it up rather than the gameplay itself.
    But that's really about it for a GAME as ART to me.

  2. blueskyhunter | Apr 22, 2010 at 9:01 am |

    First of all, I don't think any claims that video games are an art form. It's entertainment. Sure, there is an “art” to designing a great game, but nobody in their right mind would ever compare Grand Theft Auto or Super Mario Bros. to da Vinci's “The Last Supper”. I don't even know why Roger would have made such a statement. Secondly, this is coming from an elderly man who probably grew up playing stick ball or kick the can and made millions of dollars by saying “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to another person's creation.

    What did Roger Ebert create? Is criticism an art form? Is spending day after day in a private theater watching movies for free an art? Roger, think of all that time you spent in a dark room, alone, watching movies… How on Earth does that make you “more cultured, civilized and empathetic” than some working class kid who spends a couple hours blowing off steam on his XBox?

    Two gamer thumbs down, old man.

    • dumbsaint | Apr 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm |

      regarding 'think of all that time you spent in a dark room, alone, watching movies… How on Earth does that make you '

      Well, firstly that's his job. He's suggesting the average person could get a more valuable experience in their leisure time than playing video games – common sense.

      Secondly, film is a versatile medium that has the potential to engage you on things like world culture, current affairs and the human experience. You can have a discussion with the audience through a film.

      Video Games have the potential to be a great art form – they're just simply not there yet. With games like Bioshock we're certainly a step closer – early days

  3. Hadrian999 | Apr 22, 2010 at 9:40 am |

    i could just as well site uwe boll movies as examples of why film isn't art

    • Elisha Grey | Apr 22, 2010 at 9:52 am |

      Except most of his movies are based on video game plots…so not the best argument.

      • Hadrian999 | Apr 22, 2010 at 10:32 am |

        it's exactly what ebert is doing, cherry picking the worst examples of an art form,
        every art form has terrible failures in it, every movie video game is terrible, does that mean film can't be art.
        the same is generally true of movies made from great literature.

  4. How about this, who gives a shit what roger ebert thinks?? Forget about it, move on with your life

  5. Video Games have become part of the social fabric not just in the United States but around the world. Video Games are also part of the tech revolution that has exploded within the past few years. To suggest that video games are not a form of art shows a lack of understanding of how much work and imagination it takes to make a video game. It's a form of artistic expression for a new era, and more people are embracing that fact everyday.

  6. GoodDoktorBad | Apr 22, 2010 at 10:15 am |

    The last word on “art ” is Roger Ebert? This guy is such a “show-biz” parasite. He obviously believes his own bullshit is a tasty treat we all should eat hungrily. Why should his opinion on anything be considered more relevent than anyone elses, especially on the elusive and esoteric subject of “what is art”? The answer to that question will be updated every second of every day by everyone -everywhere. Not by psuedo-purist Roger Ebert's rambling about his pin prick view of Video games…
    For that matter, who gives a crap about his movie reviews either?

  7. yes, please fat old man – tell me what to think. What does Ebert know about art anyways? Has he ever produced any? He's just a poser.

  8. DeepCough | Apr 22, 2010 at 11:40 am |

    Games are not art? This is like Ray Bradbury saying cyberpunk isn't science-fiction: since they didn't grow up with it to begin with, it's not an art form. Never mind that video games these days have the budgets and media buzz of blockbuster movies; that they receive celluloid counterparts themselves (granted, the majority of them royally suck); and movies even get made into video games (again, this doesn't always produce the best results). Games have been going for the cinematic experience ever since Final Fantasy 7. In fact, it should be noted that Ebert himself gave three and one half stars to “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” mainly because, at the time, it looked so pretty. While some might be inclined to think that he's being something of a hypocrite, I'd say he's just being an old fogey.

  9. “Do they require validation? In defending their gaming against parents, spouses,
    children, partners, co-workers or other critics, do they want to be able to look up
    from the screen and explain, “I'm studying a great form of art?”
    Then let them say it, if it makes them happy.”

