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Roger Ebert Backs Down On Video Games As Art

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the just-not-his-cup-of-tea dept.

Games 265

Jhyrryl writes "Roger Ebert has again posted about video games. It's an apology of sorts, for having publicly said that games are not art. He wrote, 'I should not have written that entry without being more familiar with the actual experience of video games. ... My error in the first place was to think I could make a convincing argument on purely theoretical grounds. What I was saying is that video games could not in principle be Art. That was a foolish position to take, particularly as it seemed to apply to the entire unseen future of games. This was pointed out to me maybe hundreds of times.'"

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265 comments

He Did No Such Thing (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771516)

I'm intimately familiar with the history of Roger Ebert's comments on video games. From the article,

Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so.

Then he goes on to say that there were 4,547 comments left with ~300 supporting his view. He claims it's longer than Anna Karenina, David Copperfield and The Brothers Karamazov.

What he said is that he shouldn't have said it. That he should have been more informed of video games before making that statement. But, in the end, he's still saying that video games can never be art. Ebert is bull headed. I've seen the footage where he breaks down into a fight [youtube.com] with Siskel. A decent argument [youtube.com] is one thing but Ebert's harder to sway than a dead mule. So he made a statement. And what you're going to get is the definition of the word 'art.' He even admits Sony bent over backwards to give him the chance to play a beautiful non-combat oriented game ... and of his dismissal of this he says, "I was too damned bull-headed."

Roger Ebert is a brilliant man. However, as oft occurs with brilliance, he will not admit a mistake, a misstep or that he was flat out wrong. You've squeezed all you can squeeze out of him which is basically that he regrets saying it but he still believes it is true.

We call movies art. We call literature art. We call silence art [wikipedia.org] . We call a single color art [wikipedia.org] . Hell, we even call graffiti art [wikipedia.org] . The crudest symbols our kind could muster [wikipedia.org] gets to be called art. But, goddammit, for some strange reason the second you express yourself through a series of complexly arrange ones and zeros interacting with the viewer, you can't call it art.

Mr. Ebert, I may be far younger than you and I may be far less informed than you but I cannot understand what possesses you to reserve the word art from being applied to games. I can only take solace in knowing that future generations will see it differently ... permanently.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (-1, Flamebait)

strack (1051390) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771562)

anyone who uses the word 'axiom' in anything other than mathematics is a tool.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771608)

Anyone who feels the need to flame another for taking the fullest advantage of their vocabulary is a cunt.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (0, Offtopic)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771566)

Mr. Ebert, I may be far younger than you and I may be far less informed than you but I cannot understand what possesses you to reserve the word art from being applied to games. I can only take solace in knowing that future generations will see it differently ... permanently.

Pot? Mr. Kettle calling...

Re:He Did No Such Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771740)

Pot? Mr. Kettle calling...

Did you just eat a bran muffin?

Re:He Did No Such Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771744)

Pot? Mr. Kettle calling...

If you read the 1500 comments on his blog you'll see that the majority opinion indicates this is the case.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (3, Informative)

Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771602)

Roger Ebert is a brilliant man.
Going to have to disagree with that one. Given his loony statements about children in the US wearing US flag t-shirts on cinco de mayo, I'd have to say that brilliant left the building a long time ago. Though I do wonder how he would feel about mexican children in mexico wearing mexican flag t-shirts on the anniversary of the battle of yorktown.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (3, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771674)

Roger Ebert is a brilliant man. Going to have to disagree with that one. Given his loony statements about children in the US wearing US flag t-shirts on cinco de mayo ...

People can still be brilliant and yet get other things so painfully wrong you think they're Kim Peek or an idiot savant. Although I find his stances in other realms loathsome, his movie reviews and books on movies nearly mandatory reading for enhancing your appreciation of movies. If ever there were a finer or more well known movie critic, name them. I'm not going to deny this and it's not like this is the only case where this happens. I have Orson Scott Card spouting idiot political drivel in some sort of LDS worshipping context yet I really enjoyed his novels as a kid. This has happened for a long time with perhaps the most extreme case being Knut Hamsun [wikipedia.org] . Yeah it makes me think less of them and their opinions on matters unrelated to their work but it doesn't entirely remove the acknowledgment they deserve in their field.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (4, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772216)

If ever there were a finer or more well known movie critic, name them

There certainly aren't many. And surely none who have reached so many people. Eberts most important contribution is bringing serious film criticism to the masses, without watering down his scholarship.

And, he has always remained first and foremost a fan, which is always an endearing quality in a critic.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772970)

" If ever there were a finer or more well known movie critic, "

This has nothing to do with brilliant or intelligence. Do I really need to list off several people most people have heard of that are patently stupid?

Any evidence at all? none of his books show in particular unique insights.

It's like Weird AL. IS he brilliant, or is his niche so small, no one bothers to care to compete?

Re:He Did No Such Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771700)

I disagree with his statements on that issue, but I wouldn't go so far as to call them "loony."

Re:He Did No Such Thing (4, Funny)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772466)

In the words of Terry Pratchett, "he's not only not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he might even be a spoon."

