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An Apology for Roger Ebert (2011) (ludix.com)
113 points by filipmandaric on Mar 20, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 153 comments

This part is key:

> "I do not have a need ‘all the time’ to take myself away from the oppressive facts of my life, however oppressive they may be, in order to go somewhere where I have control. I need to stay here and take control."

The idea is that great art should lead you back to life, not pull you into fantasies. Ebert clearly felt that authorial control is the only way to achieve that, but I think he might have agreed that video games are art, if he saw even a single example where player choice was used to lead the player back to life. That's a very tall order though.

Shadow of the Colossus has always, to me, felt like that sort of game. It's one of the few I've seen/played that felt like something other than just an escape into fantasy. The consequences of the actions, the tragedy of the circumstances and outcomes, lend itself to introspection and contemplation for the player/audience.

I believe my wife (as did many others) responded to Ebert's blog entry years ago with that exact example.

He mentions Shadow of the Colossus it in a response:


It's funny, Ebert said that games aren't art because they give you choices... and in a way, Shadow of the Colossus gives you none.

> It's funny, Ebert said that games aren't art because they give you choices... and in a way, Shadow of the Colossus gives you none.

I think his outsider perspective made it difficult for him to appreciate that these things, examples of what he wanted, already existed. Myst is another (sort of) example, where the number of choices are actually more limited than it immediately appeared. I'm not really certain that they'd actually be great art, but they're demonstrations that the medium is capable of it. Which he later admits, though I think his timeline for when it will happen (if it hasn't happened yet) was way off.

> Ebert said that games aren't art because they give you choices

That has to be the dumbest requirement for 'art' I've ever heard. Especially coming from a professional critic, who earns his paycheck by interpreting art for others (ie: making choices about what it means).

Or, on a simpler level, there can be no such thing as interactive art with that definition.

I don't agree with Ebert, but it is subtler than that. You get to choose how to interpret the art, but it is still presented as the 'auteur' intended.

In a movie context, you don't get to pick and choose what scenes you see in what order. The author of the movie has complete artistic control of every moment on the 2D screen. Ideally. A photograph/painting is static.

I think if we had true 3D (holographic?) movies he'd argue those aren't art as well because you could walk to any position in the scene to see the action from a viewpoint you pick, whereas his concept of art is that the director / editor picked very specific angles for you to view the scene to evoke a specific feeling.

He'd probably argue the Lytro photographs aren't art, either, since you the viewer get to pick the focal plane.

That, I think, is where he gets caught up in choice -- and that's where I mean that his concept of choice is very one dimensional. I think he felt you making choices in the game takes away from the author's control, and that lack of control made it not art.

In a sense, he expects the artist to be active and the consumer to be passive, except for experiencing the art.

...I could be wrong, but that's the impression I got from his writing. (...and I think he was wrong.)

You've watched Reign Over Me one too many times.

Just kidding. But there really are no consequences. You get smashed by one colossus and respawn. Pure escapism.

It is a beautiful game, though. It's thought highly of maybe because the writers didn't do too much. Too many devs think you want to spend six hours watching their bad writing.

I had no idea what that movie was until I googled it.

I mean the ultimate consequence, of destroying creatures that (seemingly) harbor no ill-will to anyone not attacking them for the sake of someone who's dead, in a desperate attempt to bring them back to life. The consequence of the main character not truly achieving their goal, and, even if they had, what of them would remain for the person they loved?

NieR deletes all your save files at the end of one story branch. I don't think we need an arms race of games trying to have "real consequences" like that though.

Yes, there are a few others too.

Dark Souls and its emphasis on patience/reward makes you a more conscientious person.

The Walking Dead series makes you contemplate the consequences of quick moral choices more than most games I've played.

Will Wright has commented on The Sims' relationship with materialism:

> People frequently comment on the materialistic bent of "The Sims," but if anybody has played it in that direction as far as they can, they realize that every object you buy is a potential time bomb. They all can break or have some failure state. And so if you start pulling up your house and buy all the stuff, pretty soon you find that you're spending all your time fixing this stuff and they become a giant time sink instead of time savers--which I think has something to say about materialism.

And another Will Wright quote that sums up the whole situation:

> "Games are not the right medium to tell stories," said Wright in a CNN interview, adding that they're "more about story possibilities."

> "Television is a very different thing from video games. It's kind of hard for me to compare."

I think that this is the all-but-expressed motivation behind Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" series.

The VC pitch would be "First half is Skins set at Hogwarts, Second half is Trainspotting, except the rave scene is Narnia"

I generally avoid reading contemporary (< 10 years old) novels, especially series, for fear they'll turn out to be part of the 90% of everything that's crap. How is this one? Because that premise sounds interesting enough to me to want to read, especially since I'm about to spend a week recuperating from surgery and don't care to spend it online.

If you loved Narnia as a kid, and just couldn't go back when you tried to re-read it as an adult because of all the Christian allegory you missed the first time, it's pretty damn good. It also helps to have had a dream, attained it, and had it fall apart in front of you.

I had both of those experiences and I devoured the Magicians books with glee.

It's decent but I'd firmly put it in the category of "pop-lit" vs "modern lit". It's very present day and I don't think the writing was anything spectacular but it is a fun "quick" read for sure. I'd say give the first a shot, and if you aren't interested, you won't miss much skipping the rest.

I read it almost as a parable of people who didn't make it into <insert selective thing of their dreams here> and what they choose to do with the rest of their lives

I haven't read it, mostly because of one review I saw that described it as "Harry Potter but with self-obsessed, drunken, partying, college students", which seems to match the plain descriptions of it that I've seen.

It's enjoyable. I have some problems with the decisions of characters and the world building, but overall I think they can be mostly overlooked. I hate to say it's a more mature Harry Potter, but it really feels that way.

A similar argument could be (and has been) made in the reverse, typically argued as reader response (as opposed to authorial intent).

Without going into the actual argument favoring reader response...

In the same way that a work of literature has potential for less authorial control over intent than a film, one could argue, since there is potentially less ability to convey authorial intent in video games, that video games are actually inherently a superior form of art.

This argument has been made before.

I think there is really no defense for arguing the superiority of an art form, and really no attempt should be made to defend Ebert.

Isn't there that game called That Dragon, Cancer wherein it chronicles the experience of the Greens' raising their son Joel, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at twelve months old? I wonder what Ebert would have thought.

The later bit on Schopenhauer expand on this:

Schopenhauer does have a reputation for being pessimistic. But he really wasn’t. Because he also believed that there’s a way to leap off the wheel of desire.

That way is the contemplation — the contemplation — of sublime art.

Sublime art is the door to a perspective on reality that transcends Will.

It frees us from the agony of contingency and causality, and give us a brief, precious glimpse of what we really are, one thing, already complete, and perfectly ambiguous.

In this lens, art isn't so much a craft that elicits feeling, but the opus of a master that expands our consciousness - perception, empathy, taste, intellect, and the recursive capacity to create - through our appreciation of it. It doesn't remove us from reality, it strengthens our connection to it.

