Can Video Games Be Art?

Roger Ebert did it again: after watching a recorded lecture about games' artistic potential by game designer Kellee Santiago, he once more stated how he remained "convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art.” The overwhelming reaction: Ebert is passing these judgments because he knows games. Surely he based his criticism—and his vision of the future of an entire medium—on an intimate understanding of the subject matter. Right.

Ebert has never played any games. He isn't familiar with the medium. He doesn't like it, play it, understand it. He has merely watched videos of different titles. As the Globe and Mail points out:

That’s akin to judging a movie’s artistic worth based on stills and trailers. … For him to weigh in on the artistic value of interactive entertainment is like someone who believes the work of Jackson Pollock has no merit or meaning talking about the lack of artistry in splatter painting.

What I find fascinating about Ebert's standpoint is that it also seems to be closely related to a generational conflict. He belongs to a generation which simply lacks the instruments to make sense of a new mass medium. He doesn't even attempt to acquire them.

If someone as knowledgeable and outspoken and competent in terms of (more established) mass media such as Ebert is already affected by this generational gap, you can't really be surprised at the resistance games have to face from parts of mainstream society and media.

While they paint video games as an unwholesome leisure pursuit and idle waste of time ("Murder simulators! Violence! Deviance!"), Ebert is just able to express his misgivings more eloquently.

-Jens Schroeder