Re:He Did No Such Thing (3, Interesting)

Silverhammer (13644) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771632)

Roger Ebert has always stuck me as a very humorless man. He finds no real joy in anything. Gene Siskel and then Richard Roeper always provided the smiles and laughs on their TV show, while Ebert just sat and glared. And now that he's been forced by illness to turn inward and spend more time with his own thoughts, he's just gotten even nastier.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (2, Interesting)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771734)

Ebert's definition of art is (still) more restricted than mine. But it's more expansive and inclusive than others' (especially of his generation). The real debate is not whether video games are art (which is mostly a pissing contest about whether they're "good" enough), but whether "art" is open-ended enough to include interactive works like video games. Given the fact that I did an analysis of Riven as a work of new-media art my senior year at art school, I rather strongly feel that is. But there are plenty of people who'd dispute that what John Cage and Kazimir Malevich have created is art, because their definition of "art" is not so broad. On that, all we can do is agree to disagree, which is what Ebert seems to be trying to do with his apology-which-is-not-a-retraction. He's sticking to his beliefs, and I respect that even though I disagree with his position.

P.S. I haven't played many more games than he has; Myst and Riven were the last two.

Since when did "good enough" matter? (5, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772226)

Since when did something have to be "good enough" to be art? I think that would come as a surprise to Duchamp and the whole modern art establishment he had spawned.

For whoever doesn't know the story, the whole modern art phenomenon started in 1917 with a guy called Marcel Duchamp, who signed an urinal and sent it to an art gallery under the title "Fountain."

It was not the first of Duchamp's "readymades", basically just objects he found and signed, but otherwise didn't even make or anything. The first was a found bicycle wheel he signed and displayed under the name "Bicycle Wheel" in 1913. Sometimes he at least used funny names for them, like titling a shovel "Prelude To A Broken Arm" in 1915, others were like that Bicycle Wheel. But the urinal is what became famous and redefined art.

The funny thing is that Duchamp spells it out in interviews, some even much much later, that he just wanted to destroy "art". He found the whole establishment to be little more than a circle-jerk clique (not his exact words, but the general gist of it) and obsessed with form above and beyond anything else. He wanted to destroy it all. His urinal was supposed to convey the message, basically, "your work is worth as much as this urinal to me."

But funnily that's not what the art world understood. The art world suddenly found itself trying to imitate the unconventionalism and shock value of that urinal. And it's been in that rut ever since.

And funnily enough everyone seems to still don't get what Duchamp actually did there, even if you show them an interview where he says it himself. E.g., I remember an interview with Michael Craig where he explains that Duchamp actually wanted to show that even everyday objects can be beautiful and art. (No, he didn't.)

In the meantime we have a fine arts establishment where a stack of bricks is called art. A tent made of PVC tubes is art. A set of 4 folded and straightened sheets of paper is called art. (No, really, I've actually seen exactly and literally that in someone's private collection.) A glass of water on a shelf is art. Or a hack like Hirst can pay someone else to put a grid of random coloured dots on a rectangle, sign it and not only get it called art, but be acclaimed for it. (Here's one sample of his 300+ pictures made of dots: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/08/Hirst-LSD.jpg [wikimedia.org] .) A rectangular box made of sheet metal can be called art. A flickering TV in an empty room can be called art. A crucifix in a jar of piss can be called art.

We're in a world where calling someone's work "pretty" is the most grievous insult you can get away with in front of a professor, in some arts colleges. But it is an insult and use it only if you want to make an enemy. Nowadays you don't want "pretty", you want "thought provoking", and "original", and such.

So Ebert is, what, telling me that it isn't art because it's completely unlike what he calls art? Has he checked with the aforementioned modern art establishment? Because it seems to me like that being different is exactly what would make it "art" there.

(And I've played plenty of games which fit the "thought provoking" criterion too. But then I'm the kind of guy easily provoked in that aspect. E.g., Chucky Egg provoked much thought about the struggle of the working class against the oppressor chickens.;))

Heck, probably the best example is another painting I've seen in someone's private collection. Essentially it looked like a screenshot of Tetris. No, literally. I'm not exaggerating. Yes, I know what "literally" means. I mean it. It looked not just sorta like Tetris, but exactly like a screenshot of Tetris. Well, except for the part that in actual Tetris two rows should have been removed because they were full, but obviously on the painting they hadn't been. I wonder if it was supposed to be symbolic of the unfairness of life or something ;)

So basically, let me get that straight: _that_ is art, or so I'm told, but Ebert tells me that if it were actually animated as a game of Tetris, it wouldn't be art any more? Why? It's the same image.

Re:Since when did "good enough" matter? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772342)

"Since when did something have to be "good enough" to be art?"

It doesn't, but that's what this increasingly infantile debate quickly turns into.

"A flickering TV in an empty room can be called art."

And some people object to that claim. It's just as close-minded on your part to dismiss them peremptorily as it is for them dismiss the original claim.

Re:Since when did "good enough" matter? (3, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772728)

And some people object to that claim.