My favorite painting is Matisse's The Red Studio[0]. I could look at it all day. If you gave me a poo bucket and delivered me a burrito every couple of hours, I could probably sit there for months, just absorbing it, contemplating the nature of creativity and the satisfaction of craftsmanship and never have any desire to create or craft anything myself. Matisse has erased my need to do these things by providing me with contemplation that ends my need for willful activity.

Literature is just as powerful. John Gardener describes fiction as building a dream world inside the head of the reader[1]. Fiction possesses the consciousness of the reader, and great literature never lets go. After you read a truly captivating piece of fiction, it'll flicker through your mind for the rest of your life, shaping your experiences forever. When I read Shakespeare or Bronte or Orwell, I'm not just enjoying a narrative, I'm calibrating the lens through which I experience life.

And video games are absolutely capable of shaping the human experience this way, but it's not in the quality of graphics or the power of the music or the story or voice acting. It's not even in the goal of the game. It's in the surrendering of your will to the game designer. Like the author or painter or director, it's about letting the artist take you by the hand and expand your consciousness so that your sense of movement, of peril, of success and of failure are redefined (or maybe "undefined?")

It might take me a lifetime to argue that any particular game has achieved this at the level required in this context to be defined at art. But one thing I am certain of: we've had the requisite technology to create these experiences in video games since Spacewar[1]

[0]https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78389 [1]http://amzn.to/2n7CJ1U [2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacewar!

There are a few things I'd point out to summarize the article:

1. The prevailing wisdom now (and at the time the article was written) was that Ebert was dead wrong about games being art. This was a settled issue and not controversial. This article takes a contrary stance, and I think does as good a job as you can to make sense of Ebert's statements. I wouldn't bother writing up a comment if you're under the impression you're in the minority in thinking Ebert is wrong: this is a deliberately contrarian article.

2. Unfortunately, by trying to see Ebert's point of view, it turns out the only chartable course is through "definitional waters". That is, it hinges on the definition on what Art is. The article summarizes some of the existing thought on this, but spoiler alert it's not very interesting. Art is a very fuzzy concept, and has been redefined over and over so many times that nailing down a correct definition and saying "this is" and "that ain't" is like trying to grab hold of a greased eel. It's one of those activities you can spend reams and reams of paper talking about, it's a high concept topic that makes the speaker sound intelligent, but in the end it inevitably devolves the same way discussions about whether gifs are videos devolve. There's no substance, there are better things to set your brain cells thinking about.

> Art is a very fuzzy concept, and has been redefined over and over so many times that nailing down a correct definition and saying "this is" and "that ain't" is like trying to grab hold of a greased eel. So true. And yet, the idea of "art" seems so innocently easy to explain, until you try. I remember St. Augustine's definition of time, which could apply to art as well: "If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not." (Confessions, Book XI, Chapter XIV)

For me, the question was never "are games art?" - the question was: "can someone who's never played a video game and never plans to say anything meaningful about whether games are art?"

Ebert's implicit answer of "yes" to that question is what I found mystifying.

Yeah, this is totally true, but it is also an uninteresting thing to say because basically only Ebert and potentially the author of this piece disagree with you.

I think you're misunderstanding me. I don't think it's self-evident that Ebert was wrong to argue about games' artistry without playing them, and I suspect that a reasonably good argument could be made that he wasn't. What I find weird is that Ebert didn't make that argument, and didn't seem to think he needed to.

This is a brilliant presentation. Which is unsurprising since it's by Brian Moriarty (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Moriarty), but still.

I was especially intrigued by its placement of games in the context of kitsch. I hadn't heard of Tomas Kulka or his three properties of kitsch before, but they map to video games (especially successful video games) really well. Even a relatively simple game like Super Mario Bros. is built around "objects or themes that are highly charged with stock emotions": the game revolves around a damsel in distress, threatened by a menacing Big Bad. There's no subtext: no indication that Bowser is anything other than 100% evil, Princess Peach anything other than 100% innocent, or Mario anything other than 100% good. And because the player manipulates Mario to overcome Bowser, the game validates the player as being on the side of good.

I was provoked enough by the comparison to try and think of a game that breaks out of Kulka's three properties, and I came up with exactly one: Spec Ops: The Line (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spec_Ops:_The_Line), which goes out of its way to reject the idea that its function is to validate the player as a holder of Good, Correct Opinions.

Which is not to say that Spec Ops is the "best game ever made," or anything like that -- just to say that it's the rare game that manages to be something other than kitsch. Are there others?

Chris Avellone has written some worthwhile games like that. (or maybe just stories - the game is the part that happens when you're not reading the story)

NieR and Ico games, for Japanese. I don't know, if you want to know war is bad you could also just play MGS.

KOTOR 2. It's mostly kitsch but the character of Kreia is decidedly not kitsch.

After the intro, I was hoping that this essay would take the turn, "Games are not art... and that's ok."

Maybe where Ebert should have been engaged is not on quibbling over the definition of Art, but on his implicit claim that reading books or watching movies is a better use of time than video games.

I don't really play video games any more (nor do I watch many movies or read much fiction), but playing the original Zelda on NES as a little child was as formative an experience as reading Of Human Bondage.

> Maybe where Ebert should have been engaged is not on quibbling over the definition of Art, but on his implicit claim that reading books or watching movies is a better use of time than video games.

Ebert did in fact say that in his essay:

> 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.

The response to Ebert's essay showed the vapidity of much of the "games are art" crowd. He was actually treating games seriously, and had thoughtful things to say about them (whether or not he agreed with them). He wasn't criticizing them, but giving his opinion about whether or not they should be considered art (not entirely different from art vs. design arguments).

But it turns out many weren't really interested in deep conversation; they wanted cheap platitudes. They wanted the validation of their hobby by having someone call it art, more than they wanted someone to take their hobby seriously and approach it critically.

This reminds me a lot of the "code is poetry" crowd.

As a (former) coder and published writer/poet, I have an appreciation for both. But code is definitely not poetry, not by the meaning that you could expect to use anywhere in the world outside the "code is poetry" crowd.

People want their craft to be lumped in with some "higher" aesthetic. I get that, they want to be afforded the respect (and the attraction from the opposite/same sex) of being "artists" and not just craftspeople.

But you know how you do that? Make art. Write poetry. Don't keep on doing the thing you're doing and ask the world to make it into something it isn't, just to scratch your own ego itch. Do the hard thing instead.

On the other hand, Michael Jordan would probably be miffed if you suggested that basketball isn't a sport. And, surprise surprise, that's another argument that fans of video games (aka eSports) have contested of late.

The latest Zelda may prove to be such an experience for a whole new generation of players. It's essentially the go-anywhere, do-anything of the first game, writ even larger.

