Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 24, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 24, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Opinion: Brian Moriarty's Apology For Roger Ebert
Opinion: Brian Moriarty's Apology For Roger Ebert
March 14, 2011 | By Brian Moriarty

March 14, 2011 | By Brian Moriarty
More: Console/PC

[In a presentation originally given at GDC 2011 titled "An Apology for Roger Ebert," Infocom and LucasArts veteran Brian Moriarty (Loom) came to the defense of film critic Roger Ebert and his views about video games as art. Here, his lecture is reprinted in full with his permission.]

The title of this lecture, "An Apology for Roger Ebert," may require a bit of clarification.

I'm not here to offer an apology in the sense of regret for anything done wrong.

This is an apology in the sense of a Greek apologia, the systematic defense of a position or opinion.

It's a defense of Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize winning film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times who, a little over five years ago, annoyed our industry by declaring that "video games can never be art."

For those few of you unacquainted with this controversy, I'll spend just a few minutes recounting what happened.

It all started with a bad movie.

On October 21st, 2005, Universal released its adaptation of the first-person shooter game Doom.

I didn't see Doom, but Roger Ebert did. He awarded the film one star.

In his review, he wrote, "Toward the end of the movie, there is a lengthy point-of-view shot looking forward over the barrel of a large weapon ... Monsters jump out from behind things and are blasted to death, in a sequence that abandons all attempts at character and dialogue and uncannily resembles a video game."

A few days later, a reader from Missouri responded on Ebert's blog.

He wrote that "Doom ... the movie is Doom the game brought to the screen without messing around too much with the original. Doom works as a tribute because it fails so utterly as a movie."

Ebert's reply was terse. "There are ... sites on the Web devoted to video games, and they review movies on their terms. I review them on mine."

Unfortunately, Ebert couldn't resist adding one more zinger: "As long as there is a great movie unseen or a great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games."

The response from gamers was prompt. Hundreds of indignant blog comments poured in from everywhere.

At first, Ebert seemed willing to discuss his opinion. When a reader from Denver asked, "Are you implying that books and film are better mediums, or just better uses of your time?" Ebert responded, "I believe books and films are better mediums, and better uses of my time. But how can I say that when I admit I am unfamiliar with video games? Because I have recently seen classic films by Fassbinder, Ozu, Herzog, Scorsese and Kurosawa, and have recently read novels by Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Bellow, Nabokov and Hugo, and if there were video games in the same league, someone somewhere who was familiar with the best work in all three mediums would have made a convincing argument in their defense."

The comments increased in volume and temperature.

On November 27, a reader wrote, "I was saddened to read that you consider video games an inherently inferior medium ... Was not film itself once a new field of art? Did it not also take decades for its ... respectability to be recognized?"

Ebert responded, "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."

He continued, "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."

After this, aside from an occasional snark, Ebert appeared to have written everything he cared to on the subject.

To many of you, this issue probably seems like a thoroughly dead horse.

I thought it was dead, too. Not because anything was ever actually decided, but because after nearly five years of table-pounding, everyone seemed tired of arguing about it.

But a few weeks after GDC ended last March, the flamewar erupted again.

The fuse was a TEDx lecture by Kellee Santiago, co-founder and president of thatgamecompany. Her lecture was titled "Stop the Debate: Video Games are Art, So What's Next?"

She cited three games, Waco Resurrection, Braid and her own company's Flower, as examples of games that she believes already qualify as art.

A video of her lecture appeared on YouTube. Some troublemaker recommended it to Roger Ebert.

On April 16th, Ebert posted a critique of Santiago's lecture under the blunt headline, "Video games can never be art."

He dismissed Waco Resurrection, Braid and Flower as "pathetic," and sternly predicted that "no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form."

Thousands of comments followed, nearly all of them in fierce protest.

Finally, on the first of July, just before the call for submissions to this conference was announced, Ebert posted what again seemed to be his final word.

Under the title "Okay, kids, play on my lawn," Ebert wrote, "I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so."

He went on to admit that his arguments might be more convincing if he actually bothered to play some games.

He also seemed to backpedal a bit. "What I was saying is that video games could not in principle be Art. That was a foolish position to take, particularly as it seemed to apply to the entire unseen future of games ... It is quite possible a game could someday be great Art."

His weary conclusion? "I have books and movies to see. I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place."

Having heard all this, you may be wondering, what is there left to defend?

Ebert caved. He admitted games could be art, eventually, didn't he? Given enough time, anything not impossible is inevitable, right?

Maybe. But that's not the part of Ebert's argument I'm here to defend.

I'm here because of this sentence: "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."

Kellee Santiago conceded this point in the first sixty seconds of her TEDx lecture.

And, as Ebert never tired of pointing out, not one of the thousands of comments he received seriously attempted any such comparison.

Now, although I'm not as experienced as Roger Ebert (experienced being a polite euphemism for elderly), I'm no spring chicken, either.

My formal education was in English. I've read many of the great books in our language, and other languages in translation. I've also watched a number of great movies, seen a number of great paintings and sculptures, and heard a lot of fine music, though never as much as I would like.

I've also been in the video game industry for nearly thirty years. Unlike Mr. Ebert, I have played many of the games widely regarded as great and seminal. I have the privilege of knowing many of the authors personally.

But as much as I admire games like M.U.L.E., Balance of Power, Sim City and Civilization, it would never even occur to me to compare them to the treasures of world literature, painting or music.

And I'm pretty sure the authors of these particular games wouldn't presume to, either.

Why are some people in this industry so anxious to wrap themselves in the mantle of great art?

It occurred to me that an art museum might be a good place to think about this.

As it happens, there's a really good art museum just a few blocks east of Worcester Polytech, where I teach game design.

So, late one morning, I found myself in the galleries of WAM, the Worcester Art Museum, wandering among the Monets and Manets, Mattisses and Magrittes.

One canvas in particular caught my eye.


It was painted around 1730 by James Northcote, a member of the British Royal Academy of Arts.

Northcote was amazingly prolific. Over 2,000 works are attributed to him.

He painted historic and current news events, scenes from the Bible and classic literature, together with hundreds of portraits.

It was his animal paintings that attracted the most attention, though. Northcote made a fortune with his dramatic depictions of jungle cats, elephants, dogs and birds.

A rival artist, Henry Fuseli, is said to have remarked, "Northcote, you are an angel at an ass, but an ass at an angel."

This Northcote in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum is not, for the most part, about animals.

The Chess Players shows a pair of gentlemen pondering over an endgame. There's a boy standing behind one of the players, and a little dog sitting in the corner.

If you study the painting for a while, you'll notice a couple of interesting details.

For one thing, the chess players clearly are not the center of attention. They're dressed in dark, sober colors, receding into the space of the painting.

By contrast, the boy appears in blazing gold. It almost looks as if he's under a spotlight.

Yet he shows no interest in the chess game. His attention is directed away from the world of the painting. In fact, he appears to be staring directly at you, the viewer.

In his left hand is a sheet of paper, covered with undecipherable characters.

His right finger appears to be pointing at something. But what? The sheet of paper? The man beside him?

And what is that dog doing there?

We'll probably never know. Everyone connected with the creation of this painting has been dead for generations.

I spent a long time sitting on the bench in front of Northcote's Chess Players.

The elements of this painting came to symbolize for me the predicament I faced by choosing to defend Roger Ebert at the biggest game conference in the world.

The two chess players are the like the game industry, self-absorbed, satisfied, confident that they will soon earn a place among the fine arts, if they haven't already.

And the golden boy is Art itself, silently watching us, pointing at a secret he longs to share.

In preparing this lecture, I plowed through a 700-page anthology on Western art philosophy, including the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Ficino, Kant, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Shaftesbury, Croce, Nietzsche, Dewey and Heidegger.