Heck, I'll be the first to bemoan it myself, and I thought the tone of my post would make it pretty clear that I'm not exactly a fan of modern art. But nevertheless it _is_ called art, and the vast majority of the population seems to have no problem with that. Whatever meaning the word "art" has nowadays, obviously it _does_ include stuff like a signed urinal or a flickering TV in an empty room.

It's just as close-minded on your part to dismiss them peremptorily as it is for them dismiss the original claim.

Not quite sure what you mean there, so I can't comment much. I'm certainly not dismissing the idea that 99% of modern art is garbage. (And the other 1% is savagely panned by critics for not being modern enough.) But nevertheless the common meaning of the word "art" nowadays does include them.

Interaction (2, Insightful)

LKM (227954) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772494)

The idea that it might make sense to differentiate between "interactive" things and "non-interactive" things and define this line as the line between art and non-art strikes me as odd. There is no non-interactive art. If you read a book, it is your own mind that paints the picture described by the author's word. If you watch a movie, it's your mind that creates the interpretation that gives the work meaning. Art is always interactive; you interact with a piece of art. This is what gives art its meaning. Without interaction, any piece of art would be utterly dead and meaningless.

Re:Interaction (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772878)

I beg to differ. I have created a piece of art that nobody will never interact with. Truly it is awesome in its artiness. I will sell it to you for $1,000,000. While you can never see, hear, touch, smell or otherwise interact with it, you will be the owner and able to re-sell it at your convenience.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (3, Insightful)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771800)

Roger Ebert is a brilliant man. However, as oft occurs with brilliance, he will not admit a mistake, a misstep or that he was flat out wrong. You've squeezed all you can squeeze out of him which is basically that he regrets saying it but he still believes it is true.

Yup. This isn't Ebert 'backing down', this is Ebert taking his ball and going home. He just says "I still think I'm right, but I'm not going to argue any more", which is a fantastic strategy in that he can't lose an argument he doesn't have.

That said, I don't particularly care what he thinks (never been a big fan to begin with). I know what I think, and I know what future generations will probably think. Oh well, his loss if he never plays Braid.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (3, Informative)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771870)

Did anyone else notice that he changed the pictures on his blog post? When I read it last night, it was all Doom and other bloody horror FPS screenshots. Today it's all Shadows of the Colossus. Perhaps someone caught too much flak (again) and was pressured to backpedal (again)?

I thought it seemed like a strawman to say 'does this decapitated demon look like art to you?' It would be like using a clip from Porky's to explain why movies aren't art...

Re:He Did No Such Thing (2, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772080)

He's saying "I could be wrong". For someone who forms and expresses opinions for a living, that's about the best you can expect. :)

I know what future generations will probably think.

Don't be so sure. The future has a tendency to surprise us.

Oh well, his loss if he never plays Braid.

And perhaps your loss if you never read one of his books or watch one of his favorite films? Or read one of my favorite graphic novels? There's a lot of great stuff out there to experience, and the fact that someone finds something other than your favorites to enrich his life (and might even find your favorites... uninteresting) doesn't make him the poorer for it.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

LKM (227954) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772576)

It's not about favourites. It's about discarding an entire genre of art.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772616)

He's saying "I could be wrong". For someone who forms and expresses opinions for a living, that's about the best you can expect. :)

Right, but it's the 'I don't want to argue anymore, because I think I'd lose' part that irritates me. I think he'd need to say 'I'm probably wrong' (rather than 'could be) for it to be an effective mea culpa.

Also, the fact that he muses that he can't define art in such a way to exclude video games, yet include stuff like participatory art. He's learned, it seems, not to piss anyone else off by calling their medium non-art. Again, the problem is he simply says 'I don't want to argue any more' instead of saying 'on closer inspection, I was wrong'. Maybe this is why people have such a bad opinion of critics? ;)

And perhaps your loss if you never read one of his books or watch one of his favorite films? Or read one of my favorite graphic novels? There's a lot of great stuff out there to experience, and the fact that someone finds something other than your favorites to enrich his life (and might even find your favorites... uninteresting) doesn't make him the poorer for it.

I never said he needed to play it. I also didn't mean to imply that not experiencing some video game was any worse than not reading a novel or watching a movie. My point is that I just don't care if he decides he doesn't want to play it, it doesn't harm me.

Again, it's the fact that he refused to even try and see if he likes it, while simultaneously shitting on it. If he said he didn't like it, there wouldn't have been an uproar. Hell, even if he said movies were better.

It's more than that... (2, Insightful)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772648)

He's saying something much more honest, insightful, and true than he's getting credit for.

He seems to be saying that he not only could be wrong, but that he really isn't qualified to comment. He's admitting that he's not willing to get the required experience (play enough games) to be able to comment and be taken seriously. Given these two things, he's bowing out.

Now, it does seem like it took a lot to get it here. It seems he's acknowledging that he was "bull-headed" and that he's mostly writing this because of the barrage of criticism he's received. But what he's actually said is right on -- he isn't qualified to comment, and if he really wants to, he'd have to both solidly define art and play some games, which he's not prepared to do.