A major disconnect here comes from a lack of gaming literacy among critics. I read a great paper recently, Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming as a Constellation of Literacy Practices, where the author talks about how RPG games are actually quite literary in the sense of reading and writing than people give them credit for [1]. But what really impressed me about the essay is that he presented a screenshot of an RPG video game and pointed out that few critics could explain what was going on in the image, even though it was instantly familiar to me despite not having played the game.

Critics are not game-literate, so they can't appreciate them. They know nothing about mechanics like strategic imbalance, the Skinner box, achievements, power creep and other concepts I myself am only becoming familiar with thanks to the thoughtful folks at ExtraCredits[2]. They don't know anything about how video games tell stories, challenge players with moral choices, or the brilliant innovations artists have had to come up with to work around hardware limitations in both graphics and music over the decades. If you aren't literate in gaming, then of course you can't appreciate the many many layers of artistic expression from algorithms to writing to graphics to music and mechanics that go into making a game.

Video games are more profitable than films now. Critical theory surrounding video games simply needs to rise to the level of other mediums before more people will respect it. Remember, films were originally considered such a waste of time no one bothered to preserve 75% of silent films[3]. As the new generation of game-literate kids grow up, I trust that games will get the respect they deserve.

[1] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2304/elea.2007.4.3.29...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/user/ExtraCreditz

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lost_films

> Video games are more profitable than films now. Critical theory surrounding video games simply needs to rise to the level of other mediums before more people will respect it.

This was one thing particularly frustrating to me about #gamergate. Much of it seemed like a backlash against serious game analysis (feminist or otherwise). It's one thing to personally ignore any deeper meaning baked into games (intentionally or not), but it's another to ask that no one even try to root it out.

Indeed. Although I think the whole thing throws the high/low/outsider Art debate into sharp relief. There definitely is gatekeeping which turns objects into Art by the process of putting it into a gallery and thereby acquiring respect. This is what the surrealists and others made fun of. Especially Warhol with his soup cans and the famous Duchamp urinal: what makes them Art is exactly and only their signature, in the social context of a gallery. Art is socially constructed.

"New Games Journalism" was the attempt in the early 2000s at producing the kind of critique that might legitimise games as Art. But I think what happened with #gamergate bears some similarity to punk/skinhead/ultras of the early 80s: if you can't get into legitimacy, throw a brick through its window. They (un?)intentionally sent the message that the sexism and violence is inseperable from what they consider "core" gaming.

(There's also the tragedy of people who don't know who Barthes is getting upset about the claim "gamers are dead")

I think both Ebert and this talk address this directly and you can't say the presenter in this case was game illiterate. Something can be complex, creative, require artistic talent to produce, enjoyable, etc, etc and still not really be art, certainly not of the timeless variety. Better critical theory probably isn't going to turn a non-art into an art.

The debate about defining art runs into the "No True Scotsman" problem because there are many different metrics that you can use to "define" art. If it's art and you don't want it to be, just pick a definition that excludes it. If it isn't art and you do want it to be, then pick one that includes it. Repeat more than a couple times and I think you lose the point somewhere in the back-and-forth.

I think the more productive way of thinking about it has to do with why one engages with art. Does it give you a way to socialize through discussing critiques? Is it a tool for inciting empathy? Do you simply want to bask in the emotions it inspires? And so forth.

When you look at it from a perspective of what you want it to do for you, then I think you can make a good case that for some purposes, games would work just as well if not better compared to books, movies, sculptures, dances, etc. Whether or not you call it art... isn't so important, really.

No it doesn't and both Ebert and Brian Moriarty make a detailed and strong case. 'No true Scotsman', 'just need better critical theory', 'what is art, really? it doesn't matter!' are just weaselly ways to avoid engaging in their actual arguments. All of this dancing about would be completely unnecessary if one could point to a single game that would be as much as a potential candidate for a long-lasting, culturally important and impactful artwork. This is true whether or not one finds it important, infuriating, irrelevant or regrettable.

I would offer SOMA, by Frictional Games. An exploration of the implications of consciousness.

Perhaps also To The Moon, by Freebird Games.

I think you can make an argument some of this stuff rises to the level of a decent-ish sci-fi novella or so. It pokes you in the eye because the medium is typically so narratively impoverished. But both of these, like many genuinely emotionally engaging games before them will be well-forgotten in a decade or so. The Discobolus, Hamlet or Guernica this is not.

You have to keep in mind that gaming is a very new medium. The more artistic variety of games has only been around for a few years. To demand something on the level of Shakespeare is very disingenuous.

A better way of seeing why games can be art is through a comparison to movies. Games can be made to essentially be movies but with the crucial difference of immersing the viewer entirely into the world through the choices it presents.

I do not see how adding more possibilities to an existing art form (movies) can ever demote something from art to non art (whatever you think these things mean).

I think a game like last of us is a great exploration of the potential of this form of game play.

Again, this is non-responsive to Brian Moriarty's and Ebert's argument. They specifically address your points and all you have is 'I don't see how'. And do you really think anyone is going to give a hoot about 'The Last of Us' in 20 years? 'The Third Man' is about to turn 70.

For the curious, I think this is the image from [1]: https://i.imgur.com/OOlZexh.png

There's an interest point:

He dismissed Waco Resurrection, Braid and Flower as “pathetic,” and sternly predicted that “no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

People still watch movies made over 40, 50, 60 years ago and still derive aesthetic appreciation from them for camera work, direction, acting, score, and don't just use the relative judgment of being "great for its day" (which isn't without merit) but as absolute recognition of artistic prowess. Will video games ever match movies' longevity, or will they be doomed to a more secular estimation, and eventually fade into obscurity?

I think we really are at the beginning of video games as a medium, though I hope some of us will be alive long enough to see a real masterpiece. People watch movies made 60 years ago and appreciate them on their own merit; they rarely watch movies made 100 years ago, though, except to comment on their impact. The technology underlying games is still progressing rapidly, and hasn't hit the relative plateau that film did. A movie shot in 1975 may use different technology behind the lens, but its similar enough in form (colors, scenes cutting between each other, sound) that we can appreciate it even if we've grown up with the films of today, whereas when watching a jerky black-and-white silent film from 1923 we simply can't get into it.

No matter how good Ocarina of Time is, anyone playing it today can feel the lack of depth and poor graphics putting up a wall between themselves and enjoyment. Most games are still improving on a couple of simple models, and the only games that people really seem to revisit are ones so simple they can't be improved on (Tetris is a perfect game, if not a particularly deep piece of art) or truly different in a way that hasn't been met since (people are still getting into Portal a decade later.) The design of most video games means that more depth, points of interest, and complexity make the game more fun, which means more processing power will always improve the game. If nothing else, this is because most video games are simulations of reality, and reality is always more complex than the computer. I fully enjoyed the most recent Hitman, but still ran up against points where the game logic interfered with my intuition about how the world works, and the next iteration with better tech will inevitably improve on it. Not until gaming hardware and basic principles of game design reach a slower level of development will we see an enduring masterpiece.

