Qbert vs Ebert Over!

Yes, it's a Photoshop masterclass, I know

Well, it’s a good day for cross-cultural understanding. Well, kinda. After several years of this, Ebert has a final chew over the art-question and admits…

I had to be prepared to agree that gamers can have an experience that, for them, is Art. I don’t know what they can learn about another human being that way, no matter how much they learn about Human Nature. I don’t know if they can be inspired to transcend themselves. Perhaps they can. How can I say? I may be wrong. but if I’m not willing to play a video game to find that out, I should say so. I have books to read and movies to see. I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place.

That’s for your permission, Roger! And, yes, you were.


  1. Helm says:

    Old man finally accepts other people are allowed to use same language to describe different life experience.

    • Latro says:

      Not sure, really. I mean, I cant be the only one that realizes that Ebert “definitions” of “Art” in this looong controversy … exclude a lot of world-famous, recognized works of Art from the definition.

      ¿Does Art have to tell you something about the human condition or not be Art? ¿Abstract paintings?

      Videogames have a lot of road to go to produce works of art with the regularity and impact of some other mediums, yes. It may even be difficult, given that those other mediums dont have pesky players in the middle of it, yes. But as a medium, they are as capable of art in principle and as bound to be 99% commercial shit as movies :-)

    • Helm says:

      Abstract art tells you something about the human condition to the degree that any art a human being experiences will arrive at human-centric sentiments. Because we’re human. Perhaps the modern artist loathes and avoids to accept the onus of ‘describing the human condition’ through their art but as long as they’re not robots, what they’re making is about humanity. ‘Talking about humanity’ and ‘talking about the human condition’ aren’t exactly the same, yes, but any brave, talented and visionary (read: 1%) attempts on the former probably lead to the latter.

    • Helm says:

      Yes. This or that thing that many people have been positively affected by is shit. Case closed.

    • Latro says:

      No, no, I know abstract art makes an impression on people. But my point was that Ebert seems to say that what makes Art Art is TELLING things about the human condition.

      Not inspiring wonder, or making you feel something, or illuminating the “human condition” by a reflection that you as the spectator develop … just narrative.

    • Helm says:

      That’s a fair point. I’m not sure if pressed if Ebert would leave it at that but it certainly seems he’s saying that, yes.

  2. sonofsanta says:

    Ebert may have given up the fight, but I doubt very much that gamers (and game columnists) will stop the fight.

    If anything says that videogamers are immature, it’s this childish need for validation from someone who has no relevance to this medium.

    • GetOutOfHereStalker says:

      yeah you’re going to get tons of shit for saying what is essentially true.

      why do gamers always get so angry when someone doesn’t see their hobby/obsession/job/whatever in the exact same light as them

    • Aldehyde says:

      Yep, I agree. The man is old and has clearly made up his mind about this medium.

      As for me, I have trouble seeing the point of the medium (or any medium) being validated as “art” when I have trouble understanding just what art is anyway…

    • Anonymousity says:

      I will say one thing for the man, he opened up dialogue that was at times interesting.

  3. cliffski says:

    why am I supposed to care what this guy thinks about my hobby?
    We should all just totally ignore him. Thats what he really dreads.

    • GetOutOfHereStalker says:

      [Stalker, this is a formal warning. I can nuke every single post you’ve ever written with a button-press. Don’t insult someone directly again – Ed]

    • Eamo says:

      Why should I care what you care about what this guy cares about your (and my) hobby? It is a natural progression from caring about games and all they stand for and as such it will matter when people criticise or praise it because, by extension they are criticising your judgement and values.

      While I can happily say that I love games and don’t care if someone else does, the reality is that if someone says that games are stupid my mind makes the leap into thinking “that guy just said I am stupid because why else would I like stupid things”. There was a great line from that Day9 “My life with Starcraft” feature that stuck with me. He said “There is nothing cooler than being proud of the things you love”. I think in many ways gaming has been a secret shame for a lot of people. Particularly when, much to a lot of our surprise no doubt, we didn’t grow out of them as we got older. The only way that you stop that sneering attitude towards games is to confront it wherever it rears its ugly head.

      In effect this whole thing is a microcosm of pretty much every misunderstanding you get. Games are not important to Ebert and he failed to see how they could be important to others. It was a failure of imagination on his part. That does not however mean it should be let slide. The question you should be asking yourself is “Are games worth defending?”.

    • GetOutOfHereStalker says:

      exactly what i said but with more words. bravo

    • cliffski says:

      I didn’t realise it was illegal to express similsr views. My bad etc.

    • LintMan says:

      There is one critical reason to care – not so much about what Ebert says, but about the debate he has invoked.

      That reason is that “art” has special status protections.

      Politicians won’t and don’t think twice about banning or otherwise restricting “games” if and when some offensive one scandalizes the media and causes the latest uproar. “WE’VE GOT TO PROTECT THE CHILDREN!” And suddenly we need to be over 21 and present an ID to buy the next game that features a PG-13 sex scene with a blue alien, or perhaps can’t buy it at all if you live in, say, Witchita, Kansas.