I don't have a problem with "backpedaling". I don't like that it took him this long, and I do wish he was a bit more explicit and humble in his wording. But he's realized exactly what he should have, given his experience, and he's said so. I wouldn't expect more.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772870)

The difference is, of course, that GP wasn't saying Ebert's favourite films or your graphic novels weren't art, in some deliberately derisory and hence inflammatory manner.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771862)

Mr. Ebert, I may be far younger than you and I may be far less informed than you but I cannot understand what possesses you to reserve the word art from being applied to games.

The 4,547 comments, of which ~4,200 are disagreeing - I've seen that sort of thing before [youtube.com] .

Re:He Did No Such Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771864)

But, goddammit, for some strange reason the second you express yourself through a series of complexly arrange ones and zeros interacting with the viewer, you can't call it art.

That's easy enough to fix, just call it "interactive video art" and slap on a 5-figure price tag.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (3, Insightful)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771910)

Actually he quite specifically, and at length admits the possibility that games may someday develop to the point where even he sees them as art. He also admits, that since he refuses to *play* any current games, his opinion is largely irrelevant. Basically he maintains the opinion that in his largely ignorant and limit experience, games he's seen are not art as he defines it. Which is a pretty fair position really.

As a gamer, there really are a vanishingly small number of games that come close to being "art". The potentially is there, and a few games come close to reaching that potential, but realistically not many. I mean how many variations of "Person with a variety of weapons shoots, blows up, or otherwise destroys various entities intent on destroying the world" have there been in the last 20 years?

For a gamer's view of why video games have such a hard time being taken seriously, I rather like this [cracked.com] article on Cracked.com. Put simply, until games companies accept that they are no longer producing exclusively for 17 year olds, and until we gamers start refusing to accept that the vast majority of games are produced for 17 year olds games will have a hard time being seen as artistic.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771964)

Actually he quite specifically, and at length admits the possibility that games may someday develop to the point where even he sees them as art.

What part of the GP's quote don't you understand?

Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so.

It's right there in the introduction.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772156)

Who was I to say video games didn't have the potential of becoming Art? Someday?

What I was saying is that video games could not in principle be Art. That was a foolish position to take, particularly as it seemed to apply to the entire unseen future of games. This was pointed out to me maybe hundreds of times. How could I disagree? It is quite possible a game could someday be great Art.

From further in. While I admit the passage you quote seems to contradict this, it seems to me that what he meant (based on the tone of the rest of article) is that he still doesn't think current games are art. Though again, he also admits that he takes this position in ignorance.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

LKM (227954) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772630)

Why should a game not be art merely because it depicts destruction and is part of a popular genre of games?

Re:He Did No Such Thing (2, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772684)

I mean how many variations of "Person with a variety of weapons shoots, blows up, or otherwise destroys various entities intent on destroying the world" have there been in the last 20 years?

How many variations of "nude female" or "pastoral landscape" have there been in the last 100 years? Sure, not all of them are fine art, but that doesn't mean a nude or landscape can't be fine art.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (4, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771980)

Well, Ebert is in good company. Ten years ago when I was heavily into games, there was a (deliberately) little-known site named Planet Crap that gamers in the know and game developers often frequented, and I was on its messageboard quite a bit, and had a few discussions/debates with Charles Broussard [wikipedia.org] about games, art, division by zero, etc.

One of these debates was whether or not video games were, or could be, art. He was of the opinion that video games AREN'T art, and he was the one behind Duke Nukem.

Well, I think Duke Nukem 4ever proved him wrong; DN4's protracted absence [wikipedia.org] is most certainly art.

We call movies art. We call literature art. We call silence art. We call a single color art. Hell, we even call graffiti art. The crudest symbols our kind could muster gets to be called art.

If you want the REAL definition of art, art is what art historians call art. Silence CAN BE but is not necessarily art, and in fact usually isn't. Whether or not a single color can be art depends on the work; just painting a canvas a single color doesn't make it art. Graffiti? All art is graffiti, but not all graffiti is art.

Your kid doesn't make art. The cave paintings you linked are art in the sense that science [wikipedia.org] in the 16th century was science.

Ebert and Broussard are both wrong. Many games are, indeed, art. DN4 certainly is, and I'm sure future historians are going to agree.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772394)

No authority will tell me what is and is not art. My brain is my own, and no other man's. Such an abstract distinction can be made on an individual basis. Like the Supreme Court on obscenity, "I know it when I see it."

(For the record, I think just about anything can be art, including video games.)

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772020)

But then again, movies will never be art either.
And before that, photography would never be art.
And at some point in time way before that, painting would never be art.

The only thing we CAN say with absolute certainty is that there will always be art critics that don't know what art is.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772916)

Get off our lawn!

~ The Art Critics ~

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

fastest fascist (1086001) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772048)

Actually what he seems to be saying is that he's an old crone with an antiquated definition of "art". His insistence on an author's control over the way a piece of art is experienced rules not just games, but much of participative and experimental theatre out as artforms. Modern art in general often runs contary to that stipulation of control. Ebert is a dinosaur, pay no mind.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772606)

He should just dissemble a little bit and admit that they are probably art, while maintaining that they mostly aren't good art or particularly meaningful art (putting them in good company with much of Modern Art).