Games have been around for 40 years. When can we stop saying that the medium was in its infancy? 40 years after the development of commercial motion pictures, several of the movies that are considered to be the greatest of all time had been produced.

"...they rarely watch movies made 100 years ago"


It's about the experience. The medium is the message and all that. Art out of context barely makes sense.

We rarely get to see those films as they were meant to be seen. Buster Keaton on the silver screen with a live organist is a completely different experience than watching it on your TV.

It's the same, for me, with old video games. I recently got on a tactics kick, wanting to relive the glory days. Tried to play thru an emulator; hated it. Ended up buying an old GBA.

> No matter how good Ocarina of Time is, anyone playing it today can feel the lack of depth and poor graphics putting up a wall between themselves and enjoyment.

This is an interesting example because the N64 era is a very awkward one. Along with the Playstation the N64 is the dawn of mainstream 3D gaming, but these games still very limited graphically and designers are in the process figuring out how to make a 3D games work. If you look a generation back, games like Super Metroid are still immensely enjoyable today - the lack of graphical/gameplay depth you mentioned is a non-issue as 2D gaming was quite mature at this point.

Braid is pretty timeless, and I think The Witness will be too. They are both examples of "sublime art". The goal of emulating reality perfectly is fine for some kinds of games, but hardly necessary to create an enduring work of art.

Is 92 years enough? I've just gathered a bunch of 10 yo kids and we all had a lot of fun watching Chaplin classics. The Gold Rush (1925) was a great hit. City Lights (1931) is true masterpiece

Heh. I bought an N64 a few years ago specifically to play Ocarina of Time.

I think the depth and specificity of games can make it hard for them to have the universal appeal that we associate with great art. But there are plenty of games that were clearly taken seriously by their creators, at the very least, and which are thoughtful about exploring/developing some aspect of the human experience. For example: Bastion; Papers, Please; Cave Story; Never Alone; Amnesia; Gone Home; Year Walk.

Are they "high art"? I suppose not. But do they have many of the same effects on their consumers? Absolutely.

Most games definitely fade, and deservedly so. Others, from various incarnations of Mario, to various "Tycoon" games probably will stay around for at least as long as some classic movies. I would still happily play SMB on a NES right now... and I think a lot of people would. It's not just nostalgia, it's a good game, it looks good, it sounds good.

I say this, and I'm not generally into retro for the sake of retro.

Right, and you played it in your formative years. I can watch a movie like "The Third Man" or "12 Angry Men" or "Scaramouche" in my adult years, made decades before I was born, even though I was reared on more flashy stuff, and find it as much as if not more satisfying than what I had encountered before. Could you get a 7 year old today who's had a couple of years of XBox 360 and Wii under his belt to enjoy SMB on the NES more than just to play it for 3 minutes to examine it as an artifact of another age? Even when he's older and can understand the evolution of video games?

I think that 7 year old would be bored by the films you listed too. They might prefer the works of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, which are appreciated by adults too.

And I first played SMB as a child, so my claim that it's still great today could be tainted by nostalgia, but I first played Defender and Robotron as an adult, and those are every bit as fast paced and exciting as the best modern games.

True, but what about the Wizard of Oz? Most kids will relate to and enjoy that, despite its age. There are just so many other aspects of movies. Maybe video games will hit that point, but right now, the impression I get is much like only the special effects element of movies - inevitably limited by our appreciation of the technology of the time behind them.

Maybe games will eventually reach a point of broad cultural acceptance as complex art form that can produce timeless classics in the same way as film, but I'm not sure we're there yet. Will we ever be? Yet to be determined.

>I think that 7 year old would be bored by the films you listed too.

Yes, but then again we don't judge aesthetic merit but what 7 or 13 year olds find entertaining.

I don't have the same affection for 99.999% of the games I played in my formative years, most of which I played much more than Mario (I wasn't allowed to have a NES cry). If nostalgia were driving me, I'd be into earlier games, or slightly later Genesis games (I made bad choices).

I agree that most games of the past don't translate well, and there's a barrier to entry for any vintage... anything. Most people don't watch old B&W movies, most people don't wear or collect vintage clothing, etc.

Edit: I've shown kids 'Babes in Toyland', and 'The Point', and 'Wizard of Oz'... they seem to enjoy those movies still.

My oldest kids (5 and 7) happily go from playing Halo, NBA2k17, the new Zelda, and Madden to playing Mega Man 2, SMB, and the old Zelda. This is an N=2, but it does happen!

Why not fire up an SNES emulator or DOSBox and find out?

Oh I have, I still enjoy it. I took about 15 minutes of getting used to, while thinking, "Oh man, it's just blobs on the screen!" and then I realized I couldn't put it down.

I had a similar experience with Super Tecmo Bowl - after recently receiving it and an emulator as a gift. The nostalgia was strong, but, in terms of game play, it really is the sweet spot between something like NFL Blitz and Madden or 2K. And, it has QB Eagles.

Yes, I would agree with that specific example too. I also got a chance to play an old NeoGeo cabinet with a game that was basically a jazzed up version of Pong... and it was still fun.

Some gameplay just clicks at a deep level, and if the visuals and the sounds are there (i.e. not a distraction at the very least) I think it's possible.

I also would point to something like Day of The Tentacle as a true and lasting masterpiece.

Good article but I must disagree with the apology/defense. The comparison to sports touched up on something important but failed to follow through on the medium not being as important as the genre. Why can a novel be a work of art but not a magazine? Why can a Hollywood movie be a work of art but not some seedy porn film or TV commercial? Why is sculpture of a bust art but a road sign not? Why is a ballet art, ice hockey not and figure skating somewhere in the middle? It's all subjective but largely related to the genre - and nothing to do with the choice of a player as alluded to my Ebert. Call of Duty and other FPS games may resemble sports and not an art form, but Final Fantasy XV is closer to 'looking like' art. If all Roger Ebert was aware of when it comes to games was Doom or Fifa then it probably didn't look like art, he needed to have been introduced to Dragon Age, Japanese RPGs and more obviously artful efforts like Monument Valley and Child of Light.

I'm far from an expert on art, but I would argue that "The Stanley Parable" is art. Ironically, there is also debate about whether it's a video game at all.

I would put anti-chamber in a similar genre as a subversion of traditional gaming expectations, and of course the stanley parable's creator also made "Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist" which is its own weirdness, and might also not be considered a game, but game-themed art.

From Paul Graham's "How to Do Philosophy": "Most philosophical debates are not merely afflicted by but driven by confusions over words. Do we have free will? Depends what you mean by 'free.' Do abstract ideas exist? Depends what you mean by 'exist.'"

Are video games art? Depends on what you mean by "art".

I realize that this is not a particularly insightful comment, and that anyone who thinks about this issue for more than 15 seconds must understand this. What I don't understand, and what I hope someone can explain to me, is why it is fruitful to continue this discussion after having this realization.

