Pharyngula

Roger Ebert ticks off video gamers

Tycho and Gabe seem a tad peevish that Roger Ebert has dissed video games as art — he says video games can never be art, which may be a bit excessive. Still, I read Ebert’s explanation, Penny Arcade’s cranky dismissal, and a
serious advocates counter-argument, and you know, I tend to think Ebert is mostly right. It might be because I’m a “wretched, ancient warlock” too.

I think video games can contain pieces of art — artists participate in their creation, after all — but art isn’t the intent, the performance is. A basketball game is not art, no matter how well somebody plays; it’s as physical as a dance performance, and the participants are just as skilled and often just as amazing, but dance can be art while the game is simply sport. Not to dismiss it entirely, which is not what Ebert does at all, but to point out that they are different things.

Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators. A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that. No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance. It’s all about balance and game play and keeping the action going and providing a means to win or lose, and most of all, it’s about giving the player control in the game environment. No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants. In that sense, a good game hands the player a toolbox to work within the game environment — it is to art as providing a studio and a set of pigments and a collection of brushes.

Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting. It just doesn’t now, though. If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime. That’s where games fail as art, which is not to say they can’t succeed as something comparable to a sport — we may want to explore the rules of a game at length, and repeatedly, and we may enjoy getting better at it. But no matter how well or how long you play a game, it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience.

Comments

  1. #1 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    If video games aren’t art, neither are movies, especially 3-D movies and cartoons/anime. Must be a generation gap thing.

  2. #2 Azkyroth
    April 22, 2010

    Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.

    Uh, people have been doing this for going on two decades; try googling “Machinima” or “Quake Demo” some time.

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators. A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment.

    …and you seriously think that can’t be done interactively? You are aware that a huge swath of modern video games don’t even have a “score” any more; progress is measured by the interactive unfolding of the main story and various little side plots, right?

    I mean, you have actually had some content with games since the pong era, right?

    …right? :/

  3. #3 JTrentadue
    April 22, 2010

    Mario Paint. Checkmate, Ebert.

  4. #4 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Hmmm… I’m afraid I completely disagree but it’s going to take me a little while to come up with how and why, and by then probably no one will care.

  5. #5 WCorvi
    April 22, 2010

    Art is in the eye of the beholder, no? ANYTHING is art. Therefore the word has no meaning. I’ve suspected this for a long time.

  6. #6 sgiffy
    April 22, 2010

    I think this is a common and understandable misconception about what games are. Sure there are a lot that are basically run around and kill things or score points, but there are also games that contain much more developed plots and stories.

    I would recommend checking out a game like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_Rain which is as much a movie as it is a game. Its an interactive form of art, but then lots of art works are interactive.

  7. #7 pteryxx
    April 22, 2010

    But performance art and sculpture installations often involve the audience, and neither they nor stage plays can be easily taken home and put on a wall.

    Also, not all games are about winning or losing. Some are about exploring or interacting. Examples:

    “Today I Die” which is essentially interactive poetry;

    And “Sleep is Death” (review linked here), which is a toolbox for interactive narrative between two participants. The stories they create can be shared and re-read.

    I would argue such scoreless games are more art than game.

  8. #8 Sastra
    April 22, 2010

    I don’t know — I think that, with art, you get into a lot of gray areas. There are artists who try to bring the viewer into the piece, so that they become co-creators, along with the artist. The experience is part of the experience.

    Oscar Wilde once said something to the effect that that his life was his artwork. When you get into the areas of aesthetics, metaphor, and symbol, concepts get sloppy.

    Of course, the only video game I play is Scrabble, so I may be out of this particular discussion.

  9. #9 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    I will say one thing though. I think the comparison about watching some one ELSE play a game doesn’t hold well. It also isn’t interesting very much to watch some one ELSE look at a painting, for instance.

    Although sometimes it is. I used to go to museums and surreptitiously take pictures of people looking at art.

  10. #10 Marshall
    April 22, 2010

    Starcraft is pure art. Still going strong after 12 years due to its pure perfection.

  11. #11 'Tis Himself, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Gabe wrote:

    So Ebert says games aren’t art. That does not make it true. I say games are art and last time I checked, I was beating Michelle Obama, Oprah and Taylor swift in Time’s 100 most influential people list.

    Does Gabe actually think this is a compelling argument?

  12. #12 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    Hmmm… I’m afraid I completely disagree but it’s going to take me a little while to come up with how and why, and by then probably no one will care.

    Doubtful that no-one will care, Ol’Greg… I will, as I agree with your sentiment whole-heartedly.

    For me it’s a problem of subjectivity… so I’ll start with this task:

    Define “art”.

  13. #13 mommimus-prime
    April 22, 2010

    My son spends hours on YouTube watching videos of someone else playing video games. And he is constantly asking me to watch him play. I find it to be mindless and boring but he doesn’t. It’s like reading someone else’s role play, dull as dirt because the emotional experience of the game is missing.

    Would the Boston Globetrotters playing qualify as art? It’s definitely a performance. A dance that is watchable again and again.

  14. #14 themadengineer
    April 22, 2010

    First, I would point out that those who claim that some games are works of art don’t claim the players are artists anymore than we would claim moviegoers are. The artistry of a well-done game is in the presentation of the story characters and environment, the creation of atmosphere, and the relationship between the player’s actions and the flow of the plot.

    Sit down sometime and watch someone play the first 20 minutes of Bioshock. Play Portal from beginning to end and then tell me there’s no artistic merit there. I’ve sat beside someone and watched them play both of those games for hours, and it’s genuinely enjoyable. Just as I would be suspicious of film critic who hasn’t watched the most well-known examples of good film, so do I doubt the opinion of someone who hasn’t played some of the most iconic examples of storytelling and artistry in games. Or if I’m mistaken, and you and Roger Ebert have played those games, then I’m stumped at to what your criterion really is.

  15. #15 iambilly
    April 22, 2010

    But what about the Christian video games? Surely these qualify as ‘art’? After all, every time you play it, you get exactly the same pointless mysogynistic, anti-natural world, anti-science, anti-human messages again and again and again. You can annoint the feet of Mary with the 30 pieces of silver while riding the seven-eyed sheep and watching all the non-believers or wrong-believers be punished for actually using their brains!

    Actually, I agree. Video games may be artistic — the treatment of the graphics and even the storyline involved may challenge one’s world view or even evoke certain responses — but they aren’t ‘art.’

    And, despite having a son who is now switching to a fine arts major, I really can’t define what art is anymore than I can define what obscene is. I know it when I see it, and if it makes me stop and think, it may be art. If it looks nice, it may be art. If it challenges me, or creates a visceral response, it may be art. But it may not be.

    Damn. Sorry for the ramble.

  16. #16 Michelle R
    April 22, 2010

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    How utterly wrong. See games like Okami. See games like Batman Arkham Asylum. See Bayonetta… They are so beautiful you are moved. Heck, a ton of games are just beautiful not only in graphics but in storytelling. They are a work of art, the script is an art. I can ASSURE YOU that teams DO sit down with the intent of creating a work of art.

    You don’t sit through a video game just to shoot things like in Asteroids or to eat dots like in Pacman. You sit through them to be entertained like you would with a movie or a painting. The story’s important. The graphics are important. The feelings you get after playing will be AWE.

    And even with more mindless games I feel the awe.

    Videogames are the new movies. And they are better because you are PLAYING the movie!

  17. #17 MoonShark
    April 22, 2010

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance

    You clearly haven’t watched the developer commentary for the Half-Life 2 episodes. There are numerous cases where they are roughly like “and here we inserted this vista to give the player a sense of the progressive corruption of the physical world and intensify a sense of foreboding”.

    And yes, sports can be art. I remember a number of years back in Women’s soccer, I think for the Olympics, USA vs. China. Double-overtime passed, and it was down to a sudden death penalty kicks. The emotion and intensity were palpable. That’s what sports can be about — a peaceful alternative to war, and a sort of allegory for all human conflict and struggle.

    And video games do the same thing. If gamers seem cranky, it’s because you’re missing the bigger picture, PZ.

  18. #18 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    I think that to use this definition of art consistently we would also have to say that motion pictures are not art but contain art. In a lot of cases, game development has become a way of producing an interactive motion picture. For me, personally, the first Halo game is a good example. I replay Halo for much the same reasons I rewatch The Crow. So if games are not art, but are simply an amalgamation of arts (story, visuals, sound, etc), then the same is true of films. The film itself is not art, but the visuals may be, or the soundtrack, or the story, or the performances of each actor.

  19. #19 ibyea
    April 22, 2010

    @PZ
    I think you have some good points there are a few problems I see with your arguments. Most video games are on rails. They lead you to where the creators want you to go. While there is interactivity, free will in video games are mostly illusory. Which is why I really loved the plot twist of Bioshock at the end. It kind of makes you question following objectives in videogames.

    Also, for some games, the tone, atmosphere, and the visuals are really important.

    Oh, and believe it or not, watching someone else play videogames is really fun. I especially love to watch Koreans play Starcraft. Not to say that makes it an art. After all, we all watch other peopole playing sports and we don’t call those art.

  20. #20 daedelean
    April 22, 2010

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators. A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that. No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    I don’t really see any reason why this couldn’t be done in games. Specifically, I suggest everyone who thinks no games today are art take a look at Braid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braid_%28video_game%29) and tell me why that isn’t art.

  21. #21 cory.t.martin
    April 22, 2010

    Despite my best efforts, these discussions invariable get me peeved as well. “Video Games” is a loaded term that always inclines those using it to disfavor the view of them as art. An interactive, digital experience sounds a lot more like something that could be art because, frankly, it is. Video games aren’t simply ‘games’ any longer. There are complex narratives and ruminations on many facets of human nature and existence that bring the user in to interact in a way that deepens the experience. If a Van Gogh painting could be stepped into and explored, would it stop being art?

  22. #22 lucidish
    April 22, 2010

    I’m not exactly sure that calling something a “sport” disqualifies it as art, either. They’re both just exhibitions of a craft, which is all that matters.

    For the sake of argument, the intent of the athlete may be to perform, not to present; but I don’t think that intention can make a central difference. Kafka didn’t want his stories to be published, so he didn’t intend for them to be presented — he only focused on performance of his craft. But his works are still art, because they’re still *out there*.

    And like Azkyroth said, there are lots of video games that are enjoyable for the beauty of their story and tone – Bioshock, for instance.

  23. #23 https://me.yahoo.com/a/MMPL3BFk1elNUrXjHy0dCvqYZOqaf8SYmVrTHKuPrEVks98-#b3a37
    April 22, 2010

    I’d argue that the entire problem in this debate is that the wretched, ancient warlocks haven’t had contact with evocative, emotional games like Ico. They think it’s all Tetris and GTA.

  24. #24 Ian
    April 22, 2010

    Not all art is created with the intent to have the viewer see a design. Much of modern art is also interactive and meaning will vary depending on the person interacting with it. Some art is meant to make you look inside yourself even (and that meaning will vary greatly too). So I would say under these definitions that video games can be art.

  25. #25 Azzimmov
    April 22, 2010

    Art , like beauty , is in the eye of the beholder. An opinion is neither truth or fact . Subjectivity is the rule of the day in areas such as this . Arguing about what is art and what is not is rather pointless ( Jackson Pollock anyone ? )

    That being said , PZ I feel your experience with modern vido games may be shallow . Some of the sandbox/toolbox games that have come out in recent years are akin to art and satisfy all of the requirements you have laid out .

    I agree that super mario may not be art but many of us have moved on from that genre of gaming.

    Who knows what the future may hold . I’m sure something will come along in the next 30 years that I will deride as “not art” . And I’m sure , if availed the opportunity of hindsight , that I will be wrong .

  26. #26 Azkyroth
    April 22, 2010

    Video games may be artistic — the treatment of the graphics and even the storyline involved may challenge one’s world view or even evoke certain responses — but they aren’t ‘art.’

    And, despite having a son who is now switching to a fine arts major, I really can’t define what art is

    I think this pair of clauses speaks for itself.

  27. #27 uppity cracka
    April 22, 2010

    it’s the old NOMA debate, huh? that’s kinda funny.

  28. #28 https://me.yahoo.com/a/35VR0J0FwNtNfGvFSbymJlp6i3JgGSXs#02446
    April 22, 2010

    Go grab a PS2, and a copy of ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ and get back to us. Not all games are art, but many games are BETTER art than older forms because of the interactivity.

  29. #29 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Oh, goody.

    You know what this society sorely lacks? More pretentious conversations asking What Is Art? (and then answering with something along the lines of “Whatever it is, kids today aren’t doing it.”)

    I look forward to Ebert’s next essay: “Why Lawns Are Important And Why The Kids Should Get The Fuck Off Mine.”

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game.

    Complete bullshit. Boring for you maybe, but I spent a great part of my childhood and teenage years watching other people play video games, and found it to be as full of opportunities for socialisation and entertainment as many other activities.

  30. #30 Kieranfoy
    April 22, 2010

    Yeah, here we disagree, P.Z. Most games, sure, they’re not art, but some…

    Once played an Oblivion mod called Heart of the Dead, and believe you me, it got very artistic in places.

    Also, wretched, ancient warlock is an awesome phrase. I want to be called one.

  31. #31 'Tis Himself, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Heck with this. I’m going to play some Civ IV.

  32. #32 molto legato e sostenuto
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, I’m an artist myself, a classical musician, and I’m also a gamer. I note the basic conceptual difference between a game and a work of art, and I admit it’s an important distinction, but many of the criteria you go on to list can and do already apply to games. In MMORPG’s there are breathtaking vistas and some beautiful, piquant, expressive music. (E.g., in World of Warcraft: Howling Fjord for the former, Grizzly Hills for the latter.) I do recognize that these are *components* of the game, not the game itself.

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    But for me as a player – and in a capitalistic society, I expect, as a result, for designers as well – the whole point of a game can and does frequently converge with the purpose of art. E.g., the sense of wonder we get from science fiction. The vicarious sense of adventure we get from fantasy. There aren’t many experiences quite like getting together on Thursday night to save the world with twenty-four friends you never met. Granted my literary examples are not usually high art, but they can be, and they are still art.

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting

    It already does. Ask any serious gamer. I have watched many videos of boss attempts and kills, sometimes for instruction, sometimes for the pure appreciation of the talents of better gamers, and I find beauty in that. Reflective gamers find art in a successful execution of a complex encounter. This is not just hitting your mark and reciting your lines. Serious gaming requires creativity, innovation, and resourcefulness. This is not a new phenomenon, as chess players have long been able to find art in a grandmaster brilliancy.

    I think a partial explanation for this is that gaming is now a team sport. It’s taken a long time for technology to catch up to where performances are more like symphonies than unaccompanied solos, but it has opened appreciation of what gamers do to a broader audience.

  33. #33 fishyfred
    April 22, 2010

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.

    That’s it? We already have that. I play games over and over again that remain interesting every time. It’s like re-reading a book.

  34. #34 iansharkey
    April 22, 2010

    I have to disagree with your disagreeing. Braid and Flower (both mentioned in the original TED talk) are emotional experiences that explore the human condition. I haven’t played Flower, but Braid is an investigation into the human responses of regret; “if I could do it all over again, if I could be in two places at once, if I could slow down that moment, if, if if.”

    Ebert hasn’t experienced the art of Braid, so he’s able to dismiss it easily. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a solid example of an artistic expression, and the “gamers” filling up his blog comments are trying to share that experience; but like true art, a simple description can only go so far…

  35. #35 iambilly
    April 22, 2010

    I think this pair of clauses speaks for itself.

    Yeah, it does. I can’t define art. I can point to things that I don’t think are art. Others may, and will, disagree, but art truly is in the eye of the beholder.

  36. #36 Maslab
    April 22, 2010

    As an avid gamer and one who has dabbled in modding/creation of games and as well as having taken an art class, I must disagree. The both go through a similar set of creative design. First you start with the basic concept, grind out where you want to go, and slowly build the game from there.

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators. A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment.

    Halo 3: ODST may not have conveyed it well, but it did follow the basic outline of Dante’s Inferno. In one level you have to go down to the seventh level to save an officer, and a large part of it is frozen. If you play things right, there is even a traitor involved.

  37. #37 cairne.morane
    April 22, 2010

    “If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.”

    True, watching the majority of people playing a game is boring. But then again the vast majority of the ‘art’ produced by humans is total crap too.

    In fact there are videos online that people do watch repeatedly solely for the enjoyment of doing so (Not just to figure out how to down that last boss). Some of that art is comedy. Some of it is drama. Most of it is crap – but it can still be considered ‘art’.

  38. #38 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Well I have the Kraid theme from the old NES Metroid game as my ringtone. So there’s the musical aspect too.

    The Super Mario Rag may be my generations 9th symphony.

    Then there’s not only the games themselves but a whole generation of fine art trained people who make new and/or hack existing video games to create museum oriented art for art’s sake work.

    For instance there’s Cory Arcangel’s piece:
    http://www.coryarcangel.com/things-i-made/SuperMarioClouds

    Which got him on the map in a big way in the art world, although it’s probably of little interest to the gaming community, especially since it plays so heavily on nostalgia.

    My thoughts on the matter are that the massive collaborative effort required in making a game put it more on par with architecture, creating a space in which the participant interacts.

    While you can’t hang it on a wall, it’s hard to convince me that it isn’t at all artistic in character. There are buildings that are just spaces to fit cubicles in and then there are buildings people fly thousands of miles to stand in once.

    Games matter to people, they impact them visually and emotionally. I remember strategies, scenes, and music from games well. And like some people have mentioned, if you find a game particularly beautiful or exiting, you probably will enjoy watching some one play it well, or play it under certain parameters enough to google it and watch!

  39. #39 ThirdMonkey
    April 22, 2010

    You must not play many games. There have been several attempts in recent years where developers have specifically sat down to create a game as art. Games like Heavy Rain have been successful experiments in what can be called a user-driven movie. Also, several recent RPG games like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect are strongly story driven while at the same time allowing for the player to create their own story experience.
    Video Games are not just game-play and win/lose conditions. That’s like saying that movies are just set design, lighting, and camera position.
    I think that now that video game technology has matured (remember the entire medium is less than 30 years old) it has become the most powerful story telling medium in existence. No other medium has the ability to immerse the viewer like games nor does any other medium have the ability to dynamically change the story based on the players actions. Fallout 3 for example produces two completely different story arcs based on whether the player acts benevolently or not. Either way the game provides a good story.
    Video games are still a very young medium and I don’t think that anyone has yet produced that singular title that can be pointed to as fulfilling the medium’s full potential. But I wonder, how long did it take film to do that?

  40. #40 Ewan R
    April 22, 2010

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    Having played video games from monchrome through EGA, VGA and into the current realm of high def make your eyeballs bleed with detail I’d have to disagree somewhat here – there are simply too many video gaming moments I recall which were simply jaw droppingly stunning in terms of visuals to not suspect that the team sitting down to create that exact visual was doing anything other than make the player appreciate something which was completely non-integral to the game. Equally little moments of comedic gold intersperced throughout many games could be considered artistic to a certain extent (perhaps not ‘high’ art)

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.

    Perhaps this only applies at a personal level, but there are a bunch of video game moments which I regret not having captured to look back on, and which leave a lasting memory, meaningless to most but server first Onyxia kill (and countless other first time experiences in WoW), first time clearing the plane of time(and countless other experiences in EQ – the one lacking any artistic merit as far as I recall was Uqua, which is probably artistic in its capacity to reduce those who’ve experienced it to quivering blobs of misery), taking out a full battleship on UFO:enemy unknown with a single guy – all things I have splendid and lasting memories of, and all things that I am sure a sub-set of the population would find some value in viewing purely for the emotions invoked (even if this only applies to the people involved in each wossname, and possibly only certain parts of it)

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game.

    If that’s what you don’t like. Equally if you want to see something really boring walk through an art gallery (even appreciating *some* art I believe that the most mindnumbingly boring experience I can recall from the last 6 months (at least which shouldnt have been) was trudging through 3 simply craptastic art exhibits at the Sage Gateshead.

    Whereas I can happily (and have happily) spend hours watching friends play video games, and have friends who have done exactly the same while I’ve played – if you personally have zero interest then yes it’s gonna be dull, I’m sure there are people who found great interest wandering around Hirst’s (I think it was him…) pharmacy exhibit, personally I’d rather watch a 5 year old play Donkey Kong.

  41. #41 redmjoel
    April 22, 2010

    I really think that you’ve missed the boat here, PZ. Sure, the vast majority of video games are NOT art, but that can also be said of the vast majority of movies, sculpture (think silverware), and writing. I don’t really think most people would consider “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” to be art either.

    However, something as immersive as Myst or Black&White is certainly as engaging as any piece of literature, and does rise to the level of art, or at least points in that direction. The game designers sets a mood, leading you into a storyline, that you may have some control over, but they are still ultimately responsible for designing consequences for the decisions that you make.

    Claiming that you can’t experience that art of a video game because you can’t see it passively is much like claiming that literature isn’t an art, because you can’t experience it by watching someone read a book.

  42. #42 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    I’ve played video games for 30+ years… and while many don’t necessarily reach the level of “art”, I can tell you that several represent the status of “art” by any definition I’ve ever used.

    Some games create entire worlds, bringing them to life both visually and contextually in storyline… Games such as “Zork: Nemesis” and “Myst”, to go back a decade or so, are every bit the work of art that one might call a classical work of fiction.

    Ebert may not deem video games as art by whatever definition and criteria he has arbitrarily decided to use, but by any definition I would ever look at something at call it “art”, some of the games I’ve played easily achieve that definition for me.

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game.

    This, PZ, is just shamefully anecdotal on your part, and couldn’t be more off the mark. I’ve personally spent hours mesmerized watching people play video games like “Halo”… in fact, get a room full of kids together. Put whatever’s on TV on one screen, and a couple kids playing a video game on the other, and watch how many ignore the TV and watch the kids just play the video game. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon myself.

  43. #43 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    Art is made to get human attention. Anything artificial that gets you to stare at it for hours on end must be art.

  44. #44 Roestigraben
    April 22, 2010

    I’d still recommend Baldur’s Gate II as the most immersive game ever made. In my book, even ten years later, it hasn’t been surpassed in terms of bringing a fantasy world to life, letting the player complete an epic story line and surrounding him or her with interesting companions. It’s pretty time-consuming, but I’d encourage anyone willing to invest about 30 hours into an experience that might change your views about video games as art to have a go at it.

  45. #45 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    I need to agree with the people that say under the definition being offered, movies are not art either. They contain art. You cannot realistically include movies as art without including many modern video games.

    Do you play any games made in the last decade aside from WoW, PZ? I would say that WoW contains art, but is not really artful itself. It’s more a skinner box intended to keep people continuously sitting there pushing a button (and I say that as a raider…). But there’s more “art” in RPGs from the 1990s (let alone more modern ones that aren’t 16 bit graphics) than there are in your average Hollywood tripefest.

  46. #46 rohit507
    April 22, 2010

    Pz, i think you’re making a very simple mistake here. YOu’re confusing interaction with performance.

    Take a mobile for instance, it hangs from the ceiling, and is meant for people to touch and to play with. As people interact with it, it evokes emotion and feeling, it shows new facets and generally is beautiful.

    But, under your argument it woudn’t be art, because a record, of any person’s interaction with the mobile isn’t, in and of itself, art.

    Video Games are like an interactive mobile, the beauty, the art, is not dependent on any one interaction with it, but the full space of possible interactions with it.

    People don’t see the beauty of the game by watching it performed, they see the beauty of it by experiencing it (the formet being passive, and the latter active).

  47. #47 phreack
    April 22, 2010

    I’ve gotta disagree.

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    That may not have been the intent, but I’ve personally spent long stretches just appreciating the beauty of the art in games. I usually spend the first few hours playing a new game with all of the graphics settings turned up to the max (even if it makes the game run bad), just walking around looking at stuff.

    “But no matter how well or how long you play a game, it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience.”

    I have a framed 8″x10″ color laser printout of myself and 2 friends all in a screenshot from Star Wars: Galaxies as we were fighting an ancient canyon krayt dragon. It hangs on the wall in my computer room. We still reminisce about that experience, 5 years later.

    Just because you’ve not personally experienced the beauty of games does not at all mean that there is not art there. It just means that you’ve not experienced it.

  48. #48 ncdbrl
    April 22, 2010

    In my opinion, though games haven’t necessarily been striving to be artistic in their own merits– namely, the interactivity of the medium– they have the potential to be art. Currently, video games as a medium are in a state of infancy, so they just haven’t reached that point yet.

  49. #49 Sk8man
    April 22, 2010

    I’m sorry PZ, but here you fall flat on your face. Art by it’s very definition is personal. It invokes an emotional response in someone, not everyone, but someone. If just one game invokes an emotional response in just one person then it is art. To name a few that many people will defend fiercely: flower, Uncharted 2, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Gaurdian, Final Fantasy 7, etc. All of those games are art. Deal with it!

  50. #50 SamB
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, I think you don’t know games very well.

    …No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    Whilst paintings and poems might, films don’t, to which games are more akin.

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    Actually, that describes a lot of games. The point of games are primarily the challenge after all, the obstacle. No-one complains literature is too linear, so why should they in regards to gaming narrative?

    But no matter how well or how long you play a game, it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience.

    Mostly because of the public perception of gaming, I’d imagine. One which you are somewhat putting out right now. People make out like gaming should be a nerdy hobby, and kept quiet when you have friends over. BS.

    And in regards to wanting to watch people game: it is generally boring because it is very much a ‘doing’ medium, where the point of it is to play it. You just can’t experience it to the same degree if you aren’t playing it. But that’s not always strictly true: competitive games (super smash bros, Starcraft, etc.) can be incredibly fun to watch, because of the skill that goes into it and, well, any reason people might watch sport.

    And now, I address the general issue of “games = not art”. Gaming is still an incredibly young medium. It is gaining its legs artistically, so to speak. A lot of games exist purely as entertainment, in the same way you have summer generic-action blockbusters, or top40 pop songs. Games that can be called art, to a wonderful degree, do exist. Anybody who disagrees (or isn’t sure of the truth in that statement), please play the following: Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Final Fantasy 6 (others in the series work well too, but that is imo the best example), Braid, Flower, Metal Gear Solid series, Knytt/Knytt Stories (freeware!), Okami, and, ooh, that should do for now. Especially play the first two. They are basically held up to be shining examples of games as art, whilst still being hella fun too.

  51. #51 https://me.yahoo.com/a/MMPL3BFk1elNUrXjHy0dCvqYZOqaf8SYmVrTHKuPrEVks98-#b3a37
    April 22, 2010

    @11 ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Does Gabe actually think this is a compelling argument?

    No, that’s what we call a joke. They’re basically what you expect when you’re reading a humorous website.

  52. #52 nixscripter
    April 22, 2010

    @10: Right on!

    @44: But Neverwinter Nights is 2nd.

    @PZ: All I can say, as a computer geek, is: I hope you will at least consider PROGRAMMING as an artform — i.e. the art is in the code, not the running product.

  53. #53 Kieranfoy
    April 22, 2010

    Also: Morrowind. Do not speak on ‘games=/art’ unless you have played.

    Just… don’t.

  54. #54 fr0gfish
    April 22, 2010

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    You haven’t played any games recently, have you, PZ?

  55. #55 Kristian
    April 22, 2010

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.

    Well, people already do that. We’ve been doing that for well over a decade.
    There’s a huge subculture in gaming that is all about watching replays of people playing games.

    Especially in games like Quake 3/Live. In single player games like Doom, people make speed runs for the enjoyment of others to watch.
    In games like Quake 3. People make trick jump videos for people to watch. Or watch games like one would watch a football match.
    For instance, http://www.quakelive.tv

    I don’t intend any disrespect, but I don’t think Ebert nor PZ is really familiar enough with the gaming culture to pass judgment on if it is art or not. There are some games I would definitely call art (and then there are some I would not). The Myst series for instance is a very gripping, thought provoking and aesthetic experience. There are lots of games like those. Then there are games where not only the art in the game makes the painting. But also the actions of the players (like Quake for instance as mentioned above)

    But for many gamers, the game is something you experience. Like a painting, or a movie. The difference is that you will take a conscious role in the unfolding of the story.

    But the medium is still very young, and in many cases it shows. It will be exciting to see how it evolves in the future.

    But the bottom line is that art can not be disqualified for simply being something else as well. I was on a showing once where a Mini Cooper were featured, it had the windshield replaced by a mosaic stained glass window. Was it art? yes, was it still a car? Yes.

  56. #56 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    Also… does anyone remember an old LucasArts game called “Loom”?

    I’m sorry, but that game was pure “art”, even with the 256 color graphics…

  57. #57 Rejistania
    April 22, 2010

    Since no one can agree what is art, the question is useless. It is like arguing whether unicorns have a long or short tail…

  58. #58 inkadu
    April 22, 2010

    By PZ’s standards, Earthworm Jim is art. I still remember watching someone play through the entire game in about an hour.

    You can’t judge video games by the standards of other forms of media. Video games are their own form. Complaining that people don’t watch replays of video games is like complaining that nobody wants to listen to a painting.

  59. #59 Kieranfoy
    April 22, 2010

    @Celtic Evolution: Oh, by the Pattern, that brings back memories.

    When I was young, I’d read the Book of Patterns to myself as a bedtime story…

  60. #60 marteani
    April 22, 2010

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    I have to insist that this is demonstrably not true, almost down to your very description.
    That these types of games garner less public attention and (less often than one thinks) less revenue than Halo doesn’t make them not art, no more than Uwe Boll negates Kurosawa. Anne Geddes is not Ansel Adams, the Spice Girls are not the three tenors, Rob Liefeld is not Steranko, Halo is not Portal.

    That some art is disposable does not make all art disposable, and that one medium is often dominated by one and not the other doesn’t make it “not art.”

  61. #61 Michelle R
    April 22, 2010

    PS: I love watching other people play games! Some are so skilled it IS art to look at!

    My friends here in quebec own a video game store and every 3 months they organize a huge video game party in a room with tons of TV and people will drift from TV to TV and cheer people on.

    There’s nothing better than watching some good ol’ Street Fighter competitions on projectors with people drinking beer. It’s AWESOME, PZ. You are MISSING OUT!

  62. #62 PenguinFactory
    April 22, 2010

    I think video games can contain pieces of art ? artists participate in their creation, after all ? but art isn’t the intent, the performance is.

    This is an interesting way of looking at it, but I think there comes a threshold where this point becomes muddled. I have played games that contained so much art- music, story, cinematics, visuals- that it seems a matter of semantics to not brand the entire game a piece of art. Or in other words the gameplay to art ratio is so balanced (or in some cases the art ratio is higher)that it becomes hard to believe that the gameplay is the sole focus anymore. One recent example would be Bioshock 2, which contains lots of shooting and blowing shit up and over the top action, but which is set in an evironment that’s visually stunning in a way that goes above and beyond the call of duty. The world of Rapture could have been a collection of empty corridors and the gameplay- supposedly the end goal here- would have remained unaffected, but the developers chose to go the extra mile solely for the sake of it.

    The idea that games are ultimately about “keeping the action going” was true up until quite recently, but it’s really not anymore. One good example is Heavy Rain, which is essentially just an interactive movie. You control your character and there is entertaining gameplay, but the primary focus is clearly on the story. I maintain that if Heavy Rain can’t be art, neither can cinema (whether or not Heavy Rain is good art is another matter entirely).

    A less well known example might be The Path by Tale of Tales, which is a “game” only in the sense that it’s interactive. There is no way to win or lose and no ultimate end goal- the entire thing is about the atmosphere and the visuals.

    I will grant that most games aren’t art. Most of the time the gameplay is subservient to the artistic elements (and most of those artistic elements are executed extremely poorly, as evidenced by the fact that we’re still more often than not playing as over-muscled 80s action heroes and scantily clad women with massive hooters), but I disagree with the idea that games can’t be art. I think that argument puts too much of a limit on what art can be and is too ignorant of the edvances video games have made since the early days of the medium.

  63. #63 detrius
    April 22, 2010
  64. #64 RedEnsign
    April 22, 2010

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned interactive fiction… sure the old Zork games from 30 years ago are pretty primitive, but a lot of the stuff written in the last decade is literature in its own right.

    Okay, its a bit of a niche interest, and as its largely fan driven (and not commercial) it doesn’t get as much press, but I’d recommend downloading a z-machine interpreter from the web, going to the interactive fiction archive, and try such games as “Anchorhead”, “Hunter in Darkness”, or “Photopia”, to name a few.

    The quality of writing in these games is on par with anything published in novel form today…. it would be very hard to say that these are not an artform.

  65. #65 redmjoel
    April 22, 2010

    Loom was one of my favorite games. I wish they had gotten around to the sequels. Sigh …

  66. #66 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    Honestly, is this anything more than the re-hashed “rock and roll is NOT music” debate from the 50’s?

  67. #67 blitzente
    April 22, 2010

    Since there are already plenty of eloquent comments disagreeing with you, I’d just like to add another title into the examples: Mother 3. Strange, funny and heartrending – and impossible to imagine in any other medium.

    It might also be worth pointing out that there’s a healthy online subculture built entirely around watching other people play videogames (warning: TV Tropes link!), whether or not they count as art.

  68. #68 Standard curve
    April 22, 2010

    Video games can be art.

    Take the Half-life series for instance. There is a narrative. These games are very immersive, not simply because of all the action, but because environments have been carefully crafted, using shapes, textures, lighting, and sound. They are a representation of human experiences, such as fear of the unknown, or of not being on the top of the food chain anymore. While the game action is great, what kept me hooked on the series was wanting to see more of this alternate world, to get inside of the minds of the games creators, to selectively forget the laws of physics, chemistry and biology for a while.

  69. #69 MoonShark
    April 22, 2010

    Gotta second all the mentions of Braid, Shadow of the Colossus, Bioshock, Portal… these are genuinely compelling and unique experiences. You can’t approximate them in some other medium, because the interactivity means YOU are the one both manipulating the controls and being manipulated by the story, YOU are the one that’s simultaneously in steering the rudder and yet at the mercy of the winds chosen by the developer, etc.

    It’s almost harder to think of games that are NOT art. Perhaps the rote, annual Madden releases? The latest formulaic & plotless gruff space-marine shoot-em-up? Guitar Hero: Beatles? Some MMORPGs that lack any incentive to roleplay? Barbie Horse Adventures? There are clearly plenty of low points and derivative trash, but it’s by no means representative of the entire medium.

  70. #70 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Heck with this. I’m going to play some Civ IV.

    Yep.

    @Roestigraben #44:

    Have you played Planescape: Torment?

  71. #71 molto legato e sostenuto
    April 22, 2010

    The performance of the devious mage who had this idea, I cannot describe as anything but artistic. And while I’m not exactly a rabid fan of Vanessa Mae, I find the music a lot better than what I hear in many such videos.

  72. #72 Gus Snarp
    April 22, 2010

    Screw whether or not video games are art, what interested me about Ebert’s piece is that the defense of video games as art that he was critiquing used a game where David Koresh is the hero as an example of game as art. I’m not sure what I find more horrifying about this. That there actually exists a game in which David Koresh is a good guy, or that that game is being promoted as being art.

  73. #73 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Oh, one more thing. Where I did my undergrad a lot of my study for a fine art degree meant taking the very classes that students in the game design program took.

    Maybe the rules are different, but I really don’t find the thought processes very different, and ended up seeking “new media” as my grad program (unfortunately the school I went to didn’t really have the capacity for the program, but that’s another story).

    I think in the following decade though we will see more and more fusion between the two as people like myself who work both as artists and with computer programming balance the creative strategies of both worlds and try to come up with interesting things to show to people!

  74. #74 https://me.yahoo.com/a/lwBVnJEW1Yt0maRdmWbxOELmsZ0Xt0svpA--#7b397
    April 22, 2010

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    Clearly your exposure to the world of videogames is (as is Ebert’s) limited.

  75. #75 Shalamar
    April 22, 2010

    Homeworld.

    Good Gameplay, and an incredibly compelling story. The ending almost left me in tears..

  76. #76 protocoach
    April 22, 2010

    To take the objection on a slightly different tack, why do both PZ and Ebert attack sport as well as video games? Sport is just as legitimate venue for art as video games or traditional “art.” Watch Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire run a fast break, or Larry Johnson make a leaping, twisting one-handed catch; there’s no purer expression of the potential perfection of the human body. Michelangelo, eat your heart out; they create art on the fly, in front of thousands of people, with their livelihood resting on each individual moment. (I would have written an impassioned defense of video games, likely citing Shadow of the Colossus, but a thousand other people beat me to it.)

  77. #77 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    Kieranfoy-

    @Celtic Evolution: Oh, by the Pattern, that brings back memories.

    When I was young, I’d read the Book of Patterns to myself as a bedtime story…

    I’ve kept exactly three 5-1/4″ floppies as mementos from the haughty days of PC’s in the early 90’s… “Loom” is one of them (well, Disk 1 of 6 anyhow).

    I had heard at one point in 2009 that LucasArts was planning to re-release the game, or even make a remake. Hasn’t happened as of yet, though, as far as I know.

  78. #78 Mystyk
    April 22, 2010

    @PZ,

    I suggest you watch Kellee Santiago at TEDxUSC last year on this very subject:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9y6MYDSAww

    Ebert responded to her video point-by-point here:
    http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/04/video_games_can_never_be_art.html

    Kellee has now responded in kind to that:
    http://thatgamecompany.com/general/right-moving-on-my-response-to-ebert/

    The entire exchange is very thought-provoking, and I can certainly understand Ebert’s reasoning, but it still amounts to an “I know it when I see it” approach to what is art, which for Ebert has the a priori assumption that video games are forever ineligible because he doesn’t want them to be.

  79. #79 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    What is it with old people who don’t play video games deciding they know what they’re talking about when they talk about video games?

  80. #80 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    RedEnsign #64,

    Good one. I’d say that Ebert’s things that are not art extends to books, too. What’s the difference between pushing buttons or flipping pages as far as interaction goes?

  81. #81 crashfrog
    April 22, 2010

    No, just flat-out wrong, PZ.

    Games can be art because while the intent of a game and the intent of art are different, they’re by no means exclusive – art can be fun while still communicating meaning, a game can test your skill while still imparting a message. Basketball can be art – haven’t you ever seen the Harlem Globetrotters? It’s impossible to describe that as anything but a comedy, a kind of theatre of the basketball court, but there’s a level of meaning there – it’s not by accident that the Harlem Globetrotters play the all-white “Washington Generals”, who are outfoxed at every turn. It’s a narrative about African-American power through self-reliance, skill, and cleverness. Like all great comedy a Harlem Globetrotters show informs us about the human condition, usually while we’re not even looking.

    As far as your “boring to watch someone play” standard goes – have you ever watched someone look at a painting or sculpture? That’s certainly incredibly boring, but we don’t question the status of painting or sculpture as “art” – even if not every painting is art, or not every work of sculpture is art. Not every video game is art. It’s hard to imagine how Tetris would be art.

    But Grand Theft Auto IV is certainly art! It’s a 40-hour drama about the false promise of the American dream and the challenges faced by immigrants, minorities, and other marginalized individuals in an America driven by commercialism, media cynicism, and corruption. And, sure, you may think that that story only happens during the cut-scenes, when you’re not “playing the game”, but not so – get into a car and start driving around, and you’re experiencing 20-odd hours of produced radio content, lampooning political talk-radio, NPR, and the audience-pandering that largely dominates the modern media. Satire, of course, is art.

    Video games can be art. This is true by inspection simply because we can observe that many video games are art.

  82. #82 dWhisper
    April 22, 2010

    Agreed with #49, up there. Perhaps it is a generational thing, especially given that the same argument has been made for movies, television, modern music, and photography. Video Games are expressions of their creators, and while interactive and made to be disseminated and consumed by an audience, that is no different from the very art that Ebert reviews.

    Uncharted 2 is a great modern example… it’s less a game and more an experience. Mass Effect 1 and 2 have the same kind of spine-tingly moments that movies can instill.

  83. #83 molto legato e sostenuto
    April 22, 2010

    @Rejistania #57:

    Since no one can agree what is art, the question is useless. It is like arguing whether unicorns have a long or short tail…

    Unadulterated frigging hogwash. Are you claiming that there is no evidence that art exists? Define it and then we can test claims about it. “Not everyone agrees” does not equate to “no two people can agree”.

    Myers’ and Ebert’s views on the subject smack of Randi’s “views” on AGW, and for the same reason: judgments made in the absence of any relevant information.

  84. #84 Kieranfoy
    April 22, 2010

    @Celtic Evolution: Don’t think so, but I do recall the fans were making a sequel called Chaos.Didn’t fly, unfortunately.

    Also, P.Z: Your opinion has been gangbanged to death by the collective Pharyngulaic ire. How does that make you feel?

    Be honest, this is for posterity.

  85. #85 Shinobi
    April 22, 2010

    Part of the challenge of the genre of Art is pushing the boundaries of what is considered Art. That in itself is an art form. Ask performance artists/installation artists/ anyone who has been to art school.

    The idea that we can dismiss an entire genre of self expression as “not art and never will be art” just because we decide it isn’t is ridiculous.

    Also, for a great example of a video game that approaches Art check out The Path. (A retelling of Red Riding Hood.)

  86. #86 Sajanas
    April 22, 2010

    Quite simply, if movies can be art, then video games can be art. The construction of the characters, scenery, and writing all necessitate “art” just as they would in a movie. The only difference between a good video game and a movie is that there is often more ways for it to end, and the story line is contingent on the player. And, most video games aren’t GTA style sandboxes where you can do whatever you like… they have plots, arcs, characterization. In most games, they aren’t great, but I’ve played plenty of games that were more epic than any blockbuster.

    Now, I can understand that Ebert sort of views the video game as the experience of playing it, and that playing a game, such as chess, is not ‘art’. But surely a good chess player is practicing an art, no? To perfectly play a game, to win with style, that is an art, just like snapping a picture with a certain style is an art. I would also say that even if the game of chess is not an art, it certainly does not preclude art from being present in the game pieces. Obviously neither PZ or Ebert have had an experience in a game where they have actually stopped and said “Wow” and been amazed at the craft that goes into these things, both from a visual and a storytelling perspective. But they are there, and I suspect they’ll get better, as time goes on.

  87. #87 cicely
    April 22, 2010

    ‘Art’ is all gray areas and subjectivity.

    In my opinion, video games are ‘art'; but not all art is good art, and not all art appeals to everybody.

    With videogames, IMO, the gamer is something of a cross between a performer and an audience. Compare with a concert performance; the musicans interact with the musical composition and the others performing the piece (at least, if they’re doing it right), and the audience is involved, but differently. The videogamer interacts with the game programming through his character, as well as appreciating it as if it were, say, a movie or TV program.

    As for watching a replay of someone else’s game, all I can say is…..”Leerooooooy Jenkins!!!”

  88. #88 redmjoel
    April 22, 2010

    LOOM, along with most of the other LucasArts games, are available on Steam

  89. #89 AJKamper
    April 22, 2010

    Well, I trust PZ’s been suitably chastened here. All I’d add is to directly ask something that some people have alluded to: what’s the difference between a video game and a piece of writing? Really? I mean, Pac-Man is the equivalent of a grocery list, but something like Myst is indistinguishable from, say, Sherlock Holmes.

  90. #90 Sgt. Obvious
    April 22, 2010

    I see what you’re saying, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Others have already touched on most issues, but I also think your definition of “art” is needlessly restrictive. By your definition, film, theater, and books wouldn’t qualify as art. In a performance medium, and arguably even more so when that performance is interactive, the key component of art is the ability to tell a compelling, memorable, and engrossing story. It’s true that not every game accomplishes this, but neither does every movie or book.
    You might argue that in games, the story exists only to move the gameplay along, but in some cases the gameplay exists to further the story. Done properly, a character-driven story is IMPROVED by interactivity, not hampered. Further, as I said before, many films or books don’t meet the standard of “story being central”(anything by Michael Bay, for example). In conclusion, I ask that you find an argument against games that wouldn’t apply just as well to other storytelling forms.

  91. #91 Aperçus désagréables
    April 22, 2010

    The only people who care if something is art or not are those who want to dismiss something as not art.

  92. #92 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    Final Fantasy 6 (others in the series work well too, but that is imo the best example)

    QFT.

    I particularly liked the last encounter with Kefka, with the references to the Divine Comedy and Michelangelo’s Pieta, ending with God telling the party that life is meaningless (an inversion of the Heaven part of the Comedy). I haven’t played FFVI in a decade or so, but I used to play through it regularly, and it wasn’t so I could beat up giants and fly around in an airship collecting magicite. Contrary to “art isn’t the intent, the performance is”, the story and visuals definitely were the intent, and this is hardly uncommon when it comes to video games. Video game creators aren’t perpetually thinking about how to get gamers to push the most challenging series of buttons, they try to create a world that the gamer would find interesting to experience (whether it’s because it’s difficult, or happy escapism, or simply a mindfuck). How does this differ from art?

  93. #93 Gregory Greenwood
    April 22, 2010

    Definitions of art are always tricky. There are still those (idiots, in my humble opinion) who decry Michelangelo’s David as obscene, and The Lovers as three dimensional pornography. In some parts of the world, such controvercial art is still burned to maintain ‘moral standards’.

    The truth is that there is not, never has been and is never likely to be a single, all encompassing definition of what art is or should be. Like beauty, it really is all in the eye of the beholder.

    Having said this, have I ever encountered a game that I would class as a work of art? Certainly, there are games that have an artistic aesthetic. There are moments in some games where you can perceive the artistic merit of that game’s creators. There are games that include virtual vistas or imagry that can be rather beautiful (and, of course, there are legions of other titles that can claim none of the above). I can appreciate the effort and craft that went into the creation of a game. Does any of this make such a game ‘art’? I do not know, but I do know that statements like;

    …video games can never be art…

    Leaves one as something of a hostage to fortune. Never is, I am reliably informed, something of a long time. A few centuries ago there were those who insisted that theatre and opera would never be taken seriously as art forms…

    Computer entertaiment is one of the most rapidly evolving forms of entertainment in the world. While this is most obvious when one looks at the technological development of the medium itself, we are increasingly seeing a greater degree of effort to break out of the rut that gaming has floundered in for the last few years, with plot and characterisation-free slash/shoot fests increasingly being replaced with games designed as genuine vehicles for fairly sophisticated story telling. The industry is begining to attract some very big names in terms of writers, composers and other types of persons ususally classed as artists, along with a lot of emergent talent. Combined with the ever greater reduction of the remaining technical obstacles, gaming may well be about to experience something of a renaissance

    Obviously, interactive computer entertainment (the term ‘gaming’ may have reached such a sterotypical critical mass that it is irredeemable as a phrase) will never be to the taste of all, but I do not consider it unreasonable to suppose that over the next few decades we will see an increasing growth in interactive entertainment. Film and computer entertaiment may well combine to create a new medium.

    There are always those who are fearful of such things, and believe that the evil ‘new-fangled’ social trend/fashion/technology will somehow pollute or denigrate ‘true’ expressions of culture/art/good taste. Unfortunately for the likes of Roger Ebert, societies develop, and definitions of what constitues ‘art’ change over time. The alternative to such change would, however, be far worse. Imagine, if you will, a world of complete creative stagnation. Nothing new or different is tried for fear that it might *whisper it* violate the sacred form. That is hardly an artistic utopia, now is it?

    Of course, there are two pressing problems with the current game industry that cannot be ignored. Firstly, there is the industry’s tendency toward depictions of female characters that constantly skirt the borders of misogyny. Unrealistically proportioned female characters who wear very little (or in the case of Heavy Rain often nothing at all) seem to be the norm. I cannot remember the last time I saw a major female computer game character depicted as being over the age of forty who was not a villain (immortal characters who are perpetually physically young do not count).

    Secondly, there is the tendency to avoid any acknowlegment of homosexuality even in games that have an 18 rating beyond the odd unpleasant stereotypes of the effete male character who is never openly acknowledged as gay and the ‘sexy nympho lesbian’. I have never even heard of any title that makes any attempt to move away from the crudest imaginable stereotyping of any alternate sexuality, where such sexualities are even dealt with at all.

    Until these two factors are dealt with properly, interactive computer entertainment will have great difficulty acheiving acceptance as an art form.

  94. #94 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    That there actually exists a game in which David Koresh is a good guy, or that that game is being promoted as being art

    Well, there’s art and there bad art.

  95. #95 wingerx
    April 22, 2010

    As an avid reader of Pharyngula, Penny Arcade, and Roger Ebert, I find this whole thing very amusing.

    Keep in mind that Ebert (whom I like quite a bit) has been trying to convince everyone that video games aren’t art for some time now (since at least 2005), and his arguments are less and less persuasive every year.

    I say yes, games can be art, with many examples listed above.

    What we really need now is a game called Battle of the Wretched, Ancient Warlocks.

  96. #96 jjangelton
    April 22, 2010

    As most of what I wanted to say has been said already I’ll try to keep this short. I’ve played every GTA game made. I enjoyed playing them, but the most fun I’ve had with them is watching them being played by others. Not the actually game as intended by their creators but a sort of ad hoc mini-game my friends and I made up. It consisted of getting 4 stars and sseing how long we could survive. If you’ve never played the game that may not make any sense to you. But watching it was awesome. Better than most movies I’ve seen.

  97. #97 Teshi
    April 22, 2010

    I’m not a gamer, but I agree that certain video games not only contain art but are art themselves– they are art already.

    Ebert’s comment is not only “a bit excessive” it is blatantly wrong, small-minded and ignorant. marteani (#60) points out that just because some art is disposable (a measurement of artiness) doesn’t mean that the entire genre is disposable. That’s the same fallacious argument as saying that fantasy comic books can never be literature , or that rock music will always be just noise.

    And worse, it’s said from the point of view of people who have not looked for art in video games and have simply dismissed them based on what they have seen on TV (which will also never be art– it’s all reality shows and children’s stories, right?).

    New forms of art do not necessarily appear that way. They may appear as new technologies, or new forms of media that are initially used for mostly non-artistic purposes such as entertainment. To say that they will stay that way forever is simply unimaginative.

  98. #98 Gregory Greenwood
    April 22, 2010

    Um, sorry about the blockquote-fail. That should be;

    …video games can never be art…

    Leaves one as something of a hostage to fortune. Never is, I am reliably informed, something of a long time. A few centuries ago there were those who insisted that theatre and opera would never be taken seriously as art forms…

    Computer entertaiment is one of the most rapidly evolving forms of entertainment in the world. While this is most obvious when one looks at the technological development of the medium itself, we are increasingly seeing a greater degree of effort to break out of the rut that gaming has floundered in for the last few years, with plot and characterisation-free slash/shoot fests increasingly being replaced with games designed as genuine vehicles for fairly sophisticated story telling. The industry is begining to attract some very big names in terms of writers, composers and other types of persons ususally classed as artists, along with a lot of emergent talent. Combined with the ever greater reduction of the remaining technical obstacles, gaming may well be about to experience something of a renaissance

    Obviously, interactive computer entertainment (the term ‘gaming’ may have reached such a sterotypical critical mass that it is irredeemable as a phrase) will never be to the taste of all, but I do not consider it unreasonable to suppose that over the next few decades we will see an increasing growth in interactive entertainment. Film and computer entertaiment may well combine to create a new medium.

    There are always those who are fearful of such things, and believe that the evil ‘new-fangled’ social trend/fashion/technology will somehow pollute or denigrate ‘true’ expressions of culture/art/good taste. Unfortunately for the likes of Roger Ebert, societies develop, and definitions of what constitues ‘art’ change over time. The alternative to such change would, however, be far worse. Imagine, if you will, a world of complete creative stagnation. Nothing new or different is tried for fear that it might *whisper it* violate the sacred form. That is hardly an artistic utopia, now is it?