I also read a deadly-boring book on 20th century art definitions, including the writings of Weitz, Dickie and Danto.

Nowhere in 25 centuries of philosophy did I find a single author who regarded games or sports as a form of art.

When they're mentioned at all, they're dismissed as a pastime. Harmless at best, an evil destroyer of youth at worst.

Now, it's true that a number of art museums include antique toys and games in their exhibits. Some of them, soon including the Smithsonian, even display antique video games!

It's also true that games, usually dice or cards, have often been the subject or theme of great art. I found a web site with over 220 paintings of people playing Chess, and it doesn't even include this work by Northcote.

It's also true that certain 20th century art movements, including Dada, Fluxus and New Games, incorporated rules and play into some of their works. These are remembered chiefly by art historians and academics, except for Fluxus, which is famous because one of its members married a Beatle.

And you'll occasionally come across a philosopher or artist who admires the playful aspect of games, or the elegance of a Chess problem.

Some people admire the elegance of math equations, too, but nobody confuses mathematics with great art. They're different categories of human activity.

And that's how philosophy has traditionally regarded Art and Games: Categorically different.

Suggesting that a game could be great art is radical.

On the other hand, the idea of "great art" is itself somewhat radical. It dates back only about 500 years.

Before that, art was essentially practical. You valued the thing an artwork represented, not the artwork itself.

Since that time, the definition of art has undergone a continuous evolution as new ideas and technologies appeared.

This process has never been never rapid or easy. It took many decades for photography and cinema to earn their places among the Hegelian fine arts of painting, sculpture, poetry and drama, music, dance and architecture.

Now, it's natural and tempting for us to expect that games will follow the same pattern.

But there's a big difference. Photography and cinema were new technologies.

Games are not new. They've been part of our culture for thousands of years. They're much older than the belles arts of the Renaissance, older than the representational art of the Greeks, older than the cave art of prehistory.

By what right do games suddenly demand the status of great art?

If Chess and Go, arguably the two greatest games in history, have never been regarded as works of art, why should Missile Command?

Are digital games somehow privileged, somehow more artistic than analog games?

Or does the fact that video games are now almost as big as dog food somehow entitle them to a free museum pass?

Before we can proceed any further, we need to pause and address the basic semantic problem. (You knew this was coming.)

All of us, even Roger Ebert, can say what a video game is. Can any of you say what great art is?

Trying to define "art" is like trying to define "experience."

We all have an internal sense of what it signifies. But articulating it is really difficult.

And the intellectual fad of relativism makes it practically impossible.

Here's a classic demonstration:

Suppose I'm walking along a beach and come across a stick of driftwood.

I stop in my tracks. I don't touch the driftwood. I don't say anything or point out the stick to anybody. Right there, at that moment, is that driftwood a work of art?

I pick up the driftwood and, without changing it, bring it home and put it on my mantelpiece. Is the driftwood art yet?

I sign and date the driftwood and send it to an art gallery. They put it on a pedestal under a spotlight. Are we having art yet?

A art collector buys the driftwood at auction for over a million bucks. What did that collector buy?

Let's play the art game again.

This time, I walk into a plumbing supply shop and pick out a standard white porcelain urinal. I sign and date the urinal, and ship it to an art gallery. Is that urinal art?


I am being completely serious when I inform you that Marcel Duchamp's Fountain is considered by many critics to be the single most influential artwork of the 20th century.

It would probably also be the most valuable artwork of the 20th century, if it had not been accidently thrown away with the gallery trash.

Luckily, all was not lost. No less than eleven authentic replicas, individually certified by the artist, await your contemplation at various art museums.

One of these was auctioned in 1999 for $1.7 million.

A number of so-called performance artists have been arrested for trying to pee in these replicas. Most of them are now protected in transparent plastic cases. (The replicas, not the performance artists.)

Duchamp and his so-called "readymades" broke the Renaissance idea of art wide open.

He and generations of so-called "conceptual artists" changed the focus of modern art appreciation.

Instead of aesthetic value, the emphasis shifted to novelty value.

By the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan was being only a little cynical when he wrote, "Art is anything you can get away with."

It seems totally fair to ask: If a piss pot can be great art, why can't a video game?

Another argument for games-as-art goes like this: Video games incorporate, and even generate, still and moving pictures, which everyone agrees can be great art.

They incorporate and generate writing, music, sculptured objects and architecture, which can also be great art.

Suppose I design a platformer with backgrounds by Michelangelo, black and white characters from Ingmar Bergman movies, pop-up quotations from Shakespeare and music from The Well-Tempered Clavier.


I call it All Your Art Is Belong to Us!

The presentation of that game is filled with great art. Games can obviously be a context for presenting great art. Roger Ebert admits this!

But is this enough? Does an artistic presentation make a game art?

Of course it doesn't. None of you would presume to call that game "art" unless you had a chance to play it first, or at least watch somebody else playing it.

The identity of a game emerges from its mechanics and affordances, not the presentation that exposes them.

But can an arrangement of mechanics and affordances, rules and goals, itself constitute a work of art?

Before you scream "Yes," explain to me why Chess is not regarded as a work of art.

Before you scream "But it is anyway," ask yourself: Are we so ready to dismiss the wisdom of the ages to flatter ourselves?

Does it even make sense to speak of mechanics and affordances apart from presentation? Isn't it all one piece?

Or is it all just mathematics with a sprinkle of positive psychology? The gamificationists certainly seem to think so.

It's hard for anybody, even so-called experts, to agree on what constitutes great art.

Back in 1900, the trustees of the Boston Symphony Orchestra commissioned a beautiful new auditorium.

Around the edge of the gold proscenium they mounted a series of nine flat plaques, three on the left, three on the right and three overhead.

The plan was to inscribe these plaques with the names of the world's nine greatest composers.

We can imagine the names that were being thrown around. Bach, Handel and Haydn, Mozart, Brahms.

But when it came time to actually sit down and determine which composers would be honored, the trustees couldn't make up their minds.

And so, for the past 111 years, visitors to Boston Symphony Hall sit before a gold proscenium with eight empty plaques. Only one, at the very top, contains a name, the only one the trustees could all agree on: Beethoven.

"Everyone has their own taste," right? "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

This commonplace was noted by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who strongly criticized it.

Kant's argument went like this: If you declare that something gives you pleasure, nobody can argue with you.

Subjective pleasure is absolutely in the eye of the beholder (assuming that the eye is the organ involved).

But if you announce that something is beautiful, you have made a public value judgment. You've identified that thing as source of pleasure that can be enjoyed by anyone.

In making such a declaration, you exercise the faculty known as taste.

It makes no sense to say that "everyone has their own taste." This is tantamount to claiming there's no common pleasure at all, only personal pleasure.

But experience tells us this isn't true. People agree that objects are pleasant or unpleasant all the time!

Psychologists even have a fancy technical term for this kind of agreement, when a feeling is experienced by more than one person. They call it intersubjectivity.

Certain people make it their business to exercise taste. These people are called (pinkies up) connoisseurs.

If a connoisseur's disinterested exercise of taste earns the agreement of many over time, he or she is called an expert.

Such an expert is Roger Ebert.

Here is a point I hope we can all agree on. Roger Ebert knows movies.

He's been writing about them since the 1960s. He's reviewed hundreds and hundreds of films, in print, on the Web and on television, and published over a dozen books.

It's no exaggeration to call him one of the world's best-known and most widely-read film critics.

His opinion about the relationship between video games and art may plausibly be dismissed as uninformed.

He admits this! He admits that he doesn't play video games, and doesn't even want to play them!

Nevertheless, most of us would hesitate to dismiss his opinion on the relationship between movies and art.