      If/when games are recognized as a legitimate form of art, it will go a long way towards preventing some of uproar, or at least bringing some more open-minded people into the discussion: People who wouldn’t think twice about banning some “game for 14 year olds” might think twice about banning it if games were considered “Art”.

      Certainly not all games are worthy of being considered “Art”, but then neither are all movies or books or paintings. Yet, because it’s so much in “the eye of the beholder”, we generally classify all movies, books, paintings as “Art” in general. Games deserve the same treatment, but won’t get it unless we can get people – like Ebert – to acknowledge that it is possible for games to be Art.

      And *that’s* why we need to care what Ebert thinks. Not because we need his approval, but because we need to enighten people like him. “Ebert says games can never be Art” is a very bad headline for anyone who wants games to ever be seen as something more than kid’s toy’s.

      Ebert’s fundamental problem is that he equates games with something you play and win, equivalent to a sport or a board game, while he seems to associate “Art” with narrative and learning/teaching. And he hasn’t taken the time to learn more. At least now he admits he doesn’t know enough about games to have anything but an uninformed opinion.

    • Antlia says:


      This. The same thing is with Christians and Atheists. Why do the Christians argue, they could just smile and let us go to hell…

  4. drewski says:

    Nice to see someone prepared to change their mind.

    • Web Cole says:

      My thoughts zigactly.

    • Mr_Day says:

      Did he change his mind? Looks to me to be:

      I have books to read and movies to see. I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place.

      Is another way of saying “I have better things to do than consider this.” I might be wrong about that, and I hope I am, but it kind of annoys me.

    • Red Scharlach says:

      Why do you care what Mummy and Daddy think about your hobbies?

      Not that Ebert is wrong or anything, because he isn’t, but yeah, I’d imagine he has better things to do than deal with infants who can’t handle critical thought.

      I’d say him having played and considered Myst and Cosmology of Kyoto makes him far more qualified to talk about games than any of the creeps at IGN or Kotaku.

    • LintMan says:

      Ebert hasn’t really changed his mind, but he when he says “I may be wrong. but if I’m not willing to play a video game to find that out, I should say so … I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place.”, he is effectively admitting that he hasn’t done his homework on games, and is unwilling to do that homework, and thus has no business making broad categorizations about games.

      Ebert is a reviewer and I think it finally occurred to him that his original statements were the equivalent of him reviewing a movie he never saw and wasn’t willing to watch, based on walking past a theater and hearing some other people mention the film.

    • Mr_Day says:


      Yeah, that has been mentioned here before I think – but it was about him watching a video of a game being played rather than playing it, and how angry he would have been if we claimed the plot of a film was terrible based solely on looking at the movie poster.

      Which, thinking about it, was probably us being dicks. But hey! Could be worse! We could accuse others of being defensive twats whilst getting upset because someone claimed Kieren was a knob or something.

      (ok, I’ll stop)

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Red: He hasn’t written an argument worth arguing against.

      It’s a reason why I treat him so dismissively, and only ever argued against him with a semantic point – that he’s never really tried to argue that games aren’t art, just not comparable to the great works of other forms. Which, of course, implicitly accepts they can be compared – and so are art. And when he starts with a “Games Aren’t Art!” statement, it’s clear that he’s full of shit. He’s either trolling or not actually thinking very hard about it. It is to his credit that he’s backed away from the argument.

      You have misunderstood Phonogram completely.


    • Dr. Derek Doctors, DFA says:

      It’s also because any argument about the nature of art (or “nature” of “art”) itself lacks any sort of content — indeed, I’m not sure you can even have that discussion without by necessity committing category errors.

      In this case, I suspect that Ebert’s expertise has predisposed him to understand art primarily as narrative forms, plus poetry, music, visual arts, and macrame. (Not having any deep knowledge in film history, I’d be curious to see what Ebert thinks of non-narrative experimental films.) Gaming — accidentally because of its relation to other gaming forms, and necessarily because a game takes place over time — presents as a narrative form — but a very poor one. Thus, Ebert looks at games and says that they can never be (or, weakly, have never been) good art.

      And he’s right. Even the best gaming narratives are damned poor compared to any reasonably well-crafted book or film. Gaming does narrative poorly, significantly because the pacing — plot and scene beats — are determined by the player.

      But Ebert’s argument denies the antecedent by claiming, in essence, that if games do not handle narrative well (and are not music or painting or thinly-sliced preserved cows), then they cannot be art. And this is where we end up with the shopworn and utterly useless argument of “What is art?”

      The problem with the “what is art” argument is that eventually the lines become so blurred as to be indistinguishable. Anything with creative input is arguably art, and that means that only the most mechanically rigorous output can be thought of as not having at least some artistic value. (Did the makers of ancient amphorae realize that the fragments of their trade would rest, crafted echoes of the past, in distant museums?)

      Games, of course, contain significant creative output — even a physics or particle system, or a menu design, are meaningfully creative. (UI programmers, the forgotten bards of our day.) So, I’d argue, games are at a minimum artistic.

