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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Can video games be art?

In a recent Chicago Sun Times column, Roger Ebert defends his position that video games can never be art—a bold statement from a respected professional critic.

Ebert wrote the column, in part, in response to a TEDxUSC talk by game designer Kellee Santiago. Santiago argues that video games can indeed be art, and she provides examples that illustrate the artistic components of several games. After reviewing the criteria that people have historically used to separate art from non-art, Ebert acknowledges that art is difficult to define, yet he does come to one conclusion: Games can never be art. He writes:
One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.
I found his analysis of the artistic value of games particularly interesting because one of my Theory of Knowledge classes this year spent quite a bit of time debating this question. Many students, particularly athletes, considered soccer as much of an art as ballet. Like these students, most of the people who commented on Ebert's piece disagreed with his bright line standard between games and art. I also disagree. I didn't grow up playing video games—and I don't play any now—but I find it difficult to dismiss the artistic merits of video games categorically.

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