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

timlyg (266415) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772050)

entertainment is not art, period. Art is not entertainment. Though art can be used for entertainment.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

charliemopps11 (1606697) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772070)

Why is Rodger Ebert a brilliant man? In fact, why is his opinion on videos even relevant? Maybe we should get his opinion on astronomy while we're at it?

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772286)

However, as oft occurs with slashdotters, they will not admit a mistake, a misstep or that they were flat out wrong.

FTFY.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772336)

as oft occurs with brilliance, he will not admit a mistake,

Perhaps you define brilliance differently than I do. I think of it as intelligence, or alternately wisdom. Refusing to revise your thinking [slashdot.org] after making a mistake is a requirement for higher-level intelligence.

If you mean brilliance as in "shines brightly" without regard to what exactly is shining - then he is definitely brilliant. Everyone knows him, and hears his opinions.

I cannot understand what possesses you to reserve the word art from being applied to games.

I do. Ebert spent his entire life being paid for his opinion on one particular form of art. He is totally out of touch with this other form of art. Yet video games are now bigger than movies, and it is natural for him to fear that his opinions will become less relevant and less valuable than they were when movies were the #1 form of entertainment.

He has three alternatives: Learn video games and render his opinions on them, humble himself by admitting that his expertise does not go that far, or decry that this alternative entertainment medium is not worthy of his illustrious opinion. He chose the cognitive dissonance approach. It absolves him of having to deal with the fact that he isn't as relevant as he used to be.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

Like2Byte (542992) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772432)

Roger Ebert is a brilliant man. However, as oft occurs with brilliance, he will not admit a mistake, a misstep or that he was flat out wrong.

I respectfully disagree. It has been my experience that brilliant people often do admit mistakes, missteps and/or their wrongness about ideas. Brilliant people learn from their mistakes. Jackasses sweep things under the rug and hope no one notices.

Smart? Sure. Brilliant? Hardly.

Thomas Edison: Brilliant!
Einstein: Brilliant!
Ebert: Why am I still typing?

Re:He Did No Such Thing (4, Insightful)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772792)

Thomas Edison: Brilliant!
The same Thomas Edison who fought AC power distribution well beyond the point of its having been proven superior and actually successfully deployed in numerous cities?

Einstein: Brilliant!
The scientist who fought quantum mechanics to his last breath, in the face of some outstanding theoretical work to the contrary? The man who actually said "I, at any rate, am convinced that [God] does not throw dice." because he completely distrusted the statistical, seemingly random, nature of quantum physics?

These men are actually some of my heroes, and were since my childhood. But never forget, they're human, and that means they can wind up irrationally invested in their own opinions and beliefs, especially if the state of their art has moved on without them.

If "brilliant" means "mentally flexible enough to change a strongly held opinion in the face of strong evidence", very few human beings are brilliant.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772516)

More proof that he can be wrong (and occasionally admits it): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day_(film)#Reception

Re:He Did No Such Thing (2, Interesting)

Psmylie (169236) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772638)

Really, it all comes down to the definition of "art". In my opinion, art is any created work that evokes a thoughtful and emotional response in me, the viewer/listener. I exclude anything that simply tries for a shock or knee-jerk reaction (for example, dropping a crucifix into a jar of urine isn't art in my book, it's an attempt to offend, and in bad taste). There are plenty of games that have done that for me. There are BUILDINGS that have done that for me. The fact that you can interact with it doesn't mean it's not art.

Regarding the title of the article, "Ok, kids, play on my lawn": I'm less than half a year away from 40, and an avid gamer. While I'm not as old as Ebert is, there is no way I qualify as a "kid". In fact, the title of the article gives away a lot more of the rationale behind the original statement about the artistic merits of games than he's probably aware of. To him, it seems games = kid's stuff, and kid's stuff can't be art.

In this, Ebert is guilty of the same elitist, condescending attitude that I often see from self-proclaimed artists towards what they see as non-artists. It's a self-righteously smug attitude where he is convinced that he somehow sees and feels more deeply than the common man. Quite often, Ebert's statements (and not just about games) give the impression that he almost-but-not-quite-really pities us mundane kludges who don't see the world the same way he does. He may be much older than I am, but I'd say he's got some emotional maturing to do, at least in that regard.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772656)

Does it really matter - is he the final arbiter of what constitutes art? Art is incredibly subjective at the best of times, there's no way we're all going to agree on a rigid definition that will let us measure if something is or isn't art, I don't see why people are getting worked up about this. If you see art there, then that's all that matters, whether others can see it or not - van Gogh died as a mostly unrecognised artist, yet now his paintings change hands for millions and are recognised as masterpieces. Just because one man lacks the foresight to see something as art, doesn't mean it isn't.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772740)

>> We call movies art. We call literature art. We call silence art [wikipedia.org]. We call a single color art [wikipedia.org]. Hell, we even call graffiti art [wikipedia.org]. The crudest symbols our kind could muster [wikipedia.org] gets to be called art.