  10. Sorry, but if he considers movies an art form for a specific set of reasons that can be applied to games (and they can be), then either games are art–or movies aren't.

  11. Video Gama | Apr 22, 2010 at 2:59 pm |

    Video Games are a part of art. It takes waaaay too much creativity and technical skills to make a good and entertaining game. Besides, Movies, Sculpture, and and all of that other familiar stuff is simply a part of the subject of art: not art itself.

  12. barlow1983 | Apr 22, 2010 at 4:23 pm |

    Britannica Online defines art as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.”

    So I say video games are a form of artistic expression!!

    “There should be snobbery with art, because the world is full of idiots and there’s not safety in numbers with art, I think you should be a complete fascist when you’re creating a work of art, I don’t think it is open to utilitarian and democratic referendum!”

  13. Ebert from 1910:
    Motion pictures will never rise to the level of the art form that is theatre. Theatre actors develop a rapport with their audience that a filmed actor just can not attain – there are no second takes in theatRE, no room for the incompetent… blah, blah, blah I'm a dinosaur.

  14. dumbsaint | Apr 22, 2010 at 5:46 pm |

    Art is a troublesome word.

    I think the problem is here is that people are treating the word 'Art' like it's a badge of honor. Ebert's not taking anything away from Video Games when he say's that they're not art. For the vast majority of games they're not trying to be.

    Video Games aren't made to be art any more than Beverly Hills Chihuahua was made to be art. To change this a video game developer needs to strive past making a pretty Doom clone with the latest engine and to create something revolutionary that it is undeniably art. It's early days yet.

    This is all Duchamp's fault. He started all this with bolting a urinal to a wall and calling it art – thing is the man also was an artist, with insane talent. Problem is his statement(from where I'm standing) was less 'anything can be art' and more 'anything can be art, with the right intent'

  15. You know, Robert Brockway over at Cracked did something about this that sums up the pro video game side of the argument rather nicely:… , I do feel sort of like that linking that is the easy way out, but I just don't think I could put it any better.

  16. Sorry, but Mr. Ebert is right. No, he is not the final word on the subject but philosophically, games are not art. They have different functions and different purposes. It doesn't mean games are stupid or that they suck or that nobody should play them. It doesn't mean games can't be mind-blowingly cool, or have aesthetic elements to them either. Mr. Ebert is an expert critic in a certain area of art and thus has some room to talk. His example is solid. Name one game that can compare to any of the greats from Shakespeare or Beethoven. It doesn't have to be a video game either. Chess, monopoly, soccer, Super Mario Bros….none of them would be considered art (although there might be artistic elements involved).

    • Hadrian999 | Apr 23, 2010 at 10:25 am |

      most “art” can't compare to the greats either.

    • 1Opinion | May 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm |

      You say games cannot be art because of a philosophical difference and reference functions and purpose and yet you do not mention what these differing functions or purposes are. You then go on to not make a philosophical arugment, but a qualitative one by saying video games cannot compare to Shakespeare or Beethoven. You know both of those “artists” got paid to do what they did right? They had patrons etc etc…but that is besides the point. If I were to guess what you meant by philosophical differences adn functions I would think you might imply that high art had a didactic purpose. That the artist was trying to enlighten the viewer, the audience, the patron in some fashion–that they had a statement. It's easy to point to Picasso's Guernica and make intellectual statements about the horror's of war, but what is the purpose and function of Van Gogh's Starry Night? Ebert says games will never be high art, but what does that mean? What is high art about Jackson Pollock? Ebert counters the counter-argument of about poorly made films by saying not many movies are art either, so I'm assuming the same can be said of paintings, the written word, sculptures…. You mention “function” and the assumption can only be made that you mean games are a release from reality, a low catharsis, but obviously this is not always the case.