      As I mentioned above, I don’t believe games are particularly good at narrative, at least compared to other art forms. But games are very good at conveying worlds and moods, like any other kind of installation art, and narrative can develop within those worlds, either mechanically via the software or organically via the interaction between the player and the program. (That fellow who used SimCity to create a nightmare version of Saleri’s Arcosante is a good example — in fact, I’d argue that it was a remarkable example of using the game to critique its own underlying mechanistic assumptions, like using pasteup art to undermine the cultural assumptions of the source media.)

      Most movies are about narrative. Some privilege character studies over narrative, and do it quite effectively. But world- and mood-building films tend, in my opinion, to be poor examples of the form. (I admire, say, Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control” for its cinematography, but it’s a failure on its own terms.) Films do some things well, some things poorly.

      So, at last, are games “good” art? Or, more properly, given a game, is it good art? To determine that, we have to determine the rules by which we judge art. And that, I submit, Ebert is simply not qualified to opine on, any more than I, ignorant of Korean, am qualified to judge the rules of sijo poetry. And although Ebert’s apologia seems to be driven primarily by pique (or perhaps just exasperation), it’s best if he removes himself from this discussion. Let’s just hope that others with more applicable experience take up the challenge to determine exactly what the rules of our games should be.

  5. Helm says:

    Also, I’m mystified about the bit on human nature not teaching one about human beings. It certainly does. Even one playing vacuous and horrible manshooter videogames, they still might provide the catalyst for them to examine what it is in themselves that is satiated by the skillful virtual killing of Others, and of the various vicarious thrills they get from embodying these superhuman protaginists generally.

    What they do with the results of that examination have little bearing on the valitidy of games as art, but the possibility is certainly there for self-discovery through videogames, as it is there in tending a little zen stone garden or petting your cat. All paths lead to the human condition because uh, we’re human.

    This isn’t to say I am pleased and content with videogames being mostly manshooters, but I just do not discredit the possibility of a manshooter being a gateway to the examination of self and humanity.

    • Kunal says:

      Well, the thing is that most manshooters are not aiming to make you examine yourself in that manner. They only aim to provide an adrenaline rush. So I would be wary of crediting the game designer or the game even if I (as the player) gained a better understanding of myself by wondering why I am enjoying these virtual killing sprees

      We need to get games to the point where they systemically ‘guide’ the player towards the same sort of revelation that a well-made book/movie provides.

    • Helm says:

      What the game is aiming for is not – in my opinion – the quantifier of its status as art. The capacity of the thing to achieve strong resonance is, and many videogames achieve that. Half-life 2 is a game that is from my point of view a quite low-brow deal for example, it’s mostly an excuse to kill dudes. But in the meantime there’s some beautiful vistas to travel through, some wonderfully solemn car rides and that precarious crossing of the underside of the bridge (with the excellent audio there). Those bits affected me in various way more than the shooting did. And as far as the shooting went, it did make me uncomfortable to shoot all these dudes, even if they’re supposedly ‘evil’. So that uncomfort is another thing I take from that game.

      I’m playing devil’s advocate a bit here, of course I agree it’d be nice if there were more games that specifically prioritized mood and setting and let the player make their path through them without resorting to adrenaline rush violence all the time. But I’m just saying, those games, the games of the future, won’t be any more or less art than the games we have now. They might be *better* art according to mine or your standards but their capacity for resonance won’t be much different from the one modern games have.

  6. Clovis says:

    Whew! I’m glad that’s over. Now we don’t need to have another 200+ comments thread on whether or not videogames are art, and whether we should care about what Ebert thinks! Yep, I’m glad that’s not going to happen …

  7. gp says:

    what do you mean its over now it was over the moment he typed his brain thoughts. because he was 100% right: videogames arent art (and are for children). plus, he still doesnt think games are art (he says so, explicitly, in that new post)

    • Patrick says:

      It seems like Ebert was annoyed by the scale and desperation of the response he got, which is why he’s admitting that he shouldn’t have opined about it at all. Gamers sure are worried that people won’t take their video game amusement toys seriously.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Seems more like he’s admitting he isn’t qualified to judge.

      Having, yunno, not really played any games.

  8. GetOutOfHereStalker says:

    ebert could think gamers are all a bunch of manchildren who refuse to grow up and i’d still love him to pieces

  9. jeremypeel says:

    Initial thoughts: BOOM!

    More measured response: This is kind of nice, except for the subtext that games aren’t really significant enough to mention. He really has backed down though, as his initial point was an entire dismissal of any potential for games to be art, to anyone.

    Final note: If I’ve learned anything today, it’s that you RPSers need to work on your cut-out skills :-P

  10. Risingson says:

    Art as an excuse for enjoyment.

  11. GetOutOfHereStalker says:

    maybe the reason movies are considered more of an art form is because movies have people like roger ebert while all gaming has is tim rogers and the 100,000 chimps who write escapist articles

    • John Peat says:

      GOOHS has a point – one of the reasons gaming isn’t seen as an artform yet is that we don’t have the people who will take it the extra mile from ‘creation’ to ‘artwork’.

      You need your Brian Sewells and Roger Eberts to criticise and shape the form.

      You need your Tracey Emins to take something is CLEARLY not art and make it into art by surrounding it in suitably ‘arty’ context.