So, what does the tasteful, expert connoisseur Roger Ebert have to say about the relationship between the cinema and art? Just this: "Hardly any movies are art."

Okay, maybe Roger was having a bad day. Let's move right along another of the world's great film critics.

Here's what the late Pauline Kael wrote about the relationship between movies and art. Listen carefully.

"There is so much talk now about the art of the film that we may be in danger of forgetting that most of the movies we enjoy are not works of art ... Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them."

So, here we have two of the world's most highly-regarded film critics, sadly assuring us that most movies are not great art.

Defining "great art" apparently isn't enough. We also have to figure out how to distinguish great art from trash.

But first, let's side aside a couple of issues regarding the word art.

In English, the word art has several meanings.

In one sense, art is used as synonym for craft. Any art-ifact made by an art-isan is a kind of art.

In another sense, any exercise of skill, any practice can be spoken of as an art.

The art of cooking. The art of war. The art of motorcycle maintenance.

In these senses, the practice and products of gamemaking obviously qualify as art.

But Ebert and Kael weren't using "art" in either of these senses. When Ebert refers to art, he means (and actually spells) Art with a capital

Great art, fine art, or the term I prefer, sublime art.

Art that deeply rewards a lifetime of contemplation. Art as cultural monument. Art that's good for you. The kind of art that, in Ebert's words, makes us "more cultured, civilized and empathetic."

This kind of talk has earned Mr. Ebert that most deadly of anti-intellectual epithets, elitist.

The horror novelist Clive Barker led the mob, dismissing Ebert as an "arrogant old man," "pompous" and "high handed," adding, "If the experience moves you, some way or another, even if it just moves your bowels, I think it's worthy of some serious study."


Many people seem to share Barker's belief that the function of art is to elicit emotion, to make you feel things, to move people. Let's quickly dispose of this.

Last April, the US Supreme Court ruled that videos of small animals being deliberately stomped to death was a Constitutionally protected form of free speech.

Would you like to see one of these videos? If I press that play button, I promise you will experience strong emotion.

Stomp videos may be free speech, and they may make me feel things, but I reject them as art.

And I look forward to the High Court's opinion on whether or not video games are also a form of free speech.

The function of art is not merely to elicit emotion. A slip on a banana peel can do that. The function - not the purpose, the function - of all art, high or low, from Angry Birds to Hellraiser to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, is attraction.

Art has no practical purpose. Nobody needs art. Why would anyone bother to make art that nobody would be attracted to?

But how do we distinguish sublime attractions from the common attractions Pauline Kael dismissed as trash?

Why do Ebert and Kael believe that very few movies are sublime art?

How can Ebert predict with such confidence that no video game is ever likely to be sublime art, without even playing any?

And if he's wrong, if a game really can be sublime art, why hasn't anybody made one?

Such are the questions I pondered as I sat before Northcote's Chess Players.

It seemed to me, as I studied the painting, that there are three reasons why video games have failed to deliver sublime art. These reasons are neatly symbolized by the major elements of the painting.

The most obvious has been staring you in the face since two o'clock. It's not the chess players. It's not the golden boy, his silence or his secret, if he has one.

It's the dog.

We don't know who, if anyone, commissioned this painting from Northcote. But if it was a commission, we can say one thing with a high degree of certainty.

Whoever it was had plenty of money.

In the early 18th century, when The Chess Players was painted, there were generally two classes of people in Europe, the well-to-do and the near-starving. (Get used to it. We'll be there again soon.)

Most 18th century people didn't worry about buying paintings. It was all they could do to keep their families alive!

Things got better in the 19th century. Political changes, urbanization, improvements in mass production and education gave rise to what we now call the middle class.

These people had enough wealth to keep their families reasonably comfortable, with a little money left over for the occasional small luxury.

As their social standing improved, the petit-bourgeois wanted some of the things rich people enjoyed, like nice clothes, books and decorated homes.

So around the 1860s and 70s, a market developed catering to their limited budgets and tastes.

They still couldn't afford commissioned art. But there were plenty of second-rate painters happy to provide a quick knock-off to hang over the fireplace.

These paintings resembled great art. Picturesque landscapes, idyllic domestic scenes, portraits of celebrities.

The art dealers of Munich were apparently the first to nickname this new mass-market art.

Some scholars think it was a mispronunciation of the English word sketch. Others claim it was a contraction of a German verb that means "to make cheaply."

Whatever its origin, by the 1920s this nickname had become the international expression for those pink flamingos, velvet Elvises and adorable puppy dogs we all know and love as kitsch.

Quite a few books have been written about the aesthetics of kitsch. One of the best is by Tomas Kulka of Tel Aviv University.

Kulka argues that kitsch is not bad art. He sees it as a unique aesthetic category, a special kind of art, characterized by three properties:

One: Kitsch depicts objects or themes that are highly charged with stock emotions.

Kitsch is about simple feelings, universal ideas. Good and evil. Happy and sad.

Your response to these ideas is automatic. You know how you are supposed to feel about sad clowns, James Dean and horses running on a windswept beach.

In fact, part of the appeal of kitsch seems to lie precisely in recognizing that as you look at it, you're feeling the way you're supposed to. Kitsch validates you.

Two: The objects or themes depicted by kitsch are instantly and effortlessly identifiable.

Kitsch art is utterly conventional. There's never any doubt about what it is you're looking at. It's a leprechaun, and only a leprechaun. It's Santa Claus, and only Santa Claus.

Kitsch art is surface art. It's just what you expect.

Three (and most important): Kitsch does not substantially enrich our associations relating to the depicted objects or themes.

The last thing kitsch wants to be is challenging. Pure kitsch is never ironic, ambiguous, troubling, or innovative.

Kitsch art is popular art ... and nearly all popular art is kitsch.

Our mass-market culture is so thoroughly imbued with kitsch, it's the only kind of art many people ever experience.

Broadway musicals, theme parks, casinos, rock stars, major league sports, cable news ... all kitsch.

All advertising is kitsch. All media driven by advertising devolves into kitsch.

Sequels, spin-offs, knock-offs, reboots and adaptations from other media are automatically kitsch.

Politics thrives on kitsch.

And Roger Ebert has spent over forty years in dark theaters sitting through thousands and thousands of hours of shameless Hollywood kitsch.

Could anyone be more familiar with what happens when you apply commercial pressure to popular art?

Is there anyone on the planet more qualified to predict that video games will suffer the same fate?

Listen to this review of Call of Duty: Black Ops published in the New York Times a few days after it was released last December:

"I never play games twice. But Call of Duty: Black Ops has made a very happy liar out of me ... I wanted to try to assassinate Fidel Castro ... again. And break out of a Soviet prison camp ... again. And pilot a gunboat through the Mekong Delta again, shooting up sampans while listening to "Sympathy for the Devil" ... The cold war was never so much fun ... Black Ops ... does not really innovate, but it doesn't have to. Rather, it reflects a keen intelligence and a rigorous, disciplined understanding of each individual element of modern game design ... It then executes and delivers ... in a way that demonstrates how well oiled a game-making machine Robert A. Kotick, Activision's chief executive, has created."

Call of Duty: Black Ops made more money faster than any entertainment product in history.

How? By depicting instantly identifiable themes, highly charged with stock emotions. By not trying to enrich players' associations with those themes. By not innovating.

Video games are an industry. You are attending a giant industry conference. Industries make products.

Video game products contain plenty of art, but it's product art, which is to say, kitsch art.

Kitsch art is not bad art. It's commercial art. Art designed to be sold, easily and in quantity. And the bigger the audience, the kitschier it's gonna get.

Kitsch is a risk-reduction strategy, time-tested and good for business.