    Of course, there are two pressing problems with the current game industry that cannot be ignored. Firstly, there is the industry’s tendency toward depictions of female characters that constantly skirt the borders of misogyny. Unrealistically proportioned female characters who wear very little (or in the case of Heavy Rain often nothing at all) seem to be the norm. I cannot remember the last time I saw a major female computer game character depicted as being over the age of forty who was not a villain (immortal characters who are perpetually physically young do not count).

    Secondly, there is the tendency to avoid any acknowlegment of homosexuality even in games that have an 18 rating beyond the odd unpleasant stereotypes of the effete male character who is never openly acknowledged as gay and the ‘sexy nympho lesbian’. I have never even heard of any title that makes any attempt to move away from the crudest imaginable stereotyping of any alternate sexuality, where such sexualities are even dealt with at all.

    Until these two factors are dealt with properly, interactive computer entertainment will have great difficulty acheiving acceptance as an art form.

  99. #99 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    I never could figure out what art is. Or why anyone cares whether X is art or not.

    I also usually hate it when people make stupid comments like the one I’m making now. But I genuinely wonder. Why does it matter?

  100. #100 darthcynic
    April 22, 2010

    Have you played many games Mr PZ?

    I ask as I usually have found – from my own experience admittedly – that most of those who argue that games are not art, encourage violence, are for children etc have not had much experience of them, or what exposure they have had is extremely limited.

    Many games are produced for mass consumption and cater to whatever genre is currently popular, much like movies do. However just because we have bad, generic movies does not mean that the artistic merits of other movies are diminished.

    A number of games spring to mind that go beyond a simple formula of mass appeal and can be confidently described as art; Flower, Flow, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Portal, Okami maybe even Little Big Planet and the multitude of levels created by some very imaginative users.

  101. #101 Roestigraben
    April 22, 2010

    @Brownian #70: Yes, and it’s got all of those strenghts as well (actually, I can’t think of any Black Isle RPG that isn’t superb), but the traditional fantasy atmosphere of BG2 was more to my liking.

    Well, given the number of suggestions on this thread, PZ’s got his work cut out for him. Time for another sabbatical?

  102. #102 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Incidental note:

    Why are we placing the high standard of ‘a message’ on games?

    I’m not saying games don’t ever have one. I’ve been playing Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, and its a litany of some of mankind’s greatest faults (But also the message that we can avoid them), wrapped up in a game where you negotiate with and summon mythological entities whom are pissed at humans.

    But really, what the hell was da Vinci trying to say here?
    http://safetravel.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/monalisa1.jpg

  103. #103 s.d.mortimer
    April 22, 2010

    I have spent hundreds of hours watching other people play video games, and I find it in some cases more enthralling. I recently watched a friend play through ‘Heavy Rain’, and I would say the feelings that were evoked when watching the story and the visuals were real.

    I’ve also re-played many video games several times and enjoyed them each time. Some beautiful titles have been mentioned; Shadow of the Colossus, Flower, Bioshock, Oblivion & Fallout 3, Portal, Myst, the list goes on.

    I would say that making a piece of art involves very similar processes to creating a visceral, emotional gaming experience for the player.

    How many of us shed a tear when Aries died in FF7?

  104. #104 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmXH1FhNuEbHlrcDwhhegMqKOqy7AT6-mc
    April 22, 2010

    I echo the comments above about interactive fiction (aka text adventures) including some really amazing literature. It’s generally a fairly niche genre, but a more accessible sub- (or sister) genre is multiple choice text games. For example, the games at Choice of Games – particularly Broadsides – contain stories better than most short stories I’ve read. Both of them will take under half an hour to play, and I thoroughly recommend them.

    Olaf

  105. #105 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    JRPG?

    In that sense, a good game hands the player a toolbox to work within the game environment ? it is to art as providing a studio and a set of pigments and a collection of brushes.

    I think part of the process that could turn a game into something artistic isn’t just the tools provided, but rather the the player itself.

    I do livestreaming and watch livestreams, even of games I’ve already played. Why? Because I love seeing what a human does with the tools before him. The choices he makes, his failings, things I hadn’t known before.

    I would say it’s like watching someone paint a picture, only far more amusing.

    I would also be willing to argue that certain games are definitely about the storyline, painting a picture similar to a movie. Planescape: Torment and Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams come to mind for me immediately.

  106. #106 tdcourtney
    April 22, 2010

    Do you know what is more boring than watching someone play a video game? Watching someone look at an art gallery. The immersion and the feelings the game can evoke in you are part of the art.
    PA was a little reactionary but neither you nor Ebert have really done your homework.

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance. It’s all about balance and game play and keeping the action going and providing a means to win or lose”

    You are very much mistaken, there are games now like Heavy Rain that are practically interactive movies. Why is art not something you can participate in? Is Yoko Ono not an artist because her art interacts with her audience?

  107. #107 Mystyk
    April 22, 2010

    As an addendum to #78, here is a review that looks at the entire exchange and makes some acute observations as to why Ebert is simply out of his element when even trying to approach the question:
    http://www.fastcompany.com/1621426/game-designer-kellee-santiago-responds-to-roger-eberts-video-games-are-not-art-rant

  108. #108 Richard Wolford
    April 22, 2010

    I guess art is a to each his own issue. I love the artwork present in a lot of games, both visual art and music backgrounds. Silent Hill is one of my favorites with its dark artwork. The game itself may not be a work of art, but it certainly contains a lot of artistic work and is just another medium to deliver the artwork.

  109. #109 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    I’m going to add my voice to those who’ve cited Shadow of the Colossus as art. In fact, I found the experience so immersive and so moving that I partially based my decision to purchase a PS3 rather than some other console on the fact that the producers’ next game, The Last Guardian, will only be available for that console. (To be fair, I hate when games are produced for one or another console or system exclusively.)

    As of this moment, I have yet to base any decisions on the existence of still lives with sunflowers.

  110. #111 redmjoel
    April 22, 2010

    @98 — “Secondly, there is the tendency to avoid any acknowlegment of homosexuality even in games that have an 18 rating.”

    This is in part due to social mores in this country, and the fact that the target audience for these games is young males, say, 16-25ish. Not the best target for gay characters. That said, recent roleplay offerings have included gay characters (Grand Theft Auto of all things), and even allowed the player to be gay (Dragon Age and Fable). In fact, Dragon Age in particular deals with the sexuality issue in a particularly well thought out fashion.

  111. #112 Rejistania
    April 22, 2010

    Unadulterated frigging hogwash. Are you claiming that there is no evidence that art exists? Define it and then we can test claims about it. “Not everyone agrees” does not equate to “no two people can agree”.

    Myers’ and Ebert’s views on the subject smack of Randi’s “views” on AGW, and for the same reason: judgments made in the absence of any relevant information.

    Yes, I do say that without a definition of art, we cannot talk about it. Art does not exist the same way that pi does not exist. What exists is a mental representation of objects in the real word which is assigned a name, ie: “art”. But there is no agreed-on rule what is art. So without an actual agreed-on definition, Myers is rght and Randi is right because they use incompatible definitions.

  112. #113 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    Silent Hill is one of my favorites with its dark artwork. The game itself may not be a work of art

    I have to disagree. I think Silent Hill (the 2nd one especially) is artistic itself. It’s diving headfirst into the mind of a man who is going completely insane. It’s a journey that’s both extremely disturbing but also extremely rewarding.

    Well, unless you get the Dog or UFO ending I guess.

  113. #114 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    Do you know what is more boring than watching someone play a video game? Watching someone look at an art gallery.

    QFT

  114. #115 Lukas
    April 22, 2010

    A basketball game may not be art, but a basketball surely can be. Videogames are art not because the act of playing them is art, but because the game itself is art.

    As for this idea:

    “A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that.”

    That’s just plain wrong. And I don’t mean “in my opinion, it’s wrong”, I mean it’s factually, provably, objectively wrong. Games are amongst the best media if the goal is to let people see through the creator’s eyes. One just has to play The Graveyard, or Ico, or Passage to figure this out.

    “No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.”

    Actually, pretty much every game does that. You can either play out the narrative of the game, or you can stop, but you can’t change the conclusion; at most, you will get one of several predefined conclusions, but most games lead you to one specific conclusion (online RPGs excluded, obviously).

    “Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting”

    That is already the case. As an example, see all the people who replay Heavy Rain. And yes, people do watch other people play games like Heavy Rain, or Uncharted 2. Personally, I replay Monkey Island every few years; as kids, we used to sit around a computer and play this game together.

    I’m kind of confused by this whole discussion, because the only people who claim that games are not art are the ones who don’t seem to be playing the exact games that should, by any reasonable standard, qualify as art.

  115. #116 haelduksf
    April 22, 2010

    This debate is meaningless. All anyone can say about the subject (and has said in this thread) is “this is how I define art, this is how I define video games, these definitions [do/don’t] overlap, therefor [all, most, some, no] games are art”.

    That said, I like my girlfriend’s response to this topic: “Anything that someone calls art is art. It’s just that most of it is bad art”.

  116. #117 protocoach
    April 22, 2010

    Of course, there are two pressing problems with the current game industry that cannot be ignored. Firstly, there is the industry’s tendency toward depictions of female characters that constantly skirt the borders of misogyny. Unrealistically proportioned female characters who wear very little (or in the case of Heavy Rain often nothing at all) seem to be the norm. I cannot remember the last time I saw a major female computer game character depicted as being over the age of forty who was not a villain (immortal characters who are perpetually physically young do not count).

    Secondly, there is the tendency to avoid any acknowlegment of homosexuality even in games that have an 18 rating beyond the odd unpleasant stereotypes of the effete male character who is never openly acknowledged as gay and the ‘sexy nympho lesbian’. I have never even heard of any title that makes any attempt to move away from the crudest imaginable stereotyping of any alternate sexuality, where such sexualities are even dealt with at all.

    Until these two factors are dealt with properly, interactive computer entertainment will have great difficulty acheiving acceptance as an art form.

    While I’d agree those are both problems, I’d point out that videogames, as a medium, have existed for about 40 years. As a medium with the capability for intelligent storytelling, they’ve only existed for around 25 years. It strikes me as rather early to be castigating them for failing to engage with every particular social problem they can. If we get half a century into story-based video gaming and we still have the same problem, that might be a legitimate concern, but given that games have already started to deal with that, I doubt the criticism will be valid.

    In fact, I’d argue it’s already partially invalid. One of the earliest heroes in gaming was female (Samus Aran) and it had zero impact on the games. She’s just a stunningly competent bounty hunter; her physical features are almost always hidden behind featureless armor and the focus is on her abilities, not her appearance or gender. There are games like Beyond Good and Evil, where the main character is female, normally-proportioned, and again, extremely competent, not because of or despite her gender.

  117. #118 wisnij
    April 22, 2010

    Well, at least Ebert’s in good company in being completely and utterly wrong about this.

  118. #119 s.d.mortimer
    April 22, 2010

    AJKamper

    I mean, Pac-Man is the equivalent of a grocery list, but something like Myst is indistinguishable from, say, Sherlock Holmes.

    I love this analogy.

  119. #120 NineInchNall
    April 22, 2010

    Ya know, PZ, I think you should take a few moments to look into the medium that everyone on here is defending. Just a thought.

    And since it’s the kind of humor that everyone here can probably appreciate, and since it’s completely on topic as well: Zero Punctuation review of Silent Hill 2

  120. #121 daswollff
    April 22, 2010

    I think video games can contain pieces of art ? artists participate in their creation, after all ? but art isn’t the intent, the performance is.

    Oh really?
    Paintings can contain pieces of art – artists participate in their creation after all – but art isn’t the intent, the performance is.
    (In either version, that sentence isn’t even wrong)

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime. That’s where games fail as art, which is not to say they can’t succeed as something comparable to a sport

    Oh really?
    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else reading a book. Then imagine recording that read, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime. That’s where books fail as art, which is not to say they can’t succeed as something comparable to a sport.

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance. It’s all about balance and game play and keeping the action going and providing a means to win or lose, and most of all, it’s about giving the player control in the game environment.

    Oh really?
    No author sits down to plan out a novel with the intent of creating a narrative in stream of consciousness form that will make the reader appreciate the fleeting nature of our thoughts, for instance. It’s all about characters and suspense and keeping the action going and providing a happy ending, and most of all, it’s about giving the reader letters on paper.

    Sorry, but I would at least have expected that you notice the difference between playing a game and creating a game.
    Playing a game is as much an art as reading a book. Creating a game, as much art as writing one.

  121. #122 mattand08
    April 22, 2010

    Well, everything I was going to add to this discussion has been replicated multiple times.

    Are video games art? IMHO, yes. From personal experience:

    Myst
    Riven
    Bioshock
    Shadow of the Colossus

    Haven’t played them, but most reviews of the Playstation Networks’ Braid and Flower often describe them as works of art.

    All your posts are belong to us…

  122. #123 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    I’m going to add my voice to those who’ve cited Shadow of the Colossus as art.

    SOTC is a good example as well, other than one part.

    Art—>That god damned turtle colossus—>Art again.

    “Secondly, there is the tendency to avoid any acknowlegment of homosexuality even in games that have an 18 rating.”

    I find RPGs are getting more into the swing of that recently. It would be nice to see more games with that though, or even a transgendered character who isn’t stereotyped horrifically.

  123. #124 rickrainy
    April 22, 2010

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    That’s just false. I know plenty of games that are created ENTIRELY for artistic purposes. Here is one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJam5Auwj1E

    And I know plenty of games that are nearly just as enjoyable to watch as to play – when games started focusing on screenwriting, real dialogue, visuals that look more real than real life, and an interactive experience that makes you feel the same emotions and physical environment as the character you are embodying, that is when they entered the realm of ART. In fact, there are some games that I think are more artistic than academy award winning films. The whole point of art, as you said, “is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators” – I just can’t understand how you don’t think that video games aren’t doing that now. You clearly aren’t playing the right games. And just because a game leads you to a conclusion the author wants you to get to (“No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.”) – how is that any different than a novel or film or poem? In fact, games are better at letting you CHOOSE what ending you want, infusing your own emotional experience with that of the game – actually, I don’t think you can get more artistic than that.

    “Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting” – just because something doesn’t have replay value, doesn’t mean it’s not art (and there are plenty of games that I play several times over just because of how beautifully artistic they are). I haven’t seen Schindler’s List more than once for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean it’s not art.

    I can’t disagree with this assertion that video games can’t be art. Probably because if even 1 game can be considered art, you are wholly wrong. Why be on the wrong side of history? Why not be open minded about the possibility that this new form of media can be orchestrated with the same ability of conveying human emotions just as much as any other form of media. This is just ridiculous. I expected this nonsense from Ebert, not from you, Myers.

  124. #125 SamB
    April 22, 2010

    Gregory Greenwood makes a strong point about the unfortunate stereotyping that goes into games design. It’s getting better though. Mirror’s Edge is a fantastic example of a non-stereotyped woman (as well as being very artsy too boot [aesthetics + the game itself]). But movies and TV fall prey to this all too often to, don’t forget.

    Homosexuality tends to not get mentioned because, most of the time, it’s irrelevant. Characters who are straight aren’t espousing their straightness, are they? Why should homosexuals? And surely making a character gay but not stereotypical for the sake of doing so is just as bad. Unless it’s relevant or important, why bother? A lot of games don’t even touch on the characters’ sexualities at all.

  125. #126 MoonShark
    April 22, 2010

    You know what’s not art? Blogs.

    I kid, I kid! Actually if anyone knows of a particularly compelling, ongoing, choose-your-own-adventure style blog, that would be pretty cool.

  126. #127 alopiasmag
    April 22, 2010

    Art is basically a form of expression and work. Whether in the form of Games, paintings, sculpture. . .

    You go to the MoMA in NYC and they have modern exhibitions showcasing apple computers and IBM computers from the 80’s. These would fall under “Pop-culture” Art.

    I personally love Zelda games, and I find the first NES The Legend of Zelda to be a great work of Art. From the concept of the game, to the storyline, I thing it’s great.

    Heck, I’m a dentist, and I can tell you, some (Some, not all) complex dental restorations (Crowns) are damn fine works of art, made for use in the oral cavity.

    Art is in the eye of the beholder.

  127. #128 cicely
    April 22, 2010

    And

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    Isn’t that exactly what books, and movies do? Even more than a videogame; the books reads the same every time, the movie is the same every time. For that matter, a static painting looks the same every time, and recorded music sounds the same. Live-performed plays and music are less “on rails”, because they are subject to the ability and attention of the performers and directors, and possible disruptive interaction from the surrounding environment.

    So, unless we’re going to say, “If it ain’t live, it ain’t art” on that basis, there’s a lot less art around than has been accepted to be the case.

  128. #129 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    I personally love Zelda games, and I find the first NES The Legend of Zelda to be a great work of Art.

    FFFFFFFFF

    I can’t stand the first Zelda. Give me Link To The Past any day.

  129. #130 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    April 22, 2010

    I think you’re dead wrong on this one too, PZ…

    Depending on the game, I like to watch others play, especially if they are very good players. There’s something special about seeing someone go through Zelda Ocarina of Time in only 4 hours (the water temple alone usually takes me 2.5 at fastest).

    Certain games (and I’m sure this varies person to person) are as breath-taking as any piece of painted art I’ve ever seen. The story is as good or better than any novel I’ve read or movie I’ve seen.

    Here’s a *short* list of games where the main story can leave you in absolute awe:

    -Final Fantasy, especially 6 and 7
    -Zelda, especially Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess
    -Metroid
    -Chrono Trigger
    -Secret of Mana

    The musical scores, storylines, and characters all put together are strong enough to bring a person to tears. Most of the games above had a part that did that my first time through. That’s something no piece of art or music alone ever did, and only one book has ever made me cry.

    When I finished FF7 for the first time, I got a snack and started the game over again. No book ever got me to do that.

    Art is “the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture, and paintings.” (wikipedia)

    Video games encompass music, literature, film, sculpture, and painting. So what if the sculpting, painting, and film is all digital. If video games aren’t art, then niether is anything else.

    -Kemanorel

  130. #131 coffeejedi
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, you’re as wrong on this issue as creationists are concerning evolutionary science; and for much the same reasons actually. You haven’t done your homework, and you make several demonstrably false statements based on (perhaps willful) ignorance.

  131. #132 kaylakaze
    April 22, 2010

    You’re 100% wrong here PZ.

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.

    Actually I spend much of my time watching “Let’s Play”s on Youtube. Some games are especially good to watch, even without commentary, like Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) and Xenosaga.

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    Someone hasn’t seen the sales figures of Final Fantasy 13 or COD 4.

    I’d never say ALL games are art, but it’s completely ignorant to say interactive media CANNOT be art. All you have to do is play Silent Hill 2 or The Path to know what art is.

  132. #133 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Gregory Greenwood, your criticism of the homophobia and misogyny still de rigeur in most video games is warranted, it should be pointed out that this seems to be changing with with the increasing acceptance of gaming by a wider audience. For instance, Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins is an RPG in which the player’s character can initiate a sexual relationship with many of the NPCs in the party, two of whom (a male and a female) are bisexual and will become attracted to the PC regardless of his or her gender, provided the PC says and does the right things.

  133. #134 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    Homosexuality tends to not get mentioned because, most of the time, it’s irrelevant. Characters who are straight aren’t espousing their straightness, are they? Why should homosexuals? And surely making a character gay but not stereotypical for the sake of doing so is just as bad. Unless it’s relevant or important, why bother? A lot of games don’t even touch on the characters’ sexualities at all.

    99% of RPGs involve romantic interest. It is unrealistic that these romantic interests are almost always heterosexual.

  134. #135 Timothy
    April 22, 2010

    You play a lot of video games, PZ?

    Personally, I find the whole “art” argument (about anything) retarded because I prefer definition #12 and there really isn’t a lot of ambiguity there:

    skilled workmanship, execution, or agency, as distinguished from nature.

  135. #136 protocoach
    April 22, 2010

    I never could figure out what art is. Or why anyone cares whether X is art or not.

    I also usually hate it when people make stupid comments like the one I’m making now. But I genuinely wonder. Why does it matter?

    Because art is part of how we make sense of the world. Ideally, art reveals something about humanity or the world around us, or the interactions between people and the world they live in. Without a definition of what art is, there’s no way to start the discussion of what any particular piece of art means or what the artist is trying to say.

  136. #137 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Oops, refresh fail. redmjoel beat me to it WRT Dragon Age.

  137. #138 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    For instance, Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins is an RPG in which the player’s character can initiate a sexual relationship with many of the NPCs in the party, two of whom (a male and a female) are bisexual and will become attracted to the PC regardless of his or her gender, provided the PC says and does the right things.

    ..But I wanted Alistair! Alistair!

    Here’s a *short* list of games where the main story can leave you in absolute awe:

    -Final Fantasy, especially 6 and 7

    Final Fantasy Tactics should be added to that list.

  138. #139 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    Thanks to the people who brought up Myst. I remember being so immersed in that game. I really want to play it again now. I’m going to go find the easiest way to make that happen.

  139. #140 codemenkey.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    metal gear solid. that’s all i have to say.

  140. #141 Ewan R
    April 22, 2010

    #134

    99% of RPGs involve romantic interest. It is unrealistic that these romantic interests are almost always heterosexual.

    Isn’t it however likely that in the real world romantic interests are also almost always heterosexual (with a ~90% CI?)

  141. #142 pveljko
    April 22, 2010

    I may be rehashing already brought up points but it’s to be expected, what with the pharyngoloid horde turning out to be video game advocates.

    Anyway, I have a problem with the whole are games art discussion. Mostly because people freely flip-flop between art (as in ‘Movies are art, literature is art &c.’) and Art (in the undefinable, metaphysical sense). Now, I don’t know if games are Art. I don’t know if anything is Art because I know of no reasonable definition. In fact my position on this is that of a militant agnostic. I don’t know and you don’t either. :)

    As for run-of-the-mill lowercase-‘a’ art, that is quite easier. Firstly games contain art. Being an inherently multimedia and syncretic creations they incorporate images, sounds and stories all of which are, by even the most conservative standpoint, art.

    Naturally, it is unreasonable to assume that there is no art in arranging these disparate elements into a coherent whole. Thus, insofar as games are multimedia collages they are certainly art.

    Of course, games aren’t just multimedia collages. The question remains if those elements unique to video games (the interactivity) can be made into an artistic medium. First, the application of user input to a story is established as a mainstream artistic choice (Dictionary of the Khazars, Hypertext Fictions &c) so in this narrow respect insofar a game represents an interactive story it represents a unique artistic medium. A very potent example would be the genre of Interactive Fiction, which satisfies even the most unreasonable criteria set by video game skeptics: Single author, non-commercial, built for artistic effect and nothing else.

    As for a more broad definition…I am not entirely sure. At least two games (Bioshock and Portal) do use conventions and mechanics of gameplay to make points (in Bioshock by making you question your own free will in a rather clever twist (that, mind, would be quite impossible in any other medium) and in portal by cleverly layering the narrative (if you’ll forgive the pretentious phrasing) by being in an environment that’s twice artificial). However these are early days of the medium and the potential is unquestionably there.

    Now, what I’ve said applies only to story-driven games. Two other types are common. Competition driven games (racing, Tetris, multi-player shooters and so on and so forth) are what most people think of when they say games aren’t art. And, indeed, this particular type of game is unlikely to be heavily artistic (even though it may still contain art as stated above). The closest analogue would be things like sports or chess which are not conventionally understood to be artistic. Another type of game is the creation-kit game which challenges the player to create something (a city, say). These are likewise less likely to be artistic but may enable the player to create art (in the same way a paintbrush isn’t artistic).

    I will not contend that a great majority of games are not particularly good art. Like any heavily commercialized medium a lot of it is exploitative kitsch. However this applies just as much to movies and no-one challenges their status as a legitimate artistic medium.

    To give an example, and to condense some of my opinion: If, say, Mass Effect 2 isn’t art neither is Star Wars. Now I will grant that both represent very commercial works and thus may not be eligible as, ahem, capital-A Art but in the everyday sense there is no reason to discriminate against them.

  142. #143 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    But no matter how well or how long you play a game, it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience.
    -Poopyhead

    This leads to a strangely funny imaginary situation if you try to cram all that other art that Ebert accepts as art, like films and novels, into your scenario. People don’t display continuously playing movies or automated page-turning books in their home, either. Sure you might see a DVD case or a book in a shelf, but it’s no different for music albums and video game cases. You have narrowed what is art even tighter than Ebert by saying that it can only be a painting or a statuette or some such representation in the home.

    Word to Paul #92.

  143. #144 lucas.stonehouse
    April 22, 2010

    PZ,

    I think Ebert’s claim is an unfair dismissal (“can never be”?) and the conclusions you and he have come to about videogames not being art is based on misinformed assumptions of videogames.

    I say “videogames” and not “video games” or “games” because videogames keep being lumped together with sports and other types of games. I think the issue that you and he have both overlooked is not whether videogames are or can be art, but whether they are their own medium to begin with. You (in your second paragraph), Ebert, and Santiago (to whom he is rebutting) all define videogames as art or not art by comparing them to movies, books, and basketball, which are all different media. No one would define movies based on their similarities and differences to basketball. Videogames certainly contain elements of other media, and so do other media.

    Your third and fourth paragraphs make claims about what would be needed in order for video games to be defined as art. There are games that do what you say, and there are gamers who treat games in the way you describe. It looks like you’ve been inundated with examples already, but I’d be happy to be more specific.

  144. #145 Deen
    April 22, 2010

    Add me to the long list of people that are disagreeing with you (must bookmark this thread in case trolls once again claim we all agree with you).

    Some of the best games are more about the interactive storytelling than about scoring points. That makes these games more similar to books or movies than they are to sports. The fact that you can actively interact with the story, rather than consume it passively, can potentially create an even larger emotional investment in the story. So if movies or books can be works of art, so can games.

    The fact that not all games (or maybe even most games) are of great enough quality to be called art is not relevant. Most books and movies don’t deserve to be called art either.

  145. #146 Nate6
    April 22, 2010

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    Absolutely and unequivocally WRONG. That is EXACTLY what video game designers do.

    “Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.”

    Which is exactly what many games do.

    Game studios employ many different types of artists. Screenwriters write scripts both for videogames and movies – but only the first one is art! Sculptors and painters create all sorts of images of landscapes and persons, 3D artists create dazzling arrays of characters, protagonists, combatants, mythical creatures from pure imagination or by using models, whatever the subject matter – but only the first is art! Complex dialogues are written by professional writers and voice-acted by real seasoned actors both in (CGI)cinema and videogames – but only the first one is art! Entire worlds are created and fleshed out with enormous historical detail: different peopls, religions, historical warfare, cultures, philosophical ideas. When Tolkien does it, it’s art, but suddenly not when its in a videogame.

    Why? Where are these phantom art lines being drawn by videogame ignoramuses such as you and Ebert?

    Videogames are not just about ‘winning’, as you and Ebert seem to think. That you do shows just how little you have really experienced. Play through an entire game of Planescape:Torment. Look at the old Fallout games, which hypothesizes about how people envisioned a post-apocalyptic world in the 60’s. Bioshock is an extremely well-made games. Go through the complete dialogue tree of only one character in either one of Bioware’s (a videogame developer) recent videogames. Try finding obvious answers to moral conundrums put forth in the Mass Effect series.
    Play Metal Gear Solid 2 until the point where it breaks the fourth wall. Pretend not to be blown away by the interactive movie experience that is the first 2 hours of the newest God of War game.

    And it doesn’t matter if you happen to not think that any of these examples are ‘good art’ – that’s obviously a matter of taste. But to pretend that videogames are not an artmedium like cinema, books or paintings, is preposterous.

  146. #147 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    I can’t stand the first Zelda. Give me Link To The Past any day.

    Okay, what octorok peed in your cornflakes, Shala?

  147. #148 Aaron Golas
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, I’d hate to think that you’re defending Ebert’s wholly uninformed opinion of video games just because he happens to side with us on other issues. But I’d prefer it to thinking that you’d so easily dismiss the utter artistry involved in games.

  148. #149 mikerattlesnake
    April 22, 2010

    I think enough people have pointed out how completely, utterly, and dissapointingly wrong this post is, so I’ll lay off. I do think there’s a reason a lot of non-gamers can’t see the art in the games being listed, though. People who play games have internalized the interface and the common tropes of the medium well enough to easily start up something like Shaddow of the Colossus and interact with it very naturally. Someone like PZ is going to be running around in circles trying to figure out what the “stab” button is. He won’t grasp the moral ambiguity, the stylistic visuals, the silent narrative, etc. because he doesn’t have the skills to interact with it properly.

    That said, you shouldn’t have to. If we agree movies are art, then games are art. If the movie “Gamer” is art (albeit bad art), then pretty much any game qualifies. There’s a difference between “not art” and “bad art” and I think that most games would qualify as the latter.

  149. #150 molto legato e sostenuto
    April 22, 2010

    Also, P.Z: Your opinion has been gangbanged to death by the collective Pharyngulaic ire. How does that make you feel?

    Be honest, this is for posterity.

    Haha, I didn’t get the Princess Bride reference until twenty minutes later, in the shower.

  150. #151 jaranath
    April 22, 2010

    Count me in as a dissenter.

    I think games are a new category of art. Rather than a passive thing you show to others, expecting the same enjoyment, it operates as a sort of participatory performance art.

    There are absolutely tone poems on light, lakes and te nature of societal decay. There are absolutely games that represent an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of the artists, to make you see through their eyes for a moment. But they depend on active participation from the viewer to be so communicated, and specifically EXPLOIT that participation to communicate these things in ways other art usually can’t, tying together visual, audio and musical cues, as well as storytelling and problem-solving. It’s as if you told a game “don’t tell me, SHOW me” and the game replied “here, show yourself”. That experience can’t usually be translated by watching a random clip of gameplay.

    There are oodles of crappy games, or games that I’d say really are more like PZ’s characterization. But the best are very often what I would call real art, and I would quite sincerely put some of the best up against any traditional masterpiece…with the caveat that it’d be like comparing a masterpiece film to a masterpiece sculpture.

    It IS interesting that they all do have some form of fairly repetitive, mechanistic gameplay, even if that play is puzzle-solving…of course, I think that defines them as “games”. But many reduce that component and a few have tried to eliminate it. I think for many “good art” games, it’s there as a sort of bribe to keep the player involved long enough to let them explore and discover everything you hoped to show them. And I also think that more often it’s there just because they want it. Game designers often break rules and cross boundaries, such that if they want to mix sport-like play in with their art because they love both, they’ll do so.

  151. #152 sotonohito
    April 22, 2010

    When I was both younger and more obnoxious I had a great many arguments with a friend of mine who was an Art History professor at a local university.

    He was a great fan of modern art, especially abstracts, and especially Jackson Pollock, in which I have never seen any merit or value. I insisted that they, and other pieces of modern art such as Fountain, were simply Not Art. That they were, in fact, a lucrative hoax played on the credulous and pretentious.

    My friend asked me to define “art”, a task I found quite difficult, then offered his own definition as I floundered.

    “Art,” he said, “is what people make.”

    I have yet to find a better definition, though at the time I fought against his definition with both great tenacity and a lack of tact. Video games as art? Sure. Sports as art? Why not?

    If a urinal that Duchamp found in a dump is art, how can Braid not be?

  152. #153 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    I can’t stand the first Zelda. Give me Link To The Past any day.

    Infidel. I’m still pissed my sister sold my beautiful golden cartridge at a garage sale.

  153. #154 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    April 22, 2010

    I’m debating whether or not to read this thread. I predict it will contain many people talking past each other with their own personal definition of “art”, a number of people pointing out games that do meet PZ’s criteria for “art”, and others snarkily saying that most movies aren’t “art”.

    Meh, what the heck. This being Pharyngula, even if my predictions pan out, there will still be some lovely nuggets to discover in there. *dives in*

  154. #155 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    99% of RPGs involve romantic interest. It is unrealistic that these romantic interests are almost always heterosexual.

    Agreed. But even if all romance was removed, at least 99% of RPGs would still be unrealistic.

  155. #156 kilternkafuffle
    April 22, 2010

    So uncharacteristically for PZ, this piece reads like satire! I continued reading waiting for a “JK” or a winking smiley at the end.

    Those who say that “everything is art” are postmodernists who just stifle discussion by melting concepts down. But video games can be amazing works of art and I have to utterly reject the post in its premise and in each supporting point.

    Video game players, although they are admired for their beautiful skills, are indeed considered “athletes” rather than artists. Millions of people around the world do watch them play live and share recordings of video games.

    Millions more play video games and admire them for the ways they go beyond entertainment and into true art and expression.

    Absolutely, games like Counter Strike are aimed at gameplay only. Shoot, score, repeat. But those games that I and others find ourselves coming back to capture our imaginations with dramatic stories, original music, and heart-wrenching emotions.

    There are exactly teams of artists working on video games. The scenery in the Fallout series, where hundreds of locations became so life-like and so unlike anything seen before. The detailed stories and fantastic atmospheres that remain memorable for years after cannot be reduced to a system for scoring points against the clock.

    There are innumerable clubs online devoted to games that came out back in the 1990s, using their custom editor engines to sculpt incredible fan work that is an entirely original use of the commercial product.

    In conclusion, many video games are beautiful reflections of the human experience that entertain and provoke. Taking part in a fantasy and getting to know entire societies of people and new ways of thinking often completely overshadows the task-completing, point-scoring element of games. It’s not about honing a specific skill, but about appreciating an amazing creative work by hundreds of programmers and designers. Newer generations of games emphasize the ability of the player to use their own imaginations. Replayability and interactivity of games are praised and valued. No complex game can be successfully marketed today that does not give you a myriad of options for completing it and doesn’t provide the opportunity to share your personal style with others.

    It’s impossible not to notice the incredible displays of artistry in the world of video games.

  156. #157 Swarm God
    April 22, 2010

    Sorry, PZ, but many video games today focus a lot of time and effort on the visual details and in-depth story line.

    Is good literature art?
    Are well-made motion pictures art?

    Personally I think the answer to both of those is “Yes”

    Modern video games makers pride themselves on coming up with engrossing story lines and very appealing visual effects.

    My roommate recently bought a game that I had no desire to play. I did, however, enjoy watching him play.

    Also, one of the ways games are rated are by replay-value.

  157. #158 llewelly
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment.

    For a computer game, the idea is an artificial universe in which player the acts. That makes a computer game art. (Most of them, I would argue, are terrible art, but by your definition, they are indeed art.)

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    That game was called Myst.

    It’s all about balance and game play and keeping the action going and providing a means to win or lose, and most of all, it’s about giving the player control in the game environment.

    The feeling of control is an emotion. The game environment is an idea.

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting …

    Every popular video game (and many an unpopular video game ) has a community of people who exchange recordings of players playing the game the well, and find these recordings fascinating. (Also, every popular video game (and, again, many an unpopular game) has many fans who continue to find the game interesting, despite having played it a huge number of times. ) And frankly, while I would rather read a book, watching someone play a video game, even one I don’t care for, is time better spent than 90% of the movies I’ve seen.

  158. #159 iceaxe
    April 22, 2010

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators.”

    Seems a terrific description of interactive video games as well.

    “A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment.”

    Correct, except for perhaps the last 300 years. A painting or poem -evokes- an idea or emotion through the skill of the artist. A great painting or poem or song or performance evokes many ideas or emotions to many people, far beyond what the artist ever intended.

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating…visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    That is precisely one aspect of what they do. With each iteration, they seek to improve apsects of the game like the digital representation of the human form and movement, and to create environments that produce a more immersive experience.

    “If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.”

    By that logic, I should be enthralled by videos of museum patrons staring at paintings. I’d rather play Tetris.

  159. #160 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    Okay, what octorok peed in your cornflakes, Shala?

    Well personally, I felt so hungry today that I could eat an octorok! I just wonder what Ganon is up to…

    Also, Nate6’s post is a really good take on the issue. Good taste in games, too!

  160. #161 ambulocetacean
    April 22, 2010

    The interactivity thing seems to be the main harrumph for the “games aren’t art” crowd.

    But there’s plenty of stupid interactive modern art installations cluttering up galleries all over the world. And very few of those have had anything like the thought and labour and love put into them that the best modern games have.

    If Tracey Emin’s filthy bed qualifies as art, there’s no way that Halo or World of Warcraft doesn’t. Many games are so full of cut scenes that if you cobbled all the scenes together you’d have no option but to call it a film (albeit a choppy, confusing one).

    Piss on a crucifix or put a dead shark in a perspex box and that’s art? Create an immersive emotional experience that takes hundreds of hours to unfold and comes with hours of original orchestral music and that’s not art? Please!

  161. #162 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Disclaimer: I’m not a gamer, and I also haven’t read Ebert’s column or the response PZ links to; I’m simply responding to what’s here on Pharyngula.

    That said, I conditionally disagree with PZ, and completely disagree with aratina cage (@1). To that second point first:

    If video games aren’t art, neither are movies, especially 3-D movies and cartoons/anime. Must be a generation gap thing.

    I don’t read the PZ/Ebert position as one of technology, where the Luddites are claiming high-tech presentations can’t be art, nor do I see it as a pop vs. serious dialectic… so I really don’t think it’s a generation gap thing at all. Instead, I see the distinction being made as one of the mode of expression: Art (the argument as I understand it goes) presents content (ideas, emotions, aesthetics); games (aka sports) present contest (performance, competitively measured through either direct comparison or reference to an external standard like time or points).

    I agree that something like a movie (or really, any work of narrative fiction, regardless of medium) is clearly in the category of art. I also agree that something like a basketball game is not art. It may be played artistically; people may make art about it; but the game itself is sport, not art.

    Where I fall off the sled is that I’m not sure every ostensibly competitive activity, nor every participant-controlled one, neatly fits into that binary categorization. One need only think of the inevitable whingeing that accompanies every Olympics about events that “aren’t really sports” because their judging is based, at least in part, on subject aesthetic considerations. I, myself, wouldn’t go so far as to call figure skating, half-pipe snowboarding, gymnastics, etc. art… but I bet many of the curmudgeonly naysayers would. I also wouldn’t call a nonnarrative skills game (e.g., Tetris) art, no matter how pretty the images onscreen or how good the background music.

    OTOH, I take video game to mean games that are, for the most part, at least somewhat structured and narrative. PZ says…

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime. That’s where games fail as art…

    …and my response is… eh… it depends: I would surely find watching over the shoulder of someone simply running from room to room shooting everyone in sight boring, and I wouldn’t want to go back and watch the replay. But I’d say exactly the same thing about a scripted, live-action movie in which people just ran around shooting everyone in sight, and nobody would hesitate to classify that as art (note that even very bad art is still art). So is the difference simply that one is scripted (i.e., controlled by an artist) and the other is not (i.e., controlled by the participants/audience)? Seems like that’s the distinction PZ is making:

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators. A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that.

    Some art — maybe most art — presents this sort of artist-centric distillation… but there’s also plenty of stuff we easily recognize as art that’s interactive, cooperative, or audience directed. Improvisational forms across many media; interactive narratives of many types (this can be a gimmicky U-Pick-the-Ending deal, which might be bad art, but it’s clearly art rather than sport); visual, sculptural, and performance pieces where the artistic “product” is entirely defined by interaction with the viewer/experiencer; etc., etc., etc. Currently there’s an exhibit running (at MOMA? I can’t be sure) of visual art involving live performers (one of them the artist herself; some of the others nude) with whom the viewers must interact. I gather one piece involves two nude people standing on opposite sides of a narrow passageway: How patrons react to this — do they squeeze themselves between two naked people? do they avoid going through that passageway? do they flee the gallery in existential panic? — is the art… and it’s not something the artist has scripted. Instead, it’s a case of the artist creating a specific artistic space, in which something happens, constrained, but not determined, by the artist. It’s the thing that happens that completes the art… and it’s not hard to imagine a video game in these terms.

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    Maybe they don’t. Maybe they haven’t so far.¹ But it’s not hard to imagine that they could. It’s not hard to imagine a game designer who thinks of him/herself as an artist, and whose goal is to make a game, the playing of which is consciously intended to be art… either by creating a collaborative narrative of lasting value, or by creating the kind of “tone poem” mentioned above, for the edification of “players” (aka the audience), and potentially preservable and presentable to third-party audiences as well.

    And even if this kind of “art” turns out to be ephemeral, accessible only to those there in the moment, it doesn’t mean it’s not art. I badly wanted, a few years back, to go into NYC to see Christo’s The Gates in Central Park, but I didn’t make it, and now that art is gone. I can look at sketches and photos, but that feels more like journalism; to have experienced it as art, I would’ve had to be there… but I would never say that means it wasn’t art.

    Finally, all this is complicated by the fact that video/computer games, unlike basketball games, often have unambiguous art embedded within them: deliberately artistic images, music, narrative set-pieces, etc. So even if the game isn’t art per se, it may yet be (however secondarily to its main purpose) something like an art gallery.

    In all, I can’t quite agree with Ebert’s reported assertion that video games can never be art (which, to his credit, PZ describes as possibly “a bit excessive” even as he reports it). Probably most games aren’t art; perhaps, in the grand sweep of artistic history, few if any ever will be art… but I can’t accept the categorical denial of the possiblity.

    ¹ But maybe they have; personally, I don’t know enough about the gaming universe to know one way or the other.

  162. #163 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    I can’t stand the first Zelda. Give me Link To The Past any day.

    OK that does it. Shala → killfile!

    ;>  Just kidding. But I do think the first Zelda is a masterpiece from the gilded casing on down.

  163. #164 iceaxe
    April 22, 2010

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators.

    Seems a terrific description of interactive video games as well.

    A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment.

    Correct, except for perhaps the last 300 years. A painting or poem evokes an idea or emotion through the skill of the artist. A great painting or poem or song or performance evokes many ideas or emotions to many people, far beyond what the artist ever intended.

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating…visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    That is precisely one aspect of what they do. With each iteration, they seek to improve apsects of the game like the digital representation of the human form and movement, and to create environments that produce a more immersive experience.

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.

    By that logic, I should be enthralled by videos of museum patrons staring at paintings. I’d rather play Tetris.

  164. #165 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    April 22, 2010

    Actually if anyone knows of a particularly compelling, ongoing, choose-your-own-adventure style blog, that would be pretty cool.

    It’s called a MUSH. Multi-User Simulated Hallucination.

    Text-based maybe, but the stories made up are completely character driven and ongoing compilations of generally 10-50 chractacters… sometimes more.

  165. #166 RamblinDude
    April 22, 2010

    Many times while playing Oblivion I would climb to the top of a mountain and just sit and look at a sunset. The graphics were beautiful. No gameplay, just sitting and enjoying a panoramic and inspiring mountaintop view. It was a work of art. It?s not what you do; it?s how you do it, and I see no reason to exclude anything as art simply because it contains an interactive/participant element. If it inspires, if it energizes, if it comes from creativity and promotes creativity then it can be a work of art.

  166. #167 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    Because art is part of how we make sense of the world. Ideally, art reveals something about humanity or the world around us, or the interactions between people and the world they live in.

    Okay, but then art is not unique in this respect.

    Without a definition of what art is, there’s no way to start the discussion of what any particular piece of art means or what the artist is trying to say.

    I don’t see how this follows. I think I have a pretty good idea of what Kafka was trying to say in The Trial, yet I don’t have any sensible definition of art in my head. Even children by the age of 10 are pretty good at picking out an author’s intention, as well as how they as readers may interpret it in their own lives, though they will not be exposed to a definition of art until high school.

  167. #168 MasterDarksol
    April 22, 2010

    I’m sorry PZ, but I have to disagree with you.

    I think video games can contain pieces of art ? artists participate in their creation, after all ? but art isn’t the intent, the performance is.

    One could say the same for movies or stage plays. The difference being that a game asks you (the player) to take up the main role.

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators. A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that.

    Absolutely wrong. Computer games do exactly that. I think you’re only taking into consideration games like Pac-man or Asteroids as being indicative of video games as a whole. It would be like placing the same criticisms on sculpting in general, having only been exposed to small children’s snow-men to represent the category.

    Take a game like #56’s Loom. An amazing and very artistic game. There was no score, no button-mashing. You just followed the main character on his journey of discovery through music. Though only in 256 colors, I can’t even count the amount of movies I’ve seen that “represented an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist” poorer than Loom did.

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    Again, absolutely wrong. Great examples of games where the design team did JUST THAT are Bioshock, Batman: Arkham Asylum, God of War 3, Mass Effect 1 and 2, most of the Final Fantasy games (there were moments in the old 8-bit ones where there was a clear appreciation of a scene despite that it was poorly rendered to today’s standards. The attempt and effort was there).

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    Actually, those make up most games. Take any Final Fantasy game, and you have exactly that. There may be optional side-quests, but make no mistake that the game is on rails and the outcome will be the same. In Bioshock it doesn’t matter what actions you take along the way, your encounter with Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine (the turning point and final confrontation in the game’s plot, respectively) remain the same. It is very clearly an experience the author intends.

    it is to art as providing a studio and a set of pigments and a collection of brushes.

    so ballet is nothing more than a costume, music and a stage? Art in general tends to be more than just a sum of its parts, and the same holds true for games. There is an intended experience, and this resonates with those who choose to immerse themselves in it.

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting. It just doesn’t now, though.

    As many have pointed out, this already takes place. Videos of gameplaying are all over YouTube. I have frequently enjoyed watching my flatmate playing a video game even when I have already played and know the outcome. It’s the journey and the experience that varies from player to player. A hallmark of a good game is re-play value. Many games don’t have it … but then again, many movies don’t warrant a second watching. Does that make those movies not art?

    But no matter how well or how long you play a game, it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience.

    I have a shelf of games that I enjoy out in the main room. Tell me how that is different from a shelf of movies that you enjoy out in the main room. How can you display a movie in your home as a representation of an experience? A movie poster? We have those for games. A prop or replica of a significant item, perhaps? We have those too. Are you seriously arguing that it can’t be art unless you can hang it on your wall? What about music? Theatre? Movies?

    The vast majority of video games have a plot and story to be experienced. Most of those might even be boring or poorly executed, but that does not make them not art. I’ve seen many paintings that I thought were worthless and poorly executed. Does that make painting not art? The same applies for any medium; there are many average, sub-par, boring, and even just plain bad pieces/experiences within each medium. It’s the ones that rise to the top that come to represent the category as a whole.

  168. #169 eeanm
    April 22, 2010

    Some games are art, some aren’t. Some movies are art, some aren’t. Its pretty easy to tell apart.

    And no I don’t see why something has to be enjoyable in a non-interactive fashion for it to be an art. Basketball is enjoyable to just watch and its not an art so I kind of don’t get your point here PZ.

    I guess a good example here is Dragon Age. I’ve mostly stopped playing it since I just don’t enjoy the message of the game. It’s the fantasy universe where the best years are in the far past. I’d much prefer a world where progress can be made. Give me Discworld over Tolkien anyday. :)

    Anyways the above problem are really the same sorts of problems people have with novels or other mediums that tell complex stories. Sounds like art to me.

  169. #170 jenea
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, you should try playing anything by thatgamecompany (http://thatgamecompany.com). The original version of their game flOw is available as Flash as well (http://intihuatani.usc.edu/cloud/flowing/) but I prefer playing it on the PS3.

    Other games that can only be considered art:
    Noby Noby Boy (on PS3 or iPhone)
    Plasma Pong (http://download.chip.eu/de/Plasma-Pong_150234.html)

    … the list goes on. You’re just playing the wrong games!

  170. #171 BeamStalk
    April 22, 2010

    In recent years, very few things have elicited emotion out of me like Bioshock did. It was like reading 1984 for the first time.

    I have to say that you are way off the mark here PZ and should try some RPGs (although Bioshock is not an RPG).

  171. #172 skeptical scientist
    April 22, 2010

    Contempt prior to investigation.

    Ebert actually writes, “The three games she chooses as examples do not raise my hopes for a video game that will deserve my attention long enough to play it.” Would Ebert write a review of a movie after only seeing a few frames of it? Of course not. So why is he content to pass judgement on an entire genre with nothing more than that to go on?

  172. #173 Stephen Wells
    April 22, 2010

    I agree with some earlier commentators that this point: “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.” is where PZ goes wrong. I’m pretty sure that creative teams have done exactly that.

  173. #174 danlwarren
    April 22, 2010

    The entire idea that “art” is a concept with an objective definition by which someone (PZ, Tycho and Gabe, or Ebert) can say “this is or is not art” is asinine. The whole conversation is just a big angry circlejerk, which is the least fun kind of circlejerk.

  174. #175 Kome
    April 22, 2010

    I have replayed, for example, Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger as often as I have reread Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time series” and nearly as much as I listen to some of my Eagles and Beach Boys albums. I am just as interested in them now as when I first picked them up. The story, the music, the characters, and the narrative style keep me coming back. On the other hand, when I went to Rome last year and was in the Sistine Chapel and St. Whomever’s Bascilica, I couldn’t help but feel bored. Looking up all I could think was, “I can see these pictures better in an art book than I can here.” No one doubts that The Last Judgment or the School of Athens are art, although very little of what I saw evoked much in me apart from confusion at how an organization that protects child-rapists has had possession of these pictures all this time. “Yes, very pretty paintings. Why do pedophiles own these?”

    Video games are just as capable of distilling and representing the human experience as a book, a song, a picture, a sculpture, or a dance. It doesn’t take many gamers very long to come up with scenes from their favorite games that inspired awe, fear, sadness, laughter, intrigue, and joy.

    It just seems silly to categorize an entire medium as “art” or “not art.” Some of it unquestioningly is, some of it unquestioningly isn’t, and there’s a lot of middle ground where some people feel the end result is artistic and some people don’t.

  175. #176 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    OK that does it. Shala ? killfile!

    NOOOO! NOT THE CHAINS! IT BURNSSSS!!!

  176. #177 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Okay, can I be excused for a bit of prideful hometown gushing about living about five blocks from BioWare? Not only do they generally make great games, but they shop local: I know a number of local actors and did a double take when I played Dragon Age and recognised a non-insubstantial number of familiar voices.

  177. #178 BrianX
    April 22, 2010

    I think both PZ and Ebert are missing some very fundamental points about art: art can be interactive. If I go to the Kendall Square station in Cambridge, on the MBTA Red Line, one of the T’s most interesting works of art is a series of, essentially, chimes of various shapes, that are controlled by levers on the platform walls. (They were built c. 1981, I believe by an MIT grad.) The controls and structures are simple, and the performance lasts only as long as someone keeps twiddling the levers, usually only seconds. Does that make them any less art because it’s not that interesting to watch someone pull a lever, or because the “performance” is quintessentially ephemeral (especially if a train comes by)?

    What Ebert is missing is that the game itself is the art; the performance of playing it is identical with the act of observation. It can be bad art (Superman 64), cynical art (any of a dozen blatant Pac-Man ripoffs), deeply involved art (Bioshock, Myst), sadistic art (N: The Way Of The Ninja, Portal, numerous text adventures, but particularly SoFar and HHGTTG), nihilistic art (Doom, Postal), collaborative/social art (MUD, WoW, Everquest), abstract art (Rez, Qix), or silly art (Katamari Damacy). But in all cases, the act of active participation rather than passive observation doesn’t change the artness of the whole matter.

    Sorry, PZ, I’m going to have to go with “wretched, ancient warlock” for both of you on this one. Now leave me alone. I’ll be off your lawn just as soon as I finish this N board… dammit. Died again.

    This may be a while.

  178. #179 percyprune
    April 22, 2010

    Lee Brimmicombe-Wood here. Speaking as a computer game developer (my most recent release was as chief designer on Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising) and as a former illustrator by trade, I lean towards the ‘art’ side of the argument.