      Remember that most of the film going public have no idea who Roger Ebert is and people buy ‘art’ without knowing who Brian Sewell is but that doesn’t mean they’re not required.

    • Joe Duck says:

      No, he does not have a point at all.
      Indie gaming’s lack of huge critics in the field is also it’s blessing. See for example classical music, when it was popular and alive, there were no professional critics, just the masses voting for the best.
      And we got Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini.
      Or take film, Kurosawa, Lubitsch, Goddard or even Bergman were not slaves to the critics, but to the public and themselves. The critics came later, to explain us WHY their work was awesome. And it was awesome, because they did a pedagogical role.
      Today we have huge film or art critics that act as reviewers, people larger than life who write in the Internet about what we should think about something before seeing it. Vetting and tainting our perception of the subject before our experience. So the creators try to pander them, try to give them what they want.
      And we have Avatar, Transformers and Sex in the City, Harry Potter and Tom Clancy, Ricky Martin and Marylin Manson.
      Would Sleep Is Death exist if we agreed with this reviewer’s mindset?
      I rest my case.

    • Thants says:

      So your argument is that because of critics we have dumb mainstream movies now, and we didn’t in the sixties? Because there were dumb movies in the sixties as well, we’ve just forgotten them by now.

  12. G Morgan says:

    Wonderful. Except, of course, that he was right all along, and is waving the white flag in order to cease being e-bombarded by geeks with too much time on their hands.

    I’ve said it before – I’ve been video gaming since Space Invaders in the arcade until, well, now, and there is simply nothing in the video game world that approached ‘Ulysses’ or ‘Guernica’ or ‘Blood Meridian’. Not even in the same neighborhood. Games, by their definition, must maintain as their main goal ‘fun’, must capitulate to the gamer, and that is before we get into the sticky subject of funding and decision-by-committee and its close cousin, decision-by-suit. All ‘Art’ games succeed in doing is becoming less gamelike, and less enjoyable, while delivering facile and rather sophomoric ‘explorations’ or ‘lessons’. I love Planescape more than most, but in the end, the treatment of its subject matter is on the level of a relatively bright university student’s first draft.

    Geeks are so desperate to have the stuff they love recognized as important. Well, games are important. Games are fiscally important – they make people enormous sums of money. They are culturally important. But they are not Art, and only the self-deluded, the ignorant, or the shallow claim otherwise. Sorry, kids.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Except, of course, that he was right all along

      So I take it you have a categorical, objective definition of Art which you’re sure excludes all video games from ever being Art? Please do share it with the fields of philosophy and art criticism, which have only been trying to find one such definition for, oh, three thousand years?

      PS: this also necessarily means you have a categorical definition of exactly what makes a video game, since you need to know what video games can never not be in order to know how video games can never be Art. You should probably also share that one. I’m sure the budding field of ludology would like to know.

    • Mman says:

      “and only the self-deluded, the ignorant, or the shallow claim otherwise. Sorry, kids.”

      I like the way it’s always the ones who preach about how enlightened they are that are the quickest to jump onto pathetic insults about those who disagree.

      Anyway, seeing him rethink things has given me some extra respect for Ebert.

    • Lilliput King says:

      “But they are not Art, and only the self-deluded, the ignorant, or the shallow claim otherwise”


    • pkt-zer0 says:

      “games, by their definition, must maintain as their main goal ‘fun’”

      I’d say that ‘fun’ isn’t the main goal of every game, the same way it isn’t the main goal of every movie/book/etc.

    • Lilliput King says:

      “PS: this also necessarily means you have a categorical definition of exactly what makes a video game”

      But he does, look. Games must, (by their definition, apparently, although that’s not a definition of games I’ve ever seen used) be fun, despite all evidence to the contrary. The Void wasn’t fun. It was intelligent, deeply immersive and unsettling.

    • Ozzie says:

      Games don’t have to maintain fun, no.

      But games as a medium have a unique problem that no other art form had before: that they were made in the beginning purely for fun, enjoyment, and nothing else. You played your games in the arcades, and they were designed in a way that you would throw one coin after another in the machine. So they had to be fun, or at least addicting.
      All the games were just about enjoyment, amusement in the beginning, and accordingly game mechanics that supported this mission were developed. Early FPS like Doom also had basically many arcade qualities: a health bar, the fragmentation of the game into numbered levels, the fight against many identical, increasingly harder foes, etc.

      The problem is: as games matured, many of these gameplay elements, mechanisms, that were thought out for games that were only meant to be fun, like toys to play with, persisted.
      Think of Bioshock, which still inherits many qualities of a basic shooter, many characteristics of Quake, even Doom.
      And that’s the problem. Games were once never meant to be art, but know many designers want to turn them into art, but they build their products on design traditions that are ultimately incompatible to this goal.

      If games as a medium want to prove their art worthiness, they need to achieve a clearer break from “fun games”, “games as toys”.

      PS: Of course, there’s no question that a game could be art and fun at the same time. Mind boggling, I know. ;)

  13. Badjoke says:

    It’s a pity he didn’t denigrate Science fantasy television series sometime in 1993-1999. Then someone could have run the headline Sisko vs Ebert

  14. Brumisator says:

    I don’t give a damn about this games as art “controversy”, but once again, RPS hjas the best HEadline.