Kitsch is robust. Details of execution don't matter very much. You can change stuff without affecting its utility.

Sublime art is fragile. It lives or dies in the details. There's nothing superfluous or out of place.

As author C.S. Lewis wrote, "That word and no other in that place and no other."

Kitsch is like Duchamp's urinal. You flush it when you're done using it. Kitsch is fundamentally standard, and when standards change, it becomes first irrelevant, then corny, and finally the subject of nostalgia.

Sublime art is either always relevant, or not at all. It is never the subject of nostalgia, but often the subject of discovery.

Kitsch can be brilliantly executed, wonderfully entertaining, and culturally significant. It is often mistaken for great art and awarded with honors, especially by those industries that specialize in it.

One way to deal with the overwhelming prevalence of kitsch is to celebrate it.

While you're here in the city, take a trolley up to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill.

Down in the sub-sub-basement you'll find one of best surviving examples of '40s tiki kitsch: The Tonga Room.

The food in the Tonga Room is practically inedible. But after the second faux-Polynesian umbrella cocktail served in a real pineapple, you won't care.

In the middle of the room there's an artificial pond with a little island that floats around. A band on the island plays tinkly pop music.

Here's the best part. Every hour there's a simulated tropical thunderstorm. It starts to rain around the edges of the pond!

The Tonga Room is delightful. I smile when I walk in there, and I'm smiling even more when I leave.

The technical term for the celebration of kitsch is camp.

Welcome to San Francisco, the camp capitol of the world.

Ultimately, camp is an evasive strategy. Camp embraces kitsch, but refuses to commit to the risk of creating art.

We shouldn't expect publicly traded game publishers to produce anything but kitsch.

But what about the indies? Indies are small and nimble. Their only stockholders are the employees. They can afford risk creating art, right?

That's the fantasy. In reality, indies are under the same commercial pressure as the big studios.

They have a little more wiggle room for innovation and risk. But only a little.

And if they fail, they have no cushion. If anything, there's even more pressure never to fail.

As a result, most indies secretly, or not so secretly, aspire to produce authentic-looking kitsch. Kitsch with a edge, if they're good, but kitsch nonetheless.

The well-oiled game-making machines manufacture kitsch. Indies struggle to imitate them. Who's left to create sublime art?

The people who create art anyway. The artists. If anyone is going to pwn Roger Ebert, they'll probably be the ones to do it.

There is genuine hope there, but there is also a subtle danger.

If you consciously set out trying to make an "art game," it's possible that you will instead create an arty game, a game with the trappings of sublime art.

Solemn themes. Classical music. Literary quotations. Participation by artistic celebrities from other media. These things don't necessarily make a game artistic.

I should know. I've tried them all.

But this warning should not be taken as an excuse never to try. Many embarrassing failures would be worth the effort if they culminated in a single authentic work of art.

The dog is in the painting because whoever paid for the painting demanded a dog!

But the kitsch that dogs our industry isn't the only reason we've failed to produce sublime art. Consider again the two chess players, masters of the game.

All art forms depend on mastery.

Painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, filmmakers and architects all require tools, instruction and years and years of hard actual practice.

We game developers are no different. But we are at a distinct disadvantage.

The tools and technology we work with are, and always have been, slippery.

In 1894, Thomas Edison and William Dickson introduced an improved version of the Kinetoscope. It used plastic film 35 millimeters wide, perforated on both sides. Each image frame occupied four perforations. The film ran vertically through the camera and projector at a speed of about 16 frames per second.

Within a few years, Edison's 35mm film format became the worldwide de facto standard.

Cameras and projectors improved. A few minor changes were made for the introduction of sound.

But the basic format, the fundamental engineering parameters controlling the design, production, distribution and exhibition of movies, remained virtually unchanged for over 115 years.

Compare this to the first four decades of video gaming.

Dozens of computer architectures. Seven generations of consoles. Zero uniformity in processing power, memory, resolution, color space or audio. A bewildering range of platforms, from cell phones to pimped up Alienwares.

Now let's talk about the business of video games.

During the five years I worked at Lucasfilm, the management of the games division changed six times.

Acquisitions, layoffs, delays, cancellations, closing studio doors, lawsuits ... you've all been there.

How can a potential artist hope to accumulate any deep practice in this maelstrom?

[Imitating an Italian prima donna] "How can we create in such an atmosphere?!?"

The third reason why video games have failed as sublime art is the most subtle, the most speculative, and maybe the most important.

Is there, as Roger Ebert suggested, a structural, intrinsic reason why video games cannot be sublime art?

Let's turn again to the golden boy. As you meet his haughty gaze, let me read you some of the things Roger Ebert has written about video games and art.

"I believe art is created by an artist. If you change it, you become the artist."

"Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices."

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

At one point, Clive Barker pleaded, "I'm just saying that gaming is a great way to do what we as human beings need to do all the time -- to take ourselves away from the oppressive facts of our lives and go somewhere where we have our own control."

Ebert's retort to this was icy. "I do not have a need 'all the time' to take myself away from the oppressive facts of my life, however oppressive they may be, in order to go somewhere where I have control. I need to stay here and take control."

These quotes are boulder-size clues to Ebert's sensibilities.

He objects to the idea of self-directed effort as a means of experiencing art. He sees the intention of a single artist as primary. He speaks of inevitability. He's jealous of his free time, those 'precious hours' he has left for cultivation. He sees art not as an escape from life, but as a way to understand and accept life as it is.

No doubt about it. Roger Ebert is, like me, a hopeless Romantic.


Arthur Schopenhauer is the philosopher most closely associated with Romanticism.

You think Roger Ebert's a curmudgeon? Wait till you meet Schopenhauer.

When he was appointed lecturer at the University of Berlin in 1820, the faculty included the world-famous philosopher Georg Hegel.

The young Schopenhauer considered Hegel to be "a clumsy charlatan." He scheduled his lectures at exactly the same time as Hegel's to draw his students away.

It didn't work. His classroom was empty. He eventually left academia in disgust.

Schopenhauer once wrote that marriage is like "reaching blindfolded into a sack hoping to find an eel among the snakes."

He was also an atheist. He did not believe in a personal, omnipotent God.

Instead, Schopenhauer believed that the essence of the universe is Being: a blind, irrational, unquenchable thirst to exist he called Wille zum Leben, and that everything we perceive is a representation of this Will to Live.

Because we ourselves are products of Will, we spend most of our lives trapped in a cycle of striving and boredom.

We're constantly willing ourselves to attain our goals, and when we do attain them, we're disappointed and move on to something else, again and again, until the ultimate disappointment of death.

To Schopenhauer, free will and real choice were cruel illusions, and desire a prison.

Schopenhauer does have a reputation for being pessimistic. But he really wasn't. Because he also believed that there's a way to leap off the wheel of desire.

That way is the contemplation - the contemplation - of sublime art.

Sublime art is the door to a perspective on reality that transcends Will.

It frees us from the agony of contingency and causality, and give us a brief, precious glimpse of what we really are, one thing, already complete, and perfectly ambiguous.

Bob Dylan echoed Schopenhauer when he said that the purpose of art is to stop time.

To Schopenhauer, the creation of sublime art was the noblest of human undertakings, and artists, especially musicians, were the high priests of civilization.

Not surprisingly, a lot of 19th and 20th century artists really liked this guy.

Brahms, Tolstoy, Mahler, Proust, Einstein, Freud and Jung were all strongly influenced by Schopenhauer. Richard Wagner was practically a disciple.

If you could go back and ask Schopenhauer whether or not a game, any game, could become a sublime work of art, how would he respond?

He'd probably just pat you on the shoulder, shake his head and chuckle. Why is this?

As you all know, games are about choices. Sid Meier famously defined games as "a series of interesting choices."