    Admittedly, I have a broad definition of art. Yes, most games are an applied art, but much work is done these days on replayability–finding interesting ways for players to experience the game in novel ways again and again–and on instilling emotion in the players.

    I’d say that some games (not all but some) are more than the sum of their craftsmanship and aspire to art. Examples of games that I think come closest to this are Ico and Shadow of the Colossus–exercises in economical storytelling taking place within a world of mystery and beauty.

  179. #180 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Oy! When I started composing @162, the comment count was barely out of single digits… and it ended up @162! This is apparently one effin’ hot topic!

  180. #181 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    (although Bioshock is not an RPG).

    I would say it’s an FPS with some RPG elements tied into it, whilst simultaneously being a deconstruction of most games of that genre.

  181. #182 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Agreed. But even if all romance was removed, at least 99% of RPGs would still be unrealistic.

    This isn’t a reasonable deflection of the lack of homosexuals in most RPGs (Though Fang and Vanille are, quite happily, starting to fill in for us). RPGs are expected to be unrealistic in physics, but they’re not quite so much supposed to be in reactions or relationships, generally.

    Incidentally, thinking REALLY hard here, I can think of 10 homosexual relationships in the last 10 years of gaming. Relationships that were treated as normal and not some sort of mark of deviance.

    Tatsuya Suou and Jun Kuroda (Persona 2: Innocent Sin. Gay Option, 2 heterosexual relationships also possible)
    Oerba Yun Fang and Oerba Dia Vanille from FFXIII
    Riku and Sora in Kingdom Hearts (Sorry, just can’t see it any other way)
    Shion Uzuki and KOS-MOS, Xenosaga
    Chie Satonaka and Yukiko Amagi, Persona 4.

    The last 3 pairs are not explicit, either. It’s generally lacking in games, and it really oughtn’t be.

    Firefox is now screaming at me for misspellings..

  182. #183 William
    April 22, 2010

    Jesus f’ing Christ, PZ, when a non-biologist talks nonsense about biology, you trash them and tell them to keep their mouths shut until they learn a thing or two. And then you turn around and spout equally ignorant and silly nonsense about video games.

    but art isn’t the intent, the performance is This is true in some video games, and not true in others. Why would you paint them all with the same brush? Because you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators. This describes the vast majority of video games I play.

    A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Yeah? So only music that represents something is art? Bach’s orchestral suites, which do not represent any ideas or emotions, are not art then. Criteria fail.

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants. That describes most video games, actually. Simply because you can choose to use gun A or gun B doesn’t change a whole lot.

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Maybe *you* think that’s boring, but there are plenty of youtube videos with plenty of hits that suggest otherwise. You are apparently unaware of the internet phenomenon, “Let’s Play”, where one person plays a game and everyone else follows the persons progress. Obviously, they do not find it boring.

    it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience. What on earth? How do you display a “representation of an experience” of say a book? Unless you rip out the pages and tack them to the wall, the book is just going to sit there on a shelf. Same with a movie. And same with a video game.

    So, according to the criteria given of why video games fail as art, the consequence is that so do books, movies, and absolute music.

    What a disappointing post.

  183. #184 AJKamper
    April 22, 2010

    So, ending the “bashing PZ” thread and starting a “What games are art?” thread, a silly little flash game called “Where We Remain” turned out to be incredibly “artistic” in meaning. The gameplay is middling, the graphics are REALLY simple, but the game utterly and unexpectedly breaks the fourth wall. It turns out that the “game” was created by the person you’re trying to find in order to distract you from the incredible damage you’ve wreaked on this island, and that every time you (the player) replay the game is a time your memory was wiped and you play it again, in an endless circle. However, there are a couple of ways you can break the circle and end the cycle, getting a different ending.

    There are little pieces of information here and there that tell the story of what exactly happened, and you start to piece together this weird history of the island in which you play the game, over and over.

    As a piece of storytelling and meta-storytelling, using the game mechanics themselves as a plot point, it’s simply beautiful, even though the visuals and the gameplay is poor.

  184. #185 percyprune
    April 22, 2010

    Examples of games that I think come closest to art are Ico and Shadow of the Colossus–exercises in economical storytelling taking place within a world of mystery and beauty.

    If you talk to the art director on my current project, he will tell you his aim is just that.

  185. #186 pixelfish
    April 22, 2010

    Hrm….I have the same experience playing both Civilization and World of Warcraft that I do with, say, reading a fantasy novel. In both games, I am slowly unveiling a world, and telling myself a story about that world, and the act of unveiling it. I have moments of awe and beauty and triumph and loneliness and sadness….and while this may be because I brought them to the table, it is no less the same than many people bring to an art gallery or a library. And yes, I enjoy replaying Civ and WoW to recapture those feelings. And I don’t see how anybody can play all the way through Shadow of the Colossus and not come to the conclusion that they have experienced anything other than art.

    In fact, I’ve seen people more engaged with their games than much art–the games at least provide an interface for engagement, whereas the art world and the communities that surround it vary in how they want the every day human to interact with their work, and some are quite delighted when their art is opaque to most people, as if that conferred EXTRA Art Status onto the piece in question.

    DasWollf at 121 makes some excellent points in response to PZed’s assertions.

    PZed said: No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance. It’s all about balance and game play and keeping the action going and providing a means to win or lose, and most of all, it’s about giving the player control in the game environment.

    Actually what PZed is talking about here is what the designer does. There is an art director who communicates with the artists and is responsible for setting tone and creating a feel. We do care about that feel, but just because it isn’t always lofty doesn’t make what we do any less art. These roles remind me of the varied roles it takes to produce a film or a Broadway play–games, like those media, are a team effort. Just because aspects of them are technical doesn’t mean that art isn’t created.

    (Oh, I should add that my day job is User Interface Artist for a video game company. I came in from the graphic design world, so I’ve already endured a decade at least of the “what you do isn’t art” since people often love to say the same about graphic design.)

    But no matter how well or how long you play a game, it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience.

    Neither is a play or other ephemeral performance. And yes, you might be surprised at the people who do save or make art from their video games.

    Some of PZed’s other metrics aren’t very useful either–watching somebody else interact with the game is boring, so it must not be art? Huh. For one thing, that doesn’t work, because I’ve often watched friends play games, and enjoyed watchign with them…..for another, you could easily apply the same standard to folks in art galleries. I’ve been to shows where I wasn’t excited about a single piece of work (rare, but it has happened) and I wouldn’t venture to say that the art at those shows wasn’t art.

    Maybe it would be better to acknowledge video games as a hybrid of art and game/sport.

    Anyway, gotta skibble. PZed and Roger Ebert have made me late for work.

  186. #187 MoonShark
    April 22, 2010

    Sotonohito said:

    If a urinal that Duchamp found in a dump is art, how can Braid not be?

    Yeah, seriously, I love works by Jackson Pollock and Marcel Duchamp too much to be a snob.

    Why can’t these old farts be content to say “it’s not in my taste, I don’t care for it”? Rather they say “it’s not art” as if there were no creativity involved… when really the creativity is in a direction they would never, ever think of.

  187. #188 Hodor
    April 22, 2010

    I second the mentioning of Planescape: Torment.

    Not only did the writers, composers and visual artists bring to life the unique fantasy world of the Planescape universe (elves, orcs and other Tolkienesque staple races? Nope. Knights in shining armor? Neither, but you can recruit a distinctly non-shining suit of supernaturally animated armor as your companion), they also managed to weave a deeply engrossing story centered on the question of what it is that can change the nature of a man.

    Also, Bioshock. Not only jaw-dropping from a visual design standpoint, but also critique of Ayn Rand’s ideals that is probably more thoughtful than anything Rand ever came up with.

    Or God of War. The PS2 was pretty dated when this game came out, but the designers created amazing locales and animations that impressed me more than anything on my high-end gaming PC at that time.

    Or what about the Metal Gear Solid series – being not only groundbreaking in terms of graphics, but also continuously amazing you with hidden details and ways of breaking the fourth wall. I only played through MGS3 once, and I still thought I fuly got my money’s worth out of it simply because it felt like such a unique experience.

  188. #189 theshortearedowl
    April 22, 2010

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting

    You mean like basketball?

    A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that.

    Have you actually played a computer game in the last 30 years?

    Computer games are a new development in interactivity in entertainment. A movie allows you to look into an artist’s mind; a computer game can allow you to move around in their mind and explore that vision in ways never before possible. If you don’t believe me, try playing Portal.

  189. #190 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    Isn’t it however likely that in the real world romantic interests are also almost always heterosexual (with a ~90% CI?)

    90% does not correspond to “almost always.” Sit down and start rolling a D10 if you don’t believe me.

    If only ~90% of RPG romances were heterosexual, that would be a tremendous, amazing improvement.

    Agreed. But even if all romance was removed, at least 99% of RPGs would still be unrealistic.

    Right! :) But a great RPG, like a great fantasy or science fiction book, is realistic in the way that it treats human behavior and interpersonal affairs, while being spectacularly unrealistic concerning the world outside our little bubbles.

  190. #191 Ryan F Stello
    April 22, 2010

    KOPD (#139) said,

    I’m going to go find the easiest way to make [re-playing Myst] happen.

    I’d suggest checking out GOG.
    Lots of early 2000’s-era games made playable on modern OSs.

    While you’re there, I’d also recommend Amerzone if you’re into Myst.

  191. #192 percyprune
    April 22, 2010

    Sorry, I suffered a cut and paste FAIL. My last message should have said:

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.” is where PZ goes wrong. I’m pretty sure that creative teams have done exactly that.

    If you talk to the art director on my current project, he will tell you his aim is just that.

  192. #193 Hodor
    April 22, 2010

    I second the mentioning of Planescape: Torment.

    Not only did the writers, composers and visual artists bring to life the unique fantasy world of the Planescape universe (elves, orcs and other Tolkienesque staple races? Nope. Knights in shining armor? Neither, but you can recruit a distinctly non-shining suit of supernaturally animated armor as your companion), they also managed to weave a deeply engrossing story centered on the question of what it is that can change the nature of a man.

    Also, Bioshock. Not only jaw-dropping from a visual design standpoint, but also critique of Ayn Rand’s ideals that is probably more thoughtful than anything Rand ever came up with.

    Or God of War. The PS2 was pretty dated when this game came out, but the designers created amazing locales and animations that impressed me more than anything on my high-end gaming PC at that time.

    Or what about the Metal Gear Solid series – being not only groundbreaking in terms of graphics, but also continuously amazing you with hidden details and ways of breaking the fourth wall. I only played through MGS3 once, and I still thought I fuly got my money’s worth out of it simply because it felt like such a unique experience.

  193. #194 redmjoel
    April 22, 2010

    @160: Ganon is hanging out in a bar in Orgrimmar as a Tauren on WoW. You can even kill him if you like.

  194. #195 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    April 22, 2010

    Final Fantasy Tactics should be added to that list.

    *cries and appologizes profusely*

    I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t’ve left those out. I can’t believe I left those out.

    The tactics games are fantastic.

    -Kemanorel

  195. #196 https://me.yahoo.com/hairychris444#96384
    April 22, 2010

    I suppose that this throws up a few questions about how you define art…

    Along with some of the other folks here, I certainly think that if you can count movies as art, then video games have many of the same production values.

    If we can accept that movies may and, just as importantly, may not be art then claiming that video games can never be smacks of a problem that he has with the medium as a whole.

    Marcel Duchamp springs to mind, here. Not so much in the medium, but rather as a challenge to what art is defined as.

    If art involes empathy with the protagonists, exploring alternate worlds, reflecting on the human condition then there are certainly some games that fall into that definition.

    And as for watching other people play – personally I can enjoy it especially if it’s a game that I’m rubbish at/have no interest in playing myself.

    Personally Half Life 2 and the last part of Mass Effect both kick me in the balls whenever I play them, absolutely gripping with better characterisation then in many novels and most movies. Bioshock… probably closer to art, maybe, but not as involving. And why balls it up by making a sequel for fuck’s sake. :-/ Oh yeah, money. Cash ? art I suppose.

  196. #197 iceaxe
    April 22, 2010

    Apologies for the double post. Form submission hung on the 1st try, didn’t think it went through.

  197. #198 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Brownian (@29) wins teh intertoobz:

    I look forward to Ebert’s next essay: “Why Lawns Are Important And Why The Kids Should Get The Fuck Off Mine.”

    ;^}

  198. #199 llewelly
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    But no matter how well or how long you play a game, it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience.

    hahaha. I’ve worked with people who had mounted and framed screenshots of games on their wall. And why? Because it represented either the experience of playing the game, or, (more often) the experience of building the game.

  199. #200 BrianX
    April 22, 2010

    Danlwarren:

    Actually, I think there can be a fairly straightforward definition of art as symbolic/conceptual communication. For example, news is not, in and of itself, art, but the way it’s presented is definitely art (essentially a series of short-subject documentary films). Banal art, perhaps, but still art. It doesn’t have to make a great statement to be art, or even good art.

    Go read the Sandia report on marking the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant — it deals directly with the nature of art-as-communication and caused me to vastly rethink the entire definition of the concept, in context of how to transmit the idea of “extreme danger” with little or no reliance on language.

  200. #201 BeamStalk
    April 22, 2010

    Oh agreed Shala, it definitely has aspects but would not be included in the category. I have noticed an upswing in games with RPG aspects, but that could also just be the games I am personally playing and I like RPGs.

  201. #202 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    Incidentally, thinking REALLY hard here, I can think of 10 homosexual relationships in the last 10 years of gaming. Relationships that were treated as normal and not some sort of mark of deviance.

    Summon Night Swordcraft Story 2 has a lesbian character that can go into a relationship iirc.

    Bioshock has a homosexual character (I would love to say it’s stereotypical but like, everyone in that game is fucking insane anyway), but no relation there.

    Bully, surprisingly, allows some homosexual relationships.

  202. #203 Kagehi
    April 22, 2010

    I have to agree with what pretty much everyone here said. What games do that movies don’t, to use Bioshock and Bioshock 2 as an example, is give you semi-lame ways to get ammo, and a way to back track, if you need to do some stuff. Movies do not backtrack, unless its part of the plot. So.. Lets for a moment cut out using vending machines, including the plasmid ones, and just replace them with you “finding” the ammo and upgrades, then run through the whole damn game without backtracking. Now you have a damn movie. Sure, you might shoot the crazed splicer a few feet farther or closer away. Maybe you pin one to a window, instead of a wall, but its “pure” movie. The only thing that makes it anything other than a movie, in that context, is that you decide when the shoot the bad guys, instead of someone else scripting it for you.

    But, where do you draw the line, really?

  203. #204 William
    April 22, 2010

    I only read up to comment 100, but of the first 100 comments, only 1 person agreed with PZ, and it was only a sort-of agreement.

    And the majority of posts seemed to point out that PZ must be unfamiliar with video games at large. (Which has to be true to explain the massive dose of ignorance on the subject.)

  204. #205 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    BrianX (@178):

    If I go to the Kendall Square station…

    …you could hand Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumblin’ through!

    ;^}

  205. #206 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    What games are art?

    Well, if we drop “Meaning” as a requirement for art (I think that’s reasonable, given that we celebrate David and the Mona Lisa), I’m going to go ahead and nominate Touhou games.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeXcVrU__GI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmOJDOqpQkM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91sLZL1wBQE

    The curtains of bullets look very nice, and the simple effort that goes into the craft is amazing (Bear in mind that you can’t just make a bullet curtain; You have to make a bullet curtain through which escape and counterattack is possible). That they provide a good gameplay challenge WHILE being interesting to look at is perhaps the actual art.

  206. #207 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    Not only did the writers, composers and visual artists bring to life the unique fantasy world of the Planescape universe (elves, orcs and other Tolkienesque staple races? Nope. Knights in shining armor? Neither, but you can recruit a distinctly non-shining suit of supernaturally animated armor as your companion), they also managed to weave a deeply engrossing story centered on the question of what it is that can change the nature of a man.

    Torment was also a deconstruction of usual RPG elements:

    Rats are some of the most dangerous enemies in the game, you can trust the undead more than you trust humans, and you’re actively seeking a way to die. You gain powers through your own body parts and lack even basic armor, but you don’t even need them. You only need to kill about 4 enemies in the entire game.

    *cries and appologizes profusely*

    I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t’ve left those out. I can’t believe I left those out.

    The tactics games are fantastic.

    Blame yourself or God!

  207. #208 protocoach
    April 22, 2010

    I don’t see how this follows. I think I have a pretty good idea of what Kafka was trying to say in The Trial, yet I don’t have any sensible definition of art in my head. Even children by the age of 10 are pretty good at picking out an author’s intention, as well as how they as readers may interpret it in their own lives, though they will not be exposed to a definition of art until high school.

    You may not have a definition of art that you have clearly enunciated to yourself or in public, but you clearly have some nebulous definition of art in your head that allows you to class “The Trial” as art. Otherwise you wouldn’t bring it up in a discussion of what art is. So I’d say the responsibility lies with you to work backwards from whatever you would class as art (things like “The Trial”) to a definition of art that works for you. Then you can argue about it! :)

    As for the point about 10 year-olds being able to pick up symbolism…I’m just going to have to disagree with you. I’ve never been one to underestimate the abilities of children; I was one of the “smart kids” and I know how irritating it can be for adults to talk down to kids, but most children simply don’t have the grounding in culture and history required to understand anything but the most heavy-handed symbolism in artwork. Take a work like BioShock; to fully appreciate the game, you have to have some understanding of Objectivist philosophy. Or, in a non-gaming context, Moby Dick. I doubt there’s a ten year old in the world who can appreciate Melville’s book in its entirety. Understanding it requires an assumed definition of art, a learned understanding of how to read symbolism and metaphor in literature (which has been defined as part of “art”), and some knowledge of the time period it was written in, the period it was set in, and the literary movements at the time.

  208. #209 s.d.mortimer
    April 22, 2010

    Posted by: RamblinDude Author Profile Page | April 22, 2010 12:51 PM

    Many times while playing Oblivion I would climb to the top of a mountain and just sit and look at a sunset. The graphics were beautiful. No gameplay, just sitting and enjoying a panoramic and inspiring mountaintop view. It was a work of art.

    It’s funny I did the same thing all the time while playing Oblivion.

  209. #210 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    Bill Dauphin,

    I don’t read the PZ/Ebert position as one of technology, where the Luddites are claiming high-tech presentations can’t be art, nor do I see it as a pop vs. serious dialectic… so I really don’t think it’s a generation gap thing at all.

    I didn’t say it had anything to do with technological aptitude. My comment at #1 was designed to point out the obvious, which is that it is strange of Ebert to say this because Ebert praised Avatar. He grew up on 2-D films but not 3-D films. So why does he accept 3-D film as art but not video games?
    Why can’t he see that video games offer a younger generation the same artistic appeal that 2-D movies did for his generation since he can accept 3-D films?

  210. #211 Heidi
    April 22, 2010

    I’m going to have to wildly disagree with both you and Ebert. Video games are just as much art as performance art, movies and other forms of interactive performance.

    Many video games designers sit down and begin with an artistic concept before they work out the intricacies of leveling up and end result. Look at games like Dante’s Inferno or even Bioshock. The imagery in Dante’s Inferno is very visceral, and the story behind Bioshock asks some tough philosophical questions.

    And I have sat down and watched other people play videogames. Many of them. In particular this includes Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid since I’m not very good at those types of games. And I’ve replayed many videogames.

    I think you simply don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to videogames and their artistic value.

  211. #212 Caine, Fleur du mal
    April 22, 2010

    Late to the party here. As an artist, my take is that what people consider art is highly subjective, and because of that, there’s simply no way to absolutely define art. I might not think video games are art, but I’m not a gamer, so I don’t feel qualified to say one way or the other. I certainly think animation cels qualify as art, so why not video games?

  212. #213 Duckbilled Platypus
    April 22, 2010

    So… How should we classify the beautifully designed Flash game Hoshi Saga (a.k.a. Find the Star)? One hundred varations (in 3 games) on a single, simple theme. To me it’s not so much of a finish-the-game challenge, but more like interactive visual poetry. I come back every once in a while to play it, and I can’t help but smile happily when I do.

  213. #214 llewelly
    April 22, 2010

    I’d argue that the entire problem in this debate is that the wretched, ancient warlocks haven’t had contact with evocative, emotional games like Ico. They think it’s all Tetris and GTA.

    Maybe. But Tetris and GTA both fit PZ’s definition of art.

  214. #215 fjvarro
    April 22, 2010

    Video-games are a different form of art than movies or books. They are an art-form that is meant to be interacted with. By simply watching someone play, you do not get the full experience, just as you would not enjoy watching someone read Dante’s Inferno.

    Also, in regards to no-one setting out to make a game that inspires thought/emotion, try your hand at Mass Effect 2, or Heavy Rain.

    I have a full response that I won’t clutter your board here with, but if you want to read it, let me know what you think: http://designplustech.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/video-games-as-art-my-argument/

  215. #216 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Naked Bunny with a Whip, I’m using this thread as a source for my next wish list to head to the game store with.

    Alright, leaving aside games with intricate storylines and beautiful textures, can anyone (besides PZ) tell me why Kingdom of Loathing doesn’t qualify as art? From the character classes (Seal Clubbers and Turtle Tamers replace the warrior class, Disco Bandits and Accordion Thieves replace rogues, and Pastamancers and Saucerors replace mages) to the adventuring locations The Valley Beyond the Orc Chasm is populated with monsters like ‘XXX pr0ns’ who are literal representations of 4chanish leet), the entire game is an brilliant and irreverent satire of gaming and internet/computer culture itself.

  216. #217 tas121790
    April 22, 2010

    I agree with you PZ, you don’t see basketball players going around demanding their sport be considered art. I dont understand why this is so important to gamers, the slightest criticism of video games and its perceived as some cranky old person rant.

    Signed,
    19 year old

  217. #218 mothwentbad
    April 22, 2010

    Parappa the Rapper.

  218. #219 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    To address some of your criticisms: I have 3 kids, the last one a teenager (soon not to be one), so yes, I’ve had plenty of exposure to modern computer games. I’ve seen them played right here in my living room, right in front of my desk, and I’ve even joined in now and then.

    I am not arguing against the idea that these games can contain art — there was visually fascinating stuff flying by my face all the time, and I agree that digital art and animation are genuinely art.

    But is the game art? Not the packaging, not the ambience, not the displays, but the game itself.

    If a Van Gogh painting could be stepped into and explored, would it stop being art?

    No. And I think that the worlds and images of Halo and Myst and many of the other games mentioned here are examples of art. But the process of going in and exploring art is not art. If it were, then going to a museum would be art.

    I’m still unconvinced, because few of you are addressing the actual item that I’m saying is not art. Some of you seem to be hung up on a defense, as if I’ve said video games are bad — and I don’t think that at all. They’re creative and imaginative and often really cool, and they take immense amounts of talent and labor to create. I’m just saying that the games are not art, just as a basketball game is not art.

    That does not imply that I think basketball should be forbidden or that there is no impressive level of skill involved.

  219. #220 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    I’m going to go ahead and nominate Touhou games.

    You even nominated my favorite from the bunch.

    Very nice!

  220. #221 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    But a great RPG…

    And I’m pretty sure 99% of RPG’s are not one of those. ;-)
    ymmv

  221. #222 Vaprwere
    April 22, 2010

    Walking my avatar through the surreal, blighted landscape of Fallout 3, listening to “I don’t want to set the world on fire” playing in the background”…

    Trying desperately to make it to the obstacles on the beach in Call of Duty while German ordnance whistles past, thudding into the living and dead, (not unlike the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan…

    I think that the first commenter on Roger’s blog site got it right…Roger doesn’t get it. There are many video games that I consider high-quality art. Maybe Roger’s illnesses have made him cranky, but he needs to have a little more fun, and stop trying to define for us what “art” is. I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

  222. #223 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    April 22, 2010

    Incidentally, thinking REALLY hard here, I can think of 10 homosexual relationships in the last 10 years of gaming.

    Or you can just look at Fable or Fable 2 where the main character can be made to have relationships with whoever he/she wants.

  223. #224 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    The last 3 pairs are not explicit, either. It’s generally lacking in games, and it really oughtn’t be.

    Well, there’s Cloud and Barrett. Although their date is rather tame (and optional). And Tidus can get Auron or Kimahri to the top of his affection meter…

    This is partially a “mote in your own eye” thing, though. They don’t make gay pairs in games for the same reason books don’t feature gay relationships — it cuts their potential audience in half. This is the fault of the audience. I’m not defending the practice, and think it would be better to be inclusive in general. But most of the examples I can think of of gay or trans characters were changed because of the American audience (for the same reason RPG spells such as “Holy” used to be removed or changed to “Pearl” (ugh)). Are there still issues with the censors/gaming ratings boards? I only ask because I haven’t exactly kept up to date with the current state of gaming.

  224. #225 Kevin
    April 22, 2010

    Can’t say much which hasn’t already been said.

    Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, Ico – these games are art!

  225. #226 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    Ryan F Stello,

    Thank you. I found that site just before reading your post and it looks great. I’ll check out the game you mentioned. :-)

  226. #227 Tiki_Idyll
    April 22, 2010

    I would argue that, like graphic novels and comic books, video games are a medium and not a genre. Some video games are art, some aren’t. Some published books are art, some aren’t. It depends on the genre and execution thereof.

    I do feel that art is definable, though, as PZ pointed out in a previous post, the edges of everything are fuzzy, just as pornography, when humanity is bestowed, which name best fits a color, etc. is definable with fuzzy edges. No one would argue that “The Birth of Venus” isn’t art. It obviously is. But are scribbles in a notebook margin art? Hard to say. Could be. But probably not.

    Making blanket assertions is the enemy, and everyone who does so is an idjut! ;)

  227. #228 GODis10-7
    April 22, 2010

    PZ is gettin PWND!!!1!

    But on a serious note, very good examples this far and I just have to agree with those that listed the latest Elder Scrolls games, Fallout 3, any Final Fantasy, and Shadow of Colossus. These are perfect examples of art. And I’m also one of those nerds that loves to watch others play video games particularly RPGs, I never played Breath of Fire 2 for the first time until I had seen it played start to finish 3 times.
    On the debate between movies being art and video games not, a lot of video games now are essentially movies with some interactive parts between them, if I sat down and just watched the cinematics in a row and it still flowed well, does that suddenly make it art? The storyline and character development and emotion is stronger in Final Fantasy 7 (the game) than it is in FF7: Advent Children (the movie), but would Advent Children be art and the game not, simply because of the interactivity?

  228. #229 Etruscan
    April 22, 2010

    The argument seems to be: “it’s interactive, therefore it’s not art.” I can’t help but feel this conflicts with some very respected interpretations of even traditional artwork. The idea that the consumer of artwork should be walled off from the experience make no sense at all.

  229. #230 mothwentbad
    April 22, 2010

    While we’re slapfighting, I’d like to add:

    golf isn’t a sport.

  230. #231 BrianX
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    You know who some true artists are? Thomas Kincade. Uwe Boll. Okay, so the first one is a cynical con artist, and the second is a pretentious moron who couldn’t direct a home video without looking like an idiot. You could make a very good case that their cynicism and incompetence make their works *bad* art. But they’re still real art.

  231. #232 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010
    If a Van Gogh painting could be stepped into and explored, would it stop being art?

    No.

    Why not? How does that experience (or the act of walking through an art gallery) not meet your criteria of being “a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators” or something in which “replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting”?

    Further, how would walking through Van Gogh’s painting not be art and a live music performance is?

    I’m still unconvinced, because few of you are addressing the actual item that I’m saying is not art.

    Perhaps this is because you’ve not offered any definition of art that video games (or basketball games do not meet but yet encompasses the scope of the media forms we traditionally define as art.

  232. #233 NineInchNall
    April 22, 2010

    @PZ,

    Could you clarify what you mean when you say that the game is not art?

    Let us consider the movie The Godfather, which many would contend is a work of art. Would the addition of an interactive component render the movie no longer art?

  233. #234 protocoach
    April 22, 2010

    I agree with you PZ, you don’t see basketball players going around demanding their sport be considered art. I dont understand why this is so important to gamers, the slightest criticism of video games and its perceived as some cranky old person rant.

    Basketball players? Maybe not. Much in the same way that most of the people posting on here aren’t in game development. Basketball fans? Absolutely.

    FreeDarko

    Within that piece there’s a link to David Foster Wallace’s classic article on Federer for the NYT, which is about as convincing a case as I can imagine for sport-as-art.

  234. #235 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    Unsurprisingly, PZ has made another pretentious article. I’m a big supporter of him usually, but sometimes he just says these stupid stupid things like this.

    PZ you are acting EXACTLY like the average creatard. You make baseless assumptions, having looked up NO EVIDENCE yourself.

    How are you different right now, after writing that article, from the people who deny evolution without doing any research?

    Stuff like this just makes you seem very egocentric and ridiculous. How about this, when you have no personal experience in a particular field, shut your mouth and don’t make stupid claims like this one. When you complete some of the games mentioned on here, THEN your opinion on the matter might have an ounce of weight. Among gamers though, you have just lost respect.

  235. #236 tas121790
    April 22, 2010

    Why don’t we just say everything is art and call it a day.
    I took a shit this morning, it was art.

  236. #237 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    You may not have a definition of art that you have clearly enunciated to yourself or in public, but you clearly have some nebulous definition of art in your head that allows you to class “The Trial” as art. Otherwise you wouldn’t bring it up in a discussion of what art is.

    Er. I picked Kafka because he’s commonly recognized as a serious artist by people who make such distinctions. But all I’m doing here is ape imitation.

    That I can recognize others’ use of the term is not an implicit agreement that they’re saying something meaningful when they use it.

    but most children simply don’t have the grounding in culture and history required to understand anything but the most heavy-handed symbolism in artwork. Take a work like BioShock; to fully appreciate the game, you have to have some understanding of Objectivist philosophy. Or, in a non-gaming context, Moby Dick. I doubt there’s a ten year old in the world who can appreciate Melville’s book in its entirety.

    I’ll agree with that. There are levels of complexity that are not appropriate for many children or even teenagers. Does that mean that works comprehensible to children are not art?

    Understanding it requires an assumed definition of art, a learned understanding of how to read symbolism and metaphor in literature (which has been defined as part of “art”), and some knowledge of the time period it was written in, the period it was set in, and the literary movements at the time.

    Knowledge of the period it was written, the setting, literary trends, a familiarity with common symbolism, and a trained eye to pick out uncommon symbolism, would all be useful in comprehending the mind of the author. How would a definition of art help, though?

  237. #238 William
    April 22, 2010

    The argument seems to be: “it’s interactive, therefore it’s not art.” I can’t help but feel this conflicts with some very respected interpretations of even traditional artwork. The idea that the consumer of artwork should be walled off from the experience make no sense at all.

    Not to mention chance music.

  238. #239 agryson
    April 22, 2010

    Theatre today is pretty staid and results in the audience being passive watchers but that’s quite recent; heckling was a big interactive element in many performances and lives on today in rocky horror performances.
    Many games bring that interactivity back where a set story is delivered in an explorable fashion and for many design houses, replayabilty and immersive narratives are a primary goal. Look at the half life series; the story takes the leading role over action.
    Definitely a case of eye of the beholder I think.

  239. #240 percyprune
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, do you view art as being a passive experience? I have always thought of art as something that requires active participation. I have seen sculptures that are positively designed to be explored and touched and walked inside. Exploring a game world only seems to me to be an extension of this.

    Given your sports analogy I think you are getting hung up on the idea of a game as a ‘game’. There are certainly many games that are close to this in form and intent. But there are also games focussed on narrative and mood and emotion and these, it seems to me, cleave closest to art as a form of expression.

  240. #241 NineInchNall
    April 22, 2010

    It just seems that Metropolis is art, but Metropolis+interactivity is not.

    How does that make any frakkin’ sense?

  241. #242 tas121790
    April 22, 2010

    “PZ you are acting EXACTLY like the average creatard. You make baseless assumptions, having looked up NO EVIDENCE yourself.”

    Really?!?! You are equating PZ to a creationist?
    He has made several cogent arguments and your response because you don’t agree with his is that hes acting like a creatard.

    Credibility out the window.

  242. #243 William
    April 22, 2010

    Stuff like this just makes you seem very egocentric and ridiculous. How about this, when you have no personal experience in a particular field, shut your mouth and don’t make stupid claims like this one. When you complete some of the games mentioned on here, THEN your opinion on the matter might have an ounce of weight. Among gamers though, you have just lost respect.

    I agree with this. You know that visceral annoyance you get from reading some IDiot spout off some ignorant crap about biology that is completely ass-wrong? And it just irritates the shit out of you because it’s clear the person has almost no experience in biology, but just decided to go off egotistically spouting their thoughts? Well, simply watching your kids play a few video games here and there and thinking you’re qualified to opine on the subject is essentially the same thing. It is definitely not reflecting positively on you.

  243. #244 ian.monroe
    April 22, 2010

    @PZ well of course going to museum isn’t art, and reading a book isn’t art, and playing a video game isn’t art.

    But a painting, a book and a game can be art.

    I wonder if your making a distinction without a difference here. If you agree that games can contain art (music, 2D images, 3D environments, dialog/plot) I really don’t see how thats not saying the game is art. The game is of course all those things.

  244. #245 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    But the process of going in and exploring art is not art. If it were, then going to a museum would be art.

    Oh, come on, PZ… this is ridiculous. And the process of opening a book and reading it is not art. If it were, then going to a library would be art.

    See the ridiculousness of that argument as it relates to games?

    Arguing that the action of gaming is not art and therefor games are not art is just not rational.

  245. #246 Standard curve
    April 22, 2010

    Perhaps this post should be retitled:

    Roger Ebert and PZ Myers tick off video gamers.

    :)

  246. #247 rudenessman
    April 22, 2010

    Killing blow @ #5. Game over. Now get back to something interesting please.

  247. #248 Caine, Fleur du mal
    April 22, 2010

    Redshift:

    You make baseless assumptions, having looked up NO EVIDENCE yourself.

    As you think that, why don’t you provide the evidence. Evidence, mind, not opinion.

    How about this, when you have no personal experience in a particular field

    What experience in what field is required? PZ has stated he’s gamed; he’s certainly entitled to an opinion, just as you are. You aren’t making any case at all here, just yelling and frothing. If you think you have a case, then make it.

  248. #249 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawl3TpOVyxxwCT5cVU3M80c_cpxoMBZmiOQ
    April 22, 2010

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.

    Actually, I do watch a lot of replays of StarCraft games. It’s a professional e-sport in korea and it is very entertaining to watch. Not at all boring.

  249. #250 Knockgoats
    April 22, 2010

    I’m still unconvinced, because few of you are addressing the actual item that I’m saying is not art. Some of you seem to be hung up on a defense, as if I’ve said video games are bad — and I don’t think that at all. They’re creative and imaginative and often really cool, and they take immense amounts of talent and labor to create. I’m just saying that the games are not art, just as a basketball game is not art. – PZ [emphasis added]

    The bolded text shows that you are completely confused, PZ. A basketball game is a completely different kind of entity from a video game: the former is an individual (sporting) event; the latter is a piece of software that can be used in an indefinite number of (game-playing) events: it corresponds more closely to the rules of basketball than to a specifc spoting contest, while the latter corresponds to a specific event of the video game being played (a basketball court and equipment correspond to the electronic equipment on which the video game is played). So if you want to argue that video games are not art, it won’t do to say “just as a basketball game is not art”. You’ll have to say “just as the rules of basketball are not art”. Which, of course, they are not – but suppose they were rewritten by Cuttlefish?

  250. #251 percyprune
    April 22, 2010

    When you complete some of the games mentioned on here, THEN your opinion on the matter might have an ounce of weight.

    Sorry, but I cannot hold to this. It is perfectly possible to form an opinion of a game without playing it. I do it all the time in my line of work, as do many of my fellow game developers.

  251. #252 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    Blame yourself or God!

    I see what you did there…

  252. #253 craig.mcgillivary
    April 22, 2010

    I think most people in 2050 will not want to play most games made before 2010, but some games like Tetris will be played forever. Your definition would exclude not only video games but a lot of books. I don’t want to watch you read War adn Peace. It would also seem to exclude board games some of which I think clearly belong in the art category. There is no objective definition of art, but your subjective one is not really well thought through.

  253. #254 JJ
    April 22, 2010

    Sorry PZ but you and Roger couldn’t be more wrong. No offense but you sound like a creationist talking about evolution speaking from an obvious position of ignorance. Certainly some games are not art, but a growing majority of games have very involved storytelling and production value. See Heavy Rain, or one of the Final Fantasy games, or Uncharted.

    Watch:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeY1Kwiieyo&feature=related

    and tell me how that is any less artistic then a hollywood movie? I’m sorry but the statement that movies are art and videos games can’t be art is patently ridiculous. I have seen games with far deeper, more emotionally evocative stories then 90% of the films in the theaters.

  254. #255 valine25
    April 22, 2010

    If a Van Gogh painting could be stepped into and explored, would it stop being art?

    No.

    Emphasis mine.

    @Brownian

    Further, how would walking through Van Gogh’s painting not be art and a live music performance is?

    I think he is saying it would. But how he can then claim video games *aren’t* based on the technicality that walking through them isn’t art, is ridiculous.

  255. #256 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 22, 2010

    I have to put my vote in for Fallout 3

    I also found some artistic aspects of some MMORPGs I’ve played, but the problem with those is they eventually become more of a task to play than a joy so any artistic shine rubs off after a while.

  256. #257 tas121790
    April 22, 2010

    @ian.monroe
    Because an experience is not art. Walking through Manhattan gawking at the amazing architecture(is art) is not art, its an experience.
    No matter how drab and boring or profound and life changing an experience may be its not art.
    A video game is experiencing graphic arts and sometimes even literary art.

  257. #258 Weed Monkey
    April 22, 2010

    I only discovered Dreamfall: The Longest Journey last year while searching for games I hadn’t tried yet on my old Xbox. The experience was so compelling, immersive and emotional I just had to keep playing, even if for the first couple of hours I was annoyed by the simplistic gameplay and lack of choices. The game is mainly driven by its strong storyline and likeable, interesting characters.

    That certainly was a beautiful piece of interactive fiction, which makes it a work of art in my mind.

  258. #259 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    If I paint dogs playing video games, can I sell it as art?

  259. #260 protocoach
    April 22, 2010

    I’ll agree with that. There are levels of complexity that are not appropriate for many children or even teenagers. Does that mean that works comprehensible to children are not art?

    No, it simply means that using the argument “children can pick out some symbolism” isn’t valid as criticism of the idea that art needs to be defined.

    Knowledge of the period it was written, the setting, literary trends, a familiarity with common symbolism, and a trained eye to pick out uncommon symbolism, would all be useful in comprehending the mind of the author. How would a definition of art help, though?

    Because without a definition of art, we don’t know what to talk about in the first place. The definition gives us a field of potential discussion. Without any definition, everything is or can be art and discussion becomes so insignificant in the great scheme of things as to be pointless. With a definition, we can say “This book/movie/game/painting is art, this chair/pillow/backpack/clock is not art. Let’s talk about [work of art] and not [random item].” The definition is problematic, but some definition is necessary. It’s like science. Biology is not astrophysics is not chemistry is not atmospheric science. You define a subset and then study the subset and the definition is vitally important to the “what” and “how” of the study.

  260. #261 nomen-nescio.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    fuck it, PZ, when you decide to step in the hornet’s nest you really jump in full speed, don’t you? saw the title of this post on the front page, and it had less than 100 comments; now that i’ve finally read the thread through, composed my reply, logged in, and am ready to throw in my two cents, it’s up to umpty-jillion — most of which have already made all my points for me. oh, what the hell ever, here goes anyway…

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    you don’t seem to know much about video games.

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting

    and you’re decades behind the times, too.

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    um, hello? actually, FPS games and 3D-ish MMOs are infamous for spending thousands of man-hours and thousands of dollars’ worth of your computer hardware specifically to make stuff like in-game lakes and forests and dynamic lighting and shadows prettier and/or more realistic. just so that the players can appreciate those visuals.

    If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime.

    yeah. that’d be like taking a video camera to the Detroit Institute of Arts, taping hours of footage all of other visitors looking at the exhibits, and wondering why it came out so boring — clearly there can’t be anything of real interest or artistic value in there. seriously, PZ, you don’t always have to hit the point perfectly, but could you at least recognize when you’re missing it by miles?

  261. #262 eeanm
    April 22, 2010

    Sorry, but I cannot hold to this. It is perfectly possible to form an opinion of a game without playing it. I do it all the time in my line of work, as do many of my fellow game developers.

    Heh, Ebert certainly agrees with you. He complained that Braid violated the “no-takies-backies” rule and moved on. Anyone who has played Braid to the end would see that its much more complex then that. The last level even has a surprise ending that makes you rethink the entire game and the “save the princess” ideal in general.

  262. #263 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    No offense but you sound like a creationist talking about evolution speaking from an obvious position of ignorance.

    *sigh*

    Can we stop with this? Please? It’s a really bad analogy on about 100 different levels. Enough.

    PZ holding an opinion that gaming is not art, when art is a subjective matter, is not remotelyequivalent to a denying evidence based, falsifiable reality. And such an analogy is only even used because of the perceived annoyance it would cause the recipient.

    And for fuck’s sake if I hear it again I’m libel to starfart all over this place.

  263. #264 craig.mcgillivary
    April 22, 2010

    Here is a link to a philosophy paper on this subject. I think it makes the case fairly clearly.
    http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=299

  264. #265 valine25
    April 22, 2010

    A video game is experiencing graphic arts and sometimes even literary art.

    NO. NO. NO.

    A videogame is graphic art, combined with music and literary arts. Playing it is not. But by this stupid technicality, books aren’t art simply because reading them isn’t art. Epic fail.

  265. #266 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    @ Caine #248

    Your stupidity blinds me from here.

    By your flawed and irreparable logic, having minor experience in a field entitles one’s opinion to have as much weight as the person who has major experience.

    Hey I know, by your logic, I’m going to start posting about biology and quantum mechanics! After all, I’ve taken basic classes in college and I’ve seen documentaries.

    GTFO

  266. #267 Pyre Spirit
    April 22, 2010

    I have to disagree with you on this point, but I think it’s a case of lack of complete definitions. Not all games are art; in fact, most never even try to be anything other than pure entertainment. The gap in reasoning comes from an assumption that because not all are, none can be.

    The comment that ‘No team sits down to script out a video game . . .’ and it’s follow up is actually not entirely true. There is a small group of developers who actively attempt to come up with games which do indeed attempt to represent idea and emotion, to communicate something fundamental about whatever it is the particular artist is feeling the need to communicate about.

    Now; I fully agree you won’t find art in mass-market gaming industry. But that’s like saying that there’s no inherent artistic quality in painting when the only examined subset of painting is of the wallpaper industry.

    There have been a few examples given earlier in the responses, but I’d like to throw in one of my personal favourites of artistic quality in a game.
    http://themarionette.game-host.org/
    It’s a freeware point-and-click adventure game in the style of the all but extinct genre from the 80s with a few hours of gameplay and one of the most intensely moving experiences I’ve had with a game.

    I would also disagree with your argument that games fail as art due to being boring to watch others playing. I’d consider it boring to listen to others describe verbally a painting, rather than visit the gallery and see it for myself. Art only succeeds when it is experienced in the intended manner. The intended manner of gaming is to be the one sitting down to play them. To dismiss something based on the criteria that it doesn’t hold interest when it’s experienced in a manner contrary to its intended nature is an error. Paintings need to be seen, poems need to be heard, stories need to be read; and games should be given the same treatment of being experienced in the manner for which they are created.

  267. #268 stand.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    Don’t people know that artists aren’t supposed to care whether or not what they do is considered art?

  268. #269 steven.hamblin
    April 22, 2010

    My wife holds a degree in Fine Art. One of the visiting artists while she was obtaining said degree was an individual who nailed dead rabbits to a wall, and that was high art. Another dropped birds (I believe that they were dead as well) off a roof for their art. One of her cohort’s final projects was a piece of wood, leaning against a wall.

    My wife nearly failed to get her degree because she liked to paint things that looked like things. She was even more reviled because she liked things that were – gasp – pretty, and thought that the old Renaissance masters were actually pretty good.

    But video games aren’t art? Huh. Pretty difficult to join the club, it seems.

  269. #270 William
    April 22, 2010

    Sorry, but I cannot hold to this. It is perfectly possible to form an opinion of a game without playing it.

    This is the equivalent of judging a piece of music by looking at the sheet music, but not hearing it. Sure, you can pick up some of its concepts, but it’s written for instrument(s) for a reason. Likewise, video games are meant to be played.

  270. #271 Steven Mading
    April 22, 2010

    @PZ:

    No. And I think that the worlds and images of Halo and Myst and many of the other games mentioned here are examples of art. But the process of going in and exploring art is not art. If it were, then going to a museum would be art.

    Let’s go with your art museum analogy further, there PZ, to show why you’re getting such argument here.

    Even if the user of the the museum (the person going there to look at things) is not doing art, that does not mean the museum itself can’t be art. Most art museums I’ve seen have been very carefully designed to themselves be works of art for the sake of containing other art and presenting it pleasingly. Do you think the Guggenheim is not art? Do you think the Louvre is not art?

    When you ask the question “is it art”, what is the “it” in question?

    “it” = the game.
    “it” = the activity of sitting on the couch playing the game.

    These are not the same thing. At all. And yet your argument seems to center around conflating the two. Saying “the game isn’t art because the activity of playing it isn’t art” seems to be what you’re saying, as far as I can tell, and that’s bollocks. That would be like saying, “this painting isn’t art because the act of looking at it isn’t art”.

  271. #272 Knockgoats
    April 22, 2010

    *Sigh*

    I’m afraid this thread will give new ammunition to those who say Pharyngula is simply an echo chamber for PZ! Look how one acolyte after another repeats the hallmark phrases for which this blog is known: “How right you are, PZ!”, “What profound wisdom, O great leader!”, etc., etc.

  272. #273 za7ch84
    April 22, 2010

    I think this is the first time you’ve ever been dead wrong PZ…

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    Sure they do. There are countless games out there (console or computer) that the overall game-play is completely secondary to the design and tones the game puts the player into.

    An easy example:

    I watch horror movies so often and am complete numbed by them. No matter the movie I’m just not going to feel that fear that I could when loading up Silent Hill or DOOM3 in the dark. If that’s not creating a tone I don’t know what is.

    I think your point about rails in games isn’t exactly a strike against games being a form of art. There are movies or paintings out there that definitely suggest specific plots or feelings just as a rail game will lead the player to a specific plot.

    To your point about watching another person playing a video game, I still have feelings conjure up when not playing or even just watching footage of some games -Bioshock will do this, F.E.A.R as well.

    Check out Heavy Rain and tell me games aren’t art.

    /rant.

    PZ, I still love you… you’re just old ;)

  273. #274 monguin
    April 22, 2010

    Way too many comments here, so maybe someone already pointed these out, and it probably won’t be seen anyway. But…

    1. The game “Passage” has more artistic intent behind it than the majority of modern Hollywood movies. There are other similar examples but this one is the best that I know of.

    2a. Would you consider interactive theater to be art? It’s not really popular at all as far as I know – so this is a hypothetical question, and I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you’d say yes, at least moreso than computer games. I think this question illustrates what prevents video games from being art in your mind: it’s the electronic computer, NOT the interactive nature of the game. In the world of 2050, when every American has grown up with ubiquitous electronic technology, nobody will believe that “videogames cannot ever be art”.

    2b. Would you consider photography art? I am under the impression that there is currently some debate on this question, but suffice to say that many do consider photography art. Why is this significant? Photography inherently requires (relatively) modern technology to practice. Do you really think photography was universally accepted as an art form in, say, 1900? I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet there were plenty of people making the same argument about photography then, that you’re making about videogames now.

  274. #275 tjgiannak
    April 22, 2010

    If you’d like to see a game that is art, try Braid (http://braid-game.com/). More than just containing art (the graphics, the music, etc.), the gameplay itself is an artistic expression on the nature of time and the destructiveness and irreversibility of decisions (in particular, the development of nuclear weapons).

    Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators.

    That is a perfect description of the game.

    But no matter how well or how long you play a game, it’s never going to be something you can display in your home as a representation of an experience.

    Why does art have to be something you can hang on the wall? (I’m genuinely asking this!) Isn’t a movement towards interaction part of modern art? I could swear that they’ve had interactive exhibits at MOMA.

    Actually, you’ve given me a great idea: instead of hanging a painting on the wall in my new apartment, I’ll put up a monitor and controls to play Braid and just leave the game running 24×7.

  275. #276 Aaron Golas
    April 22, 2010

    @tas121790 (#257): No, games are not merely “experiencing graphic arts and sometimes even literary art.” We don’t think of movies as merely experiencing acting and costumes, nor do we think of acting as merely experiencing a script. In all these cases, there is a layer of artistry layered upon other artistic elements. There is as much artistry in the control and design of a game as there is in the framing of a shot in a movie or the actor’s nuanced delivery of a line of dialogue.

  276. #277 percyprune
    April 22, 2010

    I wish folks would not try to paint PZ as a games hater using creationist analogies. It is unseemly and unnecessary. Applied arts such as games *do* sit uneasily with definitions of art. If art is defined as an act of expression, where does the player fit into this?

    I’m satisfied that the player is a participant in an expressive work, but I can see where some might not find that easy to grasp. Just see the reaction of some audiences to other forms of performance art or interactive art.

    It’s not the end of the world if PZ misses this…

  277. #278 James Sweet
    April 22, 2010

    Yeesh, PZ. How come everyone who makes this argument doesn’t actually play video games and is over 40?

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    You might be surprised.

    Anyway, your point about it being akin to basketball is true for SOME types of video games, but not all. Really, you have no idea what you are talking about, because you haven’t played any video games that people refer to as art.

    I’m not going to debate this point for point though. Seriously, arguing this topic with a 53-year-old who doesn’t play recent video games is about as interesting as debating the evidence for evolution with a Creationist. You don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

  278. #279 valine25
    April 22, 2010

    How is it that people keep failing at understanding what a video game is?

    A video game seems to be, in the minds of PZ and others here, the *experience* of the game that was made. Then how about this, all Ebert’s favorite movies are defined as the *experience* of watching a movie, and thus not art.

    For fucks sake, a video game isn’t something you do, at least in this context. We are referring to the actual content when we talk about the ‘game’. And that is art.

  279. #280 Samwise
    April 22, 2010

    I think you’re choosing the wrong art forms to compare video games to. Consider the points made as evidence that games != art, and apply them to gourmet cooking. Is it boring to watch someone eat an artistic, masterfully prepared meal? Mostly it makes you want to eat it too, and that’s what I get while watching someone play a great game. Would a picture of the meal, or a video of you eating it, or even a scratch-n-sniff sticker that smelled like it, be enjoyable? (OK, maybe the sticker would be for novelty’s sake.) I don’t think these are reasonable criteria for determining a medium’s offerings as art.

    In both cases, the artists prepare an experience for the audience. They (well, the really good ones) consider each aspect of their presentation to provoke reactions in the audience, full of subtlety and depth. Creating those reactions is the entire point of the enterprise, not a side effect. That some forms of art do not present convenient homomorphisms to forms which spring easily to mind should not deny them their status.

  280. #281 Roestigraben
    April 22, 2010

    I think that the worlds and images of Halo and Myst and many of the other games mentioned here are examples of art. But the process of going in and exploring art is not art.