What do call a man with no arms or legs, hanging on the wall?

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772794)

He probably got pwned at Doom or Quake deathmatch in the 90s, refused to play any more games, and this is his way of expressing bitterness.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772934)

But, in the end, he's still saying that video games can never be art.

No he's not. In the end he's saying that he failed to find a definition of art that can conclusively rule out video games, and that while he doesn't see himself be as moved by a game as by a movie, he can not rule out that some gamers actually have that kind of experience.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772938)

"Roger Ebert is a brilliant man"

I have never seen or read any evidences he is any more smart, insightful or clever in any way.

Re:He Did No Such Thing (1)

Gamer_2k4 (1030634) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772978)

IWe call movies art. We call literature art. We call silence art [wikipedia.org] . We call a single color art [wikipedia.org] . Hell, we even call graffiti art [wikipedia.org] . The crudest symbols our kind could muster [wikipedia.org] gets to be called art.

Maybe Ebert is one of those people, who, like me, wouldn't consider those things art. Especially with the silence one, which I whole-heartedly disagree with as being called art. Even if the guy's goal was to make people listen to things besides music (rain on the roof, wind, etc.), that's complete BS that he's taking credit for that and calling it "art."

It's not art to say, "Hey! Listen!"

Early failure leads to later triumph (5, Interesting)

suso (153703) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771520)

Given that the man is 68 years old, has been doing movie reviews for a long time and probably one of his first experiences with video games as E.T. for the Atari 2600. I can't say I blame him for having his opinion set in stone for a while. Good to see that he's come around.

Re:Early failure leads to later triumph (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771654)

Arguably, his stupidity was in saying that "video games can never be art". Saying that "no video game has yet reached the level of art" is controversial; but a respectable enough empirical opinion, particularly back in the bad old days.

To say that they can "never" be art is either to make a stupid and almost certainly wrong prediction about the technological future, or to attempt to impose a definition of "art" so special-purpose that the statement "video games can never be art" is basically just a tautology masquerading as an insight.

Re:Early failure leads to later triumph (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771896)

Honestly, his 'backing down' makes him sound like even more of a moron. If he had stuck with "video games can never be art" then maybe its wrong but at least its a position he's capable of arguing. Instead, he claims "no current video game is art" yet claims he hasn't played one since Myst. If he acknowledges that a game can be art, then the only way he could know if any current games are art is if he actually fucking played one, which he refuses to do.

Critics (4, Funny)

Silly Man (15712) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771532)

Criticizing movies is not art. Nor even a nice profession :)

Re:Critics (4, Insightful)

yanyan (302849) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771604)

As i like to say: Those who can, do. Those who can't, criticize.

And as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Men over forty are no judges of a book written in a new spirit."

Re:Critics (1)

dugjohnson (920519) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772088)

The longer version is:
Those who can, do.
Those who can't, teach.
Those who can't teach, consult.
Those who can't consult, criticize.

Re:Critics (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772644)

"Those who can't teach administrate" goes a lot further towards explaining the wonderful state of our schools.

Re:Critics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771660)

The term "critic" doesn't automatically imply a negative review. It just means that, unlike the target audience of most movies, they apply critical thought skills to what they are viewing and they relay their opinion, good or bad, to the reader. I use RottenTomatoes.com to look at an aggregate of movie critic reviews for a particular movie before I decide whether or not it is worth my $10. I wouldn't pay $5 to see most of the shit Hollywood churns out these days. Movie critics have saved me alot of money. For example, based on terrible reviews I decided to not waste my time and money on Transformers 2.

Re:Critics (1)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771706)

It amazes me sometimes how many moderators downrate something without actually reading it properly. If you read the moderation guidelines, it does say to focus on positive moderation over negative...

and maybe Roger Ebert should consider something similar for his criticism.

hurrh (5, Informative)

naz404 (1282810) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771578)

Summary:

Ebert explains never played video games, refuses to play them, and bashed them based only based on his own theories. He then slightly apologizes for being an ass and confesses he does not know what art is.

We're not talking about Pong anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771620)

If Shadow of the Colossus isn't art I don't know what is...

Re:We're not talking about Pong anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771648)

If Planescape: Torment isn't art, then it's something better.

To paraphrase Eddie Murphy... (3, Funny)

davidbrit2 (775091) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771714)

"Tell Roger to have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up."

Re:To paraphrase Eddie Murphy... (3, Funny)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771782)

"Tell Roger to have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up."

And if he calls you again, tell him to suck my dick.

Still a jerk (3, Insightful)

asukasoryu (1804858) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771752)

Ebert admits he was foolish to reveal his opinion but maintains the opinion that video games can not be art. What he should have realized is developing an opinion without proper experience was the mistake. And he still won't invest a few hours to check out a video game. How many hours has he wasted on shitty movies? Ebert just doesn't want to be wrong so he's not going to allow himself to justify his own opinion. Still a jerk.

I Think... (1)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771784)

Roger Ebert has never actually played any games. And he's too stubborn now to admit he was completely wrong after probably friends exposed him to modern games.