    I think I peed myself laughing at the simple Qbert vs Ebert pun.

  15. Dood says:

    Funnily enough, there’s a professor at my university called Hubert Ebert.

  16. Wednesday says:

    I feel sorry for the guy now. I can’t imagine the endless crap he’s had to deal with.

  17. John says:

    He hasn’t actually changed his mind at all, but at least he realised how absurd it was to dismiss an entire medium he has no experience with.

    Meanwhile I got a laugh out of the images his chose to put in his post. I’m sure he Googled for ‘violent stupid game’ and chortled as he downloaded the results.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      He hasn’t changed his mind, but he has admitted his position is full of shit, which is all anyone asked.


    • Ricc says:

      These are from Clive Barkers Jericho, which makes them somewhat topical, I guess.

      (Btw, the game is 1,7€ on Steam right now and I was surprised about the relatively novel squad shooting.)

    • Red Scharlach says:

      KG: I have yet to see anyone, let alone you lot, produce a convincing counter-argument to any of Ebert’s points.

      If anyone’s “full of shit” – a pretty rich thing to say coming from a man who gets off wanking over dead Britpop acts along with other artless mercantile trash – it’s the childish morons berating a man for not considering play as being on the same level of self-expression as artistry, conveniently ignoring his credentials just because he hasn’t dared play BioShock or some other piece of charmless garbage.

      If he started playing console games, but didn’t bother with PC, would you still reject him entirely, I wonder?

  18. Bassism says:

    Games may or may not be art, and I don’t really care what you think.

    I’m just glad to see one of the world’s most influential journalists admit that he’s really not in a place to pass judgement on something he has not and has no intention of experiencing.

  19. lhzr says:

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

    people take what he wrote as some sort of apology, when he’s basically still mocking them.

    also he gave avatar a 4 out of 5. just sayin’.

  20. CP37 says:

    It takes a big man to swallow their words and admit you’re wrong, and so for this Mr. Ebert has earned a great deal of my respect. He isn’t saying that video games can be/are art, but in the context of this long running discussion, I think his admission is enough. Since this debate has, up until this point, been largely framed by his comments decrying video games as not art, I look forward to seeing where the discussion and debate will lead now that it is freed from these shackles.

  21. Colthor says:

    Really, the photoshopping is why I visit RPS. The words and things are just a bonus.

  22. oceanclub says:

    Saw two movies once. One featured two people kissing. The other had a train coming towards the audience. Call that art?


  23. rei says:

    It’s unfortunate that Ebert is such an old fart that he won’t be around to see games marginalize his beloved medium similarly to how movies marginalized radio plays.

    • GetOutOfHereStalker says:

      you actually think video games are going to replace movies? so in your mind in the year 2012 or whatever instead of getting a bunch of friends together and watching bruce campbell makes love 2 they’ll instead all place a massive game of mario party or watch someone else play final fantasy? that’s insane and ridiculous.

      is this a really discreet way of saying idiocracy will come true?

    • GetOutOfHereStalker says:


      like message boards replacing books (kill me if that happens) and tv shows are now 5 seconds long because we lack the patience for anything longer and everyone drives around in rascals because who wants to walk or ride a bike all communication has been replaced by texting etc etc what a nightmare

    • rei says:

      Marginalization and replacement are two different things, and it’s already happened to a degree. And your example of movies and get-togethers is marginalization.

      Furthermore, I don’t see how games are more emblematic of an idiocrazy than movies.

    • Thants says:

      It’s odd that you mention lacking patience, because games tend to be much longer than movies.

  24. Dreamhacker says:

    Heh, I don’t get it.

    1. How can anyone decide what is and what isn’t art when no clear definition exists?
    2. Who put this Ebert in charge of pointing out “art” and “non-art”?
    3. Why does anyone validate his opinion by responding to them?
    4. Why are people ashamed of games and gaming?
    5. Why can’t we all just, you know, get along?

    • AndrewC says:

      1. Definition: games are art because I say they are.
      2: Ebert put Ebert in charge of saying what is and is not art
      3: Because he’s been an enourmously popular, respected and insightful cutlural commentator for decades, and wrote Beyond The Valley of The Dolls
      4: About 90% of games.
      5: Because you think Sonic is better than Mario.

    • Risingson says:

      People are not ashamed of gaming: people are just ashamed of just having fun with no comeback or “utility”. I mean, you can read, but get something useful in return. Or you can watch a movie to feel intellectually challenged or talk about it. It’s like enjoyment for the sake of enjoyment is a taboo in our still guilt-riden society.

    • godwin says:

      Exactly, that’s why most games are simply not art, in the same way shopping, or going to a club, (or their constituent physical actions and resulting emotion) are not art. You may contend the definition of art, but surely there is a vague boundary that you can recognise.

  25. Quijote3000 says:

    “I may be wrong. but if I’m not willing to play a video game to find that out, I should say so” OK, so let me see If I get this right. He hasn’t played a single video game? So he decides that video games are not art after NOT playing a single video game?