    I don’t get this distinction. Why do you admit that these games may contain art, but insist that the whole product can never be, just because they require a special, active way to be appreciated? The considerations video game designers make when creating their works are very much similar to those of other, more traditional artists, at least when you consider the many outstanding games that have been mentioned here. They utilize many traditional artistic crafts (storytelling, music, visuals) and combine them with new methods unique to this medium (such as creating challenges and rewards for the player). The end product as a whole is designed to impact you in ways that completely similar to more traditional, accepted forms of art, too: eliciting emotions, satisfying aesthetic wants and getting messages across.

  281. #282 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    tas121790 –

    A video game is experiencing graphic arts and sometimes even literary art.

    What? No.

    Playing a video game is experiencing… the game itself can not have anthropomorphic traits. Why is this still confusing?

    Playing the game may not be art… but the game is every bit the work of art that a movie or a book is, in the exact same way.

  282. #283 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    @ percyprune #251

    Holding an opinion on a game without even playing it?

    Sounds vaguely familiar.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0kdm7fg804&feature=related

    GEE WHIZ

    Why don’t you go work for them.

    People like you are the ones that tried to get Mass Effect shut down. I don’t know what company you dev for, but you are a pale shadow of what a dev should be. As a dev, you of ALL PEOPLE should understand that you need to play a game before making assumptions.

    TLDR: You’re ignorant as hell, and should stay away from the gaming industry.

  283. #284 pixelfish
    April 22, 2010

    Bill@205: …you could hand Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumblin’ through!

    I loves me a good MTA reference.

    ….

    Side note: My boyfriend and I started arguing about this on the way out the door. He too is a game developer, but he thinks PZed and Ebert are right when they say the game isn’t art, but could be composed of art. (I don’t hold with that stance, since the game is experienced as a contiguous piece, and the components which are considered non-art by PZed, The Boy, and Ebert, are still necessary for the full experience. I say they are converted into art…the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.)

  284. #285 AJKamper
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    I’ll ask this again–how is a story-telling video game different from a book? Both are interactive, both are essentially dependent on the reader and how s/he interacts with the text, and both are ways of eliciting emotion and conveying a message that strikes our sense of aesthetics.

    I agree–a lot of people in this thread are saying, “X Game is so awesome, it just has to be art!” And that’s of course not quite right. But what I think a lot of people are trying to communicate is that their aesthetic experience of playing certain games is very much similar to the way in which they experience art. That’s not determinative: after all, people also have that reaction when appreciate the natural world. Nonetheless, it’s a datum you need to confront when testing your definition of art for consistency.

  285. #286 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    I took a shit this morning, it was art.
    -tas121790

    Proud of it, huh. I bet you stared at it for hours, too, didn’t you?

    How in the world does spouting off such bullshit help Poopyhead’s inane position that videogames are not art?

  286. #287 Personal SinR
    April 22, 2010

    Like Celtic said much earlier, define Art and then we can talk.

    In this day and age art is anything we have an appreciation for on an emotional level. Hell, on any level.

    Are books works of art? I remember some choose your own ending books back in my youth that were great. Do they cease to be art because of an interactive nature?

    Same with movies. I’ve seen a choose your own ending zombie online flick.

    If the argument is that interactive art is not art, well… then you can have your boring old art.

    But yea, if you are just expressing your disgust for games because they are not an art you find tasteful, then whatever. If you are trying to form a more useful definition of what art is, then you need to define it before we can discuss the technicalities of it all.

  287. #288 eeanm
    April 22, 2010

    @tas121790 / 257:

    A video game is experiencing graphic arts and sometimes even literary art.

    WHOA

    *thinks*

    WHOA

    You mean the video game experiences its own media, in some sort of meta post-modern way? Or that the video game has achieved consciousness and is enjoying itself as an exercise in onanism?

    Okay I know thats not really what you mean. The leap of semantics needed to understand that sentence correctly kind of shows the issue.

    You could really apply the same logic to movies: they aren’t art, you just go to a movie to appreciate the art of videography, the art of acting and the art of script.

    If you accept that the component parts of a video game are art, then you really have to accept that video games can be art. What you and PZ are trying to do is declare that games aren’t art through semantic trickery.

  288. #289 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Wow, fast topic. Way too late to add much.

    Everyone already covered all the staples. I mean writing wise you’ve got a number of the Final Fantasies, Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill 2. Music wise, you’ve got modern symphonies touring around playing the works of Final Fantasy and the Chrono Trigger composer.

    Sheer experience, I’d be hard pressed to place Heavy Rain outside of what is currently being done in art installations these days.

    And yeah, as many many many people have mentioned before me, the number one examples of videogame as art that I constantly pull out every time this debate flares up: Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, and Okami.

    Primarily the latter because they are so inherent to something we so automatically consider art.

    Ico and SotC creates its evocative vistas by taking the principles of impressionism (the creation of the impression of motion in still paintings) and applying them to actually moving objects. The effect is not only artistically impressive, but a genuine evolution in the potential of art, the creation of a whole new way to present an existing genre to form something rather novel and brilliant just by raw artistry.

    If an artist was to do what was done in Ico or SotC and simply play it as a movie or as a screen in an installation, it would be considered one of the most groundbreaking artistic statements of this generation.

    They then placed it in a unique narrative art form completely deconstructing the nature of communication, story-telling, and the very idea of heroism, villainy, and the narrow-focus of gaming achievement really makes it more unique not less.

    Overall, I’ve seen some transcendent works of fiction, art, theatre, film, etc… but there aren’t many that were more powerful an artistic statement as those games.

    Okami is also worth mentioning for doing the same with the more regional art styles of Japan, literally tackling the mythological tale of world building by building the world through the painting styles of japanese watercolor, literally painting your attacks and interactions with the world.

    If you were to present it as an artistic thesis or an installation, again, it would be revered as ground-breaking and a powerfully modern take on the role of the artist in multiple time periods and an entire culture.

    And I believe even The Path was noted earlier, which again, as an installation would be revered owing to its incredibly subtle story on either the path to adulthood or the dangers of growing up (depending on how you interpret the scenes). Again, innovation above and beyond and worthy of a museum installation piece.

    The debate always rages and I know I’m not really adding something, but I don’t think it’s just that it involves a lot of artistic personalities. Many video games fit even the narrow form of art, because once you have symphony quality composers combining with very talented writers, gallery quality artists (a number of video game artists have gotten their concept art in galleries and won art-world artistic awards for it), then the potential to create art is certainly equal to that of any other artistic medium.

    And yeah, when one is older and one’s view of video games are either memories of Pong or half-noticed ads for Halo Bigger Penis, it may seem like it’s all crap, but that’s just Sturgeon’s Law at effect.

    The gems, like all genres, are art and have far exceeded even the furthest goalposts we have set.

    Gallery-standards. Invention of a whole new art form standards. Transcendence standards.

    Art standards.

  289. #290 MasterDarksol
    April 22, 2010

    I am not arguing against the idea that these games can contain art … But is the game art? Not the packaging, not the ambience, not the displays, but the game itself.

    What? That’s an odd and nit-picking stance to take.

    Besides, the game itself is merely adding the element of interaction to a collection of art. The effect only enhances the experience, and the whole would be diminished without it. How can it not be included?

    It sounds like you are trying to dismiss movies because the sound system itself is not art.

  290. #291 tas121790
    April 22, 2010

    “Yeesh, PZ. How come everyone who makes this argument doesn’t actually play video games and is over 40?”

    Yo, i play video games and im 19 also the argument that “you’re old you dont get it” is well old.

  291. #292 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    I think this is the first time you’ve ever been dead wrong PZ…

    It makes me sad every time I see this. PZ has been objectively wrong before, multiple times (generally when he judges a situation too quickly, which is a danger with the blogging gig). It happens to all of us. But the one time PZ expresses a subjective agreement people disagree with, out comes the “I think this is the first time you’ve been wrong”. /sigh

    +1 for “you’re conflating ‘video games are not art’ with ‘playing video games is not art'” (and even the latter, some people/groups (e.g. Let’s Play) might disagree with). It’s quite silly. As has been said, by PZ’s argument books are not art because reading them is not art. Or paintings are not art, because looking at them is not art.

  292. #293 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    No, it simply means that using the argument “children can pick out some symbolism” isn’t valid as criticism of the idea that art needs to be defined.

    You said:

    Without a definition of what art is, there’s no way to start the discussion of what any particular piece of art means or what the artist is trying to say.

    So I brought up the fact that children can understand some literature, if heavy-handed — discussing what the writing means to the author and to them — without having been given a definition of art.

    If they can do this, then a definition of art is not necessary to do this. How is this not valid as criticism of the idea that art needs to be defined?

    Because without a definition of art, we don’t know what to talk about in the first place. The definition gives us a field of potential discussion. Without any definition, everything is or can be art and discussion becomes so insignificant in the great scheme of things as to be pointless. With a definition, we can say “This book/movie/game/painting is art, this chair/pillow/backpack/clock is not art. Let’s talk about [work of art] and not [random item].”

    Is this really a problem? It seems that the discussion is already going to be constrained by the limits of human interest. Most people don’t want to talk about the backpack. More people are going to be interested in the book, because the book was crafted specifically to interest humans.

    If this is the problem that a definition of art is meant to solve, then I don’t agree that there is a problem.

  293. #294 Trug
    April 22, 2010

    As has been said before, the entire argument depends on what one’s definition of “art” is. If that definition specifically excludes games of any sort as art, then games are not now and never will be art. You can slap in all the beautiful images and soundtracks you want, write an incredibly rich storyline and it STILL won’t be art. I *think* that is the position Ebert is working from, but I can’t speak for wretched old warlocks. :)

    As for me, I agree with the majority of the posters here. If a presentation is able to stir some emotion in me, then it has suceeded as art. Video games are certainly able to do that, and have been for some time. Of course, your (artwork) mileage may vary.

  294. #295 jafafahots
    April 22, 2010

    Paintings are art, literature is art, cinema is art, music is art, video games are art, the shape of a coke bottle is art. Flower arranging. The design of a street lamp. A four year old’s crayon scribblings are art.

    It’s all art. Some art may be more inventive, more emotive, more groundbreaking, may require more talent than other art – some artists are more gifted than others, but it’s all art.

    Art is wonderful and special, but it’s not at all rare. It’s everywhere, it’s all around us, we create it every day, and virtually every human being has created a work of art, a scribble of some sort that was done as a form of expression.

    It may just be art and not be “Art,” but notwithstanding the fact that yes, some art has more cultural impact and value than other art, “Art,” as they mean it, is bullshit. It’s all art.

    I compose piano pieces, or at least try to. They are works of art. But I would never call them “Art.” I post them on my blog and some people (pretty much exclusively relatives with a bias) tell me they’re nice. Everyone else ignores them. But I’d dare say that even as modest as they are, it’s possible Ebert would call them art while claiming video games aren’t.

    But video games reach a large audience and consequently move people emotionally, have a cultural impact, have their tunes become earworms in millions of heads, have their images reproduced on t-shirts and facebook avatars, etc.

    Meanwhile my art won’t garner a single comment on my blog, barely generates a single listen even from those I personally connect with.

    By THAT measure, video games are more art than my music. But that measure is also wrong, A Buddist sand painting completed in solitude and then blown away and never seen by anyone is art.

    It’s all art. Video games are art, and say that even though I don’t even like video games anymore.

    Some forms of art enthusiasts simply have a more effective form of snobbery than others do.

  295. #296 Abstruseoddity
    April 22, 2010

    Video games aren’t art because of an archaic definition, got it.

    Also, bloggers aren’t journalists and marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman, right?

  296. #297 James Sweet
    April 22, 2010

    Rule of thumb: If, in regards to any media, whether it be some new kind of music, or postmodern paintings, or performance art, etc., if you find yourself saying, “That’s not art!” — then you are FUCKING OLD!

    :p

  297. #298 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    It’s just so stupid.

    PZ says he’s a wretched old warlock, which is akin to saying he’s not experienced in this medium whatsoever.

    Then he makes the claim that games are not art.

    I recently had an argument with a person that said, “Oh I’m no biologist, but I know that evolution isn’t real.”

    PZ you make good points more often than not, but here you just need to lay down the shield. You’re absolutely dead wrong, you’re on the side of the ignorant fool making claims for once. Get off that side of the fence, this isn’t an argument you’re going to win.

  298. #299 Zabinatrix
    April 22, 2010

    PZ said:

    I am not arguing against the idea that these games can contain art — there was visually fascinating stuff flying by my face all the time, and I agree that digital art and animation are genuinely art.

    I almost agreed with this when I read it, but the more I think about it the less I agree.

    It is true that most video games certainly contain art. In most good games there is a very compelling soundtrack of beautifully composed music, and music is definitely art. In most games that I like there is a massive amount of storytelling and dialog in text or audio – the writing of which is very much akin to writing a screenplay, which I would consider art.

    The voice acting is a form of acting, which I also think is art. Most modern games contain impressive visuals, a form of graphic art. The interactive element might also be a form of art, depending on how you define things.

    So at first I thought, yes, maybe that’s right – maybe it’s the parts (the music, visuals, writing, et cetera) that are art – in the same way that movies and books are art – but the game as a whole is just a collection of those things.

    But no. A game – at least a good game – is not just sound and visuals and text and interactivity stacked on top of each other. The art is in making it all work together as a whole.

    The music can’t just be beautiful on its own – it must help enhance the experience and the narrative. The visuals must fit the story. The controls must be so sublimely fitted into it all that you forget that you are playing and get totally immersed in the entire experience that the sound, visuals and writing create.

    Not all games manage to put all the pieces together well enough for that to happen. But it is most definitely an art to actually combine them in a good and meaningful way. I would argue that the games that manage it aren’t just art, they are good art (of course that is even more subjective, but it’s my opinion on the matter).

    Just because the individual pieces are types of art doesn’t make it less of an artform to put them all together in a good, compelling way.

  299. #300 percyprune
    April 22, 2010

    People like you are the ones that tried to get Mass Effect shut down. I don’t know what company you dev for, but you are a pale shadow of what a dev should be. As a dev, you of ALL PEOPLE should understand that you need to play a game before making assumptions.

    Sorry, no. As a dev I have a lot of experience at gleaning information from a title. I don’t need to play a game end to end to form a view on it. And sometimes it is not necessary to play a game at all to learn what I need.

    If that makes me a pale shadow of your ideal dev, I shall live with that. I sleep sound at nights.

  300. #301 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Strange Gods, I’m going to try to answer your question a little.

    Art is anything people make. How much it’s worth and how important it is becomes a secondary question.

    Next, when people get involved in a debate about what should and shouldn’t be considered art I tend to think they are really arguing about what should and shouldn’t be valued as a part of cultural expression.

    In our case, I truly don’t think you can get around accepting video games as a part of our artistic creation. People get involved in the debate because they see social value to video games which the arguments of “not-art” dismiss.

    Just my .02

    PZ:

    That does not imply that I think basketball should be forbidden or that there is no impressive level of skill involved.

    But basketball is always basketball. This is a bad analogy. Players don’t invent the game, you are right. But people do invent the game, create every part of it, draw the characters, figure out how the plot might make people relate to certain objects when they make video games. People compose the music, people make sculptures and models to figure out how to render each and ever little surface so that people can have a singular visual, auditory, and participatory experience with that specific environment.

    If, in order to play basketball, at every turn the entire game had to be invented from scratch, the building built, the characters written and drawn, and the whole thing staged so as to draw in the crowd and get them to connect to the narrative then you might have an analogy with that. But then, at that point, basketball would have become art.

  301. #302 TB Tabby
    April 22, 2010

    There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said…except this:

    According to your logic…Bio-Dome is more qualified to me art than Heavy Rain.

    Think about that.

  302. #303 MasterDarksol
    April 22, 2010

    #271 brings up an excellent point:

    When you ask the question “is it art”, what is the “it” in question?

    “it” = the game.
    “it” = the activity of sitting on the couch playing the game.

    These are not the same thing. At all. And yet your argument seems to center around conflating the two. Saying “the game isn’t art because the activity of playing it isn’t art” seems to be what you’re saying, as far as I can tell, and that’s bollocks. That would be like saying, “this painting isn’t art because the act of looking at it isn’t art”.

  303. #304 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    Those who are talking about checking out old games for nostalgia can try DOSbox to make them work.

  304. #305 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    it is not necessary to play a game at all to learn what I need.

    Unless it’s learning what the title of the game is or what it’s kind of about, you are an idiot.

  305. #306 mattand08
    April 22, 2010

    But the process of going in and exploring art is not art. If it were, then going to a museum would be art.

    Why can’t a videogame be considered interactive art?

  306. #307 James Sweet
    April 22, 2010

    bloggers aren’t journalists and marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman, right?

    Hmmm, it also turns out those are questions which, statistically speaking, the over-50 demographic are far more likely to be fucking WRONG about.

    Maybe we’re onto something here.

  307. #308 William
    April 22, 2010

    What experience in what field is required? PZ has stated he’s gamed; he’s certainly entitled to an opinion, just as you are. When his definition of a video game contains several inaccurate statements and is ultimately a caricature… his experience is very unlikely “enough”, whatever that may be.

  308. #309 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    I’m afraid that debasing the term “art” so that everything is art isn’t a smart strategy.

    Neither is reviling my gaming experience. I’ve never gone big-game hunting and never relied on bison for survival, but Ebert’s illustrations of cave art are still recognizably art. The days when I put in a fair amount of time playing computer games are long gone, and I was playing in the 70s and 80s, but that’s irrelevant to the argument. I can look at my kids’ scrawls from when they were young, and see that they are at least attempts at creating art — they are art — they’re just not great art. When playing games, I do not fool myself into thinking that my efforts are exercises in art appreciation, or creating art, they are playing games. These are different categories.

    I’ll also mention that not playing many games gives me a better impression of them. Halo is absolutely gorgeous, but when you get right down to playing it, it is a twitch game (a very good twitch game, I’m not denigrating it — it is what it is). It is a real experience, too, with some serious tension and thrills, and it generates some real sense of wonder in some of the scenarios. All of you can take your favorite moments from your favorite game and make a case that that is a moment of art, and I’m not arguing against that at all. But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No. Those are scenes of art, but the game doesn’t hang together as a work of art. It hangs together as a game.

  309. #310 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    But is the game art? Not the packaging, not the ambience, not the displays, but the game itself.
    -Poopyhead #219

    Yes, the videogame in total is art. Why are you acting so confused over this simple issue? The game, the thing you plop into your gaming console and play or watch on a screen, is art.

    It is beautiful, exciting, mysterious, wondrous, enthralling, maddening, etc. It brings people who admire it closer. People react to it like they react to art. The story unfolds in videogames with storylines the same way the story unfolds in a book or on the big screen. Videogames that have characters, like those in a movie or a book or a painting, you can form attachment to them. The best videogames surpass the creator’s intentions and take on a life of their own, just like good art.

    It makes no more sense to pick apart a videogame and declare it not art than it makes to pick apart a book from its binding, the type of paper used, its cover image, the font and spacing, and declare that that thing you are holding in your hand is not art. Yes, it is art. Videogames are art.

  310. #311 mattand08
    April 22, 2010

    @TB Tabby #302

    According to your logic…Bio-Dome is more qualified to me art than Heavy Rain.

    Think about that.

    I did. My head exploded.

  311. #312 slayersaves89
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:
    I’m fairly sure these points have been made but I would like to see you respond to them directly. Sorry if I don’t make the points as well as others have.

    “Art is a kind of distillation and representation of human experience, filtered through the minds of its creators. A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that.”

    This is just incorrect. As an example, games like Mass Effect allow you to make a choice, but you do not control the consequences of that choice. It is in allowing you to make a choice, but then forcing you to live with the consequences of your choice, that Bioware allows the player to see through their eyes. Plenty of games do exactly this (fallout, dragon age, KOTOR, and fable to name a few.

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    Half Life 2 did this to great effect. Bioshock one and two did it as well. The ocean closing in on the player was a beautiful representation of the collapse of the city and its insane libertarian hubris.

    “It’s all about balance and game play and keeping the action going and providing a means to win or lose, and most of all, it’s about giving the player control in the game environment.”

    This is like saying that painting is all about not spilling paint all over your canvas, or movies are all about turning your camera on before you shoot a scene. These are necessary but nowhere near sufficient conditions for a truly great game.

    “No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.”

    Well considering Modern Warfare 2 made more than any other entertainment release in human history I would tend to disagree with this as well. Apparently no-one spent 401 million dollars in one day. In fact a large percentage of games are precisely this. If you had played even a few modern games and payed any small bit of attention then you would know this.

  312. #313 residualecho
    April 22, 2010

    I like Roger Ebert, but not as much as Frank Zappa. Here are three things he’s said about composition and art and music, that are applicable to the rather silly proposition that video games can’t be art:

    Composition is a process of organization, very much like architecture. As long as you can conceptualize what that organizational process is, you can be a ‘composer’ — in any medium you want. You can be a ‘video composer,’ a ‘film composer,’ a ‘choreography composer,’ a ‘social engineering composer’ — whatever. Just give me some stuff, and I’ll organize it for you. That’s what I do. Project/Object is a term I have used to describe the overall concept of my work in various mediums. Each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no ‘technical name.’ Think of the connecting material in the Project/Object this way: A novelist invents a character. If the character is a good one, he takes on a life of his own. Why should he get to go to only one party? He could pop up anytime in a future novel. Or: Rembrandt got his ‘look’ by mixing just a little brown into every other color — he didn’t do ‘red’ unless it had brown in it. The brown itself wasn’t especially fascinating, but the result of its obsessive inclusion was that ‘look.’ In the case of the Project/Object, you may find a little poodle over here, a little blow job over there, etc., etc. I am not obsessed by poodles or blow jobs, however; these words (and others of equal insignificance), along with pictorial images and melodic themes, recur throughout the albums, interviews, films, videos (and this book) for no other reason than to unify the ‘collection.’

    The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively — because, without this humble appliance, you can’t know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a ‘box’ around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall? If John Cage, for instance, says, “I’m putting a contact microphone on my throat, and I’m going to drink carrot juice, and that’s my composition,” then his gurgling qualifies as his composition because he put a frame around it and said so. “Take it or leave it, I now will this to be music.” After that it’s a matter of taste. Without the frame-as-announced, it’s a guy swallowing carrot juice.

    So, if music is the best, what is music? Anything can be music, but it doesn’t become music until someone wills it to be music, and the audience listening to it decides to perceive it as music. Most people can’t deal with that abstraction — or don’t want to. They say: “Gimme the tune. Do I like this tune? Does it sound like another tune that I like? The more familiar it is, the better I like it. Hear those three notes there? Those are the three notes I can sing along with. I like those notes very, very much. Give me a beat. Not a fancy one. Give me a GOOD BEAT — something I can dance to. It has to go boom-bap, boom-boom-BAP. If it doesn’t, I will hate it very, very much. Also, I want it right away — and then, write me some more songs like that — over and over and over again, because I’m really into music.”

  313. #314 Escherichia coli
    April 22, 2010

    Hmmm… Perhaps we can start a fund to get PZ some interesting games. Braid, I think, is particularly well-suited as an example, with incredible artwork and a style of gameplay that appeals to the intellect.

  314. #315 Steven Mading
    April 22, 2010

    Posted by: Personal SinR | April 22, 2010 1:50 PM
    Like Celtic said much earlier, define Art and then we can talk.

    I don’t think the problem is over PZ’s definition of “art”.

    I think it’s over his definition of “video game”. Apparently he thinks its a word that describes the final output of the people playing the game (that output being “memories of having spent the afternoon on the couch using the controller and watching the screen and being entertained). I think the rest of us view it as a word that describes the output of the people MAKING the game. (that output being “a bunch of software in the medium of 1’s and 0’s that tells your Xbox what to do and causes it to make all that fun stuff happen that the people on the couch are watching and interacting with.”)

    He’s talking about whether the users of the game are making art, and we’re talking about whether the makers of it are making art.

  315. #316 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    My point about asking for a definition of “art” waaaaaay up at #12 was not to actually get a definition of art, but more to point out the subjective nature of the word…

    And I did so ultimately to make the point that Ebert’s opinion on this matter is just that: opinion. He can’t speak any more authoritatively on what is or isn’t art any more than any person who has endeavored to to so over the past 3000+ years.

    I’m not going to treat Ebert and PZ as Philistines, here… but I would argue that they hold vastly different definitions of “art” than I do, and if they looked at the definition of “art” they are trying to hold games to, they might find it contradicts much of what they would consider “art” in other mediums.

    And I’m content to leave it at that.

  316. #317 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    Next, when people get involved in a debate about what should and shouldn’t be considered art I tend to think they are really arguing about what should and shouldn’t be valued as a part of cultural expression.

    That’s certainly the feeling I get in most of these sorts of discussions, Ol’Greg. (Actually I was initially going to say something like this here before I just decided to ask.)

    But PZ and tas121790 insist that’s not what they’re doing. I’m just getting more confused.

    Art qua art is one of those things filed in my head as “still don’t get it; probably will never get it.”

  317. #318 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    It’s also worth very deliberately noting that the art world, that arena of visual art where few dare question the artistic nature of the medium is well…not static.

    The big thing these days are not sculptures or paintings or beautiful weavings, though they are certainly here in abundance, but walk around your average modern art museum doing a “new artist exhibition” and a lot of what you see is quite deliberately interactive.

    Performance art pieces, installations, pieces that ask you to climb them, ride them, look a thousand different ways with them, multimedia pieces that have audio, video, etc that often interact with you or consider the viewer part of the conceptual, even pick them up and handle them.

    The art world as currently existing has been moving away from the notion of art as static, lifeless, something to be viewed, separated from the viewer, for a good couple of decades now and modern installations are well, installations, multimedia, multigenre, performance art, found art, interactive art, etc…

    So, the rather hasty standards to say that video games need to be bottled away and hidden in a pocket of not art are not supported by what the arts community, arts professor, arts curators, art museums are considering art these days.

    By the raw standards of installation pieces, the conceptualization of art according to art professors I have known, I cannot see how certain complete works have failed to be pieces of art.

    Heck, some of them have been so much an artistic statement that they prompted violent rebuke from the fan communities. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a much stronger full artistic statement than Metal Gear Solid though I would argue the first as a better game and better story. It deliberately investigated whole new spaces mixing the boundary between fiction and reality and the medium of playing games and the morality of what the player themselves were doing and the absurdity of it in ways I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any medium (it out-Paprikaed Paprika).

    As an artistic statement, the whole game does this in several layers, deliberately using fan expectations to make the statements it wants and rather thoroughly. Overall, postmodern video gaming as I haven’t often seen again.

    Basically, what some may claim to not be able to see because of Sturgeon’s Law (95% of everything is crap) is still there by the very standards of the medium most considered art and most considered experts on what makes something art.

    There are transcendent works, artistic statement works and many many works who have no loftier goals than to copy and entertain the dumbest among us.

    Like every other medium. The Transformers movie didn’t cancel out Jacob’s Ladder. The Oprah Book Club books don’t cancel out the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Chicken Soup for the Soul doesn’t erase Ginsberg. A kid’s doodle on the fridge doesn’t erase Monet. Fergie doesn’t erase Mozart. And Halo Bigger Penis: Space Marines in Generic Armor shooting things don’t cancel out Shadow of the Colossus.

    Because that’s how art works.

  318. #319 JJ
    April 22, 2010

    Video games are art. Epic video games have intricate storylines in created worlds with complex characters who have backgrounds. I see this as akin to the writing of Tolkien. The replication of cars racing in Gran Tourismo are striking: the reflection on the chrome, the shadows the car casts, and the scenery in which they drive moving and changing in time. The aspects of design in creating how a spaceship will look like. These are all highly creative elements we see in conventional art.

  319. #320 valine25
    April 22, 2010

    Generation 1: “Paintings are the pinnacle of art. Unfortunately, even the commoners can afford the mass produced garbage these days. Therefore, it is no longer a status symbol, and thus not art. They don’t even have the original pieces!”

    Generation 2: “Sure, everyone knows that art is the prints and such that you put on your wall, but what is with these upstarts talking about pictures that move? As if anything could be more distasteful! Moving pictures just can’t communicate the same gravitas and power that a painting, or a book can.”

    Generation 3: “Holy shit, pictures that move and talk?! Film has been ruined!”

    Generation 4: “These kids think that by putting you in the lead role of the story*, letting you experience it firsthand, and influence everything that happens, a new form of art is being made? A gimmick!”

    Generation 5: “Direct mental implants? Don’t get me started! It seems so real, that it can’t be art, now. Art mimics reality, it doesn’t become reality!”

    *(something that storytelling usually tries to simulate, and video games have now damn near mastered, incidentally)

  320. #321 percyprune
    April 22, 2010

    Unless it’s learning what the title of the game is or what it’s kind of about, you are an idiot.

    I probably am an idiot. Though strangely enough one who makes a comfortable living designing games. Funny that.

  321. #322 William
    April 22, 2010

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No.

    YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!! Stop making false assertions based on your own perceptions. Just off the the top of my head, games many people play simply for the “atmosphere” – Metal Gear Solid series, Deus Ex, Clive Barker’s Undying, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Vampire The Masquerade – Bloodlines, System Shock 2, Bioshock, Half Life series, Xenogears, Valkyrie Profile, Parasite Eve, Terranigma, the Prince of Persia series, The Longest Journey series, … well, I could go on. Again, you’re just flatly wrong in your assertion.

  322. #323 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    Late to the thread. Oh well… Somewhere in the previous 280+ comments I am sure this has been presented repeatedly.

    Of course it’s art! There is no way it cannot be art. Art is whatever is intentionally produced, whatever is made. Think artifact, artificial. Perhaps Ebert is overstepping his area of expertise; I didn’t have time to read his original analysis. However we are dealing with the person who gave us “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and “Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Vixens” so there has to be a certain degree of irony at hand. Were those movies art? Sure! Not that I desire ever to see them again; they weren’t appealing to me; I didn’t like them. Not liking something does not give one cachet for opining that it is not art. You might say it isn’t good art (whatever that might be) but the moment you head down that road you move away from art and into aesthetics, at which time, by definition, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (unless of course that eye is irreducibly complex…)

    A lot of people don’t like Shakespeare, or ballet, or Anton Bruckner, or 19th century Academic painting. I doubt that there is anything that is universally appreciated. Liking something doesn’t make it art; disliking it doesn’t erase its being art.

  323. #324 mattand08
    April 22, 2010

    I’ll also mention that not playing many games gives me a better impression of them.

    Why should one not read that as “I know little of this subject so therefore I’m qualified to speak about it”?

  324. #325 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo Alien because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds Nostromo landing on the planet? No. Those are scenes of art, but the game film doesn’t hang together as a work of art. It hangs together as a game film.

    Again, by your definition, films are not art. If you agree then films are not art, then you are being consistent and all we can say is that we have different definitions of art. However, if you consider films to be art but deny that games are art, then you are being stubborn.

  325. #326 RamblinDude
    April 22, 2010

    PZ says: But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No.

    So by this logic, if one does buy a game for the sole reason that it contains a wonderfully creepy moment, and an awesome sight of amazing artwork?then it would be a work of art? This is exactly what many players do. It?s not just about gameplay and twitching.

  326. #327 llewelly
    April 22, 2010

    Movies are not art. They often contain art – superb photography, amazing acting, good music, and a skillfully written screenplay. But though each and every individual frame is art, the movie itself is not art.

  327. #328 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    I’m afraid that debasing the term “art” so that everything is art isn’t a smart strategy.

    Come on, PZ… be fair. Making this statement and claiming that’s what’s being done is missing the point, totally.

    The point being made would ask you to answer the following question: How is a game not art, while a book is, by any criteria you’ve set forth in your arguments thus far?

    The rest of your post is a fair criticism of those who attack you for expressing an opinion without being a “gamer”… it’s a weak argument.

    But I’d still like to hear your response to my question.

  328. #329 XymbioniC
    April 22, 2010

    I would comment but i’m busy playing Left 4 Dead and I agree with #152 if a toilet can be art then anything can.

  329. #330 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    I’m afraid that debasing the term “art” so that everything is art isn’t a smart strategy.

    Yet you still haven’t given us a definition to work with that includes movies/paintings/sculpture/performance art that excludes video games as a medium. And care to address RPGs instead of FPSs? When you get out of “twitch” gameplay, there are plenty of games that anyone with a pulse can play to completion where the major focus is on story and world development.

  330. #331 Nichodeemous
    April 22, 2010

    A video game isn’t just a collection of unrelated artwork like you’d find in a museum, it’s a deliberate combination of materials, creative elements, concepts and decisions assembled into a single work meant to engage a person’s mind, draw their attention in and elicit an emotional response. That is art, in a nutshell. It’s what I do every day with my own artwork, whether for my work or for pleasure, or at least what I try to do most of the time.

    I think the problem with this conflict is that the two sides have different definitions of what art is, and what qualifies as an artistic experience. It seems like the younger the person, the more open their idea of what art is, or what it can be.

    Video games are an evolution of art, incorporating elements from visual, auditory and written art into a more complex form. Trying to define that away misses the point. Art is where you find it.

  331. #332 https://me.yahoo.com/a/y5rK.JAbpJdGyMifllFKRHIHu1M-#c86a3
    April 22, 2010

    I find it very interesting that nobody on this thread has yet mentioned that Hideo Kojima, creator and director of one of the most successful and critically acclaimed video game series of all time [Metal Gear Solid] has said outright that he does not believe video games to be art.

  332. #333 William
    April 22, 2010

    Also, the Halo series is not a particularly “high-brow” video game – if that is your representative of modern video games, your position may be a bit more understandable.

  333. #334 Dbuntu
    April 22, 2010

    @PZ the fact that I don’t want to watch you play a video game doesn’t negate the art of the game. That you’d even say such a thing shows you’re missing the point of this medium of storytelling. You’re making an attempt to define it in the way you would a film. The innovation of an interactive game is that you are personally involved with the story as opposed to a film where you are just viewing it.

    Let’s not forget that not so long ago movies were scoffed at by art critics too.

  334. #335 rcneufeld
    April 22, 2010

    What could possibly be more artistic than video games?

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    That’s exactly what they do. “No blogger sits down to write a credible and interesting article that will convey information to the reader”.

    Up next – circles are squares, and why water isn’t really wet…

  335. #336 RamblinDude
    April 22, 2010

    I didn?t mean in #326 ??then it would be a work of art?? I meant, ??then it would be art??

  336. #337 William
    April 22, 2010

    Why should one not read that as “I know little of this subject so therefore I’m qualified to speak about it”?

    Correct.

  337. #338 DLC
    April 22, 2010

    Sorry,but I have to disagree with Ebert on this one.
    The only concrete definition I can find for art is that a thing is art if you can get enough people to agree with you that the thing is art. How it was produced or by whom or for what purposes is immaterial. Let me assure you — Warner Bros. did not make Casablanca out of a desire to create art. They made it to put butts in theater seats. That they created one of the best motion pictures of the 20th century is strictly coincidental, and highly subjective.

  338. #339 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    I’ll also mention that not playing many games gives me a better impression of them.

    Tell me someone else sees the irony of PZ saying this. How many times have you told conservative loons to learn more about evolution before talking about it? How many times have us readers seen you say something opposite to that claim you just made? Slippery slope PZ.

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No.

    Wrong wrong dead damn wrong. Have you heard of Flower? Or audiosurf? My guess is that you haven’t. Just because your children play an FPS (first person shooter, for you warlocks out there) you think that you can make a statement like that? Google those games. Seriously, I can probably bring up a game to fit every single criterion you’ve stated or counter every argument you’ve made.

    Please STOPPPPPPP. You’re making a fool out of yourself here like Ebert. You’re a person of limited experience in this medium making grandiose claims. Not your usual position.

  339. #340 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    In order for something to be art it has to be interactive! Were we as a species to suddenly disappear (something I hear millions of other species rooting for), art would cease to exist. What would the Mona Lisa be to an amoeba?

  340. #341 Steven Mading
    April 22, 2010

    When playing games, I do not fool myself into thinking that my efforts are exercises in art appreciation, or creating art, they are playing games. These are different categories.

    We are perfectly aware that these are different categories. That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you. We’re just saying that the question you’re actually addressing with your argument, which is: “Is it a work of art TO PLAY a video game?”, is a red herring that has nothing to do with the actual question at hand which is “is the video game itself art?”, because making art, and looking at art, are two different categories.

  341. #342 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No. Those are scenes of art, but the game doesn’t hang together as a work of art. It hangs together as a game.

    There’s a simple enough response to this, then.

    If you’ve ever played an RPG with a battle system or controls that were absolute shit which degraded the whole experience, but you kept on playing because the storyline and environment was so engaging and compelling that you could overlook how badly the gameplay sucked, then you were playing art.

  342. #343 valine25
    April 22, 2010

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No.

    Yes. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting beforehand, but that’s the kind of thing gamers everywhere love. Atmosphere, good writing; good voice acting, now that games routinely have voice overs.

    The story in BG2, the pure cinematic beauty of the approach to the citadel in Mass Effect. Or just the strangely lonely world you wander through in Shadow of the Colossus. Ideally, you get many of those moments put together into an interesting game.

    Even if you do just get a few bits of awesome, it’s just the same as a movie. A movie can be mostly dull plot devices to drag things forward, with a few truly beautiful, haunting moments.

    Art.

  343. #344 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Thanks, PZ, for doing the same thing I knew you’d be doing. You’ve managed to skip over an entire thread of gaming recommendations, can’t even be fucked to youtube a single god damn, or check anyone’s youtube links, and declared the whole thing not art based on Halo.

    You know what? I’m one hell of a movie expert, because I watched James Cameron’s Avatar. Therefore, I can confidently say that all movies, ever, are not art, because they’re all just like Avatar: They’re real experiences, too, with some serious tension and thrills, and it generates some real sense of wonder in some of the scenes. All of you can take your favorite moments from your favorite movie, and make a case that that is a moment of art, and I’m not arguing against that at all. But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Avatar because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien forest, or for the awesome site of the dragon flying up into the clouds? No. Those are scenes of art, but the movie doesn’t hang together as a work of art. It hangs together as a movie.

  344. #345 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    Movies are art.

    If you’re arguing that video games are art because they have the same cinematic qualities, then fine — that’s art, too. They’re interactive movies. Animated novels. Whatever. But then what you’re doing is reducing them to a new medium for an old genre, storytelling, which is fine. But storytelling is not the same as gaming!

    It’s self-defeating to simply redefine what you’re experiencing in a game as simply the same old stuff in a shiny new high-tech package. Make a case for the game as art. That’s much, much harder to do.

  345. #346 llewelly
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds?

    If a video game doesn’t give the player a feeling equivalent in value to that, they’ve wasted their time playing it, and they’ve wasted any money they spent on it. If it doesn’t give most players feelings equivalent in value to those feelings, the game developers wasted their time and money developing it.

  346. #347 cameron
    April 22, 2010

    All of you can take your favorite moments from your favorite game and make a case that that is a moment of art, and I’m not arguing against that at all. But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No.

    Again, you’re just plain wrong. Silent Hill 2 is not a game that anyone would play for its gamey elements. The controls are terrible, the puzzles are ridiculous. People play it because of how it makes them feel while they play it, and I submit that it’s a feeling that cannot be replicated in another medium.

    And to say that ‘all the bits that go into a game are art, but the game is not art’ makes no sense at all to me. In a piece of real game art, like Silent Hill 2, the experience of playing the game is what evokes emotions. It can’t be divorced from the components.

  347. #348 Antiochus Epiphanes
    April 22, 2010

    Jeeze. Slow week in science and disbelief, apparently.

  348. #349 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No. Those are scenes of art, but the game doesn’t hang together as a work of art.
    -PZ

    Of course I would buy a game to experience its dark, creepy moments. I love that about some games as much as I love it about sci-fi movies. I’ve turned some videogames on just to hear the music fer Spam’s sake.

    But your saying that those scenes are the only things that are art gave me a flashback to something Chopra said earlier: “In the absence of a conscious entity, the moon remains a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup.” When no one is looking at the Mona Lisa, does it cease being art? I think you need to give on this point and admit that people other than you (and Ebert) appreciate videogames much more than you do.

  349. #350 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Silent Hill 2 is not a game that anyone would play for its gamey elements. The controls are terrible, the puzzles are ridiculous. People play it because of how it makes them feel while they play it, and I submit that it’s a feeling that cannot be replicated in another medium.

    Have to say the same thing about fatal frame. It was a terrible game, as far as playing goes. Pointless except for the creepy feeling and visuals. Like watching a Japanese horror film, and a pretty good one by the genre’s standards.

    Deep? Not so much, but it could actually get disturbing in parts. I don’t know anyone who played it to “win” but rather to see all the weird scenes and get immersed in the creepy plot.

  350. #351 Roestigraben
    April 22, 2010

    But storytelling is not the same as gaming!

    Nor is storytelling the same as reading, listening or watching.

  351. #352 MasterDarksol
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, there are some really good arguments that you should address.

    #271:

    When you ask the question “is it art”, what is the “it” in question?

    “it” = the game.
    “it” = the activity of sitting on the couch playing the game.

    These are not the same thing. At all. And yet your argument seems to center around conflating the two. Saying “the game isn’t art because the activity of playing it isn’t art” seems to be what you’re saying, as far as I can tell, and that’s bollocks. That would be like saying, “this painting isn’t art because the act of looking at it isn’t art”.

    #306:

    Why can’t a videogame be considered interactive art?

    The framework itself that you are referring to as the game itself is a part of the experience. It’s a guided tour that takes you through the story. If storytelling itself can be considered an art, how can this not? The game is just a digital method of storytelling.

  352. #353 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    I will say one thing…

    As a result of this thread I now have a list of like 10 new games I need to go buy.

    Dammit.

  353. #354 Thanny
    April 22, 2010

    I say abstract paintings aren’t art. I abhor them, and get nothing out of them whatsoever. And clearly, anything that doesn’t appeal to me is not art.

    That’s pretty much what Ebert said, and what PZ is disappointingly agreeing with. There is no definition of the word “art” that is both not pathetically pretentious and exclusive of video games.

    Art is any human construct created for non-utilitarian reasons. As such, even though I really do find no value whatsoever in the “oops, I spilled my paint” canvases found in abstract painting, they are still art, because someone created them, and they don’t do anything useful.

    Even that definition can be too restrictive. I’ve seen many things created for a purpose that were works of art for no reason other than how well they did what they do.

    If you doubt games are art, play through BioShock, Braid, and Portal. If you haven’t changed your mind after that, you’re just clinging to a definition of “art” designed to exclude what doesn’t interest you.

  354. #355 bertrand.le.roy.name
    April 22, 2010

    Ah, Flower proves you wrong in an amazing way: everything you say games can’t do, it does, simply and beautifully.
    Flower is a distillation and representation of human experience filtered through the minds of its creators. It represents and conveys ideas and emotions through the skill of the artists and make us see through their eyes. It just does that. The team sat down to script that game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that make the player appreciate the play of wind through the grass and of the sunlight through a tree’s canopy. It’s not about keeping the action going (there isn’t much action, it’s not that sort of game), and it’s not about winning or losing: losing is a meaningless word in that world.
    Flower is a game you can play over and over again and still feel the same emotions as the first time. Every time I show the game to friends, the are fascinated by it and watch the whole thing from start to finish. Of course, it’s better to be the player and be fully immersed in the piece, but watching is a fulfilling experience in itself. A playthrough of Flower is clearly something I would display in my home as a representation of an experience.
    Flower is where games brilliantly succeed as art.
    Games are just a medium, like movies are. You can do many things with it, and art is one of those things. Nobody should argue that all games are art, but nobody should argue that they cannot be. Facts show that to be completely wrong.
    On a side note, you should know that most games actually do put the player on rails and give little freedom of movement away from the script. The skill of the game designer at hiding that and giving the illusion of freedom is essential. Many good games are made this way, so I can’t subscribe to your definition of a good game, which is very limited to a specific genre, sandbox games. But even sandbox games are scripted, it’s just many small scripts instead of a big one.
    I think you’re making the confusion here of believing the creative act in gaming is in the hands of the gamer. It very rarely is.
    I’m afraid you lacked imagination on this one. Try Flower, it’s really cheap, very easy to handle, it will take three hours of your time and will give back a stream of emotions that will follow you for the rest of your life, like good art always does.

  355. #356 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    PZ @309

    I would agree that I dislike Tycho and Gabe’s “everything is art” broadest possible category definition, but I believe there are enough exceptional works (key word being exceptional like all mediums) that would be worthy of being considered art by the lofty high standards of a gallery installation or graduate art conceptual.

    I think arguments on your “out of touchness” isn’t to decry you the person, but rather to note that by being outside the borders of the medium, you are more prone to fall into what prompted Sturgeon’s Law.

    When you were beginning, you saw the art form at its nascent entry (and if you had been alive when cave paintings were being drawn, you wouldn’t have considered them art, because they were just some guy drawing what awesome thing he did or what he wanted the tribe to do, early communication) and have been peripheral since.

    Works like Pong were primal, primitive, and compared to the visual arts at the time seemed like they had little to add but distraction. Few even had rudimentary stories, much less evocative soundtracks, rich artistic vistas, or deconstructions of the player or their expectations.

    Now, the medium has grown. I wouldn’t consider Halo art, either, though it is packed to the gills of worthy art, but complete art games have been released that are worthy of that title in its complete sense. And we have noted a fair deal (SotC, Ico, Okami, Portal, Silent Hill games, Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2, The Path, Braid, Final Fantasy 6, 7, 10, 12, Chrono Trigger, etc…).

    I think the reason you end up being critiqued as “you don’t have the slightest clue” is again because of Sturgeon’s Law. It is difficult for any out of touch person to see the art in an artistic medium because “95% of everything is crap”.

    If someone said anime can be art, but you had no knowledge of Lain, Paprika, or Ghost in the Shell and had only seen One Piece and Pokemon? You’d think they were crazy.

    If someone said movies can be art, but you had no knowledge of Jacob’s Ladder, District 9, or Casablanca and had only seen Biodome? You’d think they were crazy.

    If someone said paintings can be art, but you had never been to an art museum and had only seen Kindergarten billboards? You’d think they were crazy.

    If someone said music with lyrics can be art, but you had never heard the Beatles and had only heard Fergie or Christian Rock? You’d think they were crazy.

    The same is true now.

    You’ve seen our crudest beginnings and are least trying to be art “summer blockbuster fare” and think that allows you to claim the medium as a whole can be easily brushed aside by that early impression.

    And we are here as Sturgeon, gently reminding you that Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov exist.

  356. #357 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    I actually had to write an assignment on a news article that ticked me off last night, and I posted it on my blog. Oddly enough, it’s just about this topic here. I examined the IGN article that was posted not too long ago.

    READ. THIS.

    http://pc.ign.com/articles/108/1084661p1.html

  357. #358 Mr T
    April 22, 2010

    Although I generally like them, I don’t play many video games, so I won’t offer any as comparable to Stravinsky or Picasso. There’s no point in comparing the value of games to music or paintings, so this not a problem. Perhaps no games have yet made it to the realm of “great art”, even when judged on their own terms. Maybe that is so, but you can’t rule out the possibility of them being art, based on some undefined principle about what is good art.

    Of course that’s the problem. When he considers something “art”, Ebert means “good art”. (PZ is more cautious, but he seems to be doing the same thing.) This is not a fair definition of “art” and is the oldest trick in the cranky-old-art-critic’s handbook, right next to chastising brown people for not making white-people art. (I guess it takes a while for young people to realize this; and once they finally do, they can inflict it upon their lessers while shouting, “Get off my lawn!”) I like Ebert, and he’s certainly brought up an interesting conversation, so I don’t really fault him for it. I’ve noticed that most people will at some point fall into the trap of equivocating between “art” as something humans produce, and “art” as something which must be the greatest, most-enjoyable thing since sliced bread (which, I will note, is a product of the culinary arts). Please stop doing that.

    Here’s a quote from John Dewey’s Art as Experience:

    The elevation of the ideal above and beyond immediate sense has operated not only to make it pallid and bloodless, but it has acted, like a conspirator with the sensual mind, to impoverish and degrade all things of direct experience.

    Art doesn’t need to be placed on some distant pedestal. It is a pedestal, sometimes sturdy enough that we can stand on it. Art belongs to everyone, because as artist or audience we all experience it and can make it become whatever we want it to become. Perhaps some think art emerged miraculously from the primordial slime, or descended like a dove from the etherial plane. Whatever delusion you may have about it, it’s not helpful to confuse these two meanings of “art”: 1) something people make (cf. “artificial” and “artifice”), and 2) something made which people value (that is, specific people, and in particular, Roger Ebert or Mr T).

    Ebert wrote:

    No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.

    In my opinion, the great poets, etc., also wrote plenty of utter crap along with their contributions to “great art”. Some of it will be forgotten because it is no longer useful to us. Such is life. The “games” we experience in everyday life are and should be the model for games (or video games), but that doesn’t make them non-art. Poetry, film and music are not the model for a video game for good reasons; but that doesn’t mean video games must not be art, only that they are not poetry, film or music. They come in different forms and follow different conventions, but they’re made of the same stuff as any other kind of art: materials shaped by human experience. The better an experience (of the artist or the audience), the better the art.

    The fact that one has to interact with the work when playing a game makes it a particular kind of art, offering its own special kind of experience. It is still made, still experienced, still drawn from ideas and emotions in our daily lives. It is still art. There’s very little that humans make or do which isn’t art. Chess, cooking and science are all arts. Big deal.

    Whether a particular artwork or category of artworks is any good is an entirely separate question. If that makes it useless to talk about “art” with Ebert’s grand rhetoric, then so be it. The fine arts already have more than enough grand rhetoric. Don’t panic. Art will go on, even though video games have crashed its fancy little garden party. Is any of it any good? Branding something as “not art” (especially when it obviously is) based on incoherent criteria isn’t helpful in answering that question.

  358. #359 Personal SinR
    April 22, 2010

    The painting is art. The story in the book is art. The movie is art. Why is the game not art?

    Games today are not merely a set of rules with a goal. Perhaps you can argue that a “game” such as any sport is not art. But the video games today are very much art. The stories, the characters, the graphics, the music and sounds. They’re all art! The game is a work of art.

  359. #360 William
    April 22, 2010

    Make a case for the game as art. That’s much, much harder to do.

    Um, as has been pointed out dozens of times by now, almost every assertion you’ve made about games themselves is inaccurate – about the intentions of the designers, artists, why people buy games, among others. How is anyone supposed to convince you that video games are art if your idea of a video game is massively flawed? (And apparently based on little more than low-brow Halo-like games.)

  360. #361 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010
    I’ll also mention that not playing many games gives me a better impression of them.

    Tell me someone else sees the irony of PZ saying this. How many times have you told conservative loons to learn more about evolution before talking about it?

    Errm, nice quotemining. My point was subtle, apparently you didn’t get it. I see the game, not playing it, I get a good impression. It looks like art. Then — and here’s the point you elided — I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

  361. #362 'Tis Himself, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Yahoomess #51

    No, that’s what we call a joke. They’re basically what you expect when you’re reading a humorous website.

    I guess I’m old fashioned. To me a joke is something generating laughs, jocularity, and/or grins and giggles. Gabe’s comment failed to achieve any of these, therefore it fails as a joke.

  362. #363 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    It’s self-defeating to simply redefine what you’re experiencing in a game as simply the same old stuff in a shiny new high-tech package.

    Ummm… why?

  363. #364 kilternkafuffle
    April 22, 2010

    I love reading about what people find fascinating about games! It’s not something I’ve often discussed, but experiences with video games have been quite profound and maybe even formative for me.

  364. #365 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    It’s self-defeating to simply redefine what you’re experiencing in a game as simply the same old stuff in a shiny new high-tech package. Make a case for the game as art. That’s much, much harder to do.

    You know what? You’re running with the goalposts like a pro here. All that time looking into the abyss seems to have manifested itself into an amusing outlet for your monster-dom.

