Roger Ebert recently wrote a blog in which he re-emphasized his thought that video games can never be art. (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/04/video_games_can_never_be_art.html) The following is my comment in response:
I think the first issue many have with your piece is that the speech you are writing in response to does not properly make the arguments for games as art. First, she attempts to show three games as art, but only with screen shots and descriptions. This would be the equivalent to describing the Mona Lisa by saying its an image of a brunette in-front of some distant fields and a cloudy sky. The thing that makes games like all other art is that a game must be experienced fully to understand it. I think this is why many gamers are going to the “old-timer”, “out-of-touch” cliche. They, I THINK, are trying to say that unless you have actually played, and experienced some of the games that show the power of games as art, than you cannot be expected to see any games as such.
This is much in the same way that if someone had only seen “Dude Where’s My Car”, heard “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, and read the Inquirer, they could not be expected to see movies, music, or writing as art. After seeing those, its to be expected that someone would say “THAT’S what all the fuss is about? dear god, WHY?” Talk to people who have fully played through games like Mass Effect, Heavy Rain, inFamous, Uncharted 2, or Flower, and ask them if they think they are as much a form of art as movies are. They involve very different story telling methods, but all have something very unique to say.
And yes, most games have points, and objectives, but those are ways to steer the player in the direction that will drive the story forward. In my eyes, Games should be seen like a play that is being put on for an individual. However, the individual is acting as the lead role. As the lead actor has never seen the play before, they need some tips/motivation to get the story moving forward in the way it should. Would Macbeth not be mind-blowing art if you, having never seen it before, were suddenly thrust into the lead role with a rough script to give you some basic guidance? Or would you find it far MORE amazing due to the fact that you were the one living the life, not just watching it in-front of you?
“Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.” -You
I would argue that the set storyline of music, painting, books art a by product of the medium’s limitations, not a requirement of art. Art can be far more gripping if the story told unfolds directly because of decisions you made, with the same lessons learned, but in new ways. In Mass Effect 2, I am struggling to fight an alien race bent on destroying all life in the galaxy. I am funded by a group of humanists, who hate all other life in the galaxy, and want us to be supreme in the end. I make choices throughout the game to either help them pursue their goal of domination, or to help all life in the galaxy, without any special credence for humans. I will not just see characters acting out these choices, but I am forced to make these choices myself, knowing that every choice could lead to either good or bad for me in the long run. Do I want to save a warmongering race who is being pillaged by genocide, in the hopes that they might turn a new leaf with their second chance? Or do I make the decision to complete the slow genocide myself and wipe an entire race off the face of the universe so they can never harm anyone again? This is the POWER of games as art, not the downfall, as this is where conventional art forms just tell you that if the character saves the race, then X happens. With games, You are forced to struggle with the decision, make the choice and see what happens. You can then go back to play it again, but choose another option, and see Y instead of X. Each one of these story lines is still carefully crafted, but the fact that you are choosing the path to take gives it all the more impact.
I would urge you to take the time, play through Heavy Rain, and tell me than if you think games can be art. Whether you think its GOOD art is another question, but it is hard for me to see a game like Heavy Rain as LESS of a work of art than a movie like Momento.