    “And I didn’t want to play a video game” Seriosly, I decide right here and right now that movies are not Art. I have seen at least a dozen posters of movies, and I don’t feel they are are.

    • Urthman says:

      He makes a pretty good point, though, when he says that there is no absolute consensus on which video games are genuinely compelling as art. So even if he does sit down and play Flower, or some handful of 5 or 10 or 20 video games, if he still is not convinced, the internet will just scream, “But you played the wrong video game! You haven’t tried THIS game, so you don’t know what you’re talking about!” and also “He played Flower and doesn’t think games are art? He’s an old man who JUST DOESN’T GET IT!”

    • Red Scharlach says:

      Quijote3000: If you had actually bothered to read his entry instead of just grasping at the rehashed headline and assuming gamers are in the right because they’ve got the attention span of gnats and are beyond words, you’d know he has played games in the past. Classic ones at that. And he’s reviewed them favourably.

      Only a child cares about calling something “art”. Why isn’t anyone concerned about games being good?

    • pilouuuu says:

      Well, there are quite a few movies that are not art. A good example: Transformers 2.

    • pilouuuu says:

      I just wanted to add that War for Cybertron is more art than Transformers 2.

    • Red Scharlach says:

      Transformers 2 is an absurdist masterpiece devouring itself.

    • Ozzie says:

      Only a child cares about calling something “art”.

      And only adults care about games not being called art?

  26. Iain says:

    Ebert owns and games will never be art.

    suck it

  27. Skurmedel says:

    I comment, therefore I am.

  28. the affront says:

    I for one couldn’t care even a little fucking bit less about if something is art – or not. I don’t need to give the things I enjoy some superficial sense of value by arbitrarily tacking on the label of “but it’s ART!” to elevate myself above the philistine masses in my own mind.
    I find the whole thing quite absurd.

  29. AndrewC says:

    Ah the ‘saying ‘people only call things art to make themselves feel superior’ in order to feel superior’ gambit. it’s a classic.

    • the affront says:

      Is it not true, then? I can’t see the worth of labeling something as art, spongy as it is.

      If it’s enough that the creator wanted to evoke emotions/thoughts to qualify for art, EVERYTHING can be labeled art on a whim.
      If it’s not enough, and the viewer/player actually has to feel/think them, it’s a completely personal distinction.
      How is any of that useful?
      I can’t say that anything would be lost if the definition of “art” was to be erased from human memory, apart from a lot of inane and self-important bickering about if something qualifies as art or not.

    • AndrewC says:

      Well, they say we wouldn’t have felt love unless a poet had written about it first. Having this concept called ‘art’ flaoting about is useful for giving us humans the permission to dream about how things could be – it makes it much better to be alive.

      But, more practically, these arguments about ‘what is art?’ are almost always political in nature. A person will define ‘art’ in such a way as to particularly exclude that thing they do not wish to have influence the culture. ‘Art’ is defined as a list of ‘acceptable things’, or ‘things which we will let affect us on a deep or soulful level’. There’s nothing essentialist about any of those arguments, only a fight to see who’s worldview wins out.

      Most gamers demanding their games be called art are engaged in exactly the same poltical arguments, as the ‘games aren’t art’ brigade. They want to be accepted. ‘Art’ is a euphemism for ‘respectable’.

      It’s a worthwhile fight, as long as you recognise it’s political rather than essentialist nature.

      As for what I think art is and whether games qualify I’d have to say that games are, quite possibly, th

    • Red Scharlach says:

      You need poems to tell you what love is?

      No dictionaries or Internet access in your house?

    • AndrewC says:

      You get your understanding of love from the Internet? Oh dear.

      I was referring to the changing definition and expectations of romantic love over the last few centuries.

    • Red Scharlach says:

      Just saying, there’s Wikipedia.

      Or, you know, actual human beings.

    • AndrewC says:

      Ah, you’re being facetious. I apologise for not getting your joke sooner.

  30. Joe Duck says:

    But wait, he’s fooling us!
    Some of the posters here are right, he did not say he was wrong, he did not say he had changed his mind and he did not say games could in the future be art.
    He simply said: “This below is all that I don’t believe….”
    And the proceeded to pamper our ears with our own words.
    He only said that his opinion stayed the same. And refused to have a debate by refusing to play a single game, no matter how low the barrier of entry was.
    And stopped the discussion right there, with him having the last word.

    Oh well, I don’t care anyway, but in terms of manipulation, pomposity and single mindedness, this guy truly seems a master of the art.

  31. rcolin says:

    Well, of course games are art. Here I’m using “art” to mean anything that involved making aesthetic judgements to create, with the level of artiness increasing with the number and, um, intensity of judgements. Sure, it might be boring watching someone else play (to address one of the not-art arguments), but it’s for the same reason watching someone else’s vacation pictures/videos is boring.

    Also, it’s a gamer’s duty to delay the culture-at-large from ever officially designating video games as art, since that’s when the true-art-is-angsty/incomprehensible crowd, the pain-retailers, the pretentious-folks-trying-to-impress-other-pretentious-folks will flood the medium and we’ll all have to endure WarioWare-style “Art” games involving cramming yams up butts.