The idea that philosophical discussions are driven by discussions of meaning is not insightful because it's practically describing a tautology. Things mean things. Or, I suppose, perhaps, we (whatever that means) impose, impute, or infer meaning.

The study of meaning may or may not be important to you. If it is, that's the answer to your request for an explanation. If it's not, then it's not.

Most important ideas have various definitions. "Beauty" or "virtue" or "freedom" or "love."

It seems a bit...misguided...to assume that none of those things are worth discussing for such a reason.

There's a difference between discussing ideas and discussing semantics. This seems firmly in the realm of a mere semantic argument.

Semantic arguments are wrongfully vilified. Philosophy requires precision, and imprecise definitions lead nowhere. At a meta level, it's an interesting question whether we can satisfactorily define any term at all; see the failure of philosophy to adequately define what is and is not science: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pseudo-science/

Understanding the precise meaning of words is obviously important to a discussion. My problem with semantic arguments is generally a practical one, not theoretical. I've found arguments over disagreements in definitions of words to either be resolved trivially or ultimately futile. There probably are situations where semantic arguments are worth it to really argue but they seem very seldom. This is just a value judgement on my part so honestly I expect people to disagree

I think once an article begins summarizing Schopenhauer it becomes a bit of a stretch to call it "mere semantics." Maybe you don't like the ideas, but if you think that it has none, you haven't read it carefully.

Because it's self-defeating? It amounts to throwing up your hands and saying that nothing is knowable, which feels like it would be an uncomfortable position for a creative person to hold.

Maybe you and I have different definitions of "art", for instance. But by arguing the question we can both come to a deeper understanding, both of what we individually believe art to be and why we hold that belief. The act of interrogating the question forces us to inspect our position more closely than we would do otherwise, which can lead to insights we would otherwise never encounter.

Because we use words when we communicate. So even if it is "just words", words matter.

I've not yet finished reading the whole essay (still intend to), but I already have found two points in which I find the whole side of the discussion to be rather flawed.

  The identity of a game emerges from its mechanics and affordances, not the presentation that exposes them.
Translated to paintings, this would equate to the statement that the defining aspect of paintings like the Mona Lisa are that they consist of dried dirt on canvas. If you're not willing to consider a piece wholistically, you don't even need to start a discussion like this.

Also, with one of the first quoted statement, namely:

  As long as there is a great movie unseen or a great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games.
Ebert pretty much disqualifies himself from the whole debate he created. If you willfully choose to be ignorant on the subject you're talking about, you have no say whatsoever in my book.

Also, one thing that struck me as strange so far is the idea that the addition of something should remove the art-ness from a medium. At one point, there was an agreement that painted pictures could be art, but photography couldn't. Then, those were included, but moving pictures weren't. Now, certain moving pictures aren't, because they interact with the audience? I fail to see the reasoning there.

The whole argument somehow reminds me of a text I once read, which explained that unwritten fashion rules about which dress colors should be worn during which seasons were used by nobility to "unmask" new-rich in their ranks. Sadly, I'm unable to find the source on that.

Edit: As for the mechanics-based comment: I could agree with that when applied to go or chess. But this statement fails to see the merit of many video games: They are no longer limited to being a simple battle of wits, but have the possibility to convey messages, insight, emotion, impressions etc. without the need for an actual "opponent".

Edit2: Thinking of it, a far more interesting point for me lies in the debate itself and where it stems from. I would be very much interested in the number of great artists that actually cared if their work was perceived as art. I would guess this number to be rather low, although I've got no evidence either way. That's why I find the more zealous participants in the discussion on the game-making side to be rather strange in an art context.

Undertale? The Stanley Parable? Doom? Bloodborne?

It's quite hard to come up with nominees for consideration as 'Sublime Art'.

It seems so hard to really find the difference between "Sublime Art" and "A Really Good Game"

The end bit of the article states: "But when I feel the need for reflection, for insight, wisdom or consolation, I turn my computers off.

These needs are the ambit of the sublime arts, which are inspired and informed by philosophy, and by faith."

But this immediately brings my mind to games like Proteus, No Man's Sky, or Breath of the Wild.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons qualifies, I think. There's one particular moment in that game--everyone who's played it all the way through will know, and I will not spoil it--which is emotionally powerful, and absolutely could not have been made in any other medium.

Brothers is a great example. It's not particularly special as a game: the puzzles and plot are relatively simple and generic. But the game's mechanics create an experience that cannot be matched in any non-interactive medium.


What I find amazing about that moment is that from any "conservative" perspective, it's really nothing special - but the mechanical bond the game has built up with the player until then amplifies its effect. It is a very good example showing that you can still use much of a medium's inherit aspects to great effect even without deviating much from the norm.

On a related note: I wonder if John Cage's 4'33" qualifies as art... ;-)

> And it's so hard to really split the difference between "Sublime Art" and "A Really Good Game"

Is it? What makes a "really good game"? Most would agree that a game like SimCity or Half-Life (original) are really good games. Few would argue that either of them are sublime art.

Art is up to taste, so as a critic it's easier to recognize something as art that maybe you don't partake or enjoy, like post-modern literature, Jackson Pollock paintings, or anti-art, than to fail to recognize it at all. That is what makes Roger Ebert's argument weak.

The best example of sublime art in a game would be Myst. Outside of that minor examples might be The Stanley Parable, Half-Life 2, or Façade.

If there are a few examples of video games as sublime art, then I think that establishes the medium as art. The movie Doom is abysmal, and yet the late Roger Ebert would put that on a higher plane than these great examples? That seems irrational.

I think the greatest issue is with the video game work that Roger Ebert was exposed to. If you had never listened to music in your life and only read books and seen paintings, and then you were introduced to pop radio or a host of folk death metal albums, you might have the same reaction as he had had to video games: seeing that music is an inferior form, merely an amusement rather than art, instead of seeing that certain genres are more crude than the level of sophistication enjoyed in his books or paintings. Being surrounded by the most popular or violent collections of medium aren't encouraging in the way that seeing an instance of sublime art would be.

The examples that Kellee Santiago gave were really independent renaissance games, which are often minimalistic or contain subtle elements. Instead of an example of an epic like the Iliad or Lawrence of Arabia, they are a short story, of any quality.

And just as Roger Ebert did not live in a vacuum and had certainly seen video games played in movies, he has obviously seen them develop from the very beginning. The examples of early arcade games are like simple drum signals compared to a symphony. It might be that he just missed out on what might have been a great artistic experience.

> If there are a few examples of video games as sublime art, then I think that establishes the medium as art. The movie Doom is abysmal, and yet the late Roger Ebert would put that on a higher plane than these great examples? That seems irrational.

I think he would describe the movie Doom as bad art: It's orthogonal to a good game -- not able to be compared as art.

He's working with a very specific limited definition of art.

(I don't agree with Ebert's premise. Although his auteur point is compelling, it is too one-dimensional. And doesn't take catharsis into account.)

I agree that there are examples, such as the ones you propose, of games that are widely regarded as "A Really Good Game" while clearly being a long stretch from "Sublime Art".

