Ebert on Games as Art, Part 2

Over the last few weeks, there has been quite some noise regarding the debate as to whether video games should be regarded as a form of “art”.  Certainly, this is not a new debate, but it has been reinvigorated as the new generation of hardware and software allow the game designers to build ever more photo-realistic environments and bring us closer to an interactive movie.

At the center of the debate, today, is Roger Ebert, one of the most respected and recognized authorities on motion pictures.  I must have missed the original source of the current dialogue (I can track it to the third Q&A on this page), but the resulting comments from around the world/web is interesting nonetheless.  There are so many great replies and comments, that it’s hard to really summarize, but there are a few choice perspectives that I feel I should highlight.

Like Tim Maly, I don’t think that a comparison of film to video games is one that has any relevance.  As Tim states in a letter to Ebert,

The invention of photography sparked a crisis in the world of
painting: “Why should we paint if pictures can do it better?” But then
painters figured out that there were lots of other things that they
could do, that cameras can’t.

Simon val Alphen adds,

Last year, I finally got around to reading Aristotle’s Poetics and was
charmed to discover that large sections involve Ari discussing the
relative merits between the new-kid Tragedy versus the established form
of Epic Verse. He cites other critics who argue that Tragedy, featuring
vulgar elements such as singing and creating works of hugely less
scale, is a lesser form than the traditional Epic Verse. Aristotle
plays it cute, arguing what they’ve analyzed as weaknesses are in fact
strengths, allowing Tragedy to move people in ways Epic Verse simply

In general, I tend to agree with the opinion that games can’t be compared to movies (nor should they be).  It’s certainly not a crime to compare a gaming experience to a cinematic experience (read my review of MGS3 for PS2), as more developers start to create more story driven games, hire top notch voice acting talent, incorporate motion captured movement to create more fluid animation, and push the visual envelope that distinguishes the virtual world from the physical world.  But there will always be that element of interaction that seperates games from film.  This interaction, as Ebert and several correspondents point out, leads to an experience that is altogether incongruent to the principles of film.  However, as van Alphen suggests, video games offer an experience that simply cannot be delivered by film.

Of course, this is not to say that there are no similarities in the two mediums, but rather these similarities must be compared in different contexts and with regards to different factors.

There are many, many more great comments on Ebert’s website that are worth reading through for offering well thought out responses to this dialogue which Ebert seems to have singlehandedly rekindled.  I, for one, am glad that Ebert has brought this discussion to a more mainstream outlet (as opposed to the geek-infested Internet forums and boards).

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