    Let’s start someplace simple, PZ. What is art?

  365. #366 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010
  366. #367 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    Hmmm… The Art of Chess. The Art of Baseball. The Art of War.

    It’s fun to argue, one might even say it’s an art. But at the end of the day there’s a certain fundamentalist view being propagated that is absurd on its face.

  367. #368 Escherichia coli
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, would you mind giving this a shot?

    http://www.playauditorium.com/

    I would say that the reason I play Auditorium is not to “win” the game, but to bask in the visual and audio experience.

  368. #369 William
    April 22, 2010

    I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    The error you’re making here, again, is that you’re assuming this is the case for all video games. In reality, they vary wildly in intention, scope, design, atmosphere – even within superficially similar genres.

  369. #370 tdcourtney
    April 22, 2010

    “I’ve never gone big-game hunting and never relied on bison for survival, but Ebert’s illustrations of cave art are still recognizably art.”
    That’s a false comparison. You don’t have to hunt bison to appreciate cave art, but you do have to look at it, just as you have to actually play one of these games discussed.
    Lennon discussed his first experience with Yoko Ono’s art. It was a small word written on a tile on the ceiling. You had to climb the ladder and use the magnifying glass at the top to read the word (“yes”). Is that not art? Would making the ladder longer and/or more difficult to climb and adding a narrative along the length of the ladder make it not art?

    Would anyone buy your childrens attempts at art for the wonderful choice of color palette?

  370. #371 MasterDarksol
    April 22, 2010

    ack, you addressed it while I was typing.

    To be honest, I don’t see the relevance of the argument “video games contain art, but the game itself is not art.”

    It’s like arguing that sure, a movie is art but the screen itself is not art. So? It’s the medium through which you experience art, and thus is a necessary part of it. A statue is art, but not the clay that it is made of? I don’t see the point of this distinction.

  371. #372 RamblinDude
    April 22, 2010

    But storytelling is not the same as gaming! It’s self-defeating to simply redefine what you’re experiencing in a game as simply the same old stuff in a shiny new high-tech package. Make a case for the game as art. That’s much, much harder to do.

    If ?the same old stuff,??storytelling?is an art, then it is still an art if it?s still storytelling in a shiny new high-tech package.

    Many games are storytelling?interactive storytelling?and many games take that story telling to a high enough level that I would call it an art form.

    It’s not just about hand-eye coordination.

  372. #373 valine25
    April 22, 2010

    I half expect PZ to suddenly perform an about-face and reveal that this post is a joke, a ploy to get more comments in his bid for the evil number.

    Look what this has done to you, PZ! Look at yourself!

    Or maybe he just has a crazy, old-timey definition of art that is terribly inconsistent and sloppily applied, and he likes conflating a medium with the act of experiencing that medium…

    Actually, I’m rather hoping for the former explanation.

  373. #374 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    After a while you win. And it becomes meaningless, the winning.

    And then you think of the game some times. And you go back and play, but you have no need to win it.

    You let the zombie kill you, you go to that one scene where they play that particular bit of music by the water, at this point if you like a game that much, it becomes something else entirely.

    You play it because of the mood you’re in, or to put yourself in a mood, or to see something happen the way it happened before (a rare treat in life, no?)

  374. #375 cameron
    April 22, 2010

    The point that you seem to be missing, PZ, is that the interaction that games have allows the artists behind the games to express things that aren’t available in other media. There are games where the act of interacting with it is a fundamental part of the story that’s being told: Braid, for example, tells a story about loss and remorse, and shifting time in the story is part of telling that story.

    Trite as it is, I’ll agree with the other people here and just say that you haven’t been playing the right games.

  375. #376 otrame
    April 22, 2010

    >365 since this morning? Boy, PZ, you must have stepped on a fireant nest.

    *runs off cackling to read the comments

  376. #377 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    While I have no problem with your specific criticism of someone quotemining what you said, I would reply to this last bit by saying that our response to that has been, quite universally, you clearly have a limited sample size from which you are drawing your opinion.

    Can you at least acknowledge that?

  377. #378 protocoach
    April 22, 2010

    Errm, nice quotemining. My point was subtle, apparently you didn’t get it. I see the game, not playing it, I get a good impression. It looks like art. Then — and here’s the point you elided — I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    It sounds like you’re experiencing something akin to what I first felt when I read Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy – you’re letting the game mechanics (or in my case, the stylistic quirks of those authors) get in the way of your appreciation of the artwork you’re experiencing.

  378. #379 valine25
    April 22, 2010

    you go to that one scene where they play that particular bit of music by the water, at this point if you like a game that much, it becomes something else entirely.

    You just summed up my relationship with Ocarina of Time. Half the reason I love that game so much is nostalgia, but it has its beautiful moments.

  379. #380 Gregory Greenwood
    April 22, 2010

    Sam B @ 125;

    Homosexuality tends to not get mentioned because, most of the time, it’s irrelevant. Characters who are straight aren’t espousing their straightness, are they? Why should homosexuals? And surely making a character gay but not stereotypical for the sake of doing so is just as bad. Unless it’s relevant or important, why bother? A lot of games don’t even touch on the characters’ sexualities at all.

    You are right that in many games (lets take Splinter Cell for example) the sexuality of the characters is irrelevant and as such is not dealt with. However, the fact that the entire industry appears to be terrified of dealing with homosexual characters is disturbing. While there are gay characters like Gay Tony from GTA and Zevran from Dragon Age, they tend toward the stereotypical. Gay Tony in particular is extremely flamboyant in a way that no actual homosexual person I have ever met has behaved. While one example is harmless enough, if it were to become a trend I am not sure that propogating such myths about homosexuality would be responsible.

    When you have a large number of games increasingly being aimed at an adult audience, the fact that the industry seems to prefer to pretend that homosexuality does not exist (apparently to avoid offending the moral majority or falling foul of the censors) most of the time stunts its growth as a medium. It makes it difficult to depict a fictional world where the interactions between the characters remain believable. While ignoring homosexuality in fiction is not the same as open homophobia, it does give the impression that the depiction of such relationships is somehow unwelcome, or even unfit, for this form of expression.

    Deliberately avoiding plotlines where the presence of gay characters is relevant and those characters are depicted believably speaks to the imaturity of the medium, and if this trend does not change than computer entertaiment could lose a very important facet of itself – relevance. It has been observed that online gaming forums are well known for expresions of homophobia. I do not know if the two things are linked, but exploring the possibility may prove illuminating.

  380. #381 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    If you’re arguing that video games are art because they have the same cinematic qualities, then fine — that’s art, too. They’re interactive movies. Animated novels. Whatever. But then what you’re doing is reducing them to a new medium for an old genre, storytelling, which is fine.

    That is basically what we’ve been trying to tell you. Games are a new medium of storytelling. I don’t see that as a reduction at all. In fact, to suggest it cheapens films and books, as they were merely new media for an old genre as well.

    But storytelling is not the same as gaming!

    “Storytelling is not the same thing as reading!”

    That’s no different than what you just said. Games and gaming are different things. One is an noun, the other a verb. You are conflating them. Making a game is a way of telling a story, playing the game is a way of experiencing that story. So to make the analogy, videogames are to books as gaming is to reading.

    So if your intent is to say that gaming is not art, fine, I agree with you. Though others still may not, in the same way that some people may say something like “watching [insert famous athlete’s name] play [favorite sport] is like watching a Michaelangelo paint the Chapel.”

  381. #382 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Errm, nice quotemining. My point was subtle, apparently you didn’t get it. I see the game, not playing it, I get a good impression. It looks like art. Then — and here’s the point you elided — I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    You played one game. The Avatar of games, even. We’re talking about Citizen Kane, the Godfather, Casablanca, and Lawrence of Arabia. You’re trying to tell us that those aren’t art because you saw Avatar, Transformers 2, Ninja Assassin, and 2012. Do you honestly think that you really know as much about games as people who play them regularly, and avoid the mainstream?

    Maybe we’re wrong, and you’re not just playing the summer blockbusters of games. But why don’t you be a bit more specific in what you’ve played, hn?

  382. #383 The Other Ian
    April 22, 2010

    I’m late to this discussion, and with 367 posts above me, I apologize if my point has already been made by somebody else.

    Reading Ebert’s post, it sounds as if he didn’t attempt to actually play any of the games he discussed. Well, shit, no wonder he doesn’t get it. The way those games are presented there is like verbally describing the qualities of the Mona Lisa to somebody who has never actually looked at it, who rarely examines paintings to begin with and never with an eye for the aesthetic detail. That’s just not going to work. I’m going to put my neck out here and assert that it is impossible to appreciate the art of a video game without actually playing it.

    I’m also going to make an ultimatum by comparison to one of my favorite artists. If Braid is not art, then neither are the works of Magritte.

  383. #384 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    Errm, nice quotemining. My point was subtle, apparently you didn’t get it. I see the game, not playing it, I get a good impression. It looks like art. Then — and here’s the point you elided — I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    Again, PZ, do some research. Your archaic view of gaming as “It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward” is just that. Archaic. People have listed great games on here. I listed Flower and Audiosurf to refute the claims you made. Did you even look those up yet or are you still building a snowfort around your position in this matter?

  384. #385 strange gods before me ?
    April 22, 2010

    protocoach and Ol’Greg, I’m going to bow out of this for a while. Thanks for your thoughts. I will be back later in case any more is said.

  385. #386 Nonentity
    April 22, 2010

    One of my favorite gaming experiences was playing Descent: Freespace. It’s a space sim, but that’s minimizing it – your actions, and how good of a pilot you are, influence changes in the storyline. At one point in the progression of the story, you can end up with orders to fly a half-working alien ship into close quarters with the hostile aliens, attempting to avoid detection.

    That moment transported me into the story far more than any book or movie ever has. I *was* the pilot tasked with this, and the incredulity I felt only increased as the situation changed during the mission itself. Granted, it’s all a game, and there’s the hit-points and mechanics of the game and specific points where the story can branch, but all of that was secondary to the story that I had been placed within.

    Games have the benefit that stories told with them can be both complex and straightforward at the same time – there are typically a small set of distinct branches, but when you are actually taking part of the story there are countless places where your experience of the story can differ from someone else. And within all of those countless personal experiences, the designer can still pass through an overall idea that they desire. I’d argue that that definitely can qualify as art.

  386. #387 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    Oh, come on. Now you’re just redefining what is a valid game to avoid my criticisms, and there are so many games and so many that I haven’t played that you can always find some gap to push me into. “Aha! You haven’t played Roberta Williams’ ‘Mystery House’! Therefore you haven’t experienced any good games.”

    Actually, I have played ‘Mystery House’. And Katamari Damacy. And Little Big Planet. And Wizardry. And various incarnations of Final Fantasy. And SimCity. And…on and on. I gave one example of a big budget, well-known and popular game, Halo, not because it’s all I’ve ever experienced, or that I thought it was the be-all and end-all of gaming, but simply as one useful example. Are you saying Halo is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.

    They’re all good games. Again, I’m not arguing against that at all.

  387. #388 protocoach
    April 22, 2010

    Reading Ebert’s post, it sounds as if he didn’t attempt to actually play any of the games he discussed. Well, shit, no wonder he doesn’t get it. The way those games are presented there is like verbally describing the qualities of the Mona Lisa to somebody who has never actually looked at it, who rarely examines paintings to begin with and never with an eye for the aesthetic detail. That’s just not going to work. I’m going to put my neck out here and assert that it is impossible to appreciate the art of a video game without actually playing it.

    I’d go a step further than that. It’s like someone described the artwork to Ebert in an incompetent manner and he’s basing his article off of that. Somebody told Ebert that the Sistine Chapel is “a bunch of people painted on a ceiling somewhere” and Ebert decided, based on that description, that the Sistine Chapel isn’t art. And when a thousand people tell him, “Hold on, wait, not only have you not seen the Sistine Chapel, you haven’t even heard an accurate description of it,” he sticks his fingers in his ears and tries to ignore them.

  388. #389 Pyre Spirit
    April 22, 2010

    You know; there are plenty of things out there which call themselves ‘art’ which I have no time for, no desire to experience, and no interest in.

    But your comment “I’m afraid that debasing the term “art” so that everything is art isn’t a smart strategy.” is quite erroneous.

    The most simple and useful definition of art that I’ve found is that it is a deliberate arrangement designed to create a mental or emotional response.

    The only things which matter are that something was done deliberately and that it has an impact.

    Argument absolutely should exist as to whether something succeeds in intended impact; if something cannot stir argument it’s probably not worth considering.

    But the major hang up is that you’re equating the process by which art can be appreciated to the process by which it’s created. Saying that playing a game is like visiting a museum therefore games cannot be art effectively can be reversed to say that visiting a museum is like playing a game, therefore museums can’t be art. It’s absolutely true. Museums are not art.

    Playing the game isn’t the game, it’s the action taken to enjoy the game. It’s the visiting of the museum; the game itself is the art, the thing which is appreciated and enjoyed.

  389. #390 kilternkafuffle
    April 22, 2010

    On portrayal of homosexuality in games:

    It’s too true that it’s been largely left out. A big complaint players had about Fallout 3 was that the character could only have heterosexual relationships, while in Fallout 2 both kinds could be engaged in, although there were no clearly homosexual characters.

  390. #391 eeanm
    April 22, 2010

    PZ Myers/#345:
    You’re the one you started with the word games! :D

    I think your use of the basketball analogy says that you were thinking of video games with simple rules. Which was a strawmen since (most) people aren’t saying that Wii Golf is art.

    But video games with plots aren’t any less video games for it, and they’re hardly being “reduced” into older mediums because of it. Video games are something new, but yes of course the good ones tell a story!

  391. #392 mikerattlesnake
    April 22, 2010

    How is a book art? I mean sure, there’s a lot of artistic phrases and maybe some thought-provoking ideas here and there, but it’s mostly utilitarian words getting you from point A to point B.

    How is a movie art? I mean sure, there may be some good monologues and beautiful shots, but most of the time it’s just stuff I can see looking out the window and conversations I’ve heard before.

    Seriously PZ, you need to give it up. Your arguments are awful. The artistic elements of a good game are what seperate, say, Halo, from the thousands of other “twitch games” and they ARE why people buy those games.

    Also, PLAYING games is not an art, just like WATCHING basketball is not a sport. You tried to make this argument earlier and it’s just silly.

    Yes, you have played a couple games: that does not qualify you to determine that they are not art (and no, an outsider’s perspective is not more valuable), just as someone who has read a couple Danielle Steele books is not qualified to speak on the state of literature as art.

    Let’s take an oft cited example: Shadow of the Collosus. This entire game lacks a spoken or written narative. You are given a sword that directs you to giant monsters that you kill. WITH NO NARATIVE AT ALL the act of killing these gorgeously rendered, gigantic creatures one after the other starts to feel more and more wrong (as you are given no motive for doing so), but you are compelled to do it as it is the only purpose in the game. There is no happy ending, you either keep playing or you stop. It’s almost impossible to describe without playing it, and it’s a piece of art that could not be expressed in any other way becaus your participation is required.

    Another example: Braid uses levels and mechanics as metaphors to tell a (vague, but compelling) story.

    You are just plain out of your element, PZ, and that’s said as someone who hasn’t been a serious gamer in years.

  392. #393 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Are you saying Ninja Assassin is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.

    Are you trying to be stupid about this?

  393. #394 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    High art is it’s own thing though. Many things PZ and prettymuch everyone here would probably consider art would not be considered high art, only because high art sort of has its own economy.

    Besides high art, IMO, is just about patronage still. About feeding the ruling/wealthy classes whatever bolsters their privilege. In the Renaissance this meant fat cherubs, stoic virgins, and golden hair braids. In the 90’s it often meant political art that kept rich folks feeling like they gave damn after the massive art boom of the 80’s was showing signs of poor cash returns in an unstable market.

    And now days… high art is still about the rich, about what social values they want reflected back at them. Or conversely what they thing the masses need to be shown for their edification.

    High art is no more sanctified than anything IMO. History is interesting, and you can learn a lot about people from their art… but it’s not just the art that hangs on the Pope’s walls that matters.

    And it’s not just what’s in a museum that counts today.

  394. #395 iansharkey
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    Are you saying Halo is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.

    False dichotomy.

    You’re wrong, PZ. I wish I could describe the art that is Braid. But if I could, it wouldn’t be art. All I can do is point towards something that has affected me deeply, and hope you’ll see it too.

  395. #396 Samwise
    April 22, 2010

    The newer prince of persia has an interesting mechanic that you can’t die. I did crazier and crazier things at the start of the game to test it, and never died.

    At the end of the game, I again tried to kill my character, only then it was because I wanted him to die rather than do what I knew had to come next. Without being in control of the character for the entire game, without being so personally invested in his accomplishments, I would not have had that moment of despair.

    The way I was drawn into the story is unique to the medium of gaming. If I were watching a movie or reading a story, even with characters I identified strongly with, I could still immediately distance myself from the horrible act they were about to commit – in the game, I was invested because *I* was the one who made the gains. It was beautiful, moving, powerful.

    Playing the game was necessary for me to enjoy that moment, just as chewing my duck l’orange was necessary for me to enjoy that. Neither the playing or the chewing are art, but both are necessary and integral parts of experiencing the art which others made.

  396. #397 Utakata
    April 22, 2010

    …Coming in late to this conversation as usual:

    I guess it’s depends how robust the character creator is from the start. If it’s something like Sim’s, City of Heroes or Aion where the player can go to town on building their toon, then it becomes art sorta unto itself. But that’s where the visual creativity stops and you exist in a very pre-defind world with very rigid rules that rarely change when once you hit the starting area.

    I suppose also in the creation on a video game’s aesthetics, environment, mobs, etc. a lot of art is also involved. But the game itself is not art, it’s a game.

    Now let’s talk about something more serious: The introduction of sparkle ponies into games via micro-transactions. *Glares angrily at Blizz*

  397. #398 William
    April 22, 2010

    but simply as one useful example.

    How is picking one of the shallowest, twitchiest, least sophisticated games available a useful example as a representative of video games in general? You seem to object to the argument that some games are art and some games aren’t art, but that is reality. If you use a Larry the Cable Guy movie to argue that movies aren’t art, you’re going to look like a doofus. When people suggest more artistic movies, you can’t just wave your hands in the air and cry foul because you’re “being pushed into a gap”.

  398. #399 jparasolick
    April 22, 2010

    PZ

    When you go to listen to a symphony, does the mechanics of walking through the isles and sitting in the chair shift the art of the music into the background?

    And please stop shifting the goal posts and acknowledge the fact that many of the assertions you made initially have been quite thoroughly addressed.

  399. #400 Weed Monkey
    April 22, 2010

    ReDSHiFT #357,

    Oh unholy Cthulhu that was beautiful.

  400. #401 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    Oh, come on. Now you’re just redefining what is a valid game to avoid my criticisms, and there are so many games and so many that I haven’t played that you can always find some gap to push me into. “Aha! You haven’t played Roberta Williams’ ‘Mystery House’! Therefore you haven’t experienced any good games.”

    How is this different then debating a person who denies evolution? Or a creationist? You’re just dodging our points while taking guerilla potshots. I’ve listed games and articles for you to read up, have you looked at them? PZ you’re so wrong here. Stop trying to hold up this house of cards.

  401. #402 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Jeezy Chreezy, it’s hard to keep up with this damn thread!

    aratina cage (@210):

    I didn’t say it had anything to do with technological aptitude. My comment at #1 was designed to point out the obvious, which is that it is strange of Ebert to say this because Ebert praised Avatar. He grew up on 2-D films but not 3-D films. So why does he accept 3-D film as art but not video games?

    Yeah, but the distinction between 2-D and 3-D films is one of medium and technique, roughly similar to the difference between pencil sketching and lithography, or b&w and color, or acoustic and electronic music, or maybe film and digital photography… and I’m not at all sure that’s the kind of distinction Ebert’s argument, as presented to us by PZ (and with which we seem to be more or less universally disagreeing). I don’t read them as saying that video/computer games can’t be art because of the medium they’re rendered in, nor because of the techniques used; rather, I read them to be saying that games, per se, are a fundamentally different kind of activity than art. That the former is primarily about competition, rather than the presentation of the range of ideas and sensations that we call art. Or as I originally put it, one is about content while the other is about contest.

    Why can’t he see that video games offer a younger generation the same artistic appeal that 2-D movies did for his generation since he can accept 3-D films?

    I think acceptance of new media is, in fact, time-bound and generational. Who knows whether Rembrandt would’ve accepted as art a computer monitor displaying the ambient sound in the gallery rendered as moving color patterns, or (for that matter) naked people partially blocking a passageway.

    But as I said above, I don’t think this argument is about new media; I think it’s about the underlying kind of activity that counts as art… its underlying intent.

    This, BTW, is why I was bold enough to write a long response despite being a self-confessed non-gamer: I don’t think the conversation is really about the quality of games, nor even really about games at all. I think what we’re really talking about is “what is art?”… and we all have standing to weigh in on that question, whether we’ve ever played WoW or not.

    And I must say that, despite the fact that we all seem to pretty much agree from the 30,000 ft point of view, there’s been plenty of stuff said here that I don’t agree with. In particular, I think people who’ve said certain movies aren’t art because they’re bad, or that especially beautifully played basketball or soccer game is art because of its excellence are missing the point. In our culture, it’s common to use “art” and “artistic” and “artistically” to talk about the goodness of a thing, more or less without regard to its nature. I see the usefulness of this sort of locution in casual conversation, but I think it muddles the more serious discussion (I think) we’re having here about the basic nature of art vis a vis other human endeavors. IMHO, the quality of an artistic effort is orthogonal to the art/not-art determination. If we agree that pure games (e.g., soccer matches) are something distinct from art in the first place, then no degree of greatness in the playing of that game will turn it into art. OTOH, if we accept a kind of endeavor (e.g., narrative film) as art, no degree of awfulness can retroactively disqualify it (IMHO, of course). As an aside, I make room for the possiblity that the intent of the presentation might affect its kind: That is, I can (just barely) imagine 22 people in soccer uniforms manipulating a ball for the deliberate intent of delighting and moving an audience, and without any concern for any score or sense of contest. I’d at least listen to the argument that such an event was performance art rather than a sporting event. But I ain’t waitin’ underwater for such an exhibition to come to a stadium near me.

    PS to pixelfish: I was hoping someone would get that reference, amid all the “noise and haste” we’re experiencing in this thread!

  402. #403 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    Heh. I’ve also played Descent. Wonderful game, the best immersion into a true 3D environment I’ve experienced.

    I know what’s coming next, though. OK, I’ve played a diverse bunch of games, but in addition to not playing Game X, which is True Art, I haven’t played Games Y and Z deeply enough, spending hours and hours digging obsessively into the experience. And that’s true. I could list a hundred games I’ve tried casually, and there will always be a thousand more that I don’t know or haven’t played enough to satisfy a genuine fan. This ought to be completely irrelevant, though.

  403. #404 eeanm
    April 22, 2010

    PZ Myers/#387:
    Wait if Halo isn’t art then no games are art?

    So if I can ‘prove’ that Scary Movie 2 isn’t art, then all movies aren’t art?

    (Though I think we’re confusing artsy and art).

    I’m perfectly willing to concede that all video games shouldn’t be considered art, in much the same way all movies or books aren’t art.

    Granted if you are claiming (not saying that you are) that all books and movies are art (this includes the art house production “Barely Legal”) then of course all video games are art by that standard.

  404. #405 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 22, 2010

    DAMN ALL YOU ECHO CHAMBERITES!!!!

    JUST FOR ONCE I WISH YOU’D NOT AGREE WITH PZ ON EVERY DAMN THING THE PHARYNGULA MESSIAH SAYS!!!

  405. #406 Nichodeemous
    April 22, 2010

    As some here have noted, there are things you can do with video games that are impossible to do (so far) with any other media. That makes it a unique form, and not some bastard child of film.

    That some people use examples of bad games as evidence for their point against video games being art is no more to the point than using bad writers as evidence against literature, or Uwe Boll as evidence against films. There are good and bad (and awful) video games, but there is also the occasional masterpiece of the medium. They elevate the medium to something more than playthings and past-times.

    I’m sure this exact same argument has been hashed through over the centuries every time something new came along that became accepted as art by a lot of people for the first time. Hell, people are still arguing that photography can’t be art and one of the last teachers I had while working on my BFA was adamant that rock music can’t be art. This argument is going to go the same way as the gay marriage debate – time will take it’s toll on those against it, and those for it will dominate due to attrition.

  406. #407 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    Are you saying Halo is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.

    No… and now you’re just being a pain in the ass. It’s been explained already.

    You might not appreciate a medium as “art” until you are presented some of the finer examples of work within that medium.

    For example, movies… I wouldn’t try to make the case of movies as an art form using “Jury Duty”… you probably wouldn’t appreciate movies as art if your exposure was only Pauly Shore movies. But if I show you “Shawshank Redemption”, you might appreciate the medium as “art” more readily.

    THAT is the comparison. Movies are art, even the bad ones. Games are art, even the bad ones.

    You simply may not appreciate them, movies OR games, for the art they are until you’ve seen the finer examples.

  407. #408 https://me.yahoo.com/a/AKp_B_gSkpRDRUl5yBtgnnB0OHZG#94c23
    April 22, 2010

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance. [munch] No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    Aheh, right. Go play Half-Life 2, especially the train bridge trellis sequence, and then get back to me.

    –Raynfala

  408. #409 llewelly
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    Movies are art.

    Not according to your ridiculous arguments that video games are not art.

    But storytelling is not the same as gaming!

    Nor is storytelling the same as reading. Gaming is what the audience does. Making a game is to gaming as storytelling is reading (or listening).

    It’s self-defeating to simply redefine what you’re experiencing in a game as simply the same old stuff in a shiny new high-tech package.

    If games are “the same old stuff in a shiny new high-tech package” – that’s fine. I don’t see that as self-defeating at all. Video games are art in another medium – just as movies are art in a another medium. It is true that video games can be used for more than just storytelling. For example, a highly flexible video game can be a place for other to create their own stories – more like Ed Greenwood’s Faerun, Gary Gygax’s World of Greyhawk, or the old Thieves’ World. But books are used for that too. (I don’t know if movies were ever used to do that, but I know of know reason they could not be.)

  409. #410 Gregory Greenwood
    April 22, 2010

    protocoach @ 117;

    It strikes me as rather early to be castigating them for failing to engage with every particular social problem they can. If we get half a century into story-based video gaming and we still have the same problem, that might be a legitimate concern, but given that games have already started to deal with that, I doubt the criticism will be valid.

    You make a fair point, but if we start raising awareness of this issue now, then it is likely to be addressed. If we say nothing, then it might be another 30 years before anything is done.

    In fact, I’d argue it’s already partially invalid. One of the earliest heroes in gaming was female (Samus Aran) and it had zero impact on the games. She’s just a stunningly competent bounty hunter; her physical features are almost always hidden behind featureless armor and the focus is on her abilities, not her appearance or gender. There are games like Beyond Good and Evil, where the main character is female, normally-proportioned, and again, extremely competent, not because of or despite her gender.

    Again, these are good examples, but would you not concede that they are in the minority? Certainly when compared to the likes of Lara Croft, Bayonetta and pretty much every female JRPG character ever created? While there are those swimming against the tide, a very substantial portion of the game industry has a tendency toward very peurile depictions of women. This in and of itself does not ruin a game. CD Project Red’s The Witcher is one of my favourite games (among the more action-heavy RPG titles) despite its terribly immature attitude toward women (I mean, fantasy themed soft-core tarot cards of your virtual conquests? What were the designers thinking?)

    Geralt is an interestingly morally ambiguous character. The game deals with issues of racism, poverty, the humanitarian price of war, drug abuse, the difficulty inherent in remaining politically neutral in a society at war, determinist concepts of destiny versus free will, the idea that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, the dangers of the imposition of a singular view of utopia, the nature of fanaticism. The list goes on. Unfortunately the self-proclaimed ‘first mature RPG’ mars its copy book somewhat by turning its lead character into an often shallow lethario.

  410. #411 Yabo
    April 22, 2010

    Anyone who says video games are not art knows less about art than they do about video games.

    I urge you to check out the wonderful Okami. If that isn’t an amazing example of a video game as art I don’t know what is.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Ckami

  411. #412 za7ch84
    April 22, 2010

    @Roestigraben

    Checkmate.

  412. #413 iansharkey
    April 22, 2010

    Nonentity #386:

    Great point. In the sequel Freespace2, there’s a moment where you feel on top of the world, having just been part of one of the greatest victories over the Shivans. Then, while performing a routine recon mission shortly thereafter, the game gives you a visceral lesson in the definition of a Pyrrhic victory.

    That moment, counting the Sathanas ships jumping in and out of star-system, resonates with me to this day.

  413. #414 Shannon
    April 22, 2010

    I think people are counter-arguing an argument PZ is not making. I believe he is saying that of all the creative disciplines that go into making a game the most important one (game design) should be singled out as not being artful.
    I totally disagree but can see where he is coming from. I find the rules of a game, be it Chess, Basketball or Halo to be an incredibly challenging and creative process and absolutely artful.

  414. #415 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de
    April 22, 2010

    Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    This just seems like such a very small part of actual gaming dynamic especially when you consider RPGs or Zelda.

    Final Fantasy isn’t about fighting and leveling up. It’s definitely not “push this button, shoot that target…” That would be no better than FarmVille with blood and guts.

    Playing a game with the “push this button…” mentality is like reading the cliff notes of the book. You understand the story, but not the feeling behind it.

    -Kemanorel

  415. #416 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    High art has to do with the intention of the artist to communicate something “lofty” or sublime. The concept is out of favor due to the nature of our society, which pretty much has turned its back on “edifying” themes. Because something is high art doesn’t mean that it is successful, or well-executed, or germane.

  416. #417 The Other Ian
    April 22, 2010

    In general, I’d agree that playing a game is not art; it’s art appreciation. There are exceptions, however. One particularly amazing and mind-blowing example: http://tasvideos.org/711M.html

  417. #418 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Yep, PZ is just going “Get off my lawn”.

    Whatever, I’ll go back to playing some Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (Not art, but definitely fun).

  418. #419 NewEnglandBob
    April 22, 2010

    It is not art. Now get off my lawn!

  419. #420 Aksunai
    April 22, 2010

    This is a video game, and yes it is art. I can think of no better “distillation of human experience” than to watch someone beating Mario 3 in three minutes. It brings a tear to my eye.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTNpC6lYYrs

  420. #421 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    Why do I feel like the stripped bare, malnourished, tortured Captain Picard, watching as the Cardassian interrogator moves his hand over the button to activate a pain chip implanted in my skin, the interrogator insisting that I agree with him that there are five lights when I can only see four? No, I cannot do it. I will not do it…

    Video. Games. Are. Art!

  421. #422 nomen-nescio.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    If you’re arguing that video games are art because they have the same cinematic qualities, then fine — that’s art, too. They’re interactive movies. Animated novels. Whatever. But then what you’re doing is reducing them to a new medium for an old genre, storytelling, which is fine.

    by this logic, every conceivable form of art is just the ancient genre of “communication” repackaged into some new medium. which is fine — but how is that in any way a criticism of any conceivable form of art?

    yes, good artistic games tend to tell stories. or communicate some emotion, or something, in some way such that you might say “that’s just storytelling!”. but once you accept the logic that would reduce all games to “mere” storytelling, that same logic can reduce any human interaction whether diret or indirect, to “just” storytelling, in the same manner. how is this a useful criticism of anything whatever?

  422. #423 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    PZ (@219):

    But the process of going in and exploring art is not art. If it were, then going to a museum would be art.

    But that’s just the point I’ve been making (however spread out my posts have been by the hellaciously fast current in this thread): Sometimes — maybe even often — going to a museum is art, because the works hanging there are deliberately intended by the artist as interactive, and the art isn’t complete without the interaction.

    I’m just saying it’s easy to see video games as this kind of interactive art… ultimately a collaboration between the artist (aka game designer, in this instance) and the audience. Which, BTW, is a fundamentally different position than the “it must be art because it’s so pretty” position some in this thread, which naturally leads to the “you just haven’t seen the right game yet” you respond to @403.

  423. #424 Nonentity
    April 22, 2010

    #403

    Just to be clear, I was talking about Freespace, not the original Descent series. Although I love Descent with an undying passion, there’s not much story to it. On the other hand, I felt that Freespace did an incredible job of creating and maintaining underlying emotions, from the first mention of “death-black ships” in the opening (possibly not great writing, but it really got the point across). It helped that the story was written to keep you on your toes, forcing changes in perspective over events during the game itself rather than just in cutscenes.

    There are other first-person games that accomplish the same thing, telling a story not just with words, but with the player’s own actions. Some of the other games being mentioned seem to be concentrating on the visual aspects of art, but there are also games that do a good job of taking the storytelling aspect of art and refining it in a way that wouldn’t be possible outside of a game.

  424. #425 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    PZ @387

    Ah, postmodern deconstructions of the mechanics of interaction, rather than art as interactive art in and of itself.

    Fair enough.

    The Path, Metal Gear Solid 2, Braid, Bioshock, Okami, Heavy Rain, and Shadow of the Colossus.

    All deconstructed the user and played on expectations of the audience to fulfill a purpose of the overall artistic statement. Bioshock on free will and the deconstruction of objectivism, The Path again on free will and the purpose of ignoring instruction and finding your own path in order to mature and grow up (or the dangers as a meta-commentary on fairy tales). Okami on the role of the artist in Japanese myth-making and history. Metal Gear Solid 2 on our views of violence, acceptable targets, choice of entertainment, cyberculture in general (seriously most postmodern game ever, so much so that gamers often rate it lower because it sacrificed so much game to make subtler postmodern judgments on players for playing games where they are “bad ass soldiers”). Braid deconstructed the role of the hero and (SPOILER WARNING: how stalkers and abusers deceive themselves into thinking of themselves as great people and how they manipulate the “audience”, i.e. the shared circle of friends, to buy into this fictional creation). Heavy Rain (and its precursor Farenheit) has the interactions completely fit your actions and has what you do at each moment, not only be something you have to physically do with your controls, but has it affect the very story itself including who lives and who dies (and with the story continuing on rather than sending you back to the chapter start). And Shadow of the Colossus, very subtly cast judgment on the very achievement oriented style of gameplay you mentioned all video games as falling into.

    So, art as interactive art, as in installation pieces of storytelling (like movies) that you can rudimentarily interact with and subtly edit and affect is there.

    And art in the postmodern deconstruction of the element of the player is also apparent in the medium.

    And your final argument is bizarre. Transformers made a huge amount of money with thousands of artists working on it. It was also not a good movie and not anywhere near your exceptional definition of art (though it was a part of an art medium). More generically, we have the new Star Trek. People even liked that movie (not me, but people in general). I’d be hard-pressed to call it art by the narrow-definition you or I would use.

    That doesn’t ipso facto mean Jacob’s Ladder wasn’t art by that narrower definition.

    We aren’t arguing that you haven’t played good games.

    We are arguing you haven’t seen what is (by the narrow-definition) art in this artistic medium (as a whole product).

    Works that would be considered worthy of a conceptual or a list like “Top 10 Art Films of All Time” by which most mediums define their artistic credibility.

    Film doesn’t put up the Top 10 Grossing Films when it wants to claim itself as an artistic medium. It puts forth its most artistically meritous, maybe even works that weren’t even the best films, but best showed the capabilities of the medium and how it can do what other art mediums can.

    I would also argue that Halo deserves to be nowhere near the list of top anything games.

  425. #426 nomen-nescio.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    Are you saying Halo is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.

    will you stop and listen to yourself, you senile old fart? “if Avatar is not art, then no movies can be art, and the case is closed.” in what world does that sort of reasoning not get you laughed out of the room?

  426. #427 Tom S. Fox
    April 22, 2010

    Penny Arcade sucks.

  427. #428 Kieranfoy
    April 22, 2010

    Christ, I feel like I’ve crashed a debate between the Old and New Gaurd of Clan Toreador.

    Pretty soon, P.Z.’ll start biting necks and speaking French!

  428. #429 William
    April 22, 2010

    in what world does that sort of reasoning not get you laughed out of the room? Having your own blog helps.

  429. #430 wjv.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    I kept waiting for the formatting on this post to change to Comic Sans. But it never did.

  430. #431 Pyre Spirit
    April 22, 2010

    “I’m afraid that debasing the term “art” so that everything is art isn’t a smart strategy.”

    “Are you saying Halo is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.”

    You’re saying that not everything should be considered art, then shortly after saying that the entire gaming library cannot be art if one example in it isn’t art.

    This strikes me as an error in logic; one of your statements has to be invalid.

    By extension it seems that you really need to re-examine your original assumption on the subject; if the initial assumption is causing you to come out with highly contradictory statements, something is flawed with it.

  431. #432 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawm4CYGXi1n4Armyc3H5WH0I3OSlKZ1Zvc4
    April 22, 2010

    @Escherichia coli #368

    I won’t weigh in on the greater issue of whether games are art, but I disagree about Auditorium. Sure, it’s pretty, but it is transparently a blatant rip-off of The Incredible Machine. This reduces to simple mechanics, which, while fun, I do not think it art.

  432. #433 Lotharloo
    April 22, 2010

    If you have ever played “Planescape Torment” you will know that computer games can be art. The game is essentially an interactive book, with lots of text to read and there are certain parts where the interactive nature of the medium is used in an excellent and unique way to convey feelings. Ebert might argue that the game is not art even at the “chicken sketching” level but it is clear that games can be art and that are elements of expression accessible only through computer games. I’ll leave you with the following review:

    As of this writing, two weeks have passed since I decided to play through Planescape: Torment, and much has changed in the interim. My outlook on gaming has changed. My appreciation of gaming’s past and my expectations for its future have been bolstered. My zest for life has increased, my six terminal illnesses have miraculously been cured, and my libido has never been more active. All of this, thanks to one game!

    I’m writing these words because there is a specific sequence in Planescape: Torment that is, to my mind, the most important instance of narrative in any game ever made.

    It is not within my power to convey the full emotional impact of this incredibly complex scene. After playing through it, I was moved to tears; I had to hit pause, walk away from the computer and take a break. I can think of no other piece of art or literature that achieves quite this same effect, and indeed, I believe that other narrative media are wholly incapable of giving life to such a scene. Based on the earlier comment I quoted from Chris Avellone, it seems likely that he would agree with me.

    Games might not be art for Ebert but some of them are already amazing pieces of art for some of us.

  433. #434 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Heh. I’ve also played Descent. Wonderful game, the best immersion into a true 3D environment I’ve experienced.

    I know what’s coming next, though. OK, I’ve played a diverse bunch of games, but in addition to not playing Game X, which is True Art, I haven’t played Games Y and Z deeply enough, spending hours and hours digging obsessively into the experience. And that’s true. I could list a hundred games I’ve tried casually, and there will always be a thousand more that I don’t know or haven’t played enough to satisfy a genuine fan. This ought to be completely irrelevant, though.

    I give you a transposition into abstract expressionism as not-art:

    Heh. I’ve also seen Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm in person. Really impressive amount of layering and movement expressed.

    I know what’s coming next, though. OK , I’ve looked at a diverse bunch of abstract expressionist painting, but in addition to not seeing Willem de Kooning’s “Women” series, which is True Art, I haven’t thought about them deeply enough, spending hours and hours digging obsessively into the experience. And that’s true.
    I could list a hundred paintings I’ve looked at casually, and there will always be a thousand more that I don’t know or haven’t read the relevant criticism enough to satisfy a genuine fan. This ought to be completely irrelevant, though.

    PZ, this would not fly as a dismissal of Greenberg any more than it does of video game designers.

  434. #435 https://me.yahoo.com/a/S8pO0dgN3vZCcp6GFuJzIu14IBqIw1hq7Kw-#24131
    April 22, 2010

    It’s self-defeating to simply redefine what you’re experiencing in a game as simply the same old stuff in a shiny new high-tech package. Make a case for the game as art. That’s much, much harder to do.

    First of all, I think this line of argument demonstrates that you’re missing the point. How can we make a case for games as art except by comparison with other art? We’re not necessarily redefining the new in terms of the old — let me demonstrate by making the case for film being an art. Were someone to insist to me that filmmaking is not an art, how would I argue? I’d argue, of course, that theater is art and that film is just a different sort of theater. To which my opponent could rejoin: “But you’re just insisting that film is the same thing as theater, but wrapped in a shiny new package! Certainly, you can make a case that the original performance as filmed was art, but try to make a case that the film itself is art! That’s much harder to do.”

    You see what happened there? My opponent has rejected film as an artistic medium essentially by definition, and headed off any argument that film can be as artistic as the more traditional media by insisting that any argument comparing film to other forms of art are just “repackaging the old in a shiny new package.”

    This is patently false: filmmaking is quite distinct from theater, and the non-performance elements of filmmaking are very much part of the artistry. That’s why we have Oscars for special effects and musical scores. However, since we are arguing about a medium that my opponent has no previously considered to be artistic, any argument I make must either proceed from a definition of art (bloody difficult business) or by reference to media that my opponent DOES believe are artistic.

    You are making the same argument as my opponent. When we try to demonstrate how games fulfill many of the same functions as more traditional media, you accuse us of trying to smuggle other media into games. When we try to justify those aspects of gaming that are distinct from the traditional media, you insist that it’s those very elements that make games non-artistic, much as my previous opponent might insist that the separation between the performance in the audience renders film non-artistic.

    Your objection, as far as I can tell, boils down to “playing a game can never be an art.” Right, and watching a film is not an art. But creating a film (or game) is an art, and the film itself (or game itself) is also art.

    Making the case for games as art is not hard at all, as long as we draw a distinction between MAKING the game, PLAYING the game, and the game itself. And of course, if you’re not going to stack the deck by insisting that games cannot be art by virtue of commonalities with traditional media (for that would just be putting the same old stuff in a shiny new package), and that they cannot be art by virtue of what makes them unique (since properties of games that are NOT shared with other artistic media are explicitly NOT artistic).

    I can easily imagine a chessboard created by a sculptor or master carpenter that qualifies as art — disagree? The act of making that board is art as action (painting is an art), the board itself is art as artifact (that painting is art). However, a game of chess played on that board is probably not art — neither playing it, nor the sequence of moves itself (arguably, I can imagine making a case that some of the strategies used in the great chess games in history constitute art).

    So in the case of games, MAKING games — coding, music and art development, plot development, design, architecture — is an art, as much as pottery or sculpture. Sometimes, potters churn out consumer products instead of beautiful objets d’art — but it’s still an art for all that. The game itself can certainly be art — just as a potter’s art doesn’t always produce a work of art, but often does, I see no reason to exclude software in general from being art.

  435. #436 Celtic_Evolution
    April 22, 2010

    Hmmmm… PZ put this post in a category called “Art”…

  436. #437 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Heh. I’ve also played Descent. Wonderful game, the best immersion into a true 3D environment I’ve experienced.
    I know what’s coming next, though. OK, I’ve played a diverse bunch of games, but in addition to not playing Game X, which is True Art, I haven’t played Games Y and Z deeply enough, spending hours and hours digging obsessively into the experience. And that’s true. I could list a hundred games I’ve tried casually, and there will always be a thousand more that I don’t know or haven’t played enough to satisfy a genuine fan. This ought to be completely irrelevant, though.

    I give you a transposition into abstract expressionism as not-art:

    Heh. I’ve also seen Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm in person. Really impressive amount of layering and movement expressed.
    I know what’s coming next, though. OK , I’ve looked at a diverse bunch of abstract expressionist painting, but in addition to not seeing Willem de Kooning’s “Women” series, which is True Art, I haven’t thought about them deeply enough, spending hours and hours digging obsessively into the experience. And that’s true. I could list a hundred paintings I’ve looked at casually, and there will always be a thousand more that I don’t know or haven’t read the relevant criticism enough to satisfy a genuine fan. This ought to be completely irrelevant, though.

    PZ, this would not fly as a dismissal of Greenberg any more than it does of video game designers.

    Apologies: I have a sticky / key.

  437. #438 Yabo
    April 22, 2010

    As for the “watching someone play is boring” aspect, that’s crap.

    I didn’t enjoy playing Mass Effect but I sat and watched my husband play through both games because the story was fascinating. While we both play Fallout 3, I enjoy just sitting and watching him go through the game sometimes.

  438. #439 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    Alright. As a games artist and designer. (Professional, for close to a decade.)
    Some games are art. Some aren;t. Which those are is very subjective, such as asking about paintings and sculpture, or tv and film.

    Some games have specific moments that bring that emotional high.

    The final fantasy 7 one for the psp was one of the few games I almost cried during.

    Mass Effect 2, when you hit back at the collector ship that killed you in the opening credits, it’s hard not to let out a yell of victory.

    Games have evolved very, very quickly, a lot of them taking the best parts of film and books.

    But back to the topic: Art is subjective.
    Ebert doesn’t get to define it for everyone.

  439. #440 https://me.yahoo.com/a/EIS6EQ9nqoidyeFece1Wc6V3F0PVRittMwWZAA--#4de19
    April 22, 2010

    Not to add to this epic thread but a few thoughts:

    1- PZ keeps pointing to HALO as “not art”. This is like using “Transformers 2″ as the example of how Movies are not art. transformers might have some cool scenes in it, but it’s not made as an artistic expression, it’s made as a monitary vehicle, trying to be as profitable as possible.

    2-As far as “gameplay =/= art”, Wrong. Bioshock, for one, Makes your involvement in the video game PART of the art. Pointing directly at the player and showing them how their interaction with the game is a contained shell that you cannot control, that’s pretty damn artistic.

    3- Same goes for Shadow of the Colossus. As you struggle to hold on, you are actively holding a button, for times up to a half-hour or longer. There were a few times I fell off a clossus due to fatigue, falling and dying or starting over. Now, you could have explained this struggle with words in a book, but to get me personally to feel the same fatigue, only an ARTISTIC videogame could do that. I felt worn out and tired and triumphant and near the end sad for what I was doing in the game, and I felt these things through the gameplay.

    Remember PZ. Halo =/= Michael Bay.

  440. #441 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Also for the definitional problems.

    There is the broadest definition of art, which can be several definitions a) is the subject an artistic medium (film, music, and yes games) b) is the performance of something so exceptional to produce transcendent appreciation (Messi on the ball is a work of art) or c) producing or evoking an emotion (broadest definition of art schools)

    And there is the narrower definitions. Does this work transcend its medium? Is it deliberately making a complex artistic statement? Would this be considered in an installation or on a list of truly artistic works of a given medium (that which separates the Monets from the Kindergarten finger painting)?

    This latter can be high art or the narrower definition.

    The problem is that Ebert and PZ are arguing that this narrow definition does not apply and that to defend against the broader definition, they are willing to fight to the death to ignore any evidence that that narrower definition has already been breached.

    Like all forms of storytelling, games are an artistic medium. It is made of the artistic mediums of visual art, music, film, and literature. Adding a control at the end of it doesn’t erase that. It’s an artistic medium. This is the broad argument.

    The narrower argument is whether any works have transcended beyond the broad definitions into the narrow. Are there any works that would be worthy of being in a gallery. Again, there have been some. Works that are at the level of interactive art and those that are on the level of interactive art that fucks with you and deliberately makes the audience into a part of the conceptual on a level of what is currently being done today in the world of art.

    Both of these barriers have been breached, rather conclusively.

    But I think this whole debate is basically the perennial “X entertainment or musical taste of young people is destroying America and/or dangerous to moral values” argument.

    The last generation must diss the tastes of the next generation and see it as threatening.

    All of us on the “youngster” side of this will probably end up doing it to the next generation.

  441. #442 marteani
    April 22, 2010

    No. And I think that the worlds and images of Halo and Myst and many of the other games mentioned here are examples of art. But the process of going in and exploring art is not art. If it were, then going to a museum would be art.

    This is a flawed argument. Museum art is not participatory to the audience, neither is watching a sporting event. People may get invested, emotional or attached to the watching of the performance, but they are not interacting with it.

    Video games are a new form of art especially because their very nature requires interaction with the audience. It is not enough to simply make the game and put it on the shelf for people to watch, that’s film. Video games are not passive.

    This is their uniqueness. The choices the player makes effect the outcomes within the game, and change the nature of the experience. The creator’s job is to direct that experience, but it requires a player to exist because the narrative manipulation is part of the art. I can think of no existing artform analogous to this experience. The vast majority of art is experienced passively.

    Is playing the game in and of itself art? Probably not. But it’s part of the experience, and that is that art. Red paint is not art. canvas is not art. But the resultant mixture can be.

  442. #443 Dahak
    April 22, 2010

    Just another person disagreeing. I’ve always thought good art was something that evoked emotion, and video games have done that just as well for me as movies and books have. For example, my favorite game is called Homeworld, it tells the story of a group of people who have been exiled from their birth world for thousands of years, and have forgotten their origin. Following very few clues they fight their way across the galaxy to reclaim their world.

    My emotions while I played the game ran the gamut, but one of the best examples was the final level of the game, where you are in orbit around the home world, and the enemy fleets are coming in overwhelming numbers. The journey of these people had long ago become my journey, and I became frantic as the fleets threatened to overwhelm us. “We’re going to fail!” was all I could think for a time.

    Some games might not be art, but some movies and books aren’t either.

  443. #444 https://me.yahoo.com/a/EIS6EQ9nqoidyeFece1Wc6V3F0PVRittMwWZAA--#4de19
    April 22, 2010

    Whoops: I mean Halo = Michael Bay…

  444. #445 AJKamper
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    Would it be a fair statement of your theory that a video game becomes art at the point that you stop playing it for the sake of the challenges and start playing it in order to see what happens next, like a story?

  445. #446 TL Synthesis
    April 22, 2010

    I think Robert Brockway makes for a fairly convincing argument, specifically with his discussion of Rez.
    http://www.cracked.com/blog/why-ebert-is-wrong-in-defense-of-games-as-art

    On to my response.

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    I disagree. The example of Valve’s developer commentary in Half Life 2 Episode 1 has already been brought up; they specifically construct environmental vistas to both reward the player for pushing though a tough segment and reflect the decaying state of the surrounding world.

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    Actually, that’s exactly what most linear games do.

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.

    Now this is where not being a gamer hurts your argument; since you don’t play games as a regular hobby, it’s not very likely that you’ll have played one that provides the effect you’re describing.

    Yet I can tell you that there are at least a dozen games that have left an impression on me. The Modern Warfare post nuke scene mentioned in the article I posted stopped me in my tracks when I came to it, the subtle laughter of children in a playground deeply contrasting the presented radioactive hellscape.

    To succeed in modern times, (single player) games need to provide some sort of motivation other than a finish line, and many of the better ones use heavy emotional involvement of the player to provide that hook.

    And it’s for this reason that gamers get so up in arms when people declare games can’t be art; they’re implicitly stating that any emotional effects a game had on them were illegitimate, or false, or somehow don’t count.

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds?

    Call me crazy, but yes. It’s moments like this that I spoke of earlier, those high points of emotion that make a game memorable. Without them, it’s just another generic shooter with moderately refined mechanics, completely forgettable.

    For lack of a better term, moments like the ones you mentioned in Halo give the game its soul, that indicator that the developers had more in mind than just making a game “all about balance and game play,” as you put it. True, the balance and gameplay work needs to be there to make the game tolerable, but no one remembers a game for its tight controls or balanced weapons; they remember those rare moments that had their eyes glued to the screen.

    I’m not trying to say your points are invalid because you haven’t played game X before. Still, it should be noted that if you don’t play games as a hobby, it’s difficult to understand how one could invest in one emotionally. And I’m not just talking about Katamari. :)

    Whew, done now.

  446. #447 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Would it be a fair statement of your theory that a video game becomes art at the point that you stop playing it for the sake of the challenges and start playing it in order to see what happens next, like a story?