  32. choconutjoe says:

    I’m not convinced that most gamers care whether or not their hobby is Art. But I think someone going out of their way to specifically claim that games can never be art just rubs people the wrong way. It’s easy to get tired of people looking down their noses at something you hold dear.

    I don’t care whether or not games can defined as ‘Art’. It’s meaningless either way. I just wish people like Ebert didn’t care so much either.

  33. Tei says:

    I have not a idiot person myself, but I have need a friend to explain to me what is Opera, to “get it”.

    Opera is awesome, not in the way singing and dancing movies are awesome. NOT AT ALL. Opera is awesome, because is like a “multitrack” emotions-and-music-and-voices system. In Opera, is the combination of multiple voices that is generating the result. But every different voice can can be understanded. Sound normally not work like that, you can’t talk in the phone, and at the same time talk to your mother. You have to choose to talk in the phone, or talk to your mother. Sound is “single channel”. Opera “cheats”. Opera make possible something that is imposible: you can ear the women in love, and the man in love, and the parent of the girl, and another jealous man, and the serif … all 5 people “talking” (singing) at the same time, and the result is _NOT_ noise, the result is the oposite of noise, is music, and is the sound of 5 voices, and you can choose what to ear, or ear “all” voices. Is magical (cheating) like that.

    So Opera is about the most awesome art ever. Most people have zero idea about this.

    My point is that abstract art will do nothing to you, if no one take the time to explain you where or what is the point of abstract art. Abstract art is nothing to you withouth the “Key”. Opera is nothing to you withouth the “Key”. And videogames is nothing to you withouth the key… and whatever is the “key” (or point) of videogames, you have to play then to found that.

  34. Red Scharlach says:

    Shame he caved in to the career illiterate reprobate crowd, but he probably figures they’re not worth the hassle (They aren’t).


    • Mman says:

      Except, with a couple of exceptions there has been very little like that in the comments, and most of the stupid stuff has been said by people supporting Ebert’s original point.

      Your post being a perfect example.

    • Ozzie says:

      Yep, what MMan said. Ebert stated this himself in his “apology”.

    • Red Scharlach says:

      Except you’re full of it, Mman.

      I’ve seen the forums and past posts.

      Don’t even lie.

      Here’s Roger Ebert reviewing an esoteric game positively, in 1994: link to wired.com

      Let’s see the “games are art” mainstream review crowd pull that sort of credential out of their arse.

    • Mman says:

      …I haven’t posted on the forums? I’m not sure what proving my point helps but I’m not complaining.

    • Red Scharlach says:

      Didn’t realise you were the sole participant on RPS aside from myself.

    • Mman says:

      Also, I’m full of what exactly? As far as I know I’ve made very little comment on this matter, and I have nothing to lie about at all. It sounds like you just had to get that sick ice burn out of your head despite it having no relevance to this instance whatsoever.

  35. A Button says:

    You know all those laughable activities that vie to be considered actual sports by ruling bodies? Like cheerleading and frisbee golf?

    It’s kind of like that.

    • Red Scharlach says:

      It’s exactly that and the sheer defensiveness of gamers towards any dissenting or opinionated voice certain exacerbates it.

      is pizza art???

    • DrGonzo says:

      Why is frisbee not a sport by the way? It seems to me that because something isn’t as popular as other sports that means it isn’t.

      Also, how is driving considered a sport? F1 is more a test of engineering than sport.

    • pilouuuu says:

      RPS is pure art.

    • pilouuuu says:

      the human being is an incredible piece of art. Nonetheless Ebert is not art himself.

  36. littlewilly91 says:

    But I thought we’d all agreed art is ultimately subjective? Which may sound like a cop-out but the term’s been bent and yanked in all directions for so long that this is how it functions.

    My nose is art. I believe it is, so it is. That level is all that’s needed to be definitive. I may only think it’s art after I’ve added the Fez as a comment on the human condition, my girlfriend might think it needs surgery to qualify, my dad might think the more people see it that way the more it counts, my mum might think it already is, and everyone is right. But me the most. But that’s subjectivity for you. Hard to pin down.

    Granted, It’s a while to go before games and my nose are genuinely accepted by the World Of Art, but those farts can’t tell you what is going on in your head. Well, they can if you submit to it. And I guess this is sad, and these posh blokes are the keystones that would let hordes more people start seeing games in a different light, but moaning about it won’t help.

    What’s holding games back from being accepted into the great institutions then?
    One thing is most designers themselves don’t see gameplay itself as art, and only count aesthetics. So how are you to sway people to accept Videogames as art when the idea of the art of game design (from WOW to Blackjack) isn’t being advocated. The word “game” barely applies to a lot of these multi tiered interactive wanker experience featurettes so it shouldn’t matter, but to the outsider, the term is all enveloping. They’ll have to accept football as art before videogames.

    Secondly, art critics want a person to label the artist, and the idea of a very forward thinking person coming up with the rules of chess is foreign to them. They probably assume it’s automated.

    Thirdly, the games industry is arguably in the same straits as the movie business was about fifty years ago. Zeitgeist art house flicks get made but the main stream is essentially constant bollocks, and fine with that actually.