And choice is the most fundamental expression of Will.

How can an activity motivated by decisions, striving, goals and competition, a deliberate concentration of the force of Will, be used to transcend Will itself?

You might as well try to smother a flame with oxygen.

Game designers are taught that the ideal player experience is something called flow.

Flow is that magical state of highly focused motivation, a kind of skating on the fine edge of effort and challenge.

Flow leads to a feeling of euphoric exhilaration.


Bow before Csikszentmihalyi and Poppins, Prophets of Flow!

Gameflow is work made fun! Flow keeps you joyfully working, even in your free time!

Gameflow will be the harness of the New Labor class.

Flow is painless effort. But pain management is not the business of art.

Entrancement is not insight.

Flow is an-aesthetic.

In my Digital Game Design I class, I define "play" as superfluous activity.

I define a "toy" as something that elicits play, and a "game" as a toy with rules and a goal.

Games are purposeful. They are defined as the exercise of choice and will towards a self-maximizing goal.

But sublime art is like a toy. It elicits play in the soul. The pleasure we get from it lies precisely in the fact that it has no rules, no goal, no purpose.

Oscar Wilde was not being flippant when we wrote, "All art is quite useless."

If the Romantics were right, if the purpose of sublime art is to solve the mystery of choice, it's hard to see how goal-chasing can be anything but a distraction.

We can admire an elegant game design from the outside, like a museum game under glass.

But once you enter Huizinga's magic circle and start groping at preferences, the attitude of calm, radical acceptance necessary to cultivate insight is lost.

The concert pianist Glenn Gould characterized the Romantic conception of art most vividly when he wrote, "The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline, but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity."

The conference program promised that I would offer you my own definition of art. Here it is, in all its moldy old Romantic splendor:

Sublime art is the still evocation of the inexpressible.

If these definitions of art do not speak to you, ignore them. Time is on your side.

But if they do speak to you, beware. You, too, may someday be dismissed as a tiresome old fool who doesn't "get it."

Games have been good to me. I love playing them, and I love giving my students a space to learn about them.

An hour or two or spent playing Defense Grid or Plants vs Zombies isn't a waste of time. There's nothing wrong with recreation. We need it. I need it. It's good for me!

But when I feel the need for reflection, for insight, wisdom or consolation, I turn my computers off.

These needs are the ambit of the sublime arts, which are inspired and informed by philosophy, and by faith.

All sublime art is devotional.

Twenty-four game developer's conferences ago, I sat in Chris Crawford's living room together with a few dozen other young hopefuls, and imagined a future in which video games would be recognized as a great art form, as important as the movies they reviewed every week on Siskel and Ebert.

Look at us! Video games are now bigger than movies!

But they didn't need to be great art to get here. They just needed to be great fun.

You could argue that this kitschy little dog spoils the effect of Northcote's painting. But I've come to kind of like the little guy. He keeps the chess players and the golden boy from taking themselves too seriously.

I'm told that the Fairmont is tearing down the old Tonga Room pretty soon to make way for some fancy new condos.

What do you say we all head up there one more time, raise a few Mai Tais to Roger Ebert, share a few laughs ... and listen to the rain?

Related Jobs

Activision Publishing
Activision Publishing — Santa Monica, California, United States

Tools Programmer-Central Team
Crystal Dynamics
Crystal Dynamics — Redwood City, California, United States

Senior/Lead VFX Artist
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Lead Game Designer


Dan Stubbs
profile image
Leaving aside Moriarty's shifting and nebulous definitions of 'Art' for a moment, and his patronising portrait of video games, the central argument, that 'games cannot be art because they are interactive' is just nonsense. All art is interactive, end of story. Every individual's experience of a novel, a film or a piece of music is created by the interaction of the author, the audience and the medium. The text of a book may be permanent, but the reader is not some blank slate, there just to have the text imprinted upon them. Duchamp's Fountain doesn't even exist as art in any form without the viewer actively making connections and judgements. Novelists like William Burroughs and Ezra Pound attempted to break free of the linear form of the novel, so the idea that a medium which permits just such a break should, for that reason, be labelled 'not-art' is utterly idiotic.

The difference between video games and other media is that the interaction is made explicit. The author(s) of a work have to craft a piece without the pretence that the audience is a passive witness. In my opinion, this one difference gives video games potentially more possibility for artistic expression, not less.

We're not there yet, 'there' being a realisation of the full potential of the medium. We may not even get there until video games are capable of full two-way interaction, and can understand not just motion and speech, but gesture, context and emotional subtlety. But we will get there, and the games we're playing then will make Citizen Kane look as limited as Roger Ebert probably imagines Bulletstorm to be.

Chuan Lim
profile image
Yes, syndromes of a century -- if you will ..!



The definition of art is easy: it's the seat Brian sat upon, and the space-time which his head passed through in pondering the question. As Buckminster Fuller so nicely put it -- "art is the language through which we perceive new relationships at work in the environment, both physical and meta-physical". It's the single most eloquent description that I've come across and one which resonates deeply given some thought.

Western societies have trouble grasping this because of the subject - object relationship that permeates our language, and therefore perception. We end up looking for the container to hold meaning when there is none -- container, not meaning. Even more disturbing if not blinding; our penchant for possessive -ness and subjugation of the world of things. Understanding this, and the mind which makes it so leads to art.


Burroughs, as does Borges both know all about this. That their creation is not the written page "per se" but rather it's imprint on the mind and the million stochastic explosions that result. Entrancement is not insight, and damn straight it ain't! It's about real synthesis of meaning from picking up the shards of Hegel via "Zabriske Point". Just think about how well our faculties are developed for pattern recognition and apply this to a wider context of learning.


And like any bad breatharian a steady diet of "flow" is a lovely way to an expedient death. No peaks no troughs but experienced as a flatline through time. I can think of no better representation of purgatory, than as an un-ending cycle of stasis in the tunnel of fun.

Gravity is most important. Without falling, an organism learns no balance. Art works in a similar reactionary manner to re-shape personal knowledge. The deal being that one must participate, in the world of actions to develop the necessary models of self-correction or reflexion that help us on our way.

It's much how human psychology works and for some strange reason / am guessing numeric representation ..! / we tend to reduce all players to one-dimensional strips of litmus checking for "intensity" as we go. This is also death and we need to build on models of complexity and dynamics. Failing that, elegant analogies as with Rilke and other poetics.


If anything we should be putting less into our games, or at least be super sensitive about how the user experience encapsulates the stuff beyond the screen. Let's make better, more comfortable seats so that players / our fellows, friends and lovers / can move through time with a sense of clarity, excitement or wonder. And please god, stop with the emphasis on paydirt -- worrying about money is only using half the brain.


Cogito ergo sum /

"I am that - and my past, and then some"


Thanks for your pains BM.

-- Chuan

Tim Carter
profile image
What arrogance to believe a definition of art could be anything but shifting and "nebulous".

Chuan Lim
profile image
The definition is as worded above: I used the letters of your alphabet and the words of your language. What could be simpler to understand?

Your problem lies elsewhere.

-- Chuan

Dan Stubbs
profile image
@ Tim I think you're intentionally misunderstanding me. Moriarty's stance on 'what art is' shifts depending on what he's attacking. It's one thing to create a straw man to argue with (which Moriarty does), but it's something else entirely to change your position in the middle of an argument and pretend you're being consistent.

For the record, Brian Moriarty is one of my all-time heroes. If you told me a week ago that I would be taking issue with anything the creator of Trinity and Loom said, I would have laughed.

Megan Swaine
profile image
"Many embarrassing failures would be worth the effort if they culminated in a single authentic work of art."