    I don’t think so because it seems like he is arguing that even though you> might do that, he wouldn’t and therefore it is not art.

  447. #448 DaveWTC
    April 22, 2010

    I used to define art as ‘anything I couldn’t do’ but then I saw Marcel DuChamps’ shovel at the Pompidou and had to amend it to ‘anything I couldn’t do, and would want to’. More recently, I heard Rush Limbaugh give a similar definition (don’t ask why I was listening to RL, it just happened!!) so now I have to kill myself.

  448. #449 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    marteani @442

    Again, the current art world is making a big deal about interactive art. Some of it deliberately considers the viewer art (actually a lot of the modern static art is doing this lately), some of it considers the audience (even if interactive) merely complementary to the larger story.

    I’ve participated in a large-scale conceptual performance art piece that considered the audience as laxly participatory. Having them wander around, touching, smelling, breathing the world we were actively putting together was the point, but our jobs were to make sure they couldn’t directly overturn the purposes of the conceptual and the modern sensibilities they were bringing into the world were largely ignored so they could experience the narrative.

    This real world art piece would be akin to an artistic game that doesn’t consider how the audience is playing it to be an integral part of the artistic statements or narrative.

    I have also been present in the creation of art pieces whose whole purpose is how the audience interacts with it and is meant to make the person part of the piece. This is a more postmodern (literature, sociology sense of the word) approach to the role of the audience and again this influence finds its way into games. I’ve listed several games who are art on their own merits who consider the player and their actions and expectations to be an integral aspect of the artistic statement.

    And again, artform that’s interactive is basically where the art world has been, heavily, for several decades. Interactivity and multimedia are REALLY BIG in the raw visual art world and every new artist that works in installations is encouraged to create at least one interactive work in their career these days.

    Passive art is on the way out in the art world possibly thanks to video games influence on larger culture, but its not like video games are somehow novel in the idea of audience interaction.

    Especially in an era where post-modern influences have been heavily explored by all artistic mediums.

  449. #450 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    Bill Dauphin #402,

    I’m not at all sure that’s the kind of distinction Ebert’s argument, as presented to us by PZ (and with which we seem to be more or less universally disagreeing). I don’t read them as saying that video/computer games can’t be art because of the medium they’re rendered in, nor because of the techniques used; rather, I read them to be saying that games, per se, are a fundamentally different kind of activity than art. That the former is primarily about competition, rather than the presentation of the range of ideas and sensations that we call art. Or as I originally put it, one is about content while the other is about contest.

    I think your distinction is much more nuanced than the one I get from PZ and Ebert. But for the sake of argument, if you don’t see how Avatar blurs the distinction between video games and movies, let’s project into a possible future where movies have an element of plot freedom to them so that the audience can influence the outcome of the events. Will that kind of movie still be a form of art under your distinction? How about when a crowded theater gets to decide which event happens based on majority rule?

    The game element is always there in non-art-house movies even though you may not realize it because of your inability to interact with the finished product. There is always a goal. Ebert should know this. Part of his critique of film is based on how well the plot (kind of like ground rules) plays out and how well the goal of the characters in the movie is attained or thwarted.

    Without a contest being presented or pretty images or some kind of exceptional experience, a movie would surely be dull and boring. The interactive part is one of the main things separating modern movies from modern video games where the plot can be tight (like in a side-scroller) or largely up to you (like in an RPG).

  450. #451 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    If you’re arguing that video games are art because they have the same cinematic qualities, then fine — that’s art, too. They’re interactive movies. Animated novels. Whatever. But then what you’re doing is reducing them to a new medium for an old genre, storytelling, which is fine. But storytelling is not the same as gaming!

    You imply separation where there is none. A lot of games, the story and game play are intertwined.
    As a designer, a lot of my time is spent creating engaging scenarios that draw the player in, interesting ways to use the game play mechanics to draw them along to experience the story and the world I’m attempting to immerse them in.

    I’m sorry, but none of the points you’ve attempted to make are valid. They’re all subjective. You didn’t find Halo compelling as ‘art’. So therefore no games are art?
    I found Bioshock a much more compelling statement on humanity than any movie I’ve seen in the last decade.
    The gameplay, for the most part, was ‘twitch’ gaming. A first person shooter.

    A well done game is like a well made film… far more than the sum of it’s parts.

  451. #452 Haruhiist
    April 22, 2010

    I’m sorry PZ, but that’s just a silly argument. That’s like saying that because most blockbuster movies are not art, no movie can be considered art.

    As a scientist, I’m sure you appreciate evidence more than a well-thought out argument, so to reiterate what some others have said: read about braid and then make up your mind. It should only take 1 video game that you consider art, to sway you right?

    As for the emotional impact.. read this review of braid. Clearly the game had emotional impact on the reviewer.

  452. #453 The Pint
    April 22, 2010

    Jebus Christ. You did realize what a hornet’s nest you’d be stirring up by broaching this topic, right PZ? The next time anyone tries to accuse the Pharyngula horde of being your mindless followers, just direct them to this thread.

  453. #454 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    Red paint is not art. canvas is not art. But the resultant mixture can be.

    This is a great way to say it. Thanks. :)

  454. #455 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Seriously though, everyone, this “unique” argument we’re having on the role of the audience?

    Interactive art in galleries as installations has been around for decades. Performance Art even longer.

    Not exactly new and unprecedented ground. And the art world has settled on “audience interaction does not remove artistic merit and often adds unique and exciting dimensions.

    Maybe its my partial liberal arts background, specifically in the arts (literature, but with a lot of friends and contacts in the more visual mediums), that makes these arguments so hilarious, but really, the deep questions have long been answered.

    The debate really is whether or not the older generation will keep yelling “get off my lawn” or actually acknowledge a new art medium.

  455. #456 Anatole Ericsson
    April 22, 2010

    I understand why Roger Ebert cannot accept video games as art. I’m sure that 70-80 years ago, most respectable art connoisseurs could not accept film as a form of art either. They were simply people of a certain era that couldn’t quite grasp the changing times. And I really don’t mean that in a condescending way, believe me.

    All video games are not art. There may not even be many video games out there at all that can be considered art. But the concept of “video games” have the potential for art. Video games aren’t just Pac Man, Donkey Kong or even Grand Theft Auto anymore. They’re evolving into a medium of virtual interactive experiences. Assuming we aren’t stubbornly holding on to narrow, outdated definitions the relevant concepts, there’s no reason not to induct video games into the realm of art.

  456. #457 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    There’s a serious problem with this argument that many are making that the games I’ve played aren’t the The True Art games. It really plays right into Ebert’s hands.

    You can say Kurosawa’s films are art, but Uwe Boll’s are sucky little pieces of crappy commercial exploitation, and I’d agree. But then you dismiss the fact that I said nice things about Halo as evidence that I’m out of touch, that Halo is crummy, that I’m missing out on the real art. Well, OK, then you’re setting yourself up: you’re saying there is a sliding scale of quality, and it’s fair to dismiss the garbage at the bottom as not rising to the level of real art. We shall be Art Snobs and kick Uwe to the curb, as well as any schlocky money-making bang-bang shoot-em-up crap in the gaming world.

    All right then! The winner in this game is the biggest art snob!

    So…where is this game that approaches Kurosawa’s Ran as an expression of art? I know, I haven’t played as many games as many of you, so I must have missed it, but still…I’ve played enough. I’ve seen enough of the most highly vaunted games out there to be a bigger snob than any of the defenders of games and say none of them. I’ve seen many and played a few of the big name games (commercial junk, I can almost hear you say) and some of the little indie efforts (Flower and Braid, for instance), and while they’re fun and fulfill their purpose as games (except Flower, which I thought was awesomely boring), I think I get a far deeper sampling of the human experience from Ran, or a good book, or a symphony, or Lady Gaga even.

    So if you want to set up a rough scale with Kurosawa at the top, Uwe Boll at the bottom, and some little dividing line between the two that says “art above, schlock below”, where do the products of the gaming world go?

    I hate to break the news to you, but they’d all have to go on the Boll side of the line, so far. Maybe you can dig up some example otherwise — although I’m confident you won’t find a Ran of games — but I don’t have high expectations that anyone can.

    I’m not being mean and saying games are all bad. I’m saying that when you try this ploy of calling them art and demanding that everyone must appreciate their potential as such or they’re just cranky old geezers who don’t appreciate this modern stuff, you’re putting yourself in some stiff competition. Competition that games aren’t ready for, and by their nature, may never be ready.

    If I’m looking for art, I’ll go to a museum or read a book or watch a classic movie.

    If I’m looking for entertainment or some thrills or some fun, I’ll go to a cheesy (non-arty) movie, or play a game.

    They both have their place. Different places.

  457. #458 William
    April 22, 2010

    #441, very good post.

    All of us on the “youngster” side of this will probably end up doing it to the next generation.

    I was thinking – what happens in 40 years? Those who argue that video games are not art seem to be older. PZ and Ebert, in 40 years, will be dead, or close to it. We youngsters, however, will have become the status quo. And since most of us seem to agree that at least some video games qualify as art, it follows that this will be generally agreed upon by then, that our kids will unquestionably accept that video games can be art since this is the environment they grew up in.

    One of the problems with this argument is that trying to justify something as art, or dismissing something as not art, is pretty much always a post-hoc rationalization. Grandpa listens to rock music, has an immediate, unreasoned dislike for it, and dismisses it. Uncle listens to rap music, has an immediate, unreasoned dislike for it, and dismisses it. I doubt anyone here reasoned their way to their opinion – they just felt that way and tried to defend it. It’s very clear to me that this is exactly what’s happening with PZ. His unreasoned, base reaction upon playing a game is that it makes it less artistic, that he has to focus on the controls and whatnot instead of focusing on what may or may not be the “artistic” elements. This is fine, since reactions like this these are mind-dependent, subjective and unreasoned. The problem, of course, is that PZ’s reaction is just that – HIS reaction. It is quite solipsistic to assert that your reaction is representative of everyone elses (or better), and can be used to define games as art or not. For most of us who grew up playing video games, our unreasoned, base reactions are different. Asking us to define why it is art is silly – it’s subjective. It’s unreasoned. It’s part of the values we developed as we grew up – there is no objective, by-the-book explanation. It’s all rationalizations. This entire thread is rationalizations of a pre-arrived conclusion. And that’s why no one is going to convince anyone else – because no one arrived at their position via reason in the first place. (No, you didn’t.)

    And in 40 years our kids will have grown up in an environment that believes unquestionably that games can be art. It will just be a part of them, the values they grew up with. It’s just the way things work. The key is to be modest enough to recognize that your perceptions, your rationalizations, your mind-dependent reactions – that these are convincing only to yourself, because they are expressions OF yourself.

  458. #459 residualecho
    April 22, 2010

    To amplify Bill Dauphin’s point in #423:
    In 1987 or 88, East LA’s Amok Bookstore hosted a signing for Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson. I mentioned to Tim that one of his books would make a fine CD-ROM. Wilson leaned over to Tim and asked, “What the hell is a CD-ROM?” Leary provided a fine definition: A CD-ROM is a computer-mediated multi-media device that enable the author and the reader to create a unique performance of the work every time its accessed.”

  459. #460 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Interactive art in galleries as installations has been around for decades. Performance Art even longer.

    I think there is an important difference though in terms of space and intimacy. Galleries are a specific space where one goes to interact with art.

    Games bring that space into an intimate setting where most performance and interactive art do not happen.

    While one can have intimacy in looking at a painting on their wall, they can not have intimacy in most interactive performance art.

    Similarly there is ownership. One owns the painting one has bought, but does one own the space in which the game occurs?

    So in that way games provide a different experience of interactive art compared to galleries I think, even though some games may also link together players who are experiencing communal space while at the same time in their intimate setting.

    Both sitting at home and not sitting at home, etc.

    It has a cognate in performance art or interactive gallery pieces I think, but it is rather different.

  460. #461 Etruscan
    April 22, 2010

    PZ I’d still like to know how “being interactive” disqualifies something from being art. Because from what I can tell, that’s the only meaningful distinction here.

  461. #462 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds? No. Those are scenes of art, but the game doesn’t hang together as a work of art. It hangs together as a game.

    Okay, so shitty movies aren’t art. I mean, I loved that one scene, but I’m not gonna buy the DVD because of that one scene, so it’s not art.

    Unless it’s on sale, at which point I’d buy it. So then it becomes art?

    But this can’t be, because

    Movies are art.

    Again, there’s no cogent definition of ‘art’ that’s been offered that includes all (or even most) movies but excludes all or most games that’s not somehow circularly defining art as having qualities of movies but cannot be extended to a movie-like game.

    But then what you’re doing is reducing them to a new medium for an old genre, storytelling, which is fine. But storytelling is not the same as gaming!

    Remember when movies used to be called plays? Well, to be sure, both of them are just new media for an old genre, storytelling, and that’s fine. But it’s not art!

    Seriously, what PZ and Ebert have utterly failed to do is to present a meaningful or useful description of art. So, paintings are art because they evoke emotion? So do any number of games herein mentioned. Films are cultural artifacts? Hey, games are just as sexist and homophobic as Western culture is. Are sculptures beautiful? So is Braid. Photographs necessarily limit the viewer’s experience to what the photographer wants them to see? Hey, it’s just like a game on rails. And speaking of rail games don’t even get me started on literature. I mean, really: forcing Hamlet to die at the end no matter the vociferous heckling of Elizabethan audiences…

    Anyways, for those of you who tire of the crafted storylines, rich backgrounds, textured soundtracks, and compelling characters of some of today’s better video games, I present for your edification some real Ebertian art:

    Voice of Fire!

  462. #463 lordshipmayhem
    April 22, 2010

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.

    By that definition, hockey has long been art. The winning goal in the Canada/Soviet Union game in 1972, the performances of Bobby Orr, of Maurice “Rocket” Richard, of Eddy Shack, of Gump Worsley, of Wayne Gretzky, the radio broadcasts of Foster Hewett (“He shoots – HE SCORES!!”) as he paints a vivid picture in the minds of his listeners in the pre-TV days, are all long-replayed icons of Canadiana, captured in video, film and audio.

    But yet, ice hockey is also unmistakably sport, and even a tad touch to the Canadian mind of religion.

    I could argue that also of football, both Canadian (they still talk of the “Fog Bowl”, even though I was still in diapers when it was played) and American.

    So I can see video games as art – performance art.

  463. #464 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    I’m not being mean and saying games are all bad. I’m saying that when you try this ploy of calling them art and demanding that everyone must appreciate their potential as such or they’re just cranky old geezers who don’t appreciate this modern stuff, you’re putting yourself in some stiff competition.

    PZ, you are looking like the biggest art snob on the block by now. Just because your generation has a penchant for certain forms of art doesn’t make the art of other generations Not Art™.

    Stiff competition indeed.

  464. #465 TL Synthesis
    April 22, 2010

    If I’m looking for entertainment or some thrills or some fun

    Art can’t do that?

    I tend to find reading books and watching classic movies fun and entertaining, otherwise I wouldn’t read or watch them.

    /snarky comment

  465. #466 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawm4CYGXi1n4Armyc3H5WH0I3OSlKZ1Zvc4
    April 22, 2010

    What a strange week: two Myers swimming against a deluge of pharyngulites!

  466. #467 fr0gfish
    April 22, 2010

    Man, I usually agree with PZ but this post is so full of fail. Years ago it would have been “Comics can never be art!” or “Rock can never be art!” or “Graffiti can never be art!”. PZ, just because you don’t appreciate games doesn’t mean they are not art. I would have thought you would realize that.
    But what really makes me disappointed is the sloppy reasoning that you are showing here.
    “But storytelling is not the same as gaming!”
    In fact, storytelling is the essence of gaming.
    “Are you saying Halo is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.”
    Yes, and Ishtar sucked, therefore no films are art. Fail, fail, fail.

  467. #468 https://me.yahoo.com/a/2WTs7ZsrpIHTKihob3v2es8wEMG7Mmo-#60d8b
    April 22, 2010

    “No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.” Final Fantasy, particularly 10, proves this false. I mention 10, because it is pretty universally considered to have an incredibly cheesy plot, but beautiful graphics and cut scenes in the story line are considered the hallmark of the FF series, also, it has a very memorable scene of the female lead dancing on water at sunset, a scene for which a professional traditional dancer was contracted to be the body model for the CG http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PWC6vUext0. This scene was clearly written and executed with the intent of conveying emotion to the player and it also contains, as it were, the play of sunlight on water. The climax of the main two characters’ relationship also involves water, intentionally planned graphics and music http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ_CvjO8qVw&feature=related. Final Fantasy is unusual in that it generally intentionally spends much more time and money on ensuring the beauty of the graphics people to write the background imagry than the design the battle method (here’s the newest game’s trailor, 10 is years old http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2nU4ksCklg). However, even the older games like 7 which, by our standards now, has laughable graphics, intergrates the environments and imagery into the plot and gameplay.

    RPGs and plot based strategy games also have a full storyline, a beginning, a climax, and an ending. The fact is, that playing these games in almost all cases does allow you to advance the story line, moving along the plot of the game. You have to make it to level whatever and fight creatures x, y, and z before your characters move on to making out in the lake (or breaking up, or whatever part of the story comes next). I know someone who cried for hours at the end of final fantasy 7 (spoiler, the female lead dies). Attachment to the story and characters is not incidental for this type of came, it is a crucial feature of enjoying it.

  468. #469 Haruhiist
    April 22, 2010

    Also, again a eurogamer review, of a game that is explicitly art, made to be art, and couldn’t be said art if it weren’t a game.

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/fatale-exploring-salome-review

    also, this point:

    Are you saying Halo is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.

    By substitution:

    Are you saying Men in Black isn’t art? Then no movie is art, and the case is closed.

    Very weak argument to make…

  469. #470 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    Cause I’m curious now.
    Some people have mentioned those ‘game selling moments’ that made the game worth the purchase price.

    My favorites:
    At the end of the psp final fantasy 7 game, when you’re fighting the unending waves of guards, knowing that you’re going to die.

    Morrowwind, when you find the ring of Nevarine.

    Fallout 3, when you’re on the other side of the glass to your father.

    Planescape: Torment. Pretty much all of it.

    Dragon age: when you find out where the darkspawn come from. Morrigan leaving.

    Quake 4: When you’re being cut apart, and rebuilt.

    Bioshock: A man chooses, a slave obeys. That whole scene.
    Mass effect 2: Walking around Jack’s cell with her, listening to what they did to her. When the main gun is unveiled against the collector ship. Tali’s trial.

  470. #471 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    PZ (@345):

    But storytelling is not the same as gaming!

    I agree that this assertion is sometimes true, but not that it is generally true. Clearly there exist games that have no overlap with storytelling. It would be ludicrous, for instance, to suggest that there’s any narrative intent in a game like Tetris, and even games that are nominally narrative on the micro level (e.g., simple shoot-‘em-ups) often don’t have any consciously constructed narrative arc that justifies the name storytelling.

    But other games are clearly narrative in intent. Sometimes the author/designer has essentially written a story and then buried it in the world of the game, to be discovered (or perhaps uncovered) by the player. (I gather Myst, Riven, et seq., are examples of this, though I never had time to get very far in either.) Or it might be that the designer has created an explicitly interactive narrative space, within which the final story is to be determined by the interaction of the player with the game world. Both of these types of games, IMHO, constitute storytelling, both on the part of the designer and of the player. And to the extent that storytelling is art, in these cases, gaming, too, is art.

    But I’m not arguing in an all-inclusive way that all gaming is art: A game that’s intended purely as a contest is, IMHO, not art, and is more akin (as I think you mean to point out) sport than to art. And, BTW, no amount of artistry in presenting said game will make it art.

    It’s just that I think certain species of narrative games can be art… contrary to the opinion you report from Mr. Ebert.

    More to the point, it’s not hard for me to imagine a designer approaching gaming explicitly as an artistic medium. Imagine, that is, a person who thinks of him/herself primarily as an artist using the gaming “toolset” to create an interactive environment that has the intentions of art — evoking particular emotional states, or provoking thought in a particular area, or promoting particular ideas or aesthetic responses, or maybe some blend of all of that — rather than wanting to simply be a test of skill. This might be a product marketed to the gaming world but offering them a unique experience (for all I know, there are games that already satisfy this description), or it might be an installation piece in a museum or gallery (I’m picturing people sitting at computers in a gallery space, perhaps with their progress being displayed on large public monitors).

    So I don’t necessarily think whenever you wander into the Apple store and pick up the latest release from the Game Software section, you’re “buying art”… but I do think it’s perfectly clear that games — and gaming — can be art.

  471. #472 William
    April 22, 2010

    I’m saying that when you try this ploy of calling them art and demanding that everyone must appreciate their potential as such or they’re just cranky old geezers who don’t appreciate this modern stuff

    Easy to knock over a straw man, isn’t it?. Perhaps you do not recall, but no one demanded you appreciate their potential – YOU (or eh, Ebert) drew first blood. YOU are the one demanding that we REJECT their potential.

    In the spirit of my previous post… telling me, that say, Deus Ex, is lower on the “art scale” than Lady Gaga is so mind-crushingly silly that it’s worthy of mockery. The game left a greater impression on me, inspired more emotions in me, etc etc. But nothing like that has ever happened in you. Don’t be so egocentric. Just because Lady Gaga gives you a more satisfying “sample of human experience” does not mean this holds up for everyone.

  472. #473 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, you’re putting art on a pedestal. You’re also elevating yourself to the position of arbiter on what is, and what is not, art. You’re free to do that but you don’t have the facts; this is way from your areas of expertise. Your position follows the argument “I don’t know about art but I know what I like”. Something doesn’t become art because enough people vote for it. Neither is it art if the “right” people vote for it. You are being aristocratic, snobbish, and wrong.

  473. #474 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    Hit ‘submit’ on that too quickly.
    Anyone have a favorite moment in a game? That ‘Game selling’ moment that you’re apparently crazy for buying the game for? ;)

  474. #475 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    All right then! The winner in this game is the biggest art snob!

    PZ, yes exactly. You may not see artistic merit in any game but that is only a reflection of what you believe art to be (not video games) and not movies you don’t like either.

    You even say “classic” films.

    Personally I think most art in museums is of historical interest and value, but no more artistically lofty than graffiti. But that is because my stance on art is anti-hierarchical to some extent. Or at least I try for that. Truly I fail at times, but at least I know where my ideals lie :/

    Consider the discussion of art and craft that used to go on rampantly in schools. It’s kind of funny that the Mona Lisa is art but carefully embroidered portraits made by natives in the newly found Americas not long after are still considered “craft” because they don’t fit the western cannon, the hierarchical value system that gives us patriarchy and imperialism’s definition of art.

    There are a lot of people who would tell you what art can and cannot be, but I think whatever your experience is with art and video games people here are trying to say that they really do experience some games the way that they experience works of art.

    Who are you to tell them that they don’t?

  475. #476 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    Which brings me to: We’re all going to hit this in our lives.
    That moment when we realize that it’s us that ‘Doesn’t get it’.
    Some new artistic medium will open up, and chances are, we’ll dismiss it as ‘not art’.

    Then again, maybe we’ll remember this conversation, and be a little more open about it. Who knows.

  476. #477 darthcynic
    April 22, 2010

    So what you’re saying PZ is that your opinion on what is art or not is the one by which we should all adhere?

    I don’t see any argument that does not rely on your personal opinion, so I’m sorry but you have not categorically proven that no games can be considered as art.

  477. #478 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    If video games aren’t art, neither are movies, especially 3-D movies and cartoons/anime. Must be a generation gap thing.

    first comment, and I needed to read no further.

    ayup.

  478. #479 ashleyfmiller
    April 22, 2010

    @PZ

    Someone mentioned this in the comments over on Ebert’s page, but I think it’s the difference between a chess board and playing chess. A chess board can be a work of art, but a game of chess is a game. The act of playing a video game isn’t artistic, but the game itself is some combination of puzzle and art.

    I think the lines are a bit blurred, because storytelling is generally considered art, though it is also entertainment. Video Games, particularly RPGs, follow specific story lines and develop characters, you can genuinely become emotionally involved with them. This is why the people defending the video games are so defensive, to them the games have real emotional depth and feeling and you’re saying that that isn’t a valid reaction.

    I don’t think it makes you old-fashioned not to think of video games as art anymore than it makes someone old-fashioned to think TV or bad films aren’t art. It’s a very difficult line to draw between entertainment and art — it’s why comedy is almost never thought of as artistically valid. Stand up is generally not thought of as an art form, but it is storytelling in it’s simplest form.

    It’s a subjective question. Some people might say that Uwe Boll is art, and I’m not sure I could disagree with them. Personally, I think the in-depth narratives, stunning graphics, and emotional investment that a lot of video games provide do make them art forms. I’d argue for Kingdom Hearts, Prince of Persia, Ocarina of Time or even Katamari Damacy — they present unique visions of the world and stories that have stuck in my mind as much as any film.

  479. #480 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    PZ @#457:

    So…where is this game that approaches Kurosawa’s Ran as an expression of art?

    Why, clearly any game at the top of the list, so far. Myst. Braid. Shadow of the Colossus.

    If we were to talk about photography, then whatever photographs are among the best would be the equivalent of Ran.

    Literature? Much of Shakespeare’s works. Clearly.

    Now, how you’d actually place Hamlet the play on the Boll to Kurasawa scale is beyond me.

    Or are you arguing that there’s some objective Platonic scale of awesome to shitty that extends beyond the actual best we have to date and the actual worst we have to date?

    If I’m looking for art, I’ll go to a museum or read a book or watch a classic movie.

    If I’m looking for entertainment or some thrills or some fun, I’ll go to a cheesy (non-arty) movie, or play a game.

    They both have their place. Different places.

    Again your circular argument is asserted.

    Movies and paintings and books are art because they have the quality of being in galleries and museums and libraries which are buildings constructed to hold art, which is movies and paintings and books.

    And not video games.

    Clearly. Because they’re not movies and books and paintings, apparently.

  480. #481 Lilyana
    April 22, 2010

    I’m sure no one will see my post way down here but I’ll throw out my comments anyway.

    The problem with trying to argue whether or not something is art is that art is an abstract. I have seen paintings that I find boring and plain and entirely uninteresting. I find nothing of art in them. But that same painting to another person may speak deeply to their person. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

    I think the reason we so often hear the line, “I know it when I see it,” is because art is not universally accepted by all people as art. There was that recent controversy with the Jesus figure in urine. Some people thought it an potent, intellectual expression, many others declared, “That’s not art! That’s just obscene!”

    A personal example for me, I find there to be a kind of physical poetry in bondage. Many people hold a very negative view of this sort of thing. To me however, the vulnerability of the person, the intricacies and complexities of the work with the rope to me seems like a very emotional, intimate, poetic expression that depending on the situation can be an expression of love, or trust, or anger, or used to convey a metaphor about the human condition. Sometimes it’s just porn and not intended to convey any emotions, but even then I find a certain elegance in the rope work and the intense emotion coming from the now vulnerable, exposed party.

    And using that bit about porn to move into the topic of sex, I’ve heard more than one person declare that sex is the purest form of human expression, emotion, and art that there is. At the same time, many of the very people rebutted and reviled on this blog among plenty of others regularly decry it as filthy and obscene. It just depends on who you are and what has meaning to you as a person.

    To wrap this up, I’ll throw out a couple of my own examples to refute the idea that developers never set out intending to create art. Try The Path http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Path_%28video_game%29 (check out the “development” heading) and Linger in Shadows http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linger_in_Shadows.

  481. #482 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    PZ @457

    I believe I covered that with the broad category and narrow categories of art.

    In short, video games are undoubtedly an artistic medium in the same manner as film, TV, visual art, music, and literature. And yes, in your weird argument, yes, all games are broadly art in the same way as any creation of an artistic medium is broadly art.

    That would also be the contention that you and Ebert derided in your posts and what you claimed you found wrong in the Tycho and Gabe argument.

    You now say it would be snobbish of us to argue from the narrower frame of art that you and Ebert have been demanding as the true barrier to true art.

    This would seem contradictory and I don’t mean to seem accusatory when I say this by any means. This is an argument relating to Sturgeon’s Law (95% of everything is crap), there are going to be exceptional pieces of work, and based on the narrowest standards of the artist communities and art world, there are things we naturally turn to as pieces that truly try and do something exceptional and transcendent.

    Pieces that are not merely works of an artistic medium, but pieces that are always considered art, even by the narrowest, most exceptional frames.

    You were the one who asked us to argue from this narrower frame and now you seem angry when we tried to accommodate you.

    In this example you ask us if there are any works that are considered Kurosawa worthy.

    There are.

    Am I saying that the artistic medium of gaming has produced a Ran?

    Yes.

    And a Casablanca and a Jacob’s Ladder and a Requiem for a Dream.

    We don’t just keep coming back to Shadow of the Colossus, because “oh man, you’re like climbing shit, it’s totally an awesome way to spend an afternoon”. It’s because it is legitimately art. I mean, industry experts, game designers, traditional artists, and ordinary gamers have all come to agreement that it truly transcends a game into a true art experience.

    Shadow of the Colossus is arguably the Ran of games as is its precursor Ico. There are also the others. Versions of games which truly stretch not only the medium but deep aspects of the nature of art, interaction, and the postmodern connection between medium and audience.

    All of that which you have asked, we have provided, per your request. Sometimes brusquely, but sometimes also kindly.

    If you wish to argue that there are more Boll’s than Kurosawa’s in gaming?

    I am in full agreement…Just as there are more Boll’s than Kurosawa’s in film.

    You are arguing in contra to Sturgeon’s Law (95% of everything is crap) to argue that there is no 5% of transcendent, legitimate art or good works.

    This is not the case.

    And much like film, there will be works that are fantastic films that are also wouldn’t often be considered Kurosawa level pieces of art. Terminator 2 is a fantastic fun movie and a worthy piece of film history. It wouldn’t be on my list of films I’d consider as fitting even the narrowest definitions of art (though some might disagree). The same is true with video games.

    There are Kurosawa worthy games. Hell, Heavy Rain (if you replaced the French noir elements with Japanese samurai elements) pretty much would be a video game Kurosawa would make if he were to work in the medium.

    That’s what we are saying and which you stubbornly are cussing us out for saying.

  482. #483 Mr T
    April 22, 2010

    Cerberus:

    The last generation must diss the tastes of the next generation and see it as threatening.

    All of us on the “youngster” side of this will probably end up doing it to the next generation.

    I would only quibble with the part about “probably”. It seems inevitable to me, until people understand a very simple principle:

    “Art” is both a description and a value judgment.

    You can talk about what art is, or what you want it to be. You can also very easily make the mistake of trying to do both at the same time.

    Even people disagreeing with Ebert’s and PZ’s claims against video games are falling into the same, old pointless trap. Some at least make (questionable) distinctions like “high art” or “capital-A Art”, in order to be inclusive of all forms of art. Most still confuse the thing itself with their opinions of it, in their Quixotic attempt at defining what is True Art?. Their opinions are noted.

  483. #484 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    Hey kiddies! None of this has to do with PZ’s “generation”. Age has nothing to do with it. It has to do with Philistinism, pure and simple. Nifty word, that…

  484. #485 diwakark86
    April 22, 2010

    I think video games can contain pieces of art ? artists participate in their creation, after all

    I think this quote reveals a deep misconception of the art content of games.

    Art is meaningless if it doesn’t tell us something about our world or ourselves.

    It follows from this that the art of a game isn’t primarily the graphics created by the ‘art team’ of the developers. It is the underlying rules of the of the game that are art.
    Since most of the rules of video games* are ‘borrowed’ from reality(i.e. you cant walk through walls, you can only perform a limited set of actions in a turn etc.), they can be seen as crude simulations. They can be used tell us a lot about ourselves and the world.(note the word ‘can‘, not all games do so).
    *(but not sports, which are played within the constraints of reality)

    To give an example of this consider Alpha Centauri.

    Your basic role in the game is as a decision maker for human group that is colonizing an extra solar planet(you can guess the star system from the name). The ship that transported them crashed into the planet an scattered its supplies.

    In the beginning your home base produces very little and you mostly send scouts out to gather supplies, usually a good supply find can net as much as you can produce in 2 years(turns) by yourself. Then as you build up your infrastructure and eventually find that gathered supplies are a tiny fraction of a years production. Then realization hits you, I was leading a scavenger society before, I am leading an industrial one now.

    It shows you the likely experience of space colonist by putting hard numbers on things like production, exploration and research in a crude simulation and letting you make decisions based on it. And it is just a tip of the iceberg of complexity that the game offers, there are also other factions with their own personalities and agendas, tech trade,… and a lot more that adds depth to the simulation.

    Games are the ultimate ‘show don’t tell’ media. You learn about your world from your own behavior, your interaction with the rules or other players in a simulation.
    In any other form of fiction you get a verbal/visual description of the world and the behavior of its inhabitants. Who are, in the end, little more than mouthpieces for the author. In games you act and see the world respond to your behavior.

  485. #486 PsyberDave
    April 22, 2010

    PEEZ,

    Dude, you are SO wrong.

    But then again, you are right.

    Art, as a psychological concept, a construct, or definition is quite open for you to define as you see fit. Your argument might be phrased not that video games are not art (which sounds like a statement of fact) but rather that video games do not fit with your definition of art. Then it becomes clear why video games don’t count as art; because you have not included them in the category as you define it.

  486. #487 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    PZ you’ve crucified yourself here with your sloppy logic. You’re making huge freakin claims here. I’m extremely disappointed in the pure tenacity that you’re defending this position with.

    You defend books as art, and claim games are not.

    You’ve never played Mass Effect.

    You defend movies as art, and claim games are not.

    You’ve never played Uncharted 2.

    Seriously, get off your high horse here, you sound like such a conceited armchair expert that I’m having trouble taking you seriously now. Fucking baby boomers need to just get their own continent to live on away from everyone else.

  487. #488 Haruhiist
    April 22, 2010

    OK, I’m not letting go yet because this argument you’re making ticks me off.

    You seem to be saying that the gaming mechanism, the actual things you can do in a game, can not be art. But if a game revolves around story-telling, and that is the art aspect, then games cannot be art on their own, because they get their art aspect from the same parts as films, and thus no gaming aspect is necessary.
    Right. So painting is art, but lithography isn’t, it just does painting in a different way…
    And that’s even assuming you are right that the gaming mechanism can’t be art…

    There’s a serious problem with this argument that many are making that the games I’ve played aren’t the The True Art games. It really plays right into Ebert’s hands.

    So…where is this game that approaches Kurosawa’s Ran as an expression of art? I know, I haven’t played as many games as many of you, so I must have missed it, but still…I’ve played enough. I’ve seen enough of the most highly vaunted games out there to be a bigger snob than any of the defenders of games and say none of them. I’ve seen many and played a few of the big name games (commercial junk, I can almost hear you say) and some of the little indie efforts (Flower and Braid, for instance), and while they’re fun and fulfill their purpose as games (except Flower, which I thought was awesomely boring), I think I get a far deeper sampling of the human experience from Ran, or a good book, or a symphony, or Lady Gaga even.

    I’m not arguing that you’ve never played a game that can be considered art. I’m saying that some of the games you’ve played are art.

    For example, an art piece could be made to show the tragic nature of war (to name something that’s beaten to death).

    Why would a good book, that shows such tragedy be art, but a game, that places you in the middle, makes you care for the characters and then puts you before tough choices (do I betray someone who helped me, or take my chances?) not be art?

    More generally, why should you have to passively sample the human experience, but not be part of that human experience, for something to be art?

  488. #489 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Mr T @483

    Yeah, I’ve trying to keep that separated in my argument with the spectrum of artistic definition (broadest to narrowest) covering from art as a medium and the stuff that gets on all the True Art TM lists at the other end, but yeah, it gets more muddied.

    Especially with Sturgeon’s Law. 95% of entries in an artistic medium suck. Or are made with no soul or lack the essences we would ascribe to the narrowest definition of high art.

    But that “high art” is exceptional, by definition. If that was just what we expected, well, then, it wouldn’t be remarked upon and wouldn’t be as transcendent or impactful.

    It’s like a great insight versus “People can be mean”.

  489. #490 Haruhiist
    April 22, 2010

    … blockquote fail

  490. #491 MasterDarksol
    April 22, 2010

    It seems like you’re waffling here. Are they art or aren’t they? This last comment you seem to be conceding that they are art, but sucky art. That’s rather subjective, and hardly sturdy ground on which to make your stand. I know quite a few people who would ejaculate to Jackson Pollock, but I think it’s worthless.

    I’m not going to say that you haven’t played enough games or even the right games, as I’d be making a similar mistake. Rather, it seems the medium just isn’t your thing. I don’t like abstract paintings, country music, R&B, or most forms of “modern art” like the aforementioned Pollock … but you don’t see me trying to classify them as “not art.”

  491. #492 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    I know someone who cried for hours at the end of final fantasy 7 (spoiler, the female lead dies).

    Sorry, that was 1/4 of the way through. Not the end. The end was the part where they left it up in the air whether or not civilization died out due to the end catastrophe (spoiler: it didn’t).

  492. #493 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    Silent Hill 2 is not a game that anyone would play for its gamey elements.

    I can fucking vouch for this. The bad controls of Silent Hill 2 I find actually -add- to the gameplay in a way, because you control like a gibbering fool. Which you are. It helps that (aside from Pyramid Head and one spoiler boss) the enemies you’re up against are completely gimpy too.

    Also, when I think of games as art, my first thought is definitely not Halo of all things.

  493. #494 ThirdMonkey
    April 22, 2010

    Where’s the line? Above this is art, below isn’t.
    You’re setting up a straw man.

    The argument is whether or not the medium is capable of being art. Which it is. Whether or not there has never been a game that we can point to and say “Hey! That one is as good as ‘Ran’!” doesn’t mean that the medium is incapable of producing one.
    You sound just like a literary or play critic in the 1910’s declaring that film can never be art.

    To claim that the mechanics of playing a game detracts from the art is like claiming that the mechanics of reading printed words and parsing sentence grammar detracts from the art of a novel. And just as there can be elegance and beauty in prose it can also be found in the game mechanics and UI.

    The simple truth is that any medium that can convey a story, represent beauty or invoke emotions in the viewer is worthy of the descriptor of art. The medium of viewer-interactive, computer generated imagery is capable of all of those things. I?m am very disappointed in Ebert that he fails to recognize that.

    If you prefer your art in the form of cave paintings and epic poems told around a campfire you are welcome to them. But don?t go around dismissing entire mediums of expression simply because no one has yet to fulfill its full potential or because reading these new-fangled words detracts from enjoying the story.

  494. #495 wheelbrain
    April 22, 2010

    This thread seems too long to make much of an impression, but I don’t see anyone making a crucial argument. Playing a video game in which you have control over your performance – not a text adventure that strictly binds you to a linear progression, but a game like an RPG that offers true choices or a Far Cry 2-type shooter that can be approached with skill or incompetence – renders the player an artist him/herself. Think of an actor in a stage play. The lines are already written, he is told where to stand, where to move, what to do. Sure, he still has control over his own performance, but he is still progressing through the play toward the author’s intentions. Is the play art? Of course. Is the performance art? Of course. Is the actor an artist? Of course. But why? Because he is participating in the making of the art. Without him, the art does not exist! There is no play! Without the gamer, there is no game. If the game contains art, but requires a participant to discover it and interact with it, the participant is an actor in the game.

    But, you say, anyone can play the game – there’s no definitive version, no finished product. Well, the play is the same – anyone can act in any part. Video games are plays where your performance is scored. Ebert is just unhappy he doesn’t get to rate it, like he does with movies.

    As for why there aren’t any videogames that rival Ran – well, why don’t you give it time? Films have a pretty big head start.

    (Here’s a neat thought: what if they turned Hamlet into a video game, where you have to play Hamlet’s part? Would you insist it isn’t a game, because the lines are already there? But what if you could stray from the lines… would it no longer be art, because it didn’t exactly follow the original?)

  495. #496 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    Gonna link this article again in case some of you didn’t get a chance to read it.

    http://pc.ign.com/articles/108/1084661p1.html

    This hits on our topic like the hammer of god.

    Check it out. Especially you PZ.

  496. #497 Weed Monkey
    April 22, 2010

    TL Synthesis #446

    For lack of a better term, moments like the ones you mentioned in Halo give the game its soul, that indicator that the developers had more in mind than just making a game “all about balance and game play,” as you put it.

    QFT.

    True, the balance and gameplay work needs to be there to make the game tolerable, but no one remembers a game for its tight controls or balanced weapons; they remember those rare moments that had their eyes glued to the screen.

    Yes, except for those few games that are all about tight controls and balanced weapons. Dead or Alive-series comes immediately to mind. :)

    Oh yes, it’s not all about bouncy girlbits!

  497. #498 Gadfly22
    April 22, 2010

    I suppose we can argue about a definition for “art” and draw up criteria for pigeon-holing one example or another.

    But it takes only minimal knowledge about Bioshock — the predicament of the Little Sisters, the moral choices to be made about how to treat them and the family situation of the protagonist — to feel the power of the various alternate endings. But most particularly, the “good ending”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qu70sn7GWkc&feature=related

    If, armed with that minimal knowledge, you can watch the “good ending” and not be moved — not recognize it as art — then debate is futile.

  498. #499 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    I know this has been said, but it bears repeating that Brownian won the Internet with #29. But don’t let that go to your head, because winning the Internet is certainly not an art. :-p

  499. #500 Kome
    April 22, 2010

    I would argue that the response of the PA guys still hasn’t been addressed: If hundreds of artists design a product, putting in artistic elements such as music, cinematography, still pictures, and narrative form that are all, as constituent parts, a “distillation and representation of human experience” (whether or not it’s “good” is irrelevant), how can their product, which is simply an interactive way to come into contact, not be art?

    Given some of the CG movies these days, where either the entire movie is CG (Dreamworks and Pixar films) or almost every scene is packed with loads of CG (the Star Wars prequels, Avatar), I fail to see much difference between a video game and a movie aside from the amount of button pressing I have to do in my living room to progress the story. And, considering all the page turning I have to do to progress in a book, I don’t see that as much of a factor as to whether or not video games should or should not be considered art. The gaming aspect of a video game is simply a high-tech way of turning the page in a book.

    I’d suggest that people who argue against video games as art are getting too hung up on the medium and not the product. But perhaps I’m reading your argument incorrectly, PZ.

  500. #501 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    Wheelbrain #495

    You raise some good points. Points that will unfortunately be ignored. This is an aporia we’re facing here plain and simple.

  501. #502 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    I’m just going with the flow here.

    I mentioned Halo, met with a chorus of people telling me that no, it doesn’t count, it’s not art. OK, then…art is a measure of quality, by their definitions. If I accept that, though, I have to say that video games aren’t art. Even the ones people keep mentioning…no. Just because they’re better than the 95% of video games that are crap, doesn’t make them art.

    There’s a risk of unrealistic expectations here. Now I’m told that “Shadow of the Colossus” is the game to look for…I don’t know. Maybe it’s wonderful. But I’ve been told for about 30 years now that this next brand new game is great art, and I’ve been disappointed every time. The problem is that the fans keep measuring them against other video games, where the hurdle is set very, very low. Maybe Shadow is a thousand times better than the best game I’ve ever played. It’s still not going to be as good as the best novels I’ve read.

    Brownian, I wasn’t making a circular argument. I was conceding that if that was true, that there is a hierarchy that determines what is art, then there are cheesy books and movies and paintings that are not rescued from their low estate by being on a bookshelf or in a theater or museum.

  502. #503 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    aratina cage (@450):

    …let’s project into a possible future where movies have an element of plot freedom to them so that the audience can influence the outcome of the events. Will that kind of movie still be a form of art under your distinction? How about when a crowded theater gets to decide which event happens based on majority rule?

    Yes, and yes; why do you ask? I mean, I’ve been defending interactive media as “real” art all along; if a genre or form is art to begin with, introducing a degree of audience interactivity to it doesn’t (IMHO) make it not art.

    BTW, I’m pretty sure there have already been movies where the crowd in the theater vote at strategic points on what happens next (I have a vague memory of an attraction like this at Disneyland, which my family visiting when I was 7). It may seem pretty gimmicky… but I suspect there are people who think that about other forms of interactive art that are nevertheless universally accepted as art.

    The game element is always there in non-art-house movies even though you may not realize it because of your inability to interact with the finished product. There is always a goal.

    I think we may be working with different senses of the word game: By “[t]he game element,” you seem to be (and correct me if I’ve misunderstood you) referring to a degree of manipulation. But all art (including “art-house movies”) is manipulative (please note that I’m well aware it does not follow from this that all manipulation is art). That’s not the distinction I mean to be drawing. Instead, I’m drawing a distinction based on intended effect: Art, I think, intends to evoke certain kinds of thoughts and feelings in those who experience it; a game (in the generic sense) wants to present a functional challenge to those experiencing it, with success measured (more or less) objectively, in terms of criteria such as milestones achieve, points scored, time elapsed, etc. The point I’ve been trying to advance here is that a video game can conceiveably occupy either end of that spectrum, or any point in between.

    If you tell me a story¹ that you mean to create a response in me, that’s art… regardless of medium or technique, and regardless of the degree to which I participate with you in telling of the story; if you set me a task, measure my performance, and compare my performance to some standard (including, potentially, some other player’s performance), that’s a game, regardless of how beautifully and evocatively the task is framed and presented. But… there’s nothing saying a game can’t also be art, and vice versa.

    IMHO, of course.

    ¹ BTW, I certainly don’t mean to be reducing all art to narrative. It’s just that narrative seems the most appropriate sort of art to refer to in comparison to video games.

  503. #504 Gore
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, I’m sorry to say that your completely off your kilter in this argument here. A lot of what you said is “it isn’t art if it’s boring,” and it isn’t art if it is “interactive,” or if you don’t like watching other people play. And that’s the thing, video games are completely dependent on art from a variety of contexts, in terms of fiction (compelling story/characters), landscaping, light effects, music, you name it. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that hires thousands of the most talented and competitive artists in any one of these specialties.

    PZ, seriously, stick with the science because it’s what you are good at, and stop debating the world on whether something is art. K?

  504. #505 Shplane
    April 22, 2010

    You’re missing the point. Games aren’t about “Watching”. You’re not supposed to watch someone play a game. The “Performance” is experienced when you PLAY the game. And with a good game, I’ll replay that “Performance” over and over.

    Your argument is like saying that paintings aren’t art because it’s not fun to watch someone else look at a painting. Of course it isn’t, because you’re not experiencing the painting yourself. It’s the same way with games: It’s not usually fun to watch someone else play a game, because you’re not experiencing that game for yourself.

    I say “Usually” because it actually is fun to watch other people play some games. That’s not really relevant, though.

    tl;dr By the definitions you put forth, games are in fact art.

  505. #506 diwakark86
    April 22, 2010

    PZ @ #502

    The problem is that the fans keep measuring them against other video games, where the hurdle is set very, very low. Maybe Shadow is a thousand times better than the best game I’ve ever played. It’s still not going to be as good as the best novels I’ve read.

    I have compared video games to other fiction @ post #485

  506. #507 https://me.yahoo.com/a/S8pO0dgN3vZCcp6GFuJzIu14IBqIw1hq7Kw-#24131
    April 22, 2010

    First of all, let’s clarify something. We can talk about art in the sense that all movies are art, or we can talk about art in the sense that only the “best” movies are art. Almost everyone here is just saying that games clearly qualify as art in the first sense.

    What you and Ebert seem to be saying is that games cannot be art unless the best games are at least as good as the best art in other media. That is to say, the “strategy” you’re accusing others of unwisely employing is exactly your argument: that games aren’t art because the best examples just aren’t good enough.

    You’re also saying that since you, personally, don’t get very much out of video games, they’re not art.

    Neither of those is a valid argument.

    I’ve seen many and played a few of the big name games (commercial junk, I can almost hear you say) and some of the little indie efforts (Flower and Braid, for instance), and while they’re fun and fulfill their purpose as games (except Flower, which I thought was awesomely boring), I think I get a far deeper sampling of the human experience from Ran, or a good book, or a symphony, or Lady Gaga even.

    I don’t really like fiction. I pretty much never read any literature that isn’t non-fiction. I simply don’t enjoy it, I don’t connect to it. On the other hand, I can connect very deeply with many varieties of music — everything from Aphex Twin to Gram Parson.

    The fact that literature doesn’t do it for me does not compel me to make statements like “literature is not and can never be art.” And that’s all you’re doing in the above paragraph.

    I hate to break the news to you, but they’d all have to go on the Boll side of the line, so far. Maybe you can dig up some example otherwise — although I’m confident you won’t find a Ran of games — but I don’t have high expectations that anyone can.

    OK, well, let’s bring in comix in general as well. Are comix art? Do you think there are any comics whose quality compares to those of Kurosawa films? Is Watchmen of comparable quality to Ran? Worse or better? Or is it subjective?

    If you agree that no example of graphic narrative comes close to Kurosawa, then your criticism of games undercuts comix as art every bit as decisively.

    Of course, there’s another line of argument here: many people think James Joyce was the greatest novelist of all times. Many people disagree. I don’t really like literature as I’ve already said, but to the extent that I HAVE enjoyed it, Joyce certainly isn’t at the top of the list. So this list you’re making is perhaps not entirely subjective — presumably, one can defend one’s enumeration based on properties of the works in question — but certainly not objective in the first place.

    You don’t stop there, you imply that you don’t think that any game could EVER approach Kurosawa-quality, without providing any reason beyond the fact that you, personally, don’t get much out of video games. Which I’ve addressed above.

    I’m not being mean and saying games are all bad. I’m saying that when you try this ploy of calling them art and demanding that everyone must appreciate their potential as such or they’re just cranky old geezers who don’t appreciate this modern stuff, you’re putting yourself in some stiff competition. Competition that games aren’t ready for, and by their nature, may never be ready.

    Excuse me? It was the cranky old geezers who started this one, just like it was the cranky old geezers who insisted comix, rock and roll, jazz, film, and photography couldn’t be art. The cranky old geezers who insisted non-representational graphic art couldn’t be art, the same ones who said that literature (as opposed to poetry and drama) couldn’t be art.

    If I’m looking for art, I’ll go to a museum or read a book or watch a classic movie.

    If I’m looking for entertainment or some thrills or some fun, I’ll go to a cheesy (non-arty) movie, or play a game.

    And that’s your preference. But it doesn’t have any bearing on the potential of computer games as an artistic medium.

  507. #508 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    But don’t let that go to your head, because winning the Internet is certainly not an art. :-p

    I agree; it’s a science.

    I think wheelbrain’s comparison of the gamer to the actor in a play is excellent. Because, according to some of the criteria PZ laid out for art (non-interactivity, ability to frame it and put it on a wall) renders plays and musical compositions as art, but not the actual performances of the play or music.

  508. #509 William
    April 22, 2010

    I mentioned Halo, met with a chorus of people telling me that no, it doesn’t count, it’s not art

    Where did anyone say Halo isn’t art? I read most of these comments, and all I saw was essentially “Halo 2 is a really bad example. Why are you presenting your argument in such a lopsided way by using such a shitty example instead of using a more artsy game?”

  509. #510 Mak
    April 22, 2010

    Ha, I’m not a gamer at all, but this discussion is so hilariously intense. Can’t wait to see PZ’s response.

  510. #511 Annamal
    April 22, 2010


    I’m not being mean and saying games are all bad. I’m saying that when you try this ploy of calling them art and demanding that everyone must appreciate their potential as such or they’re just cranky old geezers who don’t appreciate this modern stuff, you’re putting yourself in some stiff competition. Competition that games aren’t ready for, and by their nature, may never be ready.