What I intended to get across was that there are other examples that I do not find so clear cut. Such as the 4 examples I gave. I can't tell if I would propose these as examples of "Games As Sublime Art" because they possess qualities deserving of that title or if they are simply tricking me by being very good games.

I think that, if Doom 2016 wasn't so checklist bound, it'd qualify as sublime art - it's the best answer I've seen to the question "What would Aliens look like if it were a video game?"

LeChuck's Revenge is up there, too, IMO - both versions.

I haven't played that version of Doom. But I have to ask, is Aliens sublime art?

I presumed that that was the version which GP was referring to because the other ones are also dated to 2016.

And I chose to mention it because Ebert rated Aliens highly, at 3.5/4. In retrospect, that may not qualify it as sublime art as opposed to a really good film. I'd have to refresh my memory of Ebert's scale.

I was actually trying to tacitly refer to both the original and 2016 version because they both can apply to this discussion for different reasons.

I think my main take away from 2016 is that it is nearly flawless execution of an equally well-understood concept with an attention to detail that can rival anything to which it may be compared.

What I actually consider most impressive about the original is the marvelous ingenuity of its 'construction' which I think is more deserving of comparison to architecture than film.

You're conflating 'art' with 'artful'. There's all sorts of artless trash adorning the walls of galleries, but it's still 'art'.

'art' has a really low bar for entry. A doodle you make whilst on the phone is 'art'. All video games are art. Not all video games are artful.

I do see how easy it can be to conflate 'art' with 'artful' but I intentionally have used the phrase 'Sublime Art' to mean 'artful' or '(Capital A) Art' in an attempt to avoid this confusion.

The topic of discussion is the idea that NO video game can EVER BE 'artful'.

It's been said a lot of times before, but I think Braid and The Witness are both pretty clearly examples of sublime art.

There's nothing here to debate. Ebert clearly says that video games are not art. As does this article. This is because video games and art are fundamentally different, and there is no question of video games being art. It seems the video gamers are not ready to accept this. In trying to seek validation for the time they spend playing these games, they are building arguments which are of no use. This may be because they want to improve their perception among public who tend to dismiss time spent playing video games as wasted. It also works best for the video game industry to have its clients believe that they are purchasing art when they are buying video games. I think that's why Roger Ebert gave up arguing after a point of time. Video gamers can believe whatever they want to, that does not change the fact that video games are not art.

I believe that these kinds of debates necessarily boil down to an argument over the definition of art.

One essay on a similar subject that I always think back to is Orwell's essay, Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool: http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/lear/english/e_ltf

Orwell's argument is somewhat hard for me to swallow (because I tend to be opinionated about what constitutes good writing), but I agree that "Ultimately there is no test of literary merit except survival, which is itself an index to majority opinion." I think that same concept can be applied more broadly to question of the definition of art.

"Elite" was one of the best things to come out of 1984. Docking my Sidewinder into the stations will stay forever etched into memory. It is very hard for me not to describe it as art; it brought me, as the gamer, into space, matching my rotation with that of the station - and being able to perform interstellar travel.

Sure the graphics were crude by today's standards, yet the memory of the experience stays strong - as it was cutting edge by the standards of that day.

Rewatching an old movie often feels disappointing for the same reason - the memory of the experience staying far stronger than what the movie judged by today's standards.

Which is exactly the same as for those classic computer games.

And now we have Elite Dangerous, which offers a jaw droppingly beautiful universe of grand scale, with VR, fantastic visual FX and sound stage design. And, essentially, the same experience as the original game.

Remakes happen all the time in movies as well.

So yes, to me, computer games are most definitely art.

Every time something like this comes up, I think about "games" like this:


I think that the argument is stronger that it's not a "video game" than that it isn't "sublime art".

And if having a goal is considered to be an essential element of gamehood, and being without a goal is an essential element of arthood, then fine, games can't be art. But I think there can be art-like games (maybe like Braid), as well as game-like art (maybe like Passage).

What about immersive theater? If you've ever been to Sleep No More, the entire experience is a work of art. As the viewer, you have a lot of choice in how you experience it. Almost like a video game, in the sense that there's a fixed storyline.

It's very hard to put a box around what is or isn't art, especially from the standpoint of what a given medium is capable of. You can't tell me that Final Fantasy III (Japanese VI) isn't a tremendous work of art. But I can't convince you otherwise either.

I wonder if most films can even be considered art under some of the definitions being used. Is Michael Bay's Transformers art? Was _The Phantom Menace_ art?

There are video games that are completely "on the rails", effective interactive movies that provide little choice. Some of these are basically like modern art exhibits that invite people to walk through and interact with sculptures or animatronics, only it's virtual, instead of physically real.

I have seen kids cry over the writing in Undertale. Games like Journey, The Last Of Us, Firewatch, the Bioshock series, either provoke emotion, or thought.

There are indie games that let you experience what it's like to have a child with cancer, or be a subsistence farmer in a developing country, transformative experiences that IMHO are more powerful than static art.

Art doesn't always have to be abstract, photojournalism can be deeply artistic, merely by capturing perspective on the world that are real, but ignored. Virtual reality experiences in games could extend that to actually allowing people to experience what it is like from the perspective of the photojournalist, or those affected. This could have greater impact on one's thoughts than just visiting a museum and looking at paintings or pictures removed from context.

I'm willing to bet that this whole argument is swept under the rug in one or two decades, when a new generation of artists who are extremely digitally savvy supplant the current establishment, and new forms of media will eventually come to be seen as art.

If you were to read the article, you would see that your initial question is covered:

"So, what does the tasteful, expert connoisseur Roger Ebert have to say about the relationship between the cinema and art?

Just this: “Hardly any movies are art.”

Here’s what the late Pauline Kael wrote about the relationship between movies and art. Listen carefully.

“There is so much talk now about the art of the film that we may be in danger of forgetting that most of the movies we enjoy are not works of art ... Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.”

So, here we have two of the world’s most highly-regarded film critics, sadly assuring us that most movies are not great art."

I can't believe no one has mentioned Journey. To me this is closest to Art you can find in a video game.

It certainly does feel like a rich man commissioned someone to put it on their wall.

RE: 'games are not art because they give you choices'

This is a really unfortunate argument to make in my opinion, it's pretty misleading and essentially an unfalsifiable claim. Music, film, poetry, literature - also all give you 'choices' in various forms.

I personally look at it this way - one thing about 'art' that sticks out to me is the fact that the portion of it (across all mediums) that I find the most compelling is the section that makes no presuppositions about deeming itself 'art' or 'great art'. As the audience I only come to the realization that something is 'art' once I've experienced it for myself. Music, film, literature and video games (also not an exhaustive list of mediums) alike can all have this effect in my experience.

There is some choice I guess: how to interpret it, whether to view it, how to view it, etc. But you don't really change the work.

However, I'm not really sure why that would disqualify video games as an art-form. You can't just find a difference and then use that as a rationalization.