Re:I Think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772030)

wrong he's played 2 both of which are from the windows 95 era or before. Tbh he'd have been better off saying "Until such time as I actually play a game I'm gonna shut the fuck up"

Re:I Think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772420)

Reading TFA, he almost said just that. And because of this, he resisted allowing his friends to expose him to modern games. What I found most interesting was that the definition of Art he tentatively gave (leading to a deeper understating of the world around you, the human condition, etc) would exclude music, abstract paintings, etc, but not the right video games.

Art in the machine (2, Insightful)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771808)

I have two arcade machines, and I bought both because not only did I like the game play, but also the art of the game. Both are color vector graphic machines (Tempest & Star Trek), and both have beautiful displays. IMHO, the display on Tempest still can't be outdone with an LCD or plasma system. I've also studied the schematics and there is considerable art in the way the designers pushed their extremely limited systems.

lol (1)

Yaos (804128) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771832)

The only two games he played were a DOS based virtual tour of Japan and a game made in Hypercard. Also that boxing game with the Sega Activator.

Definition of art (1, Funny)

mrbill1234 (715607) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771840)

What is the definition of art? I once heard it described as:

Art is anything you are willing to exhibit

If I want to exhibit a turd on a stick - well that's art. You might not like it, but that does not change the facts.

art (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771888)

If you ask me, sport games are not art.

How many artfull Madden games are there?

Video games will be recognized as art when... (1, Flamebait)

0olong (876791) | more than 3 years ago | (#32771950)

Video games will be recognized as art when they are displayed in a museum where retired baby boomers can be led around by a guide specializing in the art history of digital post-modernism. Oh, of course after glowing reviews in the appropriate sections of the NYT et al.

He'd do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32771990)

He'd do just about anything to avoid getting hit on the chin in this fight.
Art is in the eye of the beholder and I is right.

Art is always up for debate (3, Insightful)

cybaz (538103) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772174)

What things constitute art has always been fiercely debated. No one has definitively defined what is art and what is not. At one time there was debate whether photographs could be art. Then it was whether something generated on a computer could be art. As these things gained greater acceptance it was more accepted that they could be considered art. Roger Ebert may be a bit outdated in his interpretation of art, but there isn't any "right" answer.

Re:Art is always up for debate (1)

PPalmgren (1009823) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772734)

There may not be a "right" answer, but there is a "wrong" answer. The wrong answer is dictating that something is not art. Trying to paint the subject of art (no pun intended) with a black and white brush shows a lack of understanding on the topic.

I replied with this: (4, Insightful)

Howitzer86 (964585) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772244)

"Maybe they're art, just not great art. You seem to be looking for absolutes where there should be none."

Countless works of art has been created, most of them do not measure up to Shakespeare, and a great majority of that art can't be properly compared because they are in a different medium (would you compare The David to MacBeth?). All because they can't measure up or can't be compared does not mean games are not art.

I really like Ebert, but... (1)

Lisandro (799651) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772272)

...this time he's way wrong, IMHO. I still haven't found any game that can be considered art per se, but, ultimately, you can make art out of everything [wikipedia.org] . As John Lennon better said it, "I'm an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it."

IS art, or CONTAINS art? (1)

dbet (1607261) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772300)

I could make the argument that not all games are automatically "art". Soccer is not art. But with video games, they almost have to contain art. Your avatar is art. The background is art. I could probably find more individual pieces of art in the WoW universe than in the Louvre.

I just can't see anyone saying that an avatar is not a work of art, to some degree. Yes I realize that this means the doodles in the back of your notebook are technically art too, but I'm okay with that.

Re:IS art, or CONTAINS art? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772550)

Auditorium. There is no avatar, and I suppose you could say the music is "contained" art, but it's beautiful even when muted. And it's beauty comes from the game mechanics (glowy flying bits), not a 3D model or a 2D bitmap.

Re:IS art, or CONTAINS art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772804)

Of course not ALL games are automatically art. Most are just entertainment -- just like most movies and most books.

But there are certainly some games that are art, just as there are some movies and some books that deserve to be called art.

I work in the videogame industry, and while I readily admit that most of our industry's output is just mass entertainment (we are mostly craftsmen, not maestros), both I myself and every person I've talked to in the industry about it, thinks that Ebert is wrong. All he did with his grand pronouncements was attract the scorn and derision of nearly all gamers and game-makers.

What's so great about Art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772320)

I am currently attending grad school at a school of art & design (don't worry--I am on the design side of things). I take a lot of classes with game design majors, so I've heard plenty of grumbling about Ebert in regards to this. In almost all my classes, the 'what is art?' conversation comes up at least once during the semester.

I agree with the game design folk on the core issue that games can be art. In general, i find it to be a matter of shooting oneself in the foot to claim that any genre or craft or ______ has not the potential for being understood/criticized/viewed as art---even if you disdain it. (note: you still ar entitled to call it bad/unsuccessful art).