    *Sigh* you’re asking a 20 year old medium which has had some huge barriers to entry to compete with the sophistication of a >100 year old medium (and ignoring the stirrings of the more philosophical games like Bioshock and Portal which do precisely that).

    The first 20 years of film produced *some* art but it took a long time for people to really understand and stretch the medium. To make films that were more than just plays on screen.

    It also took a long time for film audiences to evolve, for them to understand cinematic shorthand and be able to cope with the speed of storyline moves.

    The same is true of comics, you need a very extensive comic storytelling history to reach a virtuoso like Alan Moore. Not many people would claim action comics #1 as art but Watchmen indisputably is, and not only that it’s art that takes full advantage of its medium.

    Coincidentally every criticism you have leveled at games was also aimed at comic books until books like Maus and Watchmen started drifting into public awareness (and still is, there are still news sources who run with the tired old “comics they aren’t just for kids anymore” headline over and over again).

    Videogames are just now moving towards having that body of previous effort and that understanding of just what the medium is capable of.

  511. #512 Haruhiist
    April 22, 2010

    @Cerberus: Thanks for reminding me about Shadow of the colossus and Ico. Makes me want to go out and buy a console.

    One more thing towards PZ:
    The fact that big art galleries are already displaying interactive pieces, should tell you that even artists disagree here.

    I’ve been to an exposition recently, where a screen was projected on the wall, and you manipulated what was shown on the screen by moving in front of it. A bit like a very simple version of natal really.
    Definitely not what most people think of as a game, but not one of your examples of art either.

  512. #513 Adamanthar
    April 22, 2010

    PZ noob ,games are art, end of discussion.

  513. #514 skeptifem
    April 22, 2010

    Uh, Fallout 3.

    That is all.

  514. #515 ReDSHiFT
    April 22, 2010

    Maybe Shadow is a thousand times better than the best game I’ve ever played. It’s still not going to be as good as the best novels I’ve read.

    Complete and utter pretentious bullshit. I’m an english major, with a focus on literature. I’ve read a ridiculous amount of books. And I’ve played Shadow of the Colossus. You, PZ, are a fool. You’re acting like the worst of the worst of close minded idiots.

    That statement alone is enough for me to bow out of here. You’re dead damn wrong, and you’re too pompous to see it. Now, I’m going to go listen to ACDC and play Elder Scrolls IV. Enjoy this facade of a debate people, you won’t convince this moron that games are art. He’s a fool, just leave him be to his diminished, gameless world.

  515. #516 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    The problem is that the fans keep measuring them against other video games, where the hurdle is set very, very low.

    I can see how that would be annoying. I’ve found that when people talk about which films are art, and which aren’t, they keep comparing them to other films, where the hurdle is set very, very low.

    I mean, where’s the film that’s the equivalent of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3?

  516. #517 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    I was conceding that if that was true, that there is a hierarchy that determines what is art, then there are cheesy books and movies and paintings that are not rescued from their low estate by being on a bookshelf or in a theater or museum.

    this assumes calling something “art” defacto does provide redemption from quality analysis.

    do you really want to make that argument?

    this is exactly why you have to look at what the intent of the presentation IS, IMO, to define whether or not it is art.

    frankly, in all the instances I have worked to produce video games myself, there indeed was a legitimate attempt to present the final product as what most would in fact define as “art”.

    functional, interactive, art.

    …and most of us, upon completion of game, would get the same feeling one gets from having used various media on canvas to produce a painting, say.

    yes, this also becomes an argument for programmers who can claim that a piece of programming is art.

    so?

  517. #518 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    and most of us, upon completion of game

    that’s completion of production, btw, not completion of playing.

  518. #519 llamaturtle
    April 22, 2010

    The entire idea of attempting to draw a line and determine what is or is not art is a fool’s endeavor. No one has provided the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be called ‘art’. Or even ‘game’, for that matter.

  519. #520 bart.mitchell
    April 22, 2010

    “Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.”

    I’m on my third time through Dragons Age. It’s stunningly beautiful, and I love how every trip through brings out different elements that I hadn’t seen yet. I also love how they let the light play off the water in some of the locals. It’s quite peaceful to just sit and enjoy the moment. Of course the kill scenes are gorgeous too.

    Just like all art, some games are just entertainment, others seek inspire, and the best make people think. I think anyone who doesn’t think they are art has never spent any time enjoying them.

  520. #521 mikerattlesnake
    April 22, 2010

    I get the feeling that PZ’s experience stems from his preconceptions. If you can play Braid all the way through and say it’s comparable to a Uwe Boll film, you just aren’t getting it. You probably logged in to kill some time and get some points and maybe hang out with your kid. If you don’t buy into the experience, you’re not going to get it. I’m sure I read a bunch of great books in high school that I hated and skimmed through; I am probably not in a position to judge those books. Someone who just likes pretty pictures probably shouldn’t be comparing the artistic merits of surrealist, expressionist, and impressionist painters.

    Also, I can’t believe that PZ would be so dismissive of the multiple accounts of games in which story and content was presented in a specific context that requires player interaction to evoke an emotional response. At this point I figure he’s just doing it to piss us off or he doesn’t want to admit that he is dead wrong. I would hope that it’s not the latter, or I would lose a lot of respect for him.

  521. #522 bertrand.le.roy.name
    April 22, 2010

    Ah, interesting, so PZ played Flower and found it boring. That may be the key to this whole discussion.
    A form of art might touch some, and bore others. I for one am completely impenetrable to dance as a form of art. It just doesn’t touch me, I find it boring.
    Do I say it’s not art? That would be supremely arrogant.
    Maybe PZ, and Ebert, are just not sensitive to what touches our souls profoundly in some games. That would be fine, but the arrogant “games are not art because they don’t touch me” is not.

  522. #523 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    Art and science employ different gates for inclusion and evaluate that which is so included differently as well. Virtually anything can be art, as long as it is made or is so ascribed. Once something is considered art it can’t be excluded from that realm. The definition of art is very broad. Unless some agreed upon metric is used it can’t be evaluated other than subjectively.

    In order for something to be science it has to follow a certain methodology, it has to reflect and further clarify what is perceived as reality. It is possible for something that once was considered cutting-edge science, such as geocentrism, to be banished from the realm of science because it fails to represent what exists. The best minds used to believe in divine creation; that has been relegated to the realm of myth because it utterly fails to explain what we now know about life.

    Don’t conflate what is art with what you like.

  523. #524 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    PZ @502

    You asked us to come down to your level by the assumption that all games suck.

    That was what you asked us to do.

    Games are an artistic medium. By the broadest definition of art met by every other artistic medium, they are an artistic medium. Just like music, visual art, poetry, literature, and yes, film. They are all art in that sense.

    What you have been arguing is by the narrower definition of art, the “Ran” argument, if you will. And when we have pointed out that no, Halo is not Ran, Halo is Terminator 2, you’ve suddenly switched to an oddly out-of-place bad-faith argument and argued that we’re suddenly “betraying our cause” and that we’re being art snobs.

    No, we’re trying to meet your arguments.

    You want to argue about the Ran of video games, about games that aren’t merely great games filled with great elements of art, but art games, works that very deliberately make an artistic statement and would be worthy of an interactive art installation?

    We are fully willing to meet you there and we have pointed out the works that meet that far narrower artistic standard.

    And now you’re mad at us and think we’re the ones who have abandoned our arguments or are being snobs.

    We haven’t. You have.

    You wanted to play this debating game, we have acquiesced and now you are angry that we have accommodated your standards.

    I have a small background being taught by visual arts professors and into the artistic frame of mind when I was pursuing a minor in the arts (literature specifically). I know my shit a little bit, not as much as biology, but a little bit.

    Shadow of the Colossus employs moving impressionism a whole new style of creating visual art which is literally stunning, a postmodern deconstruction of the player and the goal-oriented nature of most video games, and employs atmospheric and gameplay elements in truly artistic ways to self contain an artistic statement.

    The works by Team Ico are widely considered to be not fully games, but pieces of raw art you interact with as a game and was created by a traditional visual artist turned game developer who places artistic direction first.

    This isn’t an argument of “hey, this sucks less than usual.” This is arguments from the standpoint of how art installations work and the nature of art from art critical dissertations.

    On narrative, there are other examples for artistic, Ran level work.

    Halo is not anywhere approaching Ran, which was the standards you brought into this discussion. It’s a fun game. It’s got some beautiful art in it. It’s immensely popular. So’s Terminator 2.

    If you narrow the window and we follow to argue from your standpoint, you haven’t won and you don’t get to argue that this movement means you win into infinity and get to claim all games are not art by the broadest definitions and that all games also suck by any objective standard of art.

    There are games that would be considered art by the narrowest definitions of art. Ran barriers of what is art if you will.

  524. #525 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    I’m on my third time through Dragons Age.

    Most comprehensive voice acting I’ve ever seen in a game, I think. I can’t imagine how much money they spent on that alone.

    Yes, most assuredly the developer’s intent there was to inspire and get players to be creative.

    In fact, I’m quite sure the Bioware team, if asked, would indeed wish to define their efforts as a form of art.

  525. #526 Luke
    April 22, 2010

    Maybe Shadow is a thousand times better than the best game I’ve ever played. It’s still not going to be as good as the best novels I’ve read.

    But this is just your opinion. Many of us find this particular game to be beautiful, evocative, thought-provoking and inspiring. For me, it was a more memorable experience than any book I’ve read.

    Videogames still have a stigma unfortunately, but this will change over time. My wife thinks I’m wasting my time playing games. When I ask her if she’d feel the same way if I was reading a book, she says no. But she can’t give me a good explanation as to why. It’s just prejudice stemming from ignorance and unfamiliarity. Not the kind of thing I expected from PZ, to be honest.

  526. #527 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Brownian, I wasn’t making a circular argument. I was conceding that if that was true, that there is a hierarchy that determines what is art, then there are cheesy books and movies and paintings that are not rescued from their low estate by being on a bookshelf or in a theater or museum.

    Well, isn’t that true? Because that’s what many of us are arguing here; that there is no set of criteria that makes film, paintings, and literature art but which also excludes video games.

    Yet, by claiming that movies are art and video games aren’t, that’s exactly the case you and Ebert are trying to make. And so far, unsuccessfully.

  527. #528 mikerattlesnake
    April 22, 2010

    Yeah, whether PZ chooses to acknowledge it (and open up a whole new door of video game appreciation) or not, I think we can pretty much conclude that he is flat out wrong. He has yet to make a compelling argument, and has managed to make himself sound like a total goon in the process. Going through each one sentence by sentence would be possible, but pointless. He just doesn’t get it and that’s perfectly obvious to anyone who has spent a significant amount of time appreciating the medium.

    And PZ, it might seem mean and dismissive to say that, but frankly none of us care.

  528. #529 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    But I’ve been told for about 30 years now that this next brand new game is great art, and I’ve been disappointed every time.

    Then maybe the medium isn’t the problem. It’s been mentioned a few times, you ‘not getting it’ doesn’t define something as ‘not art’.
    Like the guy standing there, staring at a Picasso trying to figure out what the fuss is about, and all he sees is squares on canvas.

    Every new medium, every one, has been decried as ‘not art’. Photography, Film, novels. You name it.

    History shows us what happens. The medium is accepted, and a new one opens up. Cycle begins again, with everyone pointedly forgetting the previous cycle.

    Not every work of art speaks to every person.
    Invalidating an entire medium because you’re not picking up on the message is a little shallow.

  529. #530 deriamis
    April 22, 2010

    Sorry, PZ; I will have to disagree with both you and Roger on this one. Not only can games be art, they sometimes are. Some games are simply sport, but there are others where the play of the game is the performance. In other words, there are some games that are effectively interactive art.

    I can even think of some examples of this: Rez, Okami, Orbient, etc.

    I do make these distinctions when I review a game, as do most other game critics. Hence, while I disagree with the tone and thrust of the Penny Arcade rant, I also do agree with its motivation. I can understand people calling games like the Halo series mere sport (and that is their intent), but I don’t think the same can be said for every game ever made.

  530. #531 TL Synthesis
    April 22, 2010

    Now I’m told that “Shadow of the Colossus” is the game to look for…I don’t know. Maybe it’s wonderful. But I’ve been told for about 30 years now that this next brand new game is great art, and I’ve been disappointed every time.

    Shadow of the Colossus came out 5 years ago.

    And, indeed, if any game should be considered art, it’s this one. The sense of foreboding and loneliness as you trek across a nearly empty landscape to the next Lovecraftian foe is almost oppressive, and the simple but powerful motivation of the main character is reminiscent of the Greek tale of Orpheus.

    Oh yeah, classic literature buffs, I went there.

    The controls are actually fairly bad; the main character can barely swing a sword, and struggles to climb up even short ledges (which you do a lot). Does absolutely nothing to make the game less enjoyable. So much for only focusing on gameplay, eh?

  531. #532 tdcourtney
    April 22, 2010

    “If you’re arguing that video games are art because they have the same cinematic qualities, then fine — that’s art, too. They’re interactive movies. Animated novels. Whatever. But then what you’re doing is reducing them to a new medium for an old genre, storytelling, which is fine. But storytelling is not the same as gaming!”

    Yes, storytelling. Games are a new medium for storytelling, just as novels, cartoons, and movies once were. How does that make those media storytelling-art, but games not storytelling-art?

  532. #533 Shplane
    April 22, 2010

    Ok, ok, just scanned through and found PZ’s comments (Only two of them, so sorry if I missed more in this giant monstrosity of a thread).

    The problem seems to be that PZ is viewing the person playing the game as the artist. They’re not. The person who MADE the game is the artist. The act of PLAYING the game is no more art than looking at a painting is art. But that’s ok, because it’s not supposed to be.

    The game ITSELF, the thing that the gamer PLAYS, that is art. The programmers, designers, concept artists, sound composers, writers… These are the artists. The thing they create is art. The gamer can then experience that art by playing it, just like you can experience music by listening to it, or experience a novel by reading it, or experience a painting by looking at it.

    Games require a different type of action to be experienced. That does not make them not art.

  533. #534 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    What is funny to me in this argument is that of everyone here I probably play the fewest games. Although this thread is making me reconsider.

    I hold the position that I do on video games because of my stance on art as an artist :/

  534. #535 MasterDarksol
    April 22, 2010

    A lot of the problem I’m seeing is in who’s definition of art people are using to make their arguments. Let’s look at Wikipedia:

    Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.

    or Merriam-Webster:

    The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects

    Most video games fall under both of these definitions, while sports do not. Notably, those games that appear to not fall under these definitions would be the sports-genre games.

    While you might argue that you’ve never played a game that was as good for you as reading a novel, that’s subjective. I’ve played many games that were much more impactful to me than any novel I’ve read. I’m not saying your experience with them would be the same, just pointing out how subjective it is.

  535. #536 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Bill DAuphin, #503

    Art, I think, intends to evoke certain kinds of thoughts and feelings in those who experience it; a game (in the generic sense) wants to present a functional challenge to those experiencing it, with success measured (more or less) objectively, in terms of criteria such as milestones achieve, points scored, time elapsed, etc. The point I’ve been trying to advance here is that a video game can conceiveably occupy either end of that spectrum, or any point in between.

    I think you actually managedto do something you didn’t do. You’ve made a false dichotomy.

    That is to say, the ‘functional challenge’ is sometimes WHERE the emotion is intended to come from. Or maybe I’m just playing too many roguelikes, both NA and JP, and my thinking is distorted in these terms, but, what I mean is this: The way the challenge is presented can add to the feel. In Silent Hill, or Resident Evil, or hell, Nethack, the number of safe points is very, very few. You are generally under threat. Tying into this, there are very few healing items (Unless it’s a very very, very lucky run of nethack). You very well may die if you let yourself take hits. Now, this is usually a way to create challenge, like in IWBTG or Mega Man 9. Those are meant to generate rage. HOwever, the fear of death is meant to be evoked in a survival horror game. You’re not supposed to throw a controller at the wall, when you die. You’re supposed to have trouble holding it from fear.

    For that matter, the difficulty of X-Com is very much part of why the game manages to evoke paranoia and fear. If it were easy (And there are rare moments where it is genuinely easy for me, and I emphasize the rarity there, so I know the difference), it WOULDN’T manage to sustain that paranoia. I can’t panic about every footstep and door if I know the aliens literally can not hurt my guys. But because they very much can kill my squaddies, even if they’re isolated and alone, I remain scared at all times, once on the battlespace.

    So that’s a very specific example, along with two more general ones, of how gameplay enhances the music and atmosphere. Yes, through my fear (And paranoia!) I’m trying to consider how to keep my people alive, and then kill aliens. But if it’s about emotion, the GAMEPLAY also can be part of it, even just challenge-wise.

  536. #537 echidna
    April 22, 2010

    I read the post, thought “Myst” – but I can see I’m not the first one to do that. So out of sheer contrariness, I will mention Nethack – the way the game is put together is an absolute work of art, just not visual.

  537. #538 William
    April 22, 2010

    Invalidating an entire medium because you’re not picking up on the message is a little shallow.

    Prediction: we get a list of things that PZ doesn’t like but still considers art, as if that somehow validates his argument.

  538. #539 ashleyfmiller
    April 22, 2010

    Maybe PZ, and Ebert, are just not sensitive to what touches our souls profoundly in some games. That would be fine, but the arrogant “games are not art because they don’t touch me” is not.

    Exactly. Even if they aren’t moved, they have clearly witnessed that a lot of people have profound emotional responses to video games and that these people consider it art.

    I don’t understand why he and Ebert feel such a strong need to invalidate those experiences.

  539. #540 https://me.yahoo.com/a/S8pO0dgN3vZCcp6GFuJzIu14IBqIw1hq7Kw-#24131
    April 22, 2010

    This is from the article that Redshift linked to a couple times. I think it sums up PZ’s take on the issue rather neatly:

    This is destructive thinking because it reduces complexity and narrows the scope of something, by nature, unquantifiable. There’s little use in arguing for what something isn’t. Citizen Kane is, by Ebert’s assessment of consensus, the greatest movie ever made. It also contains a great impoverishment of language that stands as a blight against the entire medium of film. Joseph Mankiewicz’s chatty Americana cannot be considered any kind of an improvement on the timeless blank verse of Shakespeare and Marlowe. Would you want to dismiss Kane on the grounds that its sense of poetic language is hollow in comparison to works that had to make do without cinematography and editing?

  540. #541 nomen-nescio.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    If you prefer your art in the form of cave paintings and epic poems told around a campfire you are welcome to them. But don?t go around dismissing entire mediums of expression simply because no one has yet to fulfill its full potential or because reading these new-fangled words detracts from enjoying the story.

    QFT.

    now, to attempt to be productive and suggest a possible definition of “art”:

    art is a subspecies of communication, wherein the creator(s) (“artists”) attempt to communicate some form of emotion or emotionally laden experience, possibly (usually?) but not necessarily related to some insight into what life in this human condition is like, or can be like.

    benefits of this, admittedly vague and very broad-brush, definition: it takes in a lot of those human artifacts which people would generally want to have called “art”. music, painting, sculpture, literature, all tend to have this element of emotionally laden communication.

    shortcomings: it leaves out some things that have sold, under the heading of “art”, in art galleries, for shitloads of money. planks leaned up against walls don’t communicate much, nor trigger very many emotional responses. also, it might include a thing or two we wouldn’t normally call “art”, or wouldn’t even want to consider artistic. take a snapshot of a murder scene, and it can communicate emotively. most of us wouldn’t want to be communicated to that way, however.

    shortcoming that will cause P.Z. Myers to reject this proposed definition: it includes an awful lot of video games.

  541. #542 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Wow. PZ, this may be one of the fastest filling threads you’ve yet achieved. (And yet, it seems to have one of the lowest percentage of profanity, no thanks to me. Man, I am so low-rent.)

    @ Ichthyic #525

    Most comprehensive voice acting I’ve ever seen in a game, I think. I can’t imagine how much money they spent on that alone.

    Again, probably because other than a few high-profile actors from ST:Voyager and elsewhere, they shopped local and raided the local acting scene.

    Even after the success of Baldur’s Gate, when they were recruiting writers, developers, and programmers, their website featured a section describing what you can expect if you move to Edmonton to work for them.

    (How they managed to get anyone to move here is, well, nothing short of miraculous.)

  542. #543 katiebour
    April 22, 2010

    From Merriam-Webster

    Main Entry: 2art
    Pronunciation: \?ärt\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin art-, ars ? more at arm
    Date: 13th century
    1 : skill acquired by experience, study, or observation 2 a : a branch of learning: (1) : one of the humanities (2) plural : liberal arts b archaic : learning, scholarship
    3 : an occupation requiring knowledge or skill
    4 a : the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced b (1) : fine arts (2) : one of the fine arts (3) : a graphic art
    5 a archaic : a skillful plan b : the quality or state of being artful
    6 : decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

    I’d argue that according to the dictionary definition, video games and/or the playing of can meet almost all of these criteria.

    For 1 and 3 you have the art of playing video games, which is both an acquired skill that some hone into an art, and a profession (professional gamers make thousands of dollars at video game competitions.)

    As a branch of learning, #2, there are videos/faqs/instructables on how to play games, and of course college certification in making them.

    It may not be “high class,” but neither was Kabuki theater back in the day. Neither was Commedia dell’arte. Originally these modern day forms of “art” were opiates for the masses, low-class entertainment, bread and circus for the hoi-polloi.

    As for 4 and 6, well “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced” says it pretty clearly, as does “decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter.”

    You can make a pseudo-argument that “decorative elements” on a screen are somehow merit less artistic value than something on a page or a canvas, but I think that kind of differentiation ties in to the Western idea that art should have permanence.

    I would point out to you the Japanese concepts of Wabi-sabi and Mono no aware, which together basically explain a viewpoint of being mindful, aware of experiences as impermanent art, and learning to find beauty in the transience of all things.

    The cherry blossoms are beautiful because they are only around for a few weeks each year, and being able to appreciate their living, changing, and dying is art in itself. A.E. Housman says it well in his poem “Loveliest of Trees.”

    My point being- in many cultures experience is art. Video games are another kind of experience, and like movies, books, paintings, and sculpture can leave a lasting impression and change your view of things. Video games can enrich your life as much as any other work of art, or as others have pointed out, they may enrich your life more because of the ability to navigate and exert some form of control over the game.

    When I look at this piece of modern art, I see it through the lens of my own personal experience. It is up to my interpretation, and while I see plates stacked in disarray, others may see planets or atoms or gears or what-have-you. The fact that we each interact with this piece of art and may each have a different experience doesn’t lessen its status as “art,” and the same form of interaction in art applies to movies and video games.

    By the way, I played Myst well over a decade ago, and the feelings it evoked within me, the beauty, the fear, and the curiosity have remained with me to this day. I think it is one of the best examples of video-game-as-art.

  543. #544 nomen-nescio.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    If you prefer your art in the form of cave paintings and epic poems told around a campfire you are welcome to them. But don?t go around dismissing entire mediums of expression simply because no one has yet to fulfill its full potential or because reading these new-fangled words detracts from enjoying the story.

    QFT.

    now, to attempt to be productive and suggest a possible definition of “art”:

    art is a subspecies of communication, wherein the creator(s) (“artists”) attempt to communicate some form of emotion or emotionally laden experience, possibly (usually?) but not necessarily related to some insight into what life in this human condition is like, or can be like.

    benefits of this, admittedly vague and very broad-brush, definition: it takes in a lot of those human artifacts which people would generally want to have called “art”. music, painting, sculpture, literature, all tend to have this element of emotionally laden communication.

    shortcomings: it leaves out some things that have sold, under the heading of “art”, in art galleries, for shitloads of money. planks leaned up against walls don’t communicate much, nor trigger very many emotional responses. also, it might include a thing or two we wouldn’t normally call “art”, or wouldn’t even want to consider artistic. take a snapshot of a murder scene, and it can communicate emotively. most of us wouldn’t want to be communicated to that way, however.

    shortcoming that will cause P.Z. Myers to reject this proposed definition: it includes an awful lot of video games.

  544. #545 Shplane
    April 22, 2010

    #535

    And there we go. /thread

  545. #546 Dr. Matt
    April 22, 2010

    Metal Gear Solid has cropped up. MGS creator Hideo Kojima has weighed in on the “Is it art?” debate, and actually has expressed a position pretty close to that of PZ & Ebert: he thinks few to no existing games qualify. I disagree with this assessment myself, and think it’s entirely possible that Kojima was just messing with people’s heads, but it’s interesting that someone like Kojima would assert that games are unlikely to achieve the status of art.

    Probably, the question of whether games are art could only be resolved by an internet poll.

  546. #547 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    There is no hierarchy that defines what is art! Get over this point. It either is or is not art, based on the definition of art. Hierarchies are applied a posteriori to evaluate “quality” of art, based on some agreed-upon schema. “Quality” by its very nature is relative whereas art is absolute.

  547. #548 eshtomail
    April 22, 2010

    If archeologists unearthed a 15th chess set, do you think it would end up in an art museum?

    Of course it would.

    Also: Old people are old.

  548. #549 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    But this is just your opinion.

    You should have quoted the Dude: “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

    Then your comment would be art. Or, have a component of art. Or something. Just as long as you didn’t mash a button somewhere along the line.

    art is a subspecies of communication

    Great. Now you’re just beggin the phylogenists to join the fray.

  549. #550 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Cerberus:

    Your contributions in this thread confirm my recent Molly vote, and ensure it will be repeated (if it’s even needed) on the next ballot! That said, I think you and Mr T are talking around a position I disagree with:

    At the risk of repeating an earlier point (that could never happen, eh?), y’all seem to be saying that there’s some threshold of quality that determines whether something is art or not. I disagree. I think whatever is made with the intentions of art (which I take to be evoking a certain range of emotional and intellectual responses) is art. How well it meets those intentions determines its quality — whether it’s good art or bad art — but has nothing to do with whether it qualifies for the name.

    At least to this extent, I think I’m agreeing with PZ (@502):

    Just because they’re better than the 95% of video games that are crap, doesn’t make them art.

    Right. If you take a kind of thing that isn’t art, no example of that kind of thing can be art, no matter how surpassingly wonderful an example it might be. (But things are not always of a single kind: We’re talking about philosophical categories here, and they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.)

    I don’t, however, agree with this:

    Maybe Shadow is a thousand times better than the best game I’ve ever played. It’s still not going to be as good as the best novels I’ve read.

    First, I think it’s questionable to compare across forms like that: How can you separate out your preference for a given form to come up with a meaningful comparison of absolute quality? Suppose somebody said to you that even the best novel you could show them is still not going to be as good as the best rap songs they’ve heard? How could you respond, except with a shrug of the shoulders?

    But I also think it’s moot relative to the conversation we’re having: Suppose you could determine that, on some hypothetical absolute cross-form scale of goodness, that Shadow really is inferior to the best novels you’ve read? How would that answer the question of whether Shadow is art? I’m quite certain there are cubic miles of objects that are of inferior quality to your favorite novel, and that are nevertheless unambiguously works of art (i.e., think of all the mediocre paintings you’ve seen hanging in museums and galleries).

    Not to sound all Forrest Gump or anything, but the more I read of this conversation, the more I think art is as art does. As for whether any given art does what it does well… that is, I fear, “like a box of chocolates….”

  550. #551 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    MGS creator Hideo Kojima has weighed in on the “Is it art?” debate, and actually has expressed a position pretty close to that of PZ & Ebert: he thinks few to no existing games qualify.

    If I paint a landscape and subsequently say paintings aren’t art, does that mean anyone who considers paintings art is wrong? I do not intend to imply that you agree with the sentiment, since you are explicit you do not — but why is it relevant to the discussion in the first place? It has been mentioned already, incidentally.

  551. #552 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Metal Gear Solid has cropped up. MGS creator Hideo Kojima has weighed in on the “Is it art?” debate, and actually has expressed a position pretty close to that of PZ & Ebert: he thinks few to no existing games qualify. I disagree with this assessment myself, and think it’s entirely possible that Kojima was just messing with people’s heads, but it’s interesting that someone like Kojima would assert that games are unlikely to achieve the status of art.

    Yes, but he is A TROLL. This is why I adore him, however.

  552. #553 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Dr. Matt @546-

    The paucity of the English language. That’s why.

    We use the same word for the medium, the form of expression, and containing artistic merit as we do for “high art” or the narrowest definition of the exceptional and transcendent.

    The question of how few works merit the “high art” standard gets muddled because people automatically in their head compare it to a broader standard.

    I.e. they look at visual art, say, and ignore that 95% of it are advertising materials, amateur doodles, copycatting crap, etc…

    Sturgeon’s Law: 95% of everything is crap.

    Yeah, few games qualify by the narrowest standards. Few movies qualify,few books qualify, few plays qualify, especially by the vastness of the mediums.

    Of the millions of works that were made since the invention of the written language, how few were the books we considered transcendent enough to bother reprinting? Even from the point of the printing press or the oldest surviving library? How many works met the narrowest definitions of art?

    I would not expect many games to transcend like that, by the narrowest definitions. But games that have, that have made a contribution worthy of inclusion by the narrowest standards of art have been made.

    Hence, few.

    What Ebert and PZ are arguing is more that games even fail by broad standards and that video games are all shit as art or storytelling medium and are a mere diversion incapable of any moments of transcendence much less a fully-contained transcendent experience of the narrowest definition of art.

    Hideo Kojima being a strong post-modern artist would naturally use the term like that.

  553. #554 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    I said art couldn’t be interactive? Where?

  554. #555 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    No, guys, it’s Kojima. This guy loves fucking with everyone. He’s trolling you. Don’t fall for it.

    You learn the mind of the man when you play his games. That’s art :D

  555. #556 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    At the risk of repeating an earlier point (that could never happen, eh?), y’all seem to be saying that there’s some threshold of quality that determines whether something is art or not. I disagree

    You and I are in agreement here, but I do believe that there is an accepted cannon of high art, or has been for a very long time.

    It all depends on whose culture you privilege and whose legacy matters.

    Even at that, there is an area of art that deals specifically with art, or rather the concept of art, challenging the parameters in an attempt to open the discussion of what *our* art should be *now* and, you see… there’s that possessive. Because it still depends on who *we* are anyway.

  556. #557 diwakark86
    April 22, 2010

    Okay since no one responded to my post(#485)(a big blow to my ego) :( I will continue to blow my horn(and be ignored).
    Most people here mention triple A games which are mostly iterations of forms and rules which were shown to be successful about a decade or two ago(FPSs,RTSs,RPGs,survival-horror). But the best display of video game potential comes from the thousands of minigames floating around the internet.

    Take the browser game minotaur in a china shop(the link goes to the game itself. I urge you to play it. It’s free and only takes 10 minutes for one play through)

    At first it looks like a trivial game where you play a minotaur who retrieves pieces of china for customers. But it has a twist, you get paid insurance for the pieces of china you break.

    It quickly becomes clear that its pointless to serve your customers and the best way to make money is to break as much of your merchandice and collect insuraance. And I finally realized what it was… a critisizm of our current capitalist system and the preverse incentives it generates. And it does this by letting you ineract with its rules. It makes you try to maximize wealth in its system and shows you how preverse incentives arise from the rules.

    Compare this to the prverse incenives available to corporate CEOs with stock options, especialy during mergers. Do you think an essay or a blog post could convey the same message more effectivly?

  557. #558 Nate6
    April 22, 2010

    “But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds?”

    YES. Those are absolutely reasons why people buy many of the games they buy. Halo is an imperfect example because so much of it’s quality is related to it’s shooter mechanics, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is EXACTLY those ‘wonderfully creepy moments’ and ‘awesome sights’ that videogames convey succesfully to their users.

    Do you even realize how wrong you were when you said
    “A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that. No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.”

    Because that is EXACTLY what developers do. Someone mentioned the Half-Life 2 development diary, which is a good start. Watch programs like Gametrailers TV or any of its other programs, such as the Bonus Round (most may be irrelevant blabber to you). They had a thing on storytelling though, a couple of weeks ago. Or watch interviews with Greg Mazuka from Bioware or Hideo Kojima. They will explain very frankly the ideas they wanted to convey and how they wanted to play on gamers’ emotions in the games they developed. Or for that matter, if you have the time to sift through the inevitable muck, go read any upstanding forum dedicated to a certain game. Fans of certain franchises can debate for ages on the interpretation or philosophical meaning of characters or events, or the morality of certain decisions made in videogames, and how these might relate to the the creators personally or how they relate to real life situations.

    So, let’s just try to recap some basic facts about videogames:
    – videogames are made through an extensive creative process, using many different kinds of artists (actors, modellers, writers)
    – videogames have the ability to have profound emotional effects on players: sadness, wonder etc., which literally millions will attest to
    – videogames convey these feelings by using techniques established in other mediums, generally recognized as art: storytelling and character development as in books and cinema, visually through choreography as in movies and creating scenic images and ambience as in cinema/paintings/photography, supported through audio as in music/movies, while drawing the player into it interactively (which is arguably also not new).

    But it isn’t art because… ?

    What, because it just ‘consists of elements from other artistic mediums’? That’s like saying cinema is not an artistic medium because they just consist of music and pictures.

  558. #559 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    The lack of distinction between “art” as art form and “art” as masterpiece is why I give up. At first I thought the argument was that videogames are not an art form, now it seems to be that no video game is or will ever be good enough to be a masterpiece by some objective measure.

  559. #560 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    Bill Dauphin,

    I gathered that you were agreeing with PZ before, but #503 seems to disagree with PZ almost completely given that most video games are created with the intention of provoking a response in another human, at the very least they aim to grasp human attention, which is imperative because art that gets no reaction fails miserably. Once the idea leaves the artist’s mind and becomes a work of art for private or public consumption, who knows how people will react to it; painters, authors, filmmakers, and video game developers all hope for the best. At any rate, making art about the intention to get a response puts video games squarely in the “art” category.

    On your distinction between what a game is as opposed to what art is, “a functional challenge to those experiencing it, with success measured (more or less) objectively, in terms of criteria such as milestones achieve, points scored, time elapsed, etc“, I think it is a fine description but misses how games are supposed to be fun and draw you in and engage you, just like art.

    But you have given me another thought on how to resolve this difficulty Ebert seems to be having in accepting video games as art. Not considering the interactive element of video games, how do the critiques of cinema and the critiques of video games differ and how are they the same? And, how does adding interactivity remove something from the realm of art?

  560. #561 residualecho
    April 22, 2010

    There have been quite a few definitions of art offered. I pushed some quotes by Frank Zappa up in #313, but I’ll paraphrase one of them:

    “Anything can be art, but it doesn’t become art until someone wills it to be art, and people decide to perceive it as art. Most people can’t deal with that abstraction — or don’t want to.”

    With that definition,”medium X isn’t art” is a claim that can only express personal taste.

    I also like Zappa’s definition of composition: “Composition is a process of organization, very much like architecture. As long as you can conceptualize what that organizational process is, you can be a ‘composer’ — in any medium you want. You can be a ‘video composer,’ a ‘film composer,’ a ‘choreography composer,’ a ‘social engineering composer’ — whatever.”

    If anything can be art, anything can also be a game. I saw the original presentation of this talk by game-designer Brian Moriarty at the Game Developer’s Conference, about how the best game he ever played was “Who Buried Paul,” a memorable game I’m old enough to have played one Summer long ago.
    http://ludix.com/moriarty/paul.html

  561. #562 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    If archeologists unearthed a 15th chess set, do you think it would end up in an art museum?

    Of course it would.

    Also: Old people are old.

    Actually, it very well might not. Inclusion in a museum depends on a number of issues including perceived quality, rarity, the focus of the museum itself, etc. Just because something is old doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be viewed as valuable or instructive. There are a lot of coproliths out there that aren’t going to be included in museums. After all, they’re shit. The same can be said for art; there’s a lot out there but a lot of it is… well, you know what I mean.

    And as for “Old people are old.”
    1) Duh
    2) Your point is…
    3) Unless you die young, beware you don’t become that which you now gainsay. Many “young” people have no idea the hypocrisies they will inflict on themselves on their way to becoming what you so cavalierly refer to as old.

  562. #563 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    MGS creator Hideo Kojima has weighed in on the “Is it art?” debate, and actually has expressed a position pretty close to that of PZ & Ebert: he thinks few to no existing games qualify.

    He could be the inventor of Pong and every game after that; he’d still have to come up with some criteria for what is art and what isn’t.

  563. #564 Dr. Matt
    April 22, 2010

    If I paint a landscape and subsequently say paintings aren’t art, does that mean anyone who considers paintings art is wrong? I do not intend to imply that you agree with the sentiment, since you are explicit you do not — but why is it relevant to the discussion in the first place? It has been mentioned already, incidentally.

    I didn’t notice the previous mention– sorry. To go with your analogy, if van Gogh were on record as saying paintings don’t qualify as art, it shouldn’t be the end of the discussion, but I think his arguments would likely be fairly interesting. Again, I’m not convinced at all by Kojima’s musings, but he’s pretty much the equivalent, for the young artistic medium of games, of van Gogh saying paintings aren’t art.

  564. #565 Kel, OM
    April 22, 2010

    A few personal anecdotes on the matter –

    My wife watched me play through Bioshock and Bioshock 2. This isn’t something she’s normally interested in doing, most games I play she calls “boring”. But with those games, she not only watched me play but kept asking me to play so she can see what happens next.

    There are games I have been so captivated in that it hits me in the same way that movies and books can. A simple RPG like Terranigma on the SNES is one in which the whole journey felt like watching an epic movie. Games like System Shock 2 pumped me with more fear than any horror movie. The Elder Scrolls 4 had incredibly impressive visuals that made me at times just look around at how awe-inspiring it was.

    Then there are games like Max Payne where the story is integral to the experience. Everything from the style of the game to the comic book storytelling. It even had things like televisions playing a soap opera on them (much like Twin Peaks).

    The long and short of it, I don’t actually think by virtue of it being a game it is artistic. But to deny that games can be art is tagging the entire medium without looking at specific details. If some guy splashing paint on canvas counts as art, then why shouldn’t some rich 3D agent or landscape count just because one might be walking through it using a controller?

  565. #566 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    Are you ever going to actually respond to the posts that point out your initial post is factually incorrect in many places?

    No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance.

    Counterexamples have been given, unless you’re being strictly literal and you mean only one such display per game.

    It’s all about balance and game play and keeping the action going and providing a means to win or lose, and most of all, it’s about giving the player control in the game environment.

    Examples have been given where at best, “balance and game play” were an after thought. The game was still played for the artistic merits.

    No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants.

    Congratulations, you’ve just described the massively-successful, longest running RPG series, Final Fantasy. As well as almost every book and movie known to man, but somehow linearity isn’t seen as an issue in those media.

    In that sense, a good game hands the player a toolbox to work within the game environment ? it is to art as providing a studio and a set of pigments and a collection of brushes.

    Most games aren’t sandboxes. Yet even some that are could be considered art in the same way as interactive art, which has been mentioned several times in this thread.

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.

    Video games reached that point two decades ago.

    It just doesn’t now, though. If you want to see something really boring, watch someone else playing a video game. Then imagine recording that game, and wanting to go back and watch the replay again sometime. That’s where games fail as art

    Not everyone shares your opinion here. There are youtube channels devoted to people playing video games.

    Seriously, your argument boils down to “I don’t find video games as compelling an art form as movies or paintings, therefore they’re not art”. Perhaps if you made another post that wasn’t riddled with factual inaccuracies, which actually defines art so that things you consider art (movies, paintings, etc) are art and video games are not, we could actually advance the discussion. right now it does just appear to be a “rock and roll isn’t music, get off my lawn” argument.

  566. #567 pteryxx
    April 22, 2010


    Maybe PZ, and Ebert, are just not sensitive to what touches our souls profoundly in some games. That would be fine, but the arrogant “games are not art because they don’t touch me” is not.”
    —-

    “Exactly. Even if they aren’t moved, they have clearly witnessed that a lot of people have profound emotional responses to video games and that these people consider it art.

    I don’t understand why he and Ebert feel such a strong need to invalidate those experiences.”

    Once again the speed of thread makes my points before me.

    PZ’s comments seem to boil down to, “games mean nothing to ME, because they have user controls and rewards happen, therefore they are just games and mean nothing to me.” He approaches a book, a painting, a piece of music, expecting art and meaning, thus finds it. He approaches a game expecting it to be meaningless motions, and that’s all he finds. Therefore those of us who have been moved to tears by a game, who have found solace or inspiration from games, who are still affected to this day by game experiences many years ago, and who can discuss with each other the deeper meanings of games, somehow our experiences are aberrations because of the format in which they occurred. I’m reminded of students who dismiss all books as boring nonsense, until they find or are given a book that relates to their lives enough to be accessible.

    If game creators intend their works to have meaning, and the players of their games experience that meaning, then what else can they be except art?

  567. #568 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Bill, not to derail but this is a big reason that I, logically, have to support video games as art because they are a media through which artistic experience *could* happen.

    You see, when some one who is anything but a white male goes to the standard historically inclined museum you are seeing the legacy of who is allowed and who is not allowed to make art. Women’s work falls under craft unless you are talking about one of the few lauded portrait or flower painters. Even then, they are not considered true artists and were not allowed in their time access to the same types of education or even methods of expression. Yes, there were individuals who broke that rule… like a handful of them from the Greeks to the 20th century.

    You will not see Eastern art as a part of the western cannon until the era of art nouveau, which was decidedly considered “not art” for a while at the time.

    You will not see meso-american art.

    Where you will see these things, they will be lumped together. The work of different people over a thousand years will all be collected together as “African” as if that means anything.

    There was an artist actually whose entire work consisted of rearranging museum collections to challenge viewers about the read of art and history that they get passively by walking though the museum. Really brilliant work.

    Now, even in a contemporary art museum or gallery, you may see art that is interactive, but this age old qualification of art as being valued by how much it fits into the historic cannon I think is one that needs tossing.

    Art is whatever results from peoples aesthetic creativity, and just as those ceremonial masks may have been important to the culture from which they were taken, and Rembrant may be important to some (I can’t stand him), video games may be a valid method of cultural sharing and communication for a group of people.

    Now, that is actually, to me not a fuck-it-all stance. It’s fine to try and rank it, but rank is just a matter of power and status. It is what it is. That, to me, is separate from the intrinsic value of art.

    How much prestige do I gain from viewing this, from owning it? If I gain a lot it is *good* art and if I gain little it is *bad* art.

    Then separately how much to I feel rewarded by my experience with this?

    Two separate questions.

  568. #569 mattand08
    April 22, 2010

    @Kel:

    Just had the same experience with Metal Gear Solid 4. My better half, who generally is not a game player, got sucked into watching the cutscreens as if it were an episodic serial. She actually got vested in the characters and their motivations.

    As for Kojima and “it ain’t art”: For someone who created a game with multiple 20 minute plus minute cinematic cutscreens, methinks Kojima protests too much. And he’s screwing with your head.

  569. #570 Mr T
    April 22, 2010

    Bill Dauphin, OM:

    That said, I think you and Mr T are talking around a position I disagree with:

    At the risk of repeating an earlier point (that could never happen, eh?), y’all seem to be saying that there’s some threshold of quality that determines whether something is art or not. I disagree.

    I’m not sure how you interpreted me that way, but that’s not at all what I meant.

    Art is stuff people make.

    People tend to make stuff they would enjoy, or is enjoyable to making.

    Not all art is enjoyable.

    This is not some absurd, post-modern idea of art which renders the word meaningless. It’s an idea as old as the word “art” itself. What is truly absurd is suggesting that stuff people make (and perhaps even enjoy) is not art.

    As Cerberus says:

    Sturgeon’s Law: 95% of everything is crap.

    I’ll have to raise the stakes. Everything is Terrible!

  570. #571 https://me.yahoo.com/a/S8pO0dgN3vZCcp6GFuJzIu14IBqIw1hq7Kw-#24131
    April 22, 2010

    I said art couldn’t be interactive? Where?

    Here:

    It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    You seem to be arguing that it is the interactivity that makes games incapable of being art.

    Of course, your arguments have been so muddled this whole time, it’s tough to tell exactly what you mean at any one point. As several people have pointed out, video games satisfy any reasonable definition for an artistic medium — so your objection can’t be along the broad conception of art. But then you object when your respondents try to engage you to find a narrower definition.

    I’d also like to call attention to post 539, where ashleyfmiller very clearly expressed my biggest objection to PZ’s line of argument:

    Exactly. Even if they aren’t moved, they have clearly witnessed that a lot of people have profound emotional responses to video games and that these people consider it art.

    I don’t understand why he and Ebert feel such a strong need to invalidate those experiences.

  571. #573 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Bill @550

    Actually I’m not.

    I’m arguing that there are the broad definitions of art, which are ones actual artists use and tend to be closer to a (if there can be such a thing at all) “true definition of art”. This is the “evokes an emotion deliberately” stuff or things like artistic medium and how “found art” can be art at all. Which is also what most people on the thread are arguing and is generally a safe place to discuss art, because it is so subjective.

    I’m also following Ebert and PZ towards the narrowest forms of art. These are standards born of a much stricter, often less-defined list of “artistic merit” and often are cultural signifiers (this separation is how we separate Monet from Little Billy’s doodle or even an expert painting almost fully borrowing from someone else’s style).

    It’s ill-defined, but it’s a linguistic aspect we often fall into. It is often regarded as a “quality” marker, but it’s not even really reliably used as a quality marker. There are plenty of well-made and expertly crafted and even highly original examples of a medium that don’t meet the narrowest of standards of “what is art”.

    It often comes in the depth of intent, the innovations of artistic tradition, and a lot of more subtle markers that can often vary depending on medium or expert.

    This is why I’ve tried to talk about the range of definitions, because you have the broad category which is the solidest (games are an art medium, the end) and the narrowest categories which are far more slippery and subjective (Citizen Cane was a true masterpiece, no it was a hackneyed pile of shit, you philistine, etc…).

    However, of these narrowest categories there are works that meet the standards of a wide range of critically trained appreciators as being more often than not meeting even this narrowest of standards (call it the quick, name 10 X that would be considered the most worthy of the medium of being considered art pinnacle standard). The things you would show a person if they didn’t believe the medium as a whole was art (by the broad category) or shitty art.

    My attempted points were to try and say that yes, broad category, of course, but even if we were to follow Ebert and PZ to those higher pinnacles, there are works that are “installation-worthy”, i.e. doing enough things, and with themes, characterization, and storytelling unique enough, complex enough, and innovative enough to be considered worthy ambassadors for the medium as an artistic form of expression.

    “Ran” level art if you will.

    But yes, games are an artistic medium. The productions of that is going to vary in quality and complexity and raw artistic statement and purpose and even interact with the user in truly novel and important ways. There are going to be Rans and Transformer movies. Just like every other medium. Sturgeon’s Law.

  572. #574 Gregory Greenwood
    April 22, 2010

    PZ @ 502;

    *takes deep breath* I am going to have to disagree with you, oh tentacled overlord of Pharyngula, and hope that Cthulu does not devour me on the spot for my insolence (*too self* It will be okay, just don’t stare at the Master’s tentacles. And make no sudden moves.)

    There’s a risk of unrealistic expectations here. Now I’m told that “Shadow of the Colossus” is the game to look for…I don’t know. Maybe it’s wonderful. But I’ve been told for about 30 years now that this next brand new game is great art, and I’ve been disappointed every time. The problem is that the fans keep measuring them against other video games, where the hurdle is set very, very low. Maybe Shadow is a thousand times better than the best game I’ve ever played. It’s still not going to be as good as the best novels I’ve read.

    Does this argument not run the risk of comparing apples and pears? How can you objectively compare one medium to another, radically different medium. ‘Is Hamlet better than Bach?’ is a question that makes no real sense, and cannot be answered in any way that is not simply an expression of the personal preference of the individual in question.

    Computer entertainment is by definition an interactive medium in a way no book (and no currently existing movie) could ever be. Inevitably, the gaming medium uses different devices for storytelling and characterisation to these other media. There is no reason why a person cannot enjoy both reading and gaming without feeling any need to quixotically attempt to compare one to the other.

    Also, as has been pointed out by other commentators, computer entertaiment is truly a medium in its infancy, having only existed for roughly 40 years, and existed in a form capable of supporting more sophiosticated story telling for only half that time. Seeking to directly compare that to forms that have existed for roughly 100 years in the case of film and several thousand years years in the case of the performing arts and literature seems to be indicative of a failure to appreciate the potential for artistic expresion inherent in the medium. It is likely that no one here would be able to guess what form that medium that we today call gaming will have adopted in 50 years time.

    And for my final point…Please do not eat me! I am more useful to you alive!

  573. #575 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    Out of curiosity are any of you actually trained in art? Was it your major; did you study it in grad school? Is it central to your life? Just curious.

  574. #576 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    “Anything can be art, but it doesn’t become art until someone wills it to be art, and people decide to perceive it as art. Most people can’t deal with that abstraction — or don’t want to.”

    as with a great many things, Zappa was on the mark here too.

  575. #577 Mr T
    April 22, 2010

    People tend to make stuff they would enjoy, or is enjoyable to making.

    The above sentence was not enjoyable to making. My apologies.

  576. #578 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Bill, not to derail but this is a big reason that I, logically, have to support video games as art because they are a media through which artistic experience *could* happen.

    You see, when some one who is anything but a white male goes to the standard historically inclined museum you are seeing the legacy of who is allowed and who is not allowed to make art. Women’s work falls under craft unless you are talking about one of the few lauded portrait or flower painters. Even then, they are not considered true artists and were not allowed in their time access to the same types of education or even methods of expression. Yes, there were individuals who broke that rule… like a handful of them from the Greeks to the 20th century.

    You will not see Eastern art presented the way you might, say, at a historical museum in Japan.

    You will not see meso-american art much.

    Where you will see these things, they will be lumped together. The work of different people over a thousand years will all be collected together as “African” as if that means anything.

    There was an artist actually whose entire work consisted of rearranging museum collections to challenge viewers about the read of art and history that they get passively by walking though the museum. Really brilliant work.

    Now, even in a contemporary art museum or gallery, you may see art that is interactive, but this age old qualification of art as being valued by how much it fits into the historic cannon I think is one that needs tossing even as a rule of thought.

    Art is whatever results from peoples aesthetic creativity, and just as those ceremonial masks may have been important to the culture from which they were taken, and Rembrant may be important to some (I can’t stand him), video games may be a valid method of cultural sharing and communication for a group of people.

    Now, that is actually, to me not a fuck-it-all stance. There’s something to be said for art that is trying to communicate some large idea or resonate with people on some deeper level. But as far as rank… it’s not so simple. One might ask several different questions:

    How much prestige do I gain from viewing this, from owning it? If I gain a lot it is *good* art and if I gain little it is *bad* art.

    Then separately how much to I feel rewarded by my experience with this?

    Two separate questions.

  577. #579 Ol'Greg
    April 22, 2010

    Out of curiosity are any of you actually trained in art? Was it your major; did you study it in grad school? Is it central to your life? Just curious.

    Me. It was my undergrad major (arts and performance) and also my subject in grad school (MFA program painting, MA program art history).

    And with that though, I have to go…. it has been fun. I’ll look back later at what people said.

  578. #580 ashleyfmiller
    April 22, 2010

    Robert H @ 575

    Out of curiosity are any of you actually trained in art? Was it your major; did you study it in grad school? Is it central to your life? Just curious.

    Yes. I am involved in film, writing, and painting, all of which I studied, including in graduate school, and all of which I am currently pursuing professionally and/or for fun.

    Not sure that it makes my opinion any more valid though.

  579. #581 Caine, Fleur du mal
    April 22, 2010

    RobertH @ 575:

    Out of curiosity are any of you actually trained in art? Was it your major; did you study it in grad school? Is it central to your life? Just curious.