      Perhaps function or philosphy is directed simply at the inherrent gamer interaction that is impossible for movies, that in a game, even one with a somewhat directed plot like the Mass Effect series, the player makes decisions–can alter the narrative. But is that interaction not unlike what a viewer of a movie does when the narrative of the film is open ended? Though not the best example, I think of Castaway. The main character is literally standing at a crossroads in the end, and the viewer is left to their own imagination as to which way he will go. For that matter I could argue that the implication that the viewer's participation (in games) negating it's ability to be high art becuase the artist must dictate the experience can be turned against sculptures, movies, even paintings given the viwer has the option of focussing on any portion of the work they choose–unlike the written novel where the prose itself chooses the focus. I've been to see Bernini's Apollo and Daphne sculpture, and if the viewer does not walk entirely around the piece they would end up with an incomplete experience. In fact, if veiwed from limited angles one would not even see the pain on Daphne's face or the fact that she is even turning into a tree. Thus the viewer has control over the narrative of the piece, and yet, few would argue that Bernini is not “high art”. Even if the entire piece is viewed as intended, does my own personal assesment of the sculpture not completely change it's purpose? I might see it as a beautiful depiction of a classic Roman tale and think that the artist's point. Someone else might see the sculpture's point as the dichotomy of beauty with the fact that it's a depiction of rape. Does that not mean we are participating in the creation of the art much like deciding in Mass Effect whether or not immediately facing a direct threat supercedes preserving the rule of law?

      I know, super super crazy rant. I just wanted to add criticism of Ebert's approach to this subject as well as chonus without attacking them personally, their occupations, or one form of art over another.

  17. Roger Ebert's an okay guy. At least he has a job. Y'know? But as a critic, he's in a large part to blame for how excrementish movies tend to be these days and have been for the past couple decades. Critiquing something with a thumbs up or thumbs down appeals to simplistic American thinking in which lateral thinking is discouraged. Paper or plastic? Democrat or Republican? Appetizer or dessert? Leather cuffs or rope?

    And there's nothing more simplistic in saying video games aren't art. What is offensive is when a singer who doesn't write their own songs and is basically grown in a test tube that looks like a studio and who is assisted with backing audio vocals during live performances is called an “artist.”

    Of course Americans know little about art unless it's a painting of a non-jewish Jesus or Elvis on black velvet. Even art in America that is respected for a while has been a contest by artists to find out a new gimmick in the way art is made, not necessarily what the art actually is,what it is saying. We're in a period right now where there is a great need for art that can speak to the trouble we're going to be in if the Minions of Christendom get their way and stop progress.

    That being said, I'm making a mosiac out of beer bottle caps so you better save up your money cause it'll be the next big thing. Remember I'm suffering for my art because I'm having to drink kinds of beer just for the color and design of the bottle caps.

    fiat lux

  18. TruthSeeker | May 4, 2010 at 11:03 am |

    Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. The difference with Ebert is his opinion and his asshole encompass his entire body and mind. BS comments and rantings like this proves he's little more than a “I don't know art but I know what I like” dip-shit who thinks he actually knows what he's farting on about.

    ANYBODY who says video games can't be art is nothing more than a closed minded, pretentious moron! The graphic ARTISTS who spent years creating the visual aspect of any game would agree and likely think hard about break the jaw of any ignorant fool who'd have the gall to say they are less than an artist.
    At least three good examples of recent games with very deep and complex story lines, fantastic musical scores as well as stunningly beautiful landscapes, creatures and characters, such as Final Fantasy 12, Shadow of the Collossus and Legend of Zelda, Twilight Princess.
    Games may not be the greatest of the great forms of art but to EXCLUDE games from being accepted as art must be among the most small-minded and ignorant things anyone could think or say…

  19. Artisintheeyeofthebeholder | Jun 20, 2010 at 8:14 pm |

    I am willing to bet that when Shakespeare was writing his plays, most people of the time period didn’t consider them art. Ebert just can’t see beyond his tiny little box where he keeps his antiquated definition of art.

  20. Artisintheeyeofthebeholder | Jun 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm |

    I am willing to bet that when Shakespeare was writing his plays, most people of the time period didn't consider them art. Ebert just can't see beyond his tiny little box where he keeps his antiquated definition of art.

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