Dev Talk: Are Video Games Art? (Part 2)

Hello, and welcome to Dev Talk, a weekly iFanzine feature in which I ask a panel of indie game developers their opinion on a topic or current hot-button issue related to the games industry.

This week I posed the following question: “The late and legendary film critic Roger Ebert once said that ‘video games can never be art.’ What’s your take on this rather incendiary statement?”

Here’s what the devs had to say…

Ken Wong, Mountains

I’ve stopped caring what other people think about the question of whether games can be art. I think that most people, including game players and game designers, lack the level of literacy in both games and art to properly understand what that question even means. I also think it’s almost pointless to try to answer, and any supposed answer is of negative value to society. I’d rather devote my efforts to continuing to make things that move, entertain and inspire people, in the great tradition of the cave painters of Lascaux, William Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Beyoncé.

Josh Presseisen, Crescent Moon Games

Of course games can be art. Anything can be art. It depends how you define ‘art’ in the first place. Me taking a picture of my dog’s turd could be considered art to someone. I think maybe Roger Ebert was shortsighted, and didn’t know the medium very well. There are tons of games that I would consider to be more art than game.

Carl Alston

Firstly, that’s a bit of a loaded question. Do we really know if it was belief or just that, an “incendiary statement.” Roger Ebert was a critic, it was literally his job to dissect something and (normally) point out its flaws. His sparring with Gene Siskel was great. Take it for what it is, a critic being a critic, and in the case of ‘Games not being art,’ a totally wrong critic. Games are being made into films, and sometimes they contain more movie, plot, storyline and visual effects than actual gameplay. Anything that can inspire can be called art, and games inspire. The Unfinished Swan, Final Fantasy X, Hohokum, Bioshock, Okami; the list of interactive art goes on and on. It’s Art, just a different kind.

Ben Murch, Perchang

Yes they absolutely can be. The idea of art is to apply creative skills in order to generate a human response and / or provoke conversation. Video Games do both these things. Whether experiencing an emotional tale from The Walking Dead, looking in awe at the vistas of Halo, or physically sweating with panic in PUBG, these are responses garnered by the art.

As long as a creation drives emotions, conversations and ideas forward, no matter what form that takes, then it should be considered “Art.”

Stu Lloyd, Loveshack Entertainment

Haha, well I’d be very interested to see how Electronic “Arts” would respond to that… but arts are by definition, visual, audio, performance and expression. In short, games are interactive works of art and I fail to see any argument against this. This Roger Ebert guy sounds like he had old timer syndrome and struggled to adapt with technology and was perhaps a little too biased toward film. We all make mistakes, and his statement is definitely one of them. It’s a pity his time ended just months before The Last Of Us came out, but he could’ve easily played Resi 4.

Fernando Dominguez Sarmiento, LemonChili Games

A piece of blank paper can be art. It’s all about the context whether or not that ‘piece’ is to be considered art. If one person thinks one thing is art, then it’s art. Video games are art, and always have been art. If you study the first games created by Atari developers, and the first employees/people at Electronic Arts, you’ll see that they were thinking of games much more like art than ‘games.’ Even Donkey Kong and Super Mario were inspired by movies, and the idea of ‘telling a story,’ rather than just making a ‘playful mechanic.’ I don’t agree with Ebert’s comment, at all.

Barry Meade, Fireproof Games

Well I’m pretty sure Roger Ebert watched many movies that made him question that art form too. But at root, he doesn’t know what art is, neither do I, neither do you — and even if we did, we don’t get to tell other people what art is to them. So the whole statement is one big bag of empty to me. Humans can be moved by things that other humans make, that’s about as far as I can explain ‘art.’ So to suggest games can’t move people, or hit them in the head or the heart as other media does, is obviously silly. If I had to read into what he meant, I think he finds it hard to imagine a serious creative person, that is motivated by making something timeless and meaningful, would ever enter into video games as a pursuit because the medium is so obviously money based and shallow. Which, given he comes from movies, is pretty silly. So what he said doesn’t bother me.

Video games are already considered an art form. Some games are more artistic versus others.

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