Video Gaming (EL 250)


5 Jan 2006

Video Games as Art? Roger Ebert says ''No''

We have spent some time discussing movies that raise important issues about gaming culture. Now that we're about to leave the cinematic frame of reference behind and focus on the academic study of video games, this exchange with film critic Roger Ebert makes a great transition. What's your take on the subject? :: rogerebert.com :: Answer Man (xhtml)


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Why did the chicken
cross the genders?

November 27, 2005

Q. Not wishing to appear a sexist pig, I hesitate to approach this subject. However, in your review of "Chicken Little," you keep referring to the protagonist as "he." In my opinion, Chicken Little was a "she." A male chicken is usually referred to as a rooster.

Derek Verner, Tuckahoe, N.Y.

A. Actually, the word "chicken" encompasses both genders of the domestic fowl. A hen is a female chicken and a rooster is a male chicken. This doesn't get me off the hook, however, since how did I know that Chicken Little was a male and not a female? Perhaps because he was supplied with a male voice by Zach Braff, and referred to as "he" throughout the movie's publicity materials.

Nevertheless, it is fairly clear that Chicken Little is not a rooster. Perhaps he is a capon, in which case more than the sky has fallen. Another good question: Since Chicken Little has no ears, why don't his glasses slip off?

Q. I have a big complaint with the folks who release DVD versions of theatrical releases. I now own "Titanic," "Star Wars I-III" and a lot of others. My question is: Why can't the directors put all the extended and deleted scenes within the context of the film itself? We are smart enough to sit through a longer version.

Marianne Brzezinski, Oak Lawn

A. Yes, but perhaps there was a reason those scenes were shortened or deleted? The director's cuts on DVDs reproduce the director's original vision, which in some cases ("Picnic at Hanging Rock") may actually be shorter than the theatrical version. And when a director does incorporate longer or deleted scenes or makes other changes, I get complaints like this one from Robert Wiseman:

"Do you have any idea if and when the original version of "Blade Runner" (i.e., the one that made the film a success, not the one that Ridley Scott's ego destroyed) will be available on DVD?"

Answer: An edition that includes three versions of the film, including the original version, was announced a year ago, but digitalbits.com reports rumors that the forthcoming special edition will feature, once again, only the director's cut. Versions of the original version, which opens with Harrison Ford's narration, are on sale an eBay at bids ranging from $1.99 to $30 (for the Criterion laserdisc).

Q. I was saddened to read that you consider video games an inherently inferior medium to film and literature, despite your admitted lack of familiarity with the great works of the medium. This strikes me as especially perplexing, given how receptive you have been in the past to other oft-maligned media such as comic books and animation. Was not film itself once a new field of art? Did it not also take decades for its academic respectability to be recognized?

There are already countless serious studies on game theory and criticism available, including Mark S. Meadows' Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative, Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan's First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, and Mark J.P. Wolf's The Medium of the Video Game, to name a few.

I hold out hope that you will take the time to broaden your experience with games beyond the trashy, artless "adaptations" that pollute our movie theaters, and let you discover the true wonder of this emerging medium, just as you have so passionately helped me to appreciate the greatness of many wonderful films.

Andrew Davis, St. Cloud, Minn.

A. Yours is the most civil of countless messages I have received after writing that I did indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.

I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

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Comments

"Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy o serious film and literature, which requires authorial control."

Wow, he seriously comes across as a fascist in that quote. Webster's Dictionary defines art as "the product [of creative work]". A product does not mean that it is unalterable.

As for authorial control, video games are finite works. They do not have extra possibilities constructed by the player of them.

By saying that lack of "authorial control" (which I would term more along the lines of 'presence of interaction') implies lack of artistic quality, he has enthroned the "artist."

Traditionally, art was viewed as static with a dualistic relationship between artist and audience. I firmly believe times have changed and art can be dynamic and the relationship between artist and audience, blurred.

With interaction, the audience can be an active part of the art work. This must be scary for traditional-minded artists because before they had control over what the audience viewed. Interaction limits this power. In my opinion philosophically, such Postmodernity is beautiful because it tears down old barriers and makes new horizons for us to pursue.

Posted by: Evan at January 5, 2006 04:51 PM

Very right Evan
So art is progressively becoming more interactive, video games and art are slipping into the same cracks to make a new mural of what art can or cannot be.

"To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers".

To my knowledge great composers, artists, filmmakers, and writers all bond together to make video games. So how does the compilation as a whole built in a unique world, not art? Art has been know to have social function as well as artist achievement. I think stain glass solved that debate a while ago.
Ebert is just being conservative and stubborn with the evolving social image of art.

Posted by: Stephan Puff at January 5, 2006 07:36 PM

"video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic"

I can't believe after catching all this hell he comes up with such a crude ending statement. Ebert is coming across as very narrow minded in this Q & A session and it honestly makes me not like him even more. To pre-judge a medium that you do not even understand is being a completely hypocritical.

Posted by: Leslie Rodriguez at January 5, 2006 10:11 PM

This article like the rest of you made me angry. What happened to being open-minded?

"But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art."

Video games are a form of graphic art, thus hundreds of art schools across the country. People work on these games for countless hours and even years to create such amazing pieces of interactive art. Puff makes a very good observation-Ebert is too old and too conservative to comply with the changes within the area of art. Arrgg, this is one reason why I never trust their movie reviews.

Posted by: Kayla Lukacs at January 5, 2006 10:23 PM
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