As a game writer who started out in poetry and literature, I can honestly say that this article was insightful, honest, and contemplative, and I really enjoyed reading it. I'm sad that I didn't get to GDC this year, but I'm glad that I can still read things like this.

Good show. :)

Tore Slinning
profile image
Soo...your into "all your art is belong to us!" :)

Just a sidequestion here, its something Ive wondered, about game writers.

Have you any experience when it comes to wrining PnP mdoules, settings lors and other RPG stuff?

Do you know if this is common or not?

Nate Logan
profile image
I sympathize with yours and Ebert's points, but I wonder if your conclusion isn't a bit too absolute. To keep it short, would you consider any works of sculpture art? A work of sculpture is finite in scope and definition, but cannot be fully seen without the viewer taking control of their own perspective. Sculpture (and all kinds of visual art, for that matter) is "explored" by a viewer, and the way he goes about exploring is an expression of "Will" in a sense.

Now, there is a difference between exploring a visual work and defacing it. Both acts are expressions of will. Both acts could be called interactive. But this goes to illustrate the my question: isn't there room within interactivity for the "inevitable conclusions" which Ebert considers a necessary component of "Art?" Where choices are a vehicle for understanding the work, rather than altering it to the player's preferences?

I would submit that interactivity itself is not diametrically opposed to the concept of art. The artist's will and the player's will can coexist, if the player's will is not elevated above the artist's.

Megan Swaine
profile image
I think I get what you're saying.

My background isn't in philosophy, but I am reminded of Socrates' method of persuading someone to his point of view via a series of questions. Socrates gives the illusion of choice, but gently guides the reader to a particular perspective.

Video games can offer a series of questions (choices) to the player, and guide them to a specific experience, which (hopefully) expresses what the creator is trying to say. (If they're trying to say anything in particular)

While Socratic Dialog is probably more a type of rhetoric and debate, than Art, video games are entirely unique in a sense that they are a medium that offers a more complex dialog between the viewer and the artist.

Does that make sense?

Dan Stubbs
profile image
@Megan The assumed static paradigm of artist -> art work -> audience is wrong. Ebert and Moriarty both make this assumption, or rather both use this assumption to condemn games.

I think the idea of games as dialogue is also wrong, especially the Socratic variety. The author is not present when playing a game.

Even with a sculpture or a painting, the reality is more that an artist creates an static experiential space, which the audience inhabits for a time, and the Art lies in the interaction of the work and the viewer's own perspective.

Ebert's argument is essentially that he still sees video games as toys, or at best competitive sports, when most Gamasutra readers, I believe, would think of games more in terms of an experiential space.

Tore Slinning
profile image
....i think videogames as....GAMES!

Tim Carter
profile image
This is the best piece I've ever read in Gamasutra.

I've tried to bring the art patronage model to the game industry, to get somewhere near the sublime experience you point at, with games. I've run into tremendous indifference, fear and hostility over this.

I believed that art in games, if it was possible, could only come from authorial control (which I think is possessed in a game - the designer shapes the player's experience) - and so have attempted to promote this.

I think I may have overreached with games. This article sums this all up.

I do think there is the possibility for sublime experience in games - but I don't think it will be in electronic games. To me it's the capacity for the experience to be a community catalyst: the tabletop game is the most fertile ground for this.

In the meantime, I guess, games are a good job to have.

I think this article needs to be enshrined somewhere. The Internet is simply too ephemeral, and it's a shame this will just slip under the bridge amidst the usual news-of-the-day.

Tore Slinning
profile image
Indeed, the biggest applauding i came give this guy is bringing up "its got graphics, music and story its art" crowd.

I mean...if games are to be judged as art, it must be on their own merit.

I to is a fan of the concept, that gameplay itself can be considered art, altough this piece sorta sobered my views a bit.

Dan Stubbs
profile image
All art works, whether novels, plays, music, statues or film can be seen as an authored experiential space.

The Art happens when we interact with that space.

Therefore, Videogames can be Art.

Andrew Vanden Bossche
profile image
I follow the argument about preferences invalidating art, but Schopenhauer's patronizing response to the games as art debate could only occur if he, like Ebert, was under the impression that games allowed for choice or preference. Ebert is under the common misunderstanding that people who play games are changing the game, but they most definitely are not. I explore the narrative of Shadow of the Colossus, but at no point do I have the power to edit the world or change it; everything I do is an already existing event programmed by the designers. Schopenhauer's pessimism about free will would actually, I think, draw him to this understanding that games do not allow for free will at all, especially when one understands that Little Big Planet's level editor (like all others) is a tool, not a video game.

Ryan Salvatore
profile image
I think I agree with Andrew, specifically to the point that games are a series of pre-defined outcomes. To cite the article, "To Schopenhauer, free will and real choice were cruel illusions, and desire a prison."

For all games, to varying degrees, real choice and free will are, in fact, illusions thrust upon the player by the designer. We can't account for every possible action the player might make, so games are designed in such a way as to minimize the feeling of being channeled down an inevitable path. This illusion of choice, is just that, however, an illusion.

Of course, this does vary depending on the game, and I think video games need to be divided into two categories for the "games as art" argument. There's video games like Peggle, Tetris, and Street Fighter that are more like sports with the emphasis on skill and clearly defined rules. Then there are video games like Heavy Rain, Uncharted, or Final Fantasy where the emphasis is on story and progressing the narrative.

The former category is much more like chess and falls onto that side of the games debate. But the latter are much more like interactive films or plays, and as such, can contain nuanced and artistic moments as powerful as any traditional performance piece (though, admittedly, not to the degree of "high art," yet.) I believe it is one of these latter works that will first bridge the games as art chasm, with its own "cruel illusions of choice," better able to reflect the human condition more poignantly than any art that preceded it. (Something akin to Passage, perhaps.)

A great article, though. Well done.

Eric Carr
profile image
Yeah, but it's the story that you're not changing. The game itself (by way of the mechanics) you *do* have explicit control over. Wander is your avatar and acts as you want, which is distinctive to the game medium.

Hakim Boukellif
profile image
I would like to comment on this part:

"The presentation of that game is filled with great art. Games can obviously be a context for presenting great art. Roger Ebert admits this!"

Let me start by making an observation about movies: movies are essentially compound art. The visuals, music and scenario are all art (or at least, can all be art) even on their own. Yet, the true artistic value of those elements do not become fully apparent until they're combined into the Gestalt known as a movie.

Back to videogames. What you're saying is, as I understand it, that although certain elements that are used in games (such as the visuals, music and story) can be art, the game itself cannot be, because a game is defined by its mechanics, which are just a bundle of math and psychology. But then, what would you call the game if it's those exact mechanics that put the artistic elements of the game into context and allow them to display their true value? Would it not be "art"?

Chris Keene
profile image
A very interesting and historically educational discussion here. I think something that gets lost in it, however, is the enormous scale that many videogame products incorporate, compared to these other mediums being discussed. Game makers must nail all the visual and narrative elements of their work, for the entire duration of a typically 20+-hour experience, in order for the spell to hold. They have far greater visual demands than most films and the best games offer a narrative that is comparable in scale and substance to many novels. There are so many amazing artistic 'moments' in games that would be silly to categorize as great works of art on the whole because the quality of the experience is not necessarily consistent from start to finish.

An example that's fresh because I'm playing it right now is Red Dead Redemption. This game incorporates so much pure, raw artistic beauty - and in so many different ways. The game world Rockstar created is one of the most compelling artistic representations of anything that I have ever seen. I feel like saying it is a bonafide work of great art - on the whole - is a stretch, but to contend there is no artistic value in RDR, or that it is not a genuine 'art piece' on some level, is patently absurd.