    Several of us (at least) have pointed out we’re working artists. I’ve been a successful working artists for over 30 years. I don’t define “art”. It’s subjective, art is whatever people decide it is. Yes, there’s classical art, modern art, and so on; still, that’s just people deciding certain things a/o styles are art in the first place.

  580. #582 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    they shopped local and raided the local acting scene.

    that’s still miles above most games, which simply utilize their own programmers and artists as “voice talent”.

    :P

    *ahem* Including the co. I worked for once upon a time.

    sadly, I was unable to make the cut to get my voice into the last game we were producing.

    damnit.

    :)

  581. #583 Kel, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Out of curiosity are any of you actually trained in art?

    I did my degree in Computer Science (Game Programming). So I don’t know art, but I know how to make games.

  582. #584 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Rutee SH0D (@536):

    I think I see where you’re coming from with this…

    That is to say, the ‘functional challenge’ is sometimes WHERE the emotion is intended to come from.

    …but I disagree that I’ve created a false dichotomy. In fact, I think you’re actually helping me make my point by using the word intended: I’ve been trying to focus on intentionality as a key discriminator all along, saying that art is distinguished by what it intends to do.

    Plenty of objects or activities provoke emotional responses because they’re difficult, or critically important, or somebody’s happiness or well-being depends on it, but that doesn’t make them all art; what distinguishes art from those things (in my own purely idiosyncratic model, that is) is that it’s specifically created for the artist’s intentional purpose of evoking some sort of emotion.

    My comment about functional challenges referred to things that are games in the purest sense. A basketball game may produce tension and anticipation and anxiety if the game is very competitive, but it’s not about those things; it’s about getting the ball in the hoop more often than the other team does. Golf may (famously does) generate frustration and inchoate fury because it’s so difficult, but it hasn’t been design and crafted specifically to create an occasion for people to muse on the existential nature of fury.

    OTOH, a Rothko canvas isn’t any sort of test of the viewers ability to perform some skill, or to achieve some goal. Its purpose is evocative rather than competitive.

    I may not be explaining it well, but I see this distinction as one of kind. I also think video and computer games can operate as either art or pure contest… and I think they can combine the two.

    If the functional challenge is embedded in a narrative with artistic intentions, and is facing a character into whom you (i.e., the player) have invested your emotions, and is dependent on your real-world skills for its accomplishment, then I say you’re engaged in both art and sport.

    That’s not dichotomy; that’s synthesis.

  583. #585 Zabinatrix
    April 22, 2010

    So, I’ve been away from the discussion for a while, and I have a few beers in me now, but I feel the need to address something stated by PZ a while back:

    I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    I say that this is missing a big point.

    Like I said previously, I think that it is a great form of art to get all the artful pieces of a game (sound, visuals, storytelling, controls) to work together in a good and compelling matter.

    In games that manage this, the game invokes feelings, they place your mind in a different place, you are affected on several levels both by the ambiance and the story, even as you don’t purposely think about it. This is what happens in a good game – if you enjoy playing it as such an experience.

    There are a lot of games that are very similar in gameplay. Two FPS shooters contain the exact same “aim gun, shoot people”-gameplay. But one of them might be an epic FPSRPG that lets you explore a brand new world, feel despair over humanity’s fleeting existence and the egocentric nature that so often destroys us… while the other is just that you’re some guy out to chew bubble gum and shoot generic aliens.

    The same game mechanics – walk around, shoot the bad guys, survive – radically different emotions invoked in you. In a good game, or at least an artistic game (the non-artistic, shoot generic aliens-games can also be good fun, of course), you play for the story, for the ambiance, for the feelings invoked.

    The game mechanics is just a vessel for bringing you into it. It is just something that leads to better immersion into the game world, letting you experience the game more fully. In a well-designed artistic game it lets you really feel the game for a fleeting moment, letting you really care about what happens, feel sadness, joy, pain and exhilaration in regards to the developments in the story.

    But – and here is an important point – you can always play the game with a “Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward.”-mentality. If that is all you want from the game, you can do that.

    You can walk around the Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3 and completely ignore the beautiful vistas, the music that helps your immersion into the brilliant blend of 50’s/60’s pulp science fiction, values, music and general nostalgia, et cetera. You can just walk around shooting people to get caps, never bothering to talk with people, exploring the storyline or getting to know some of the well-developed characters. And you can have a very good time playing a game that way, if that’s what you want.

    That doesn’t mean that “Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward” is all there is to it. That just means that it is all you see.

    Just like all I see in a Jackson Pollock painting is a bunch of random paint splatters that mean nothing to me. Just like a lot of poetry is clearly beyond the workings of my particular mind. Just like some experimental music is just noise to me. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t more than random colors, random words or random noise there – it just means that it isn’t exactly for me. And to be honest I don’t think I should say that it isn’t art just because I personally don’t see more than the superficial.

  584. #586 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    Out of curiosity are any of you actually trained in art? Was it your major; did you study it in grad school? Is it central to your life? Just curious.

    Yes.
    NEver finished my BFA. Ran out of money.
    I’ve been a professional artist for the last decade however, with video games as my medium of choice.

  585. #587 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    Shadow of the Colossus came out 5 years ago.

    …and only for the PS2?

    anyone ever come out with a PC version?

    I bloody hate consoles.

    :(

  586. #588 Shala
    April 22, 2010

    Yes, but he is A TROLL. This is why I adore him, however.

    Him and Kubo (the Bleach author) are the 2 greatest trolls I know.

    I love them both so much.

  587. #589 tdcourtney
    April 22, 2010

    All of you can take your favorite moments from your favorite game and make a case that that is a moment of art, and I’m not arguing against that at all. But as a whole, would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship

    Are you suggesting that it would be art if people bought it for a different reason?

    How about Silent Hill or Eternal Darkness? Those games are bought for exactly that reason. Eternal Darkness will start lowering the volume to make you think someone is behind you with the remote. If you end a level with low sanity, it may tell you the game is over and let you know the sequel is coming soon.

  588. #590 DLC
    April 22, 2010

    You know, I see a lot of accusations and a lot of dismissals and quite a bit of self-contradictory nonsense. Art is not “what PZ says it is” or “what Ebert says it is” but things created by people.
    The fact that you can or cannot interact with it is meaningless. The fact that you can or cannot make money with it is also meaningless. In a similar vein, saying it is or is not art because Kurosawa made it is equally spurious. What is or is not art has nothing to do with who made it or why they made it, and everything to do with what people who experience it think! I wouldn’t use some of the portraits in the national gallery to wipe my ass, but that doesn’t mean they are not art.
    Right. enough for me for one day.

  589. #591 KOPD
    April 22, 2010

    Come to think of it, some books are interactive. Anybody remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Of course, those are “not art.”

  590. #592 Khantron
    April 22, 2010

    I’m going to say that “art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.” (Wikipedia) And based on that definition, I’m going to go over the top and say that the video game medium is the medium with not only the most potential to be art, but that certain examples from video games are better than any piece of alleged art I’ve ever seen.

    The Mona Lisa *yawn* it’s a girl without eyebrows and a toothless smile. Even the height of cinema as an art form, Airplane! pales in comparison to the impact of the Nuke scene from Modern Warfare. A scene that would not be as moving if presented a painting or a movie. The reason for the heightened potential of video games is their integration of interactivity with linear storytelling to go along with stunning visuals and music. It has all the elements of cinema which is generally considered art, and it adds interactivity, and that somehow removes its impact to the senses or emotions? No, it adds to the emotional impact. A non-interactive representation only pretends to be art in its presence.

  591. #593 Alethios
    April 22, 2010

    For the most part I agree with you PZ, but I can’t help but feel this post could probably be better titled “PZ Myers ticks off TeamLiquid.net”.

    As others have mentioned, Starcraft is hugely popular and very entertaining to watch for those that take the time to learn how to appreciate it.

  592. #594 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    Slightly off topic:
    Does anyone else want Werner Herzog to start making games?
    I /so/ want to see what he’d come up with…

  593. #595 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    anyone ever come out with a PC version?

    I bloody hate consoles.

    You could always try running it with an emulator, if you’ve got a beefy system. I seem to recall a reasonably-functional PS2 emulator awhile back.

    Him and Kubo (the Bleach author) are the 2 greatest trolls I know.

    I love them both so much.

    I still don’t get why the fandom calls Kubo a troll. He simply doesn’t plan his story ahead of time, which results in a lot of character/exposition waste as well as asspulls. I haven’t really seen anything deliberately trollish that can’t be sufficiently explained by his on the record lack of planning.

  594. #596 https://me.yahoo.com/a/S8pO0dgN3vZCcp6GFuJzIu14IBqIw1hq7Kw-#24131
    April 22, 2010

    Come to think of it, some books are interactive. Anybody remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Of course, those are “not art.”

    How about The Lady or the Tiger?

  595. #597 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    @575

    Undergrad for my minor (Literature, technically, but we focused a lot on cross-genre and I had a lot of training in the focus of art and was recruited by more art-heavy friends and professors to be a part of performance art installations and art films).

    @PZ and for everyone

    Another thing on art is that new mediums unlock new abilities in the artistic sphere. Kojima’s Metal Gear series has always had strong artistic visions, unique interpretation of the audience (even actively fucking with them on multiple occasions), strong story, evocative music, strong characterization, etc… Potentially Ran worthy and with strong postmodern interactions with the player and the idea of a gamer in a lot of Metal Gear Solid 2, especially the “f-ed up” section.

    However Metal Gear Solid 3 added a whole new element that is impossible in any other artistic medium.

    It judges you as a person.

    The game itself judges you on your tolerance of violence and your desensitization to eliminating pixelated representations of animals and people to meet goal-oriented objectives and thus comment on the nature of war and the way it destroys ethics.

    It does so by having a section where you have to walk down a river and the ghosts of every person you killed rushes down the river in the other way, animals too.

    Killed many people and animals? The river will take forever, minute after minute of rolling ghosts seeming to swamp and drain you and needing you to shake them off as your personal guilt as a player sinks in to your careless destruction.

    Killed no-one or nothing? The river will be over in a blur, only containing bosses that you had no choice to kill to progress and is almost relaxing, except for the reminder of mortality that will claim even the most conscientious of people.

    The experience is a literally accurate reflection of what you did, how you approach a game like Metal Gear Solid 3 and how much priority you give to making it “easier on yourself” or “convenience” over the value of a human life (even a virtual reproduction).

    While movies like Requiem for a Dream may hate their audience and may judge them for things that most of the audience is probably guilty of (thinking they’re better than drug addicts and being generally blind to their plight), they can never be 100% accurate in the way Metal Gear Solid 3 and that impact is ever more forceful because you really did bring it, however that scene played out, onto yourself. A unique artistic point in service to the larger points on violence and war in general which the game and series more broadly explore.

    So it’s great that new mediums can be opened, because they open whole new ways for an artist to make their statements and make them more impactful.

  596. #598 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    I see what you’re saying, Bill. I’m not sure if I’d use the term sport, but I suspect you don’t mean necessarily competition with other people for points so I can let it go.

  597. #599 nomen-nescio.myopenid.com
    April 22, 2010

    I wouldn’t use some of the portraits in the national gallery to wipe my ass, but that doesn’t mean they are not art.

    i wouldn’t use any of the portraits in the national gallery to wipe my ass. most of them are much too rough, and none of them are nearly absorbent enough.

  598. #600 D
    April 22, 2010

    …I think that the worlds and images of Halo and Myst and many of the other games mentioned here are examples of art. But the process of going in and exploring art is not art. If it were, then going to a museum would be art.

    – PZ, #219

    OK, so let me get this straight: telling a tale of the hero’s journey is art (storytelling or literature), showing a tale of the hero’s journey is art (film, or comics/sequential art), but writing down an idea which allows the viewer to participate in a tale of the hero’s journey is not art? You’re right that “going in and exploring art” is not itself art – but the artwork is what is explored. Just because gamers aren’t making art as they play (and even some games with player-generated content can blur that line), it does not follow that the thing they are interacting with is not itself a work of art. Games contain many pieces of art, true, just like films also contain many pieces of art. But the whole movie is a work of art in its own right, and so is Shadow of the Colossus. It’s just art that requires an active participant to be experienced (and all art is, at some level, participatory, because it has to engage the audience).

    For the record, I never thought anyone was saying games are bad, I always thought that you and Ebert both were saying, “This entire realm of human endeavor which we call ‘art’ is forever closed to that class of craft.” I call bullshit. Art can be done in any medium and at any time (though it rarely is). You can have participatory art and you can have participatory art with a controller, and reaching the end of an engaging narrative with difficult challenges along the way diminishes the artful nature of the experience about as much as the demands of following complex character interactions diminish the artful nature of literature. In other words, not at all, and in fact quite the opposite (it enriches the experience and makes the audience more involved). One finishes playing an artful game no differently than one finishes reading an artful book. “Points” and “win conditions” don’t disqualify games any more than “vocabulary” and “endings” disqualify books – in either case, the viewer can quit because it’s too hard, and all it means is that that viewer couldn’t get through it.

    Make a case for the game as art. That’s much, much harder to do.

    – PZ, #345

    The game is the medium, like the book or the DVD or the canvas. The ideas (and their execution) in the game/book/movie/music/painting/dance/etc. are what’s artful. The tiny laser etchings on a DVD are not the art, nor is anything that goes on in the guts of the DVD player; the art is what those etchings represent – if the movie is artful, then experiencing the movie is an artful experience. The code of a game represents a game world, and mutatis mutandis, if the game world is artful then experiencing it is also an artful experience. Braid puts you through a hero’s journey and at the end, SPOILER ALERT!, it turns out that a quirk of perspective means you played as the bad guy all along. I watch people play this game so that I can see the look on their face as they realize the true role that they have played in the game world. You think you’re saving the princess, but since you experience time backwards from other people, she’s actually running for her life from you and trying to kill you in the final level, rather than saving your life and clearing your path as you first experience it. The player’s task, pushing buttons and imagining being the character, represents Tim’s existence and experiences in a way similar to how charcoal on a rock represents a bison. Everything besides the player’s actions are the art – the world, in other words, built for the player to experience. It’s second-person storytelling; how is that possibly excluded from art?

    I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    – PZ, #361

    The contest becomes paramount to you. Jeez, that’s like saying that the charity falls out of microfinancing loans when you stack up how Kiva atheists are doing against Kiva Christians – maybe for some, but not categorically, and not in principle. I got all sucked up in the contest, and now it’s not art any longer! Or charity. Whatever we were talking about. I’m sorry it’s tough for you to be immersed in this particular thing while doing it. That would definitely stand in the way of experiencing video games as art, if you can’t immerse yourself in the world while simultaneously navigating it. But I could just as easily say that “my inability to suspend disbelief when someone says things which aren’t true” prevents me from expeirencing any manner of fiction as art – but this is my problem, not a shortcoming of the medium. Turns out, I’m bad at appreciating fictional stories. They’re still art.

    Chess and Go are art: sure, you can play them to win, most people do. Most people stop there. I think they’re very refined distillations of war (Go moreso than Chess), in which each player experiences the problem of leveraging existing resources into a position of advantage, and balances the need to get ahead with the need to hold on to some manner of stability. Watching a game of Chess or Go unfold can be just as riveting as playing one, if you allow yourself to be drawn into the experience. Tic-tac-toe and other solved games (even some non-complex board games, or games that rely too heavily on chance) are non-art, to my mind. Video games which are fun but not artful can certainly sell, but the medium of the video game is just as capable of being artful as any other medium. “Merely fun” games are to video games what “just another portrait of some noble” is to painting, or what “yearbook photos” are to photography. It’s what you do to pay the bills, it’s not the refined distillation of human experience that characterizes art.

  599. #601 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    *ahem* Including the co. I worked for once upon a time.

    sadly, I was unable to make the cut to get my voice into the last game we were producing.

    damnit.

    Which studio? Mine did this a few times as well.
    Once used the bosses wife as placeholder audio… man that was a mistake.

  600. #602 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    You’re right that “going in and exploring art” is not itself art – but the artwork is what is explored.

    Mussorsgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” comes to mind.

    well, assuming music is considered art.

  601. #603 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Out of curiosity are any of you actually trained in art? Was it your major; did you study it in grad school? Is it central to your life? Just curious.

    I’ve never taken a cooking class, but I still feel (erroneously, perhaps) that I’ve got some of the basic qualifications to discuss what is food and what isn’t.

    Why? Is art only made by and meant to be consumed by trained artists?

    “Hey, Bob. I heard you saw that play last night. Did it ‘deliberately arrange elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions’?”
    “Uh, I’m not sure, Susan.”
    “Well, it said in the paper that the playwright has an MFA.”
    “Oh, then yes. Yes it did.”
    “But you only go to a few plays a year. Theatre certainly isn’t central to your life.”
    “Uh, right. Then no, no it didn’t.”

  602. #604 RichVR
    April 22, 2010

    It’s simple really. Jerry “Tycho” Holkins doesn’t like Roger Ebert. Ebert is a true craftsman. A professional writer.

    Holkins is a talentless hack that tortures the English language for profit.

  603. #605 Rhino of Steel
    April 22, 2010

    I recently completed another playthrough of Mass Effect and if that game ranks lower on some “art” scale than Lady Gaga…well I know that has to be subjective but come on.

    The very fact that one has to push buttons is what can allow a game to make some truly emotional statements. During the mission on Virmire, two members of your squad are cut off in widely separated areas of the enemy’s base. To make sure the mission succeeds one of them starts overload sequence for the reactor you’re using to destroy the base and tells you to save the other squad member. The choice is put entirely in your hands which one of them lives or dies and that was what made the moment so powerful. We had gotten to know these characters over dozens of hours of gameplay, knew about their past, their fears, their hopes, and may have even started a romance with one of them. Now, you’re being asked to leave one of them to their death. I chose to save Kaidan and Ashley’s last line is truly heartbreaking.

    Shepard: “I’m sorry…I had to choose.”
    Ashley: “It’s okay, Commander. I don’t regret anything

    Going back to the ship and seeing the empty space where she used to clean her weapons and chat about everything from family to politics to the work of Tennyson was just as large a punch in the gut because I was responsible for her not being there.

    If something crafted with care by dozens of artists, programmers, designers, composers, and actors is not art then I don’t know how anything else could be. I’ve never been moved by a painting or a piece of sculpture that way and only a few books and movies have been able to do so. Games are art. The act of playing them does not diminish this but enhances it. It allows you to fully experience the complex combinations of audio effects, visual stimuli, and player actions that produce the effect the game designer was trying to invoke or even one completely your own.

    Just because you don’t experience this doesn’t mean it does not mean that others do not as well. There are plenty of paintings and installations and post-modern creations that do absolutely nothing for me but I don’t go around saying their entire genre is not art or even that the particular pieces are not art. Art is a subjective thing and declaring entire mediums out of bounds for art simply makes one a wretched, ancient warlock as Tycho so eloquently put it.

  604. #606 MrFire
    April 22, 2010

    I have to disagree. I think Silent Hill (the 2nd one especially) is artistic itself.

    Yes. YES.

    For me, Silent Hill was an experience unlike any other. It just…gets…under…your…skin…

    Although I’m one of the minority (I think) who preferred the Part 1 and Part 3 arc over Part 2 (although Pyramid Head is, well…damn…)

    And there’s a point. Silent Hill was openly inspired by the movie Jacob’s Ladder, which many people think of as an artistic, if horrifying masterpiece (it’s one of my favorites). I shall argue that Silent Hill is a very worthy homage that in some ways manages to outdo its source of inspiration. So at what point does it stop being art (movie) and become just a game?

  605. #607 Robert H
    April 22, 2010

    Thanks for the responses. I also avoided getting an education by going to art school (BFA and MFA).

    I was curious because I know many (most?) regulars on this site are involved in the sciences. It might actually be interesting some day to see what the actual make-up of the group is: quantum physicists, environmental biologists, deists, atheists, other similar interesting factoids, etc.

  606. #608 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    Going back to the ship and seeing the empty space where she used to clean her weapons and chat about everything from family to politics to the work of Tennyson was just as large a punch in the gut because I was responsible for her not being there.

    I left Kaiden, and hated myself for it. Hit me again in ME2 when exploring the wreckage of the Normandy, standing by the ruins of his old console.

  607. #609 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    I seem to recall a reasonably-functional PS2 emulator awhile back.

    I’ll take a looksee.

  608. #610 mattand08
    April 22, 2010

    And now, I will make both PZ’s and Ebert’s heads explode:

    Paris has a video game museum.

    And. Scene.

  609. #611 katiebour
    April 22, 2010

    I remember in my college classes for my English minor, we came across several interviews with authors that were quite interesting. The interviewer would gush, “What a genius you are! That parable/simile/metaphor/fable was so amazing! Thousands of people find your pineapples in a fruit salad so meaningful, when you consider that they actually stand for polar bears in the arctic, and how, since the pineapples disappear first, that all polar bears are going extinct! It’s such a great commentary on life!”

    To which the author would reply with something along the lines of- “Aw, shucks. Well I actually didn’t intend for it to be interpreted that way, I was actually just representing how delicious pineapples are. But I’m glad that everyone finds meaning in it in that way.”

    My goofy example aside, this situation implies that there are two forms and/or sides to art-

    1. that which the artist intends, and
    2. that which the viewer/listener/reader interprets.

    Artists create art with intention; the recipient creates art with interpretation. And since my interpretation can be different than your interpretation, it all comes down to this:

    Art is subjective.

    Is it correct to say that video games aren’t art? I don’t think so.
    Is it correct to say that video games aren’t art to you? Sure, why not?
    I don’t neccessarily think that urinals are art, but that’s my interpretation.

  610. #612 William
    April 22, 2010

    Took a break from this thread for a while, re-read some of it…

    Are you saying Halo is not art? Then none of them are art, and the case is closed.

    This is the most full-blown retarded thing I’ve ever seen PZ post. Halo is not art, therefore all video games are not art – even those that posses almost no substantial elements in common with Halo.

    Holy shit!

  611. #613 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    It’s simple really. Jerry “Tycho” Holkins doesn’t like Roger Ebert. Ebert is a true craftsman. A professional writer.

    Holkins is a talentless hack that tortures the English language for profit.
    *Rubs eyes*

    Is that an actual argumentum ad hominem? Really? Are you actually dismissing the content of any complaint Holkins makes on the grounds of your assumption of jealousy? Because happy day, it would warm my heart to see a true ad hominem argument after weeks of “You insulted me, therefore ad hominem, therefore you are wrong”.

  612. #614 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    Ebert is a true craftsman. A professional writer.

    …an artist?

  613. #615 ashleyfmiller
    April 22, 2010

    I was curious because I know many (most?) regulars on this site are involved in the sciences. It might actually be interesting some day to see what the actual make-up of the group is: quantum physicists, environmental biologists, deists, atheists, other similar interesting factoids, etc.

    We should do an online poll…

  614. #616 KingUber
    April 22, 2010

    Obviously you are completely unaware of the “Let’s Play” phenomenon.

  615. #617 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    I had blockquotes but I eated them. :<

  616. #618 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    aratina cage (@560):

    I gathered that you were agreeing with PZ before…

    Nah. I’ve agreed with him on a few details, and disagreed with some of his critics on some others, but on the overarching question of “can video games ever be art” I’ve been fairly strongly and consistently disagreeing. Or I’ve meant to be, anyway; sorry if I haven’t made it perfectly clear.

    As for the rest, I’m not sure how to respond without just repeating myself. I think you and I are in substantial agreement, anyway.

    Cerberus and Mr T:

    Thanks for the clarifications. This has been such a fast-and-furious conversation that I was worried I wasn’t following people’s argument precisely (hence my disclaimer in the comment you responded to). I think I’m in substantial agreement with y’all, too.

    Ol’ Greg (@578):

    I, logically, have to support video games as art because they are a media through which artistic experience *could* happen.

    This! Even if one thought no current game could be called art, it’s trivially easy to imagine an artist sitting down and designing something with the nominal form of “game” that would be art. It’s also easy to imagine a player approaching an open-ended gaming environment as an artist. (As a funny aside, I’ve read accounts of people hacking RockBand instruments and using them to make “real” original music… speaking of using the gaming “toolbox” to make art!)

    Also, WRT your comments on the European White Male centrism of museums and collections, I gather from some of what I’ve read here about representations of homosexuality and women that gaming is a similarly tilted (i.e., male heteronormative) environment. But I admit I don’t know that firsthand.

    JOOC, since you are academically trained in art and I’ve just been speaking as an opinionated layperson… have I been making any sense at all? Or have I just been stepping on my crank with one foot after the other?

  617. #619 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Robert-

    I’m actually both. Cell Biologist finishing up grad school who is as a hobby also a fiction writer (genre) who did some arts training for a minor in undergrad and may start expanding into learning some film techniques and a few other projects when I get back into the states.

    My partner was heavily liberal arts and arts and is in grad school for poetry. I’ve also got a number of friends who are in grad school for various forms of literature or visual arts (including one at a fairly prestigious art school for animation).

    I’m a creature of both worlds really. I just like to learn and teach.

  618. #620 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010
    I was curious because I know many (most?) regulars on this site are involved in the sciences. It might actually be interesting some day to see what the actual make-up of the group is: quantum physicists, environmental biologists, deists, atheists, other similar interesting factoids, etc.

    We should do an online poll…

    Anyone have any ideas on how we could artistically represent the results?

  619. #621 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Also, WRT your comments on the European White Male centrism of museums and collections, I gather from some of what I’ve read here about representations of homosexuality and women that gaming is a similarly tilted (i.e., male heteronormative) environment. But I admit I don’t know that firsthand.

    Allow me to say firsthand that this is certainly true for now. I know a few feminists who were very happy with Bayonetta, however (I don’t have a PS3, so no comment), and the entertainment industry as a whole is very white male oriented. Or appears to me, at least. It also seems to slowly be changing, but who knows if it’ll break out?

  620. #622 Kel, OM
    April 22, 2010

    I’ve got to add, Braid is an awesome game. Truly creative, very impressive!

  621. #623 El Guerrero del Interfaz
    April 22, 2010

    I don’t agree. Computer games could be art if designed this way.

    I think that maybe we could learn a bit from the ancients. One of the books that surprised me the most in a good sense in the user-interface design area is Brenda Laurel’s “Computer as Theater”. In it, she applies Aristotle’s Poetics and its principles for theater to user-interface design. I think something of the sort should be done with computer games not only with Aristotle. For instance I’ve learned very interesting things in the same area reading Kandinsky and such.

    Although I agree it’s difficult and more so because it’s a collective work. But architects do art certainly so we need some artistic game architects :-)

    Oh, and wealthy mécènes would be good too ;-)

  622. #624 samilobster
    April 22, 2010

    PZ and Ebert are right. Games aren’t art, they aren’t artistic and nobody buys them for being artistic. They’re entirely about competition and game mechanics and action and winning and losing. That’s why Deus Ex and Bioshock would be just as popular if they had completely removed the story and environments and just had you fighting generic enemies in generic rooms with no reason given.

    Okay I’m done being sarcastic.

  623. #625 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Bill @618

    I really blame english.

    We use the same words for way too many different things and then mix their usage up culturally. So we get people like Ebert arguing the exceedingly narrow cultural definitions and then trying to use them to imply that it fails even by far broader standards or PZ arguing that following him to the narrowest standards somehow means we’ve abandoned the broader categories and thus somehow believe that all or most video games suck or aren’t even the broadest definition.

    Damn linguistic fallability!

  624. #626 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    This! Even if one thought no current game could be called art, it’s trivially easy to imagine an artist sitting down and designing something with the nominal form of “game” that would be art

    umm, since that actually HAS been done, on several occasions that I am aware of at least, then I have to say that your position is entirely based on ignorance, and now that you are no longer ignorant, you must then agree that indeed video games not only can be, but ARE art.

  625. #627 monad
    April 22, 2010

    If what PZ is trying to say is that video games aren’t art, but are a special type of art museum, I think he’s splitting hairs but probably not wrong. Of course, the same should still apply for interactive plays.

  626. #628 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 22, 2010

    Oh, I hada more relevant comment then my going :< at white male heteronormativity.

    (As a funny aside, I’ve read accounts of people hacking RockBand instruments and using them to make “real” original music… speaking of using the gaming “toolbox” to make art!)

    That’s not the only way games that are complete are used as a toolbox to make art. Behold, the rebirth of Bronzemurdered.

    http://www.nzfortress.co.nz/forum/showthread.php?t=2076.

    THis is actually fairly common among strategy game aficionados (Arguable whether Dorf Fortress qualifies, but not the point), and is called the After Action Report. It’s basically a fanfic written based on the events of the game. I saw a set of them for a Civ4 mod that were even played by following roleplaying constraints. Sometimes, just choosing a nation qualifies (I saw one as the Argentinians in 1850, in Victoria: Empire under the Sun. I had enough trouble making Sweden a world power…)

    But then, that’s more making art based on what happens in the game, not the game itself as art. Besides, when did pictures become art? Or storytelling? :P

  627. #629 https://me.yahoo.com/a/S8pO0dgN3vZCcp6GFuJzIu14IBqIw1hq7Kw-#24131
    April 22, 2010

    Also, Steven Spielberg’s Boom Blox.

    Spielberg is a filmmaker, and I don’t think too many people would object to calling him an “artist” or the products of his efforts “art.” Is this conclusion suddenly valid when he decides to work in the video game medium instead?

    (And I’m not a big fan of Boom Blox, I just think it’s a pretty good demonstration of an artist from a more traditional medium taking video games seriously enough to actually create one.)

  628. #630 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Icthyic @626-

    I think they were actually trying to make that point. Hence the “even if one thought” opening. Basically a “even if they had a point, they don’t have a point, sort of deal.

    But yeah, David Cage and Fumito Ueda are both very much of that school. Fumito Ueda, particularly coming entirely from a traditional arts background (hence the invention of moving impressionism that gives SotC and Ico their distinctive artistic immersion).

    Hell, most video game directors (if they care) are of that school because if you’re going to spend years mostly not sleeping or seeing your family, most artistically inclined people want to do it for something with some artistic merit, even if it is just in scenes or background elements.

  629. #631 Seraphiel
    April 22, 2010

    Video games will become art when replaying the performance becomes something we find interesting, when the execution of those tools generates something splendid and lasting.

    Done and done.

    Just one example: I played through Mass Effect 5 or 6 times, and it was a different, unique experience each time. The responses of other characters and dialog options made it interesting and engaging.

    It’s a creation of a large team of writers, programmers, image creators, 3-D modelers, voice actors, sound engineers, and a dozen other vocations. All artists.

  630. #632 aratina cage
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, with #610, you have definitively lost this argument, not that you ever stood a chance. :P

  631. #633 Weed Monkey
    April 22, 2010

    I’m beginning to suspect that tomorrow both PZ and Ebert will simultaneously claim “Ha-HAA! It was all just a masterful social experiment in mindfuckery, and a work of art in itself!”

  632. #634 Kalirren
    April 22, 2010

    I’m surprised that the Interactive Fiction work Galatea hasn’t been mentioned here. I would advise that any who are in doubt about the ability of computer games to fulfill artistic roles and functions familiarize themselves with this game.

    So many of the comments seem to hinge around the capability of computer games to really engage the player on an emotional level; Galatea does this. Some comments have mentioned the railroading that the plots of many games have; Galatea avoids this. In the end, any honest attempt at exploring Galatea forces the player to contemplate its theme, which really goes beyond what many works that are accepted as “art” within a Western tradition do.

  633. #635 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, with #610, you have definitively lost this argument, not that you ever stood a chance. :P

    While the smiley does of course imply jokingness, it’s worth pointing out that Biblical Creation has a museum, which does not make it art. Of course, under the dictionary definition, both the creation museum presentation and video games would qualify as art…

  634. #636 Utakata
    April 22, 2010

    Yes, I am a gamer…

    …but what I do is not art. What I play is most certainly not art. It’s just a game.

    /thread

    Now back to doing my dialies in WoW.

  635. #637 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010
  636. #638 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Another point worth mentioning is the Silent Hill Story FAQs. There are a good number of them all disagreeing and all with heavy literature analysis and criticism as would be worthy of academic literary criticism (if they were better cited and cleaned up a little). Basically, there have been huge sections of fandom simply trying to piece together all the subtle elements of the connecting plots and thread through the larger themes and points the works were making with varying interpretations often involving theories of how related each of the games were to each other.

    So, narratives complex enough to generate a large level of high-grade academic criticism deconstructing them?

    That’d be another checkmark in the column of video-games not only as art, but of art “deserving” (for lack of a better word) of considerations by far narrower definitions and considerations.

    And note me here, but I honestly do not believe it will be long before we start seeing academic level literature or art history dissertations on video games and video game storylines. Hell, I’m pretty sure it’s already occurring as I knew of several people who were doing art history theses on video games.

  637. #639 Brownian, OM
    April 22, 2010

    While the smiley does of course imply jokingness, it’s worth pointing out that Biblical Creation has a museum, which does not make it art.

    What? Of course it’s art; it’s just not good art.

    I mean, it’s sure as hell not science.

  638. #640 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 22, 2010

    Ichthyc (@626):

    umm, since that actually HAS been done, on several occasions that I am aware of at least, then I have to say that your position is entirely based on ignorance, and now that you are no longer ignorant, you must then agree that indeed video games not only can be, but ARE art.

    Ummm, yourself.

    First, I said in my first post on this subject, and have repeated occasionally throughout the thread, that I’m not much of a gamer. As far as firsthand knowledge of gaming is concerned, yes, I’m ignorant. But so what? I’ve been honest about that, and I’ve tried very hard to avoid taking positions that depended on knowledge I admittedly didn’t have.

    Second, my comment about something being possible in no way makes a statement or pretends any knowledge about whether it has been done. I very deliberately made it conditional: “Even if it hasn’t been done [which does not assert that it hasn’t], it obviously could be done.” You got a problem with that formulation?

    Finally, I’ve been arguing all along that “video games not only can be, but[, within the limits of my self-admittedly meager knowledge, probably] ARE art.”

    I feel like I’m taking a bit of friendly fire, here; in what particular do you think we disagree, and strongly enough to make you YELL at me?

  639. #641 Paul
    April 22, 2010

    @637

    PZ, seriously? Are you trying to mindfuck us by doing the same thing the tone trolls do, ignoring the huge gaping flaws in your argument to snipe at the silly easy-to-handle objections?

    Pathetic.

  640. #642 Tuxedo Cartman
    April 22, 2010

    I’m coming in WAY late on this, but I had to add my two cents worth regarding watching people playing video games.

    Before we all moved to different parts of the country, several of my friends and I would get together and make a weekend out of playing through whatever the newest survival-horror title was out (usually from the Silent Hill or Fatal Frame series). We were all there for the story; the person stuck actually playing the game wasn’t the one lucky one who enjoyed his task, but rather the one with gameplay skills enough to minimize dying.

    I can’t watch someone play a racing game, Halo, World of Warcraft, or any of the mindless hours spent leveling in Final Fantasy. But games like Bioshock, the original Silent Hill, or Fatal Frame 2… yeah, I’d be more than happy to sit and watch people play over and over again.

  641. #643 ashleyfmiller
    April 22, 2010

    Anyone have any ideas on how we could artistically represent the results?

    I don’t know, but your blockquotes within blockquotes are blowing my mind, man.

    Maybe we could make it into a painting, and use different colors to represent different answers, but the colors would only be used in the exact percentages of the answers.

  642. #644 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    Finally, I’ve been arguing all along that “video games not only can be, but[, within the limits of my self-admittedly meager knowledge, probably] ARE art.”

    oh.

    sorry.

    *cleans powder burns off Bill*

  643. #645 Wren
    April 22, 2010

    P.Z., this is the most fantastic troll ever.

    If you aren’t trolling, then I think the issue with Ebert and yourself is that you weren’t raised with video games. You were about 25-30 (according to your posts) when you first played games. :-/
    I do know that there are games that meet the qualities you originally provided (a game I would replay several times and enjoy and get meaning out of each time).

    So, yes, I think you are an ancient wretched warlock. Like my crazy catholic mother, except she’s a witch. ;-D

  644. #646 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    Paris has a science museum. So?

    so indeed.

    let’s discuss whether a particular scientific experiment could be considered art, or whether any given scientist could be considered an artist.

    well?

  645. #647 slayersaves89
    April 22, 2010

    PZ:

    The quote below illustrates exactly what you are simply failing to understand here.

    “I see the game, not playing it, I get a good impression. It looks like art. Then — and here’s the point you elided — I play the game, my impression is diminished. It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.”

    Well I’m very sorry about that. Really, the world of gaming apologizes for not holding your interest. However your experience says nothing about the experience which I, and many others, have while playing video games. Playing the game for me does not in fact just reduce it to a contest, it immerses me even more in the world. Instead of viewing the wonderful landscape, I am inside of it fighting for my life. I don’t care how many games you have played, if at no point you have felt that feeling of immersion in a gameworld then you are just as qualified to speak on the matter as someone who has never picked up a controller.

    Do you think that everyone here who has told you about their gaming experiences is just lying?

    Gaming being art does not stand or fall on you having this experience with a video game.
    If you played every damn game in the world and came away cold it would in no way diminish the experience that I had playing Bioshock or Mass Effect 2 for the first time.

    I would accept that there is a spectrum from video games as art to video games as sport. Most multiplayer shooters are probably closer to sports in terms of the experience that most people have. I would accept that when you play a video it feels like a sport. So fine, for you, a video game is a sport. For me, and millions of other people, this is simply not true. Hate to get all PoMo but we are talking about art after all.

  646. #648 geoffreybrent
    April 22, 2010

    Another plug here for Planescape: Torment as art. I replay it about once a year, much like rereading a favourite novel – the only thing I have that is vaguely similar is Kim Newman’s Life’s Lottery.

    Both of them are art specifically designed for an interactive medium; I wouldn’t say that the reader/player are creating art, but they are most certainly experiencing it.

  647. #649 samilobster
    April 22, 2010

    The movie Star Wars is art. *well you might no agree with that, but you probably agree movies in general are art* A game based on the movie telling the same story isn’t art.

    Why? Because you have to press buttons and complete challenges to advance the story in a game? Does this mean I could turn Casablanca into non-art by editing it so you have to solve a puzzle or hit the right combination of buttons on the remote between every scene?

  648. #650 jm_birkett#20113
    April 22, 2010

    Something like “World of Warcraft” or “Halo” is art to the same extent that the prints of watercolours you can buy from IKEA are art – they’re created by the demands of what sells well, not by any particular idea or emotion from the artist’s soul.

    If we are to reject them as art because they are shaped by economic constraints, then the cartoonist drawing pictures of tourists on the street is not an artist, the classical painters who worked on commission did not create art, and the ceiling of the Sistine chapel is not art. If Michaelangelo has to make a living, then so does everyone else.

    I think the problem is in this debate Ebert, Myers, Penny Arcade are all confusing defining “art” with the problem of distinguishing good art from bad art. And that’s a matter of taste. I think any creative work should be considered art, and then you can move on to the worthwhile discussion of what you like about it, what you don’t like and why. But do play “Katamari Damacy” and “Psychonauts” before declaring that video games are all artistically vapid.

    Incidentally, the British tax payer paid for this “art”:
    http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999875&workid=12975&searchid=18658

    Seriously. I’m not saying it’s not art, I’m saying it’s utter crap and it’s not worth paying for. Maybe Ebert should be saying that too.

  649. #651 sunioc
    April 22, 2010

    I’ve been quiet so far, mostly because everybody’s already said most of what I want to say. I have to respond to a couple of PZ’s comments though.

    would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds?

    It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    So…where is this game that approaches Kurosawa’s Ran as an expression of art?

    My answer to all of these is Bioshock. Although I haven’t seen Ran, I have seen a lot of beautiful, emotional artistic films, and Bioshock affected me more than any of them. I’ve never seen a movie that made me feel actual fear, but that’s exactly what convinced me to buy Bioshock, despite the fact that I didn’t really like first person shooters at the time. When I first played the demo, my heart was pounding in my chest every time I saw something move in the shadows.

    The game wasn’t about solving puzzles, or shooting targets, or earning rewards for me, although it did have those things. What it is about is exploring the beautiful shattered paradise of Rapture, and finding out how it came to be the way it is. The mechanics of the game don’t diminish the artistic elements, quite the opposite. If Bioshock was a movie, or a book, I couldn’t become as invested in it as I do. It’s emotional impact is as powerful as it is because I become the protagonist rather than just watching him. When I can hear a splicer around the corner gibbering madly to herself, my heart leaps into my throat, because I feel like I’m really there, fighting to survive. When I defeat a Big Daddy and I’m standing over a terrified little sister, holding her teddy bear and crying, I feel real empathy for her, and feel good about helping her (or inversely, guilty and ashamed over killing her to harvest her Adam).

    I’m guessing you won’t read this, PZ. I mean, there’s already close to 700 posts, you’re probably getting sick of this argument. I just had to give my 2 cents, though, because if that’s not art, I don’t know what is.

  650. #652 PZ Myers
    April 22, 2010

    People are bouncing about between two arguments.

    1. The snob argument — if it’s not good enough, it isn’t art. I do not accept this one, which is why I said that if you won’t accept Halo as art, then your whole point is gone. The genre is either art, or it isn’t. You get to point out that most of what is produced is bad art, but to dismiss the validity of an example because you don’t like it means you’re in the snob trap.

    And yes, that means that what Uwe Boll does is art. It’s extremely bad art, but still…he’s trying.

    2. The argument I actually favor is that video games by their nature should not be regarded as art. They’re different. Of course video games use art, but they have more in common with an athletic event, which is a game. And telling me over and over again that this game is beautiful, this game is inspiring, this one has mood and character, doesn’t change that at all…because sports fans will say the same thing about their game.

    In this category, most of the arguments here make art a pointless term, because everything is art. It becomes an exercise in artism, which is the pretty, flashy cousin of scientism. You just can’t take something you like and bloat it up to the point it encompasses everything, or it becomes meaningless.

  651. #653 slayersaves89
    April 22, 2010

    By the way PZ. You have said many flat out incorrect things about video games which you have not responded to.

    “A great painting or poem is something that represents an idea or emotion, communicated through the skill of an artist, to make you see through his or her eyes for a moment. Computer games just don’t do that. No team sits down to script out a video game with the intent of creating a tone poem in interactive visual displays that will make the player appreciate the play of sunlight on a lake, for instance. It’s all about balance and game play and keeping the action going and providing a means to win or lose, and most of all, it’s about giving the player control in the game environment. No one wants to play a game that’s on rails and simply leads you to the conclusion the author wants. In that sense, a good game hands the player a toolbox to work within the game environment ? it is to art as providing a studio and a set of pigments and a collection of brushes.”

    This paragraph contains at least 5 gross misunderstanding of video games. Frankly too many have responded for me to rehash it. Search around and respond to these if you want the gamers here to take you a bit more seriously.

  652. #654 sunioc
    April 22, 2010

    I’ve been quiet so far, mostly because everybody’s already said most of what I want to say. I have to respond to a couple of PZ’s comments though.

    would anyone in their right mind buy Halo because of that wonderfully creepy moment when you’re walking through a dark alien ship, or for the awesome site of the ring arcing up into the clouds?

    It becomes mechanics. Push this button, shoot that target, solve that puzzle, kill that zombie, get a reward. Do it some more. Get more rewards. The art fades into the background, the contest becomes paramount.

    So…where is this game that approaches Kurosawa’s Ran as an expression of art?

    My answer to all of these is Bioshock. Although I haven’t seen Ran, I have seen a lot of beautiful, emotional artistic films, and Bioshock affected me more than any of them. I’ve never seen a movie that made me feel actual fear, but that’s exactly what convinced me to buy Bioshock, despite the fact that I didn’t really like first person shooters at the time. When I first played the demo, my heart was pounding in my chest every time I saw something move in the shadows.

    The game wasn’t about solving puzzles, or shooting targets, or earning rewards for me, although it did have those things. What it is about is exploring the beautiful shattered paradise of Rapture, and finding out how it came to be the way it is. The mechanics of the game don’t diminish the artistic elements, quite the opposite. If Bioshock was a movie, or a book, I couldn’t become as invested in it as I do. It’s emotional impact is as powerful as it is because I become the protagonist rather than just watching him. When I can hear a splicer around the corner gibbering madly to herself, my heart leaps into my throat, because I feel like I’m really there, fighting to survive. When I defeat a Big Daddy and I’m standing over a terrified little sister, holding her teddy bear and crying, I feel real empathy for her, and feel good about helping her (or inversely, guilty and ashamed over killing her to harvest her Adam).

    I’m guessing you won’t read this, PZ. I mean, there’s already 650 posts, you’re probably getting sick of this argument. I just had to give my 2 cents, though, because if that’s not art, I don’t know what is.

  653. #655 Cerberus
    April 22, 2010

    Another thing worth noting for the “generational problem” is that games have a barrier before experiencing it.

    This is of course true of most art mediums. You’ll get more out of literature if you know about literary craft and tropes and deeper elements and you can’t even get into them if you don’t know how to read and will only get a little out of them (often frustratingly) if you are only literate and struggle with difficult passages.

    Gaming, to slip into the immersion of the experience, to let the world consume you and to progress in the story requires similar basic skills that lifelong gamers take as for granted as lifelong readers. And these skills are often an even higher barrier than we notice for even entry-level appreciation. To say, experience Bioshock, you need to be able to work 4 regular buttons, 2-4 shoulder buttons, two thumb sticks, a d-pad, basic 3D manipulation and movement, basic shooter mechanics, basic shooter conventions, and a bunch of other things most of us have learned over a long time playing video games.

    For my dad, playing this game as his first “first-person shooter”, it was very difficult to get the hang of and it was almost hard to pay attention to the amazing details of the background and subtle story elements because just trying to “not die” on the easiest difficulty level was over-consuming his focus.

    He actually was able to appreciate the game’s depths as a form of art and storytelling when I was sitting with him watching the game because I could give him hints on how to survive, how to manage things like health and mana and how to find the story elements easier and some hints on how to deal with the turrets, cameras, and splicers in a way that made them easier to manage.

    Basically that may also be affecting things like PZ’s or Ebert’s denunciations of the medium, especially when the works that are easier to figure out also don’t tend to be the most artistically dense. The works most artistically dense tend to be rather brutal to players who don’t know the shorthand gamers have built up over the years (here’s how to move in 3D, here’s how to target or run, this is probably highlighting an element I can interact with, I should explore this area, here’s how to fire something or swing something, here’s how to manipulate inventory, my reflexes are honed by memorization of the controller so I don’t have to look to know what to press, etc…).

  654. #656 Weed Monkey
    April 22, 2010

    PZ, I haven’t seen you answer those serious and well thought of comments, like (just picked up a few more recent ones, there are plenty more) D #600, Cerberus #597, Zabinatrix #585.

    I just don’t get it. What’s so special in video games as a medium for expressing oneself, conveying emotions and thoughts that it could (or should) not be accepted as art? I’d really like to know.

  655. #657 spundred
    April 22, 2010

    This is very disappointing.

    One must have either a very narrow definition of art, a very lacking knowledge of games, or both, to come to this conclusion PZ.

    Certainly, some games are of a virtual-sporting design, but a great many more are nothing short of story telling marvels, where the plot unfolds around the viewer, including the viewer, rather than simply before his eyes.

    Lets assume a motion picture is art. Does it cease to be art if the audience gets to make a decision on behalf of a character at some point, and see the repercussions play out before them? What if they get to make a thousand moral choices and get to see a complex result of their decisions play out? In a world that is crafted by artists (if we may still call them that) with as much deliberate intent as a major motion picture. That is the experience of modern gaming.

    Lets assume the static image is art. Does it cease to be art if the artist shows a series of static images based on the viewers reaction to the previous piece? No, PZ, it simply becomes interactive art. That is the experience of modern gaming.

    Both the process, and the end result, is truly and unmistakably art, by the most base of definitions.

    Your conclusion, speaks more of your limited experiences with the subject than it does of the subject itself, and it’s disappointing that you would use the soap-box you have here to wrongly discredit a legitimate medium.

  656. #658 chaseacross
    April 22, 2010

    You can’t display a symphony or a theatrical performance in your home- does that mean that music and theatre are not art?

    Art isn’t so expansive as to include sports, but video games (though they contain sporting elements), are nonetheless art. To suggest, as Ebert does, that the visuals and the writing and such in video games are only other forms of art interespersed in the gaming experience is almost comically ignorant coming from a film critic. Is the dialogue and dramatic structure in 90% of films just theater and literature interspersed in the film experience (as filmmakers like Dziga Vertov suggested)? No! It’s part of a cohesive experience!

    To suggest that the “game” portion of the experience definitely disqualifies it as art ignores the reality that games are almost inevitably won, and played along very particular narrative arcs. I would agree that earlier games, such as Donkey Kong, don’t fully qualify as art. They are much more like board games and the like. However, games like Deus Ex or Mass Effect are most definitely art. They have narrative arcs. They communicate themes. They feature compelling original characters. They derive their emotional power from the careful and deliberate arrangement of music, visual action, dialogue, etc.

    If you want to say video games aren’t art, then you need to create a definition of art that includes film, music, theatre, and all the manifestations thereof (including participatory forms, such as improvisation, theatre of the oppressed, etc.). If you can’t create such a definition, then you have absolutely no grounds except personal prejudice on which to deny video games their place alongside other mediums of expression. Needless to say, this is impossible. Video games are indeed art, no matter what old fogies who don’t play them say.

  657. #659 mattand08
    April 22, 2010

    @PZ 637:

    Found the timing amusing; you know, big long thread about video games not being art; Paris has a minor rep for being a capital of art,…

    Ah, never mind.

  658. #660 Kieranfoy
    April 22, 2010

    Yes, yes, we get it, P.Z., we can’t have everything be art. But you’ve yet to explain what definition of ‘art’ you’re using, why games do not comply to it, and why your definition is better than “It moves you.”

  659. #661 jaranath
    April 22, 2010

    Hm. I’m not sure this would hold true for all the games I’d consider “art,” but…yeah, if you wanna call some of them interactive novels/movies and not really “games,” I don’t care. Heck, some of them specifically tried to use that label in the early days.

  660. #662 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    The argument I actually favor is that video games by their nature should not be regarded as art. They’re different. Of course video games use art, but they have more in common with an athletic event, which is a game. And telling me over and over again that this game is beautiful, this game is inspiring, this one has mood and character, doesn’t change that at all…because sports fans will say the same thing about their game.

    This is a good example of ‘not getting it’.
    And ‘Missing the point entirely’.

    This is also the exact argument used against film near the beginning of the last century.

    Telling us over and over again that ‘it just isn’t art’ isn’t a good argument, and fails on many levels.

    Paraphrasing you earlier, Games will be art when people replay them to appreciate them again.
    People do, and ignoring that is intentionally obtuse.

  661. #663 Ichthyic
    April 22, 2010

    And telling me over and over again that this game is beautiful, this game is inspiring, this one has mood and character, doesn’t change that at all…because sports fans will say the same thing about their game.

    no.

    what you are missing is us telling you not that something is beautiful or inspiring, but that it was INTENDED to be so.

    please, look at the definition of art itself that has been posted numerous times.

    Now, tell us EXACTLY how, if a production team for a video game intended it to be a piece of art, how it is not, since by definition that makes it so.

    if the user of a video game percieves it as art, then by definition that also makes it so.

  662. #664 Joe
    April 22, 2010

    In this category, most of the arguments here make art a pointless term, because everything is art. It becomes an exercise in artism, which is the pretty, flashy cousin of scientism. You just can’t take something you like and bloat it up to the point it encompasses everything, or it becomes meaningless.

    No, we’re using the dictionary definitions of ‘Art’.
    The question is how you’re defining art, and how you justify excluding one medium over another.

  663. #665 Paul
    April 22, 2010