BUT HERE IS MY REAL POINT... This debate is often not held incorrectly in a vacuum when it is usually in the context of someone defending or arguing their craft/skill/trade as art. But, what is is so great about art or being an artist? Why does every comic book illustrator, game designer, sandwhich-maker desire so deeply to be called an artist or an architect? I think this is a really integral part of the larger conversation that gets passed over and we jump too quickly into the 'what is art?' debate.

Frankly, I think there is way too much cultural value invested in the title of 'art' or 'artist'. It's just another practice/profession. It is no more noble than others.

And, really, the word has become pretty cheap in the past fifty years due to overuse and incorrect application. Even the high/conceptual/modern/gallery version of the word/title has become so all-encompassing that it risks obliteration.

I also see this problem cropping up with the title of 'designer', but that is another conversation.

Videogames aren't art, elements of them are. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772352)

Games aren't art. Games are an experience. The interaction between you and a controller responding to onscreen actions isn't art. If you play in a graceful or elegant way, one might say you did it in an artful way, but that has nothing to do with the game itself.

The game might have art surrounding it as window dressing to the actual game experience -- graphics, music, etc. But they aren't technically part of the game -- if I made a modern art piece out of a Monopoly board, the game of Monopoly still wouldn't be art, it would be *a game*.

Again, it all comes down to modern gamers being confused about exactly what games are. The graphics have nothing to do with the actual gameplay. And gameplay is not art.

I would love to post this under my name, but I know it will be torn to shreds by everyone and modded down to hell, so there's little point. It's sad that people can't take a point of view and respect it for what it is rather than attack it because it threatens their precious little worldview.

Ebert is an idiot! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772706)

There are millions of gamers have played many great games that are obviously art. If photographs, paintings, novels and movies can be art then obviously video games can be art too. Anybody who thinks otherwise (such as Ebert) either doesn't know what art is, doesn't know what videogames are, or both.

WE THE GAMERS, say that games can be art. Its not our problem if Ebert is not able to recognize the art in them. I'm not able to recognize the art in most paintings either, but when it comes to art in video games, I know it when I see it.

Here's my challenge. Find at least a dozen people who have played most of the way through at least two of the following games:

ICO [wikipedia.org]
Planescape: Torment [wikipedia.org]
Flower [wikipedia.org]
Portal [wikipedia.org]
System Shock [wikipedia.org]
Katamari Damacy [wikipedia.org]
World of Goo [wikipedia.org]
Osmos [wikipedia.org]

Now ask those people if they believe that games can be art. I bet at least 10 out of 12 will say YES. Its impossible to thoroughly play games like these and not be altered at least a little bit by the experience.

The emotional impact of ICO, the clever writing and puzzles of Planescape, the zen relaxation of Flower or Osmos, the smooth dissonance of Portal, the quirky and unique mechanics of World of Goo and Katamari (not to mention the latter's very colorful environments and wacky soundtrack)... these are things that all gamers should experience. These things are ART!

Captcha: "playing"

weak arguments (4, Interesting)

trb (8509) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772746)

In general, I enjoy Ebert, and I'm not a gamer. I have no horse in this race.

I think Ebert's arguments here are very weak, for example:

  1. He says "That was a foolish position to take, particularly as it seemed to apply to the entire unseen future of games." He already claims that he has not seen the past and present of gaming, it makes no sense to suppose that the future of gaming might change his mind.
  2. He says that if you could change the ending to Romeo and Juliet, then it wouldn't be art. Consider change by addition, rather than by substitution. So Romeo and Juliet is art, but Romeo and Juliet with a bag hanging off its side is not art? What if I remove the bag, leaving the original? Have I restored its status as art? If a game contains 100 new visual masterworks and 100 new musical masterworks and a 100 levels where I frag zombies, is that art? At all?

A game is clearly a form of expression, and a media container. I don't see how you can argue that the container can never contain art.

Reminds me of my family (1)

wandazulu (265281) | more than 3 years ago | (#32772766)

Small tangent, but reading Ebert's musings on video games reminds me of how my family sees computers; a "computer" is a series of refrigerator-sized cabinets with spinning tape drives, output on green-bar paper, etc. No amount of evidence will convince them that anything smaller is anything other than a "toy", as if there was no progression from the 70s homebrew era. Ironically they have no problems keeping a contradictory thought that the machines they *do* use (Macs, PCs, other devices, etc.) are extremely useful, have made their lives much better, etc., but they are still toys in their eyes.

Maybe it really is a generational thing; if you know just enough about the history of computers, but without the proper context, you can draw the wrong conclusion that there has essentially been no progress in computers or games, regardless of what you see in front of you. I coined the phrase to describe my family as having "Escher's Syndrome", where you can see the endless winding staircase, but because it doesn't make sense to you, the brain just stops dealing with it.

Please, don't spoil games by making them art! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32772854)

I have been to a museum, and I did not like it. I have seen art on the TV, and I did not like it. I have read art debates in the new papers, and I did not enjoy their meaningless bickering over made up issues. Art is a pointless zero-sum game, where people compete for social status in a closed community.

Please let games be games. Something which can entertain, teach and move, without the silly social trickeries of the art world.

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