Steven Conway
profile image
Interesting read, funnily enough my latest post discusses this from the angle of play -

Daniel Martinez
profile image
Could it be that maybe, just MAYBE, they're a science? Perhaps even a collaboration of Art and Science? Personally, it seems like the whole argument on whether games are or are not art is being over-analyzed and has dragged on for much too long. Programming is a science. Design and music are art. This is where they converge.

Dan Stubbs
profile image
That's nonsensical. Science is a process, and contributes towards the creation of art at many levels, from the pigments in Monet's paint to the ceramics in Duchamp's Fountain, but it exists at another level from art.

Tim Tavernier
profile image
Science is an Art in itself. Maybe the only worthwhile Art of the 21st Century (with Modern Artists still stuck in their stale elitist 20th century authorial control thinking and game-designers copying them). Just look up CERN project on Google Pictures.

Artists always wank about "deconstruction of the self" about the de-construction of Life itself?

Scientists have already proven to have far greater creative visions then any kind of Modern artist.

Dan Stubbs
profile image
@Tim Wow, that's a whole other conversation right there. Personally, while I agree that many scientific discoveries are beautiful, I don't regard scientists as the authors of those discoveries, and therefore their discoveries cannot be counted as art. Surely one of the essential components of art is that it requires an artist?

You're right about modern art being stuck, though. Sometimes I think art critics had their collective minds blown by a painting of a soup can in the 60s, and have yet to recover.

Tim Tavernier
profile image
*insert post-modern critic of intertexuality denouncing the myth that artists actually create something new, but actually just refer back to already existing concepts but in a different form*

Not much different as what a scientists does. Okay, the scientist has access to billions dollars worth of equipment to "discover" what is already there. But in principle...not that much different, especially if you go look at it neurological/behaviorlogical. The methods are vastly different though, I'll give you that. but then the methods between movie-making and game-making are as well (except for the people who made MGS4).

And also, the artist doesn't make art, neither does the scientist. It's the public that makes it art. And I have to say, that LHC makes some nice pictures!

James Patton
profile image
Daniel Martinez: I can see where you're coming from but I have to disagree, or at least modify your idea. Every art has an element of science or workmanship to it: film has editing and lighting, sculpture and painting have chisel and brush technique, literature has editing (of the "let's cut out this section and splice this one in instead" kind), music has knowledge of scales and chords. In my view, the "Art work" (whatever that is!) requires these disciplines, so it's correct to say that they comprise the work - but the work itself is a combination of the results of these disciplines, and is somehow greater than the sum of those parts.

@ Tim: I agree that the public makes art: art can't exist without an audience. But isn't the scientist's role to discover new things which add to our understanding, whereas the artist's role is to recombine familiar elements so that the audience sees them in a new light?

Well, one of the roles, anyway... This is an enormous subject, after all.

Dan Stubbs
profile image
@Tim Yes, I'm aware of the post-modern arguments over authorship and creativity, but I wouldn't wipe my ass with them.

Fumito Ueda didn't 'discover' Shadow of the Colossus, any more than Benoit Mandelbrot 'created' his famous fractal.

I have nothing but admiration for the brilliant minds of those who designed, built and worked on the LHC, but they're not artists, they wouldn't claim to be artists, and nobody else would call them artists. The pictures are pretty, though.

Tim Tavernier
profile image
I call them artists...I'm also spreading this question to other people, explaining why, some agree and some don't...again...not much different compared to "real" artists in principle? :p

Dan Stubbs
profile image
I can't tell if you're actually being serious.

There's no difference at all, apart from the fact that one group doesn't create art by any workable definition, and the other does.

You may be confusing art with aesthetics. Modern art does not concern itself with what is beautiful (more's the pity), or even always with meaning, though it pretends to, but with what has value to a largely insular group. The fact that this can be manipulated by investors has a lot to do with the failings of modern art.

But that still doesn't discount Ebert's opinion, which is not that videogames do not belong in the Saatchi collection, but that are able to resonate on a deep, emotional level with the audience. In that respect, he is right. SotC is

an awesome game, but it doesn't touch me in the way that a hundred films I could name from memory can.

Where Ebert and Moriarty are mistaken, I believe, is in their opinion that they never will.

Jeff Beaudoin
profile image
The Mona Lisa is an awesome painting, but it doesn't touch me in the way that a hundred games I could name from memory can.

Emotions stirred or not stirred in one individual does not a definition of art make.

I do agree with much of what you said, but this part I do not.

Tim Tavernier
profile image

I am serious. I get goosebumps when I read newsarticles about how the LHC is getting booted up again and the scientists say they want to find the Higgs-Boson particle (or verify that it doesn't exist) by summer. You know what that means when they find it? It means everything in physics, except gravity, will be accounted for, proven, done deal. Matter and mass de-constructed to their very core.

I know that's not something everyone will be excited about, but then again, Citizen Kane is also a extremely, but still modern-looking, boring movie.

James Patton
profile image
Well, the Mona Lisa is an incredible painting - the brushwork is absolutely unbelievable - but the actual subject matter doesn't do anything for me. Yes, it's an amazingly good painting, but it's of a smiling woman.

Compare it to "Middlemarch" or "The Brothers Karamazov" or "Heart of Darkness"; those books all resonate with (many) readers at a near-sublime level. For me, therefore, the Mona Lisa is amazing but isn't art in the same way that a great novel is art.

Jeff Beaudoin
profile image
That is kind of my point James. I picked the Mona Lisa because I assume there are many people who consider it to be art and who it resonates with at a near-sublime level.

If the number of people a creation resonates with is an indicator, then Justin Bieber would be "high art" wouldn't he?

Eric Geer
profile image
I hate how this Games is/is not art discussion is still going on.

Why can we as gamers/designers need to continue to have this flame war?

Believe what you want...create what you believe...everyone elses pretenses and opinions are moot.

Dan Stubbs
profile image
It's valuable. When we reach a consensus, both the fields of Art and Videogames will be enriched.

All variations on 'Why can't we just get along' or 'Believe what you want' do nothing to contribute to, or resolve the arguments.

Eric Geer
profile image
How is it valuable to have a flame war on it is or it is not?

I am not saying "why can't we just get along"...i dont give a damn if people do or do not get along...I would prefer that people believe that what they are doing...what they are creating is something that speaks to them and a portion of the population that they are targeting.

As for "believe what you want" my initial statement. In my opinion, is the most relevant statement in my post. If you believe in something with full conviction...then believe it for yourself...don't second guess it because someone else doesn't believe *cough*roger*cough*ebert*cough*. He has no grace to even step into the realm of games and make such a statement..he has no part in the argument...

The fields of art and games are one together. I believe it and I know it. If signed urinal can be considered art...the collaboration of minds in the process of making games and the collaboration of minds playing and enjoying them is more than art...its a masterpiece.

Todd Boyd
profile image
Fantastic article; thank you for posting! Many poignant issues were addressed, and you've definitely informed me beyond my meager understanding of the issue prior. One thing I must mention, however: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE aggregate your sentences into paragraphs in future posts--it made it much more difficult to read than it should have been, and lengthened the post to a ridiculous degree.

James Patton
profile image
I also agree about the paragraphing; I found the article more strenuous to read than I'd have liked.

Mark Kreitler
profile image
Great article with many interesting points, but leaves open one question which people keep overlooking:

What about music?

Ebert has acknowledged that music can be Art, yet humans "play" music in much the same way they "play" games -- following a set of rules that guide their experience. Musicians know that performing Art can be as transcendental as listening to it, yet musical performance is anything but "still." And, if you argue that music is strictly guided, while games are not, then you're discounting improvisation as an art form. That may be fair, but you'll need to convince me that Coltrane and Parker were purveyors of kitsch instead of Art.

