I’ve been quite hesitant to post on this topic because it’s one of those items better served as a conversation piece over dinner rather than as yet another web log post. But as I read countless “me too” game sites calling Roger Ebert wrong or misguided for saying that video games are not art, I have to chime in and say, “You know what? He’s right.”
Don’t get me wrong. There are many elements of artistry in any given game. But as a whole, games are not art. They’re games.
When I play Grand Theft: Auto, I’m not sitting back and admiring the creation of an immense, realistic city; I’m more likely cursing at the TV because I had to re-do a mission for the 5th time. When I play Super Mario Bros. Wii, I’m not actively appreciating the color palette; I’m concentrating on jumping over a pit onto a small ledge without falling off or pushing Candice or Lisa off that small ledge. When I play Braid, I’m not worried about where the story might lead; I’m worried about how to navigate the next puzzle.
Games are made up of individual components of artistry. There is artistry in the conversation you see between two characters. There is artistry in the look of those two characters — and the set they exist on. There is artistry in the music that plays in the background as these two speak. There is artistry in the effort of bringing it all together. And when I think back on the experience of playing a game, I do feel “affected” as I might with some piece of art or movie.
Those moments of artistry aren’t the video game. They are elements of the game — the game you play. But they aren’t the game. If video games were just stories, they’d be Final Fantasy boring. Instead, we play the game and along the way we are rewarded with bits of artistry. And then, after we’re finished with the game, we think back and latch onto the art.
Is that bad? No. Video games are wonderful things. Every game represents an experience that may end up treasured. Developers should be very proud of what they accomplish. But they shouldn’t call it art.