    Finally, games are hard to hang on walls. No, you’re hanging the disk stupid. The game is conceptual. And there is no definitive edition, it’s reproduceable. I want to spend five million pounds purchasing the definitive Team Fortress 2, but it can’t be tied down to any physical object. Kind of a bummer.

    What matters is what’s going on in your own head though. And don’t let anyone apart from me tell you otherwise.

    • Red Scharlach says:

      But I thought we’d all agreed art is ultimately subjective?

      Which is a polite way of saying there’s no such thing.

      That’s excessively helpful for intellectual criticism and assessment.

      So why are you even involved in this debate since it doesn’t matter?

      Incidentally, how can everyone being in agreement be a subjectivity?

    • Ozzie says:

      There’s no polite way of saying that you’re a troll, though.
      A troll that got an agenda first and improvises the arguments later. No matter if they contradict, are only half true or objectionable simplifications.

  37. littlewilly91 says:

    Jeez i thought that would be shorter. I guess that’s why you get so many articles about this. You keep thinking you have something to say.

  38. Carra says:

    I love both books, movies and games. And I’m a great fan of both Eberts site/blog and RPS.

    The whole movies are art but games aren’t discussion is entirely pointless. It’s one of the cases where you can have both the cookies and the icecream.

  39. tssk says:

    I don’t get all the hate. He isn’t into games. That’s OK. I’m not into opera.

    One reason why he would never be able to experience games the way we do is that the barrier for entry is so high. He might view movies as superior in terms of being an artform for this alone and he’d be right.

    Anyone can be moved by the right painting, the right song or the right movie.

    When I think of the art games I would show him (my three would be Rez for it’s masterful abstraction, Shadow of the Colossus for the way it plays with the common tropes of fantasy gaming and Dear Esther for it’s sheer cleverness and human story) all I can think about is the barriers I would have to cross with him. Controls alone would be a challenge.

    It’s OK for those of us 40 or under, we’ve been exploring digital worlds for up to three decades. (And even then most of the people in my age group only experienced games with Pacman and Wii Sports and not a drop inbetween.)

    For you and I games can be art. But it requires high levels of entry and many hurdles need to be jumped.

    It’s still hard to beat a linear non-interactive work when it comes to accessability.

  40. Sigma Draconis says:

    There’s a fundamental problem with this debate on both sides: Everyone’s definition of art is going to be different. People try to associate ‘art’ with ‘good,’ and whether something is good or bad doesn’t have much at all to do with whether it’s art or not, because that’s where the entire realm of subjectivity rears its ugly head. That makes this argument even more of a waste of energy.

    That being said, I don’t need Ebert to somehow “validate” something I enjoy by accepting it as art. Yes, he has an established status for not only being a well-respected movie critic, but also for being an opinionated man. But his specialty lies within movies, so his stance on the subject of video games means very little to me.

    More importantly, he has a clear lack of experience with the medium, so he had no damn business making statements about the entirety of video games in the first place. Ebert realized this, and threw in the towel for this tired argument with that article. And that’s fine. Now it’s time for everyone else to move on.

  41. Stijn says:

    There is no art, only artists.

  42. Gumbomasta says:

    I hope someone makes a game that impacts me as powerfully and as transcendentally as The Wire and Seven Samurai. I don’t think it’s impossible.

    here’s the recipe for Game Art:

    -A Great Auteur on the level of Kurasawa or Hitchcock who knows the ins and outs of making a good game, but also has something bigger to say than just ‘Kill all the aliens’ or ‘take down the big bad guy.’

    -A talented hand-picked team of coders, artists and sound designers who will support the Auteur and make a tight, lasting gameplay experience, fully realizing the Auteur’s vision.

    -A publisher that is willing to fund a project that isn’t a sequal, established IP or based on a safe game-play concept. This game may have to come from the indie leagues (Frozen Synapse), the middle tier (Stardock?), or Eastern Europe (a la STALKER). The publisher will need to be in a position where they can afford to take a financial risk, subsidizing their cache titles with more blockbuster fare.

    – A more mature gaming audience may be required… people who maybe grew up on Gears of War are now ready to experience something deeper.

    just my thoughts

  43. terry says:

    I played “Dear Esther” last night in vindictive triumph.

    No, really.

  44. Dawngreeter says:

    In return, I will allow Ebert to call movies art. I think it’s only fair.

  45. cjhyde says:

    i think it’s more about insecurity than immaturity

  46. Spong says:

    I think Computer games are art but most of them are the equivalent of those paintings from Ikea, the anonymously created, mass-printed kind bought by people with too much disposable income because it matches their sofa.

    Morrowind most certainly was art and I refuse to believe otherwise.

  47. JackShandy says:

    Good to see this old debate finally come to a satisfying conclus-

    *looks at comments under ebert’s post*

    God damn, people, can we let this die?

  48. Cunzy1 1 says:

    I’m struck by how many people talk about gaming as their hobby and how Ebert can toddle off spittin about it.


    How many people do list ‘gaming’ under the hobbies/other interests section of job applications forms then?

    Be honest.