More thoughts on this here:

Adam Bishop
profile image
I feel like a lot of the argument comes down to people who confuse "art" and "great art". Some novels, like Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov", are incredible examinations of human societies and individuals, that serve to deepen our understanding of both ourselves and others. Other novels, like "Lord of the Rings", don't provide us with that kind of intellectual engagement, but they're still thoroughly enjoyable works because of their superb craftsmanship. "Lord of the Rings" may not be a "great" novel in the same way that "The Brothers Karamazov" is, but they're both still works of art. It shouldn't be difficult to understand that games are very much works of art in the way that "Lords of the Rings" is, even if they aren't yet as important as "The Brothers Karamazov".

Eric Geer
profile image
Not sure you looked deep enough into Lord of the Rings.

Tim Tavernier
profile image
Art is easy to define: Art is whatever the public deems good enough to be art. how do you think movies became art? because so many people went watching them they couldn't be ignored anymore. The same for fantasy and sci-fi as literature genres. This will also happen with videogames.

Art has always been subject to economic factors.

But to speed up the process in videogaming's sake: drop any notion of authorial control. It's a horrible stale 20th century thinking about art that has distorted the art-history discourse in very ugly anachronistic manners. If people think your movie is a comedy while you made it as a dramatic autobiography...then it's a comedy. Your work is not your work anymore from the moment it is finished.

The greatest and most enduring game series have all one thing in common: they give the player options to do stuff in they way the player wants to do his stuff.

Michael Lynn
profile image
I believe the furor stems from the notion that art has to be defined in one way. Trying to define art is like trying to establish a standard for an opinion....what makes something "good?" We don't all agree. And when a person tries to impose their own definition, they meet resistance from those who don't share that view. Is one side "right"? At least one side always thinks so.

My opinion is that art is an opinion, rather than an entity that can be verified via checklist. If you don't think it's art, it isn't -- for you. If you do -- it is. If you have to convince others it is or it isn't -- good luck.

Colin Rowsell
profile image
How refreshing to read something that combines erudition and real design experience in this way. Whether you agree with Brian or not, I think a lot of game developers could benefit from taking a wider approach to their understanding of such issues.

Maurício Gomes
profile image
I had a teacher of art history, that taught me that ars, and tecné are the same word, one in latin, the other in greek.

During the french revolution, Napoleon created the School of Great Arts, and the Polytechnic School.

The current discussion about if games are art or not, is not a true philosophical discussion, it is more a discussion if games belong in the school of great arts, or in the polytechnic school...

Glenn Storm
profile image
I've avoided this subject like the plague until now.

' Trying to define "art" is like trying to define "experience." '

[cough] Sentiology [cough]

I'd support the previous comments here related to sculpture (I'd add architecture there) and Bobby Fisher's chess play (I'd add Clint Hocking's description of a famous Go game from this year's GDC talk "Dynamics: The State of the Art"). They should serve as relevant counterpoints to conclusions reached in the apology above. That said, an in-depth analysis and debate of this caliber is certainly welcome.

But a correction:

' Game designers are taught that the ideal player experience is something called flow. '

Should read: Game designers should be taught that ideal _game balance_ resembles the state of Flow. (While the overall experience of a game is a subjective aggregate evaluation of perceptions, memory, prediction and imagination over the course of gameplay.)

/me goes back to avoiding this subject like the plague

David Clair
profile image
The thing that always confuses me about the whole games are art debate is that from some reason video games are being forced it seems to fit into other mediums definitions of art.

Video games (last time i check) are a completely different medium then movies, paintings, liturature... so why must video games fit into those molds of defining what art is?

You cannot define if a Book is art unless you read it, nor can you tell if a panting is art unless you have viewed it, moreso you cannot tell if a video game is art unless you have played it.

Video games are a new medium which has its own set of definitions and requirements for what qualifies as art.

just some thoughts...

james sadler
profile image
This is a great article, but I disagree, as would be expected by any argument for or against of what Art is. Just as there are very few films that can be even debated as Art, there are a few games here or there that can be debated as Art. Just as anyone can walk past a Monet and just see an oddly painted pond that same person can play something like Final Fantasy 7 and see it as Art. Art can not be defined, and it really seems here like this article is referring more to the visual representations or Art. Video games can encompass more than a visual stimuli. They offer the art of drama and music as well. All Art is choice in some form or another. As a viewer one makes the choice of looking at a piece and the greater choice of diving into what makes it interesting. Video games can offer the same thing. There are great video games that work as a game only to deliver the player to the narrative (yes I will throw that card).

Art is a tricky subject as you yourself point out. People can and will debate whether one piece is art versus another forever. As Art itself can not be clearly defined then there really is no point trying to debate whether something is Art or not. Art itself, or what people define as Art, has changed, and will change, as people's interest and taste change with time. It is only on reflection that things can really be judged as such. In fifty years people might just view Halo as some transcendent work of Art that changed the face of video gaming. History has a way of blurring facts like that.

This could be a very lengthy comment and I am really trying not to make it so, so instead I will leave with this. I agree that there is a lot of video games out there that fill the kitsch label, there are some that can be looked at simply as games (not specifically video games), and then there are those that bring out more than what a game is perceived to be. You say that chess isn't Art, and I agree. It is a game of strategy and somewhat simplicity, only delivering so much to the player. A video game is the combination of an analog game mixed with the artistry of a film or drama. Just because it contains elements of something that isn't considered an art form does not classify it completely as not belonging to an art form.

I believe video games can be Art, as do many others. Some may not agree, and that is fine. I don't consider most modern art, like a flippin urinal, to be considered art but others do. I think the debate is there to give, or take away, validity of our work to some degree. Few things are ever actually defined through debate. More times than not they are defined by those not willing to debate, but instead insist or ignore their point.

Jeff Beaudoin
profile image
If the presence of game mechanics hinders you from proclaiming games as art, then I would hazard that you are playing the wrong games, don't have a proper understanding of the interaction of game mechanics, or both.

I would view the interactions of chess pieces as art for instance, because (simply put) they complement each other in non-obvious and deep ways, and are carefully designed to be expressive, representative, and interesting. It is a matter of realizing what the critera for judging a medium as art are -- viewing game mechanics under the same microscope as paintings or movies is naive.

Observer agency preventing something from being art falls under the same category, and problems with that line of thought have been pointed out by other commenters. Why is an emotion brought about by the observer making a choice any different than an emotion brought about by passive observation?

Also, Shadow of the Colossus destroys this and any other argument in this arena that I have read.

Bart Stewart
profile image
"Why is an emotion brought about by the observer making a choice any different than an emotion brought about by passive observation?"

That, right there, is the fundamental Question. That's what Ebert was getting at with his belief that there must be something "structural," something inextricably inherent in games that prevents any game from being Art.

So: How does the existence of observer agency inherent in a particular kind of product utterly and forever prevent that kind of product from being Art?

What specific quality of Choice destroys Art?

Until there's a generally acceptable answer to that question, we'll keep debating it.

Eric Carr
profile image
The reason is what Ebert said : agency and authorial control. By their very nature, games are designed to be interactive through their mechanics. However, by giving the player that agency, the original author loses all control of their own work. Hence they can no longer share a view or express and idea.

So to answer Jeff, no, Chess is not Art. The designer of Chess is making no point or trying to elicit any kind of emotion, sublime or otherwise. The state of the pieces are the way they are because of the players. At best we're the makers of paintbrushes and instruments.

Jeff Beaudoin
profile image
My argument isn't that the resultant gamestate is art, any more than you would argue that the act of looking at a painting or reading a book is art. It is that the design of the game itself is art.

Each piece interacts with the game in a specific way that informs the usage of other pieces and the overall strategy of the game. The way in which these interactions exist is artistic, beautiful. That is my point, not