What about interactive modern art sculptures? Why are exhibits which let me plot my own path through a physical space experience "art", but doing the same through a virtual space with risk/reward, not art?

The closest thing video games are to what is normally accepted as art is theatre; specifically, interactive theatre[1].

There's many components to what makes good art, but if I could sum it up in one word, it would be broadband: not a thin narrow channel of effect, but impacting the observer on multiple levels. Emotion, reason, the senses - being hit all at once, or in waves.

Games are still a bit lopsided, due to being marketed mostly to not particularly introspective young people and frequently focusing on visuals over everything else. I think things could change, but it may require different market expectations.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_theatre

Art is art if it is called art.

"Flow is painless effort. But pain management is not the business of art.

"Entrancement is not insight.

"Flow is an-aesthetic."

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee - zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

"Ah, this is marvelous!" said Lord Wen-hui. "Imagine skill reaching such heights!"

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, "What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now - now I go at it by spirit and don't look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

"A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I've had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I've cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there's plenty of room - more than enough for the blade to play about it. That's why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

"However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I'm doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until - flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away."

"Excellent!" said Lord Wen-hui. "I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!"

I think a lot of why games struggle to reach the stature of a film or a novel is that both films and novels are massive undertakings that can be prototyped in their entirety by a single person. The reason a great novel can be written with tens of thousands of images and ideas is because written fairly cheaply. And film can be shot fairly simply. You can write several pages, or film several scenes in a single day.

Video games are slowly getting there, but historically it requires days and days and days just to get a single facet of a game on a screen. You can't create a fully realized scene in a day the way you can on a page.

This isn't going to be true forever. We refine our programming toolkits every year. We draw ever closer to the time where you could sit down and write a page of prose-like code with dozens of references, and have all of those references appear fully realized on a screen.

We're just not there yet. It's like we were trying to make a great film but we haven't even invented the video camera yet, so we need to build a mechanism that makes every change in the frame by moving around animated elements. Basically, our current video games are the software version of the Zoetrope: https://jellygraph.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/early-moving-ima...

And actually, the vast majority of programmers don't even believe that rapid, short-hand programming is even possible. Whenever the idea of regular people programming comes up there is a stampede of programmers claiming that programming is so complex and arcane that it will never be as accessible as writing or shooting video. I disagree, but that gives you a sense of how far we are from parity with film and print.

Is dance an art? Is jazz? Is improv? How do they differ from a game like chess or basketball?

Yes people seem to think that video games are art when they tell a story like a book or movie. I think that's boring. This is a new medium, let's drop the inferiority complex and stop acting like the old mediums.

I think it's obvious that some of the descendants of today's games will be art. Comparing games to movies is a distraction. The important thing is to compare games as they are now to games as they could be.

How many years passed before movies were considered seriously as art? My google-fu failed to unearth anything that looked authoritative.

It's only rock 'n' roll but I like it ...

"no one confuses mathematics with great art"

This is where I stopped reading. Mathematics can be true, beautiful, compelling, creative, unique, etc. He has failed to define art except by exclusion, which makes his argument pointless. I could not read on.

Later in the article, he says one of the hallmarks of art is that it is a celebration of the ineffable. Your objection seems to be that his definition of art is not sufficiently mathematical to be sensible to you. This tells me that you are more interested in reasoning about art than appreciating it. Well, ... I'm glad you enjoy math more than art. But I don't think that art needs to bow down to math by confining itself to a definition that fits your criteria.

my objection is that his definition of art appears in no part of this essay. I don't need it to be "mathematical", I just need it to exist.

As for the claim that I am more interested in reasoning about art than appreciating it. Do you actually think priorities are exclusive like that? May I not both reason and appreciate? Is this not an essay which itself attempts to reason about art, should I not appeal to that in a response to the article?

The argument you make against my response to the article could be equally applied to the article itself, yet you take the author's side, which seems dishonest to me.

> my objection is that his definition of art appears in no part of this essay. I don't need it to be "mathematical", I just need it to exist.

Yes, you need everything you read to be structured like a mathematical argument, so you can pick it apart. So you need a definition followed by proofs. You're annoyed that every article doesn't have this structure, especially argumentative articles like this one. You are acting as a natural language proof checker, not a person.

> Do you actually think priorities are exclusive like that? May I not both reason and appreciate?

I think if you bail out after a few minutes on an article for failing to supply you with the structure you demand, then yes, your priorities are basically exclusive. Now, I don't have a proof in hand for that, which I'm sure you'll fixate on.

> The argument you make against my response to the article could be equally applied to the article itself, yet you take the author's side, which seems dishonest to me.

I value articles over comments, especially obnoxious, entitled comments. I am not here to merely compile text and type check it. The accusation of "dishonesty" only reinforces that you are more interested in the structure of what is being said than what the words are saying. The accusation itself, what a preposterous idea, that there are some rigid rules about what I read and how I choose to respond to it which you can apply to me and constrain me with. Do you think you could berate me into agreeing with you?

Is anger the only thing of substance that you have to contribute?

Various definitions for types of art follow in the latter half of the article. Discussions on kitsch, sublime, great, etc. Which is essential to be able to put the whole thing into context, seems to be what you want. It's right there.

> Mathematics can be true, beautiful, compelling, creative, unique, etc.

Yes, but that does not mean it is art. Art literally means something created by humans, which is distinct from the natural sciences which is studying nature. Both are worthwhile, but it's not the same.

I really don't think art has such a clear definition, but nevertheless looking at definitions, here's the first thing on Google:

> the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Can you find no space for mathematics there? No definitions or creations produced simply because they are beautiful? Maybe some later found uses, but that feels like discounting Michelangelo's David because it could be used to hold open a large door.

Maybe the word "art" have such positive connotations that it seems disparaging to state that something is not art. But that is not my intention at all. I'm just noting that in the usual sense of the word, math is not art just like say sociology or software design or sex is not art. Of course you can make a definition of art which does include all those activities and everything else for that matter, nobody owns the word.

I didn't make up a definition though. That's an OED definition of art.

Perhaps "doing maths" is often not art, but then neither is writing. Both can serve specific uses that wouldn't easily fall under definitions of art, but that doesn't mean they can't be.

Software engineering isn't but then is it really a stretch to describe this spinning globe quine as art? https://github.com/knoxknox/qlobe or this 100 language quine https://github.com/mame/quine-relay/blob/master/README.md

Then video games qualify.

This is an article which argues that something does not satisfy the criteria for art. So when he he invokes his ability to exclude mathematics from the definition without any justification, or at least without appealing to any reasoning whatsoever, and then using that conclusion to assert that games aren't art, all he is doing is demonstrating that his essay should have been much shorter. The same unqualified assertion that applies to mathematics would apply to videogames, and he needs go no further than the thesis.

I happen to agree. Video games definitely qualify as art in my opinion. Math does not. I don't buy his argument either. But the underlying mistake is thinking "art" means "valuable and worthwhile" (and "not art" means "bad"). There is lots of crappy art.

Mathematics is not a natural science. Its structure and content is obtained strictly from axioms and logic.

I didn't intend to claim it way, just using examples.

"God made the integers, all else is the work of man." - Leopold Kronecker

Mathematics is also something created by humans.

So is astronomy, but that does not make it art. Of course you can define art however you want, it just not how the word is usually used. (Unless you take it in the colloquial sense of "something to appreciate", like in "that ass is a piece of art".)

> Art literally means something created by humans

Mathematics are created by humans. Math is the map, not the territory.

OK, I'll bite: yes, "Mathematics can be true, beautiful, compelling, creative, unique, etc", but those qualities are generally only discernable by other mathematicians working at a roughly comparable level. Same for code; I've talked to promising-but-junior programmers who couldn't understand at all what people meant when they talked about code being "ugly".

"Art" in its various forms, on the other hand, is widely appreciated by people who are not artists, or art critics, or art dealers, or art students. (I'd exclude an awful lot of modern art from this, but that's probably a flamewar for another day.)

To be fair, I'm not arguing that mathematics is art. I'm arguing that this article is a meaningless pile of shit, even though I find the question of whether things are art or not to be generally meaningful. The author has succumbed to the scotsman fallacy. The criteria by which he judges whether or not a thing is art is kept hidden, and there is no way for the reader to verify that they even exist.

I'd be curious; can you describe the emotional reactions you've had to reading a mathematical paper?

Have you experienced joy, sorrow, loneliness, kinship, heartache, lust, tenderness, guilt, hope from reading a math paper?

Could you tell us which paper inspired various emotional reactions in you?

Honest questions all. If you've experienced a variety of emotions from a maths paper, and can talk about your inner world in relation to such a paper, it'd go a long way to convincing me that math can be great art.

It's true that there's some aesthetic judgment involved in writing proofs, but it's heavily constrained by the problems you're trying to solve. I think this prevents it from being great art, even when it's great mathematics. It's similar to writing puns, which nobody claims are great comedy, or lipograms, which nobody claims are great literature.

Architecture, especially before the advent of reinforced concrete, is heavily constrained by mechanics, and yet few would claim that architecture cannot be great art.

Pure maths is not particularly constrained, is it? You don't even really need to have a certain actual problem you're trying to solve. That feels like saying a book can't be great art because it's heavily constrained by the story you're trying to tell.

A book doesn't have to be heavily constrained by the story. What's the mathematical equivalent of Finnegans Wake?

Would you accept no books "constrained" by their story as art?

I don't think there's any hard cut-off where you can say something is art or not art. But even the most formulaic genre fiction gives more freedom to the author in how they can arrange their words. English language doesn't have a formal grammar and rules are more like suggestions. But if mathematics breaks the commonly accepted rules then it's just plain wrong.

> But if mathematics breaks the commonly accepted rules then it's just plain wrong.

I disagree. You're free to alter, ignore or add rules and then explore the consequences of your choices.


In defense of Roger Ebert, the dude wrote the screenplay to Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

The entire conversation says more about the bruised egos of gamers than art.

"The entire conversation says more about the bruised egos of gamers critics than art" would be an equally correct statement.

Oh for crying out loud, what difference does it make? If you want to call video games art, call them art. If you don't, don't. What's the point of quibbling over terminology, especially subjective terminology? It's like arguing over whether or not vanilla is a "great flavor."

Eh, I disagree, mostly. Quibbling over terminology is a large part of how we define a collective culture.

For an individual, sure, I agree with you. It doesn't really matter and is possibly a waste of time to contemplate. To use your analogy, if you like vanilla, eat it; if you don't, don't.

But for a society, it matters how we think about things, how we label things, how we frame ideas, what we choose to venerate and what we choose to denigrate. It's a large part of how we distinguish cultures from each other and track changing attitudes over time within a culture.

That's not to argue that you and I and every Joe and Jane on the street need to endlessly debate subjective terminology, but I think it can be worthwhile for critics, anthropologists, historians, etc.

The terminology question is not the interesting one. That would be sort of like asking whether "Ah, perdona al primo affetto" [1] should be considered art despite being part of a crass commercial effort (Mozart needed money, so he composed an opera for the coronation of Leopold II). Such questions of terminology can be discussed endlessly without gaining much from them.

But the question that Ebert was fundamentally asking is whether video games are capable of the same level and kind of intellectual or emotional stimulus as traditional works of art such as Beethoven's Fifth or Hamlet.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hx1Esy_jE_A

> whether video games are capable of the same level and kind of intellectual or emotional stimulus as traditional works of art

And on what possible basis could anyone ever answer that question?

BTW, that is emphatically not the question Ebert was addressing. Ebert wrote:

"... I [do] indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. 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 his reasoning has nothing to do with whether or not video games "are capable of the same level and kind of intellectual or emotional stimulus as traditional works of art." He is simply saying, with absolutely no foundation or justification whatsoever other than his authority as a Great Film Critic, that games can't be art because they are interactive.


(BTW, I'm not a big fan of video games. I hardly ever play them. But to my mind, Myst, Riven and Monument Valley have at least as much claim to being art as that stupid Northcote painting.)

> And on what possible basis could anyone ever answer that question?

If you're looking for something that can be proven or disproven: not at all. But we constantly ask questions for which there isn't an objectively correct answer all the same. Any attempt to answer the question of whether something is art cannot avoid a mass of subjective elements.

> BTW, that is emphatically not the question Ebert was addressing. Ebert wrote:

That's an argument he put forward. An argument is not the same as the question it attempts to address. Right after that he writes:

"But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. 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."

The point he is making is that there are elements in art that rise beyond craftsmanship; he refers to the "soul" or "vision" of an artist elsewhere.

If something has to be "worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers" in order to be considered art then the vast majority of what people call "art" doesn't qualify.

I didn't say that. The question is whether video games are capable of it, at least in principle. There's plenty of shoddy writing and music, too, but that's not a good point of comparison.

There's a substantial number of people who complain when video games are called 'not art', but then also complain when video games are treated as art and used to explore 'not game' subjects (see the hubbub surrounding Depression Quest) or criticized in the same way that art is.

it brings to mind some interesting questions for how we tell our own culture's story to ourselves and our descendants. we do, after all, spend lots of money enshrining in museums "great works of art". we write about them in history books and they come to represent symbols and meanings in our language and collective unconscious.

I think it matters. I think that making room for new forms in the canon that we admit as "high art" has a significant impact on the present and future of our culture and society.

As an example of why it matters. Vanilla is a great flavor and this is independent of whether or not an individual enjoys eating vanilla flavored foods. How do we know? Look at the language. Vanilla, as a metaphor, has meaning. It means "baseline" or "unaugmented". It matters. It's how we construct our language.

This is absolutely the correct answer. Another take on the same idea: http://lesswrong.com/lw/np/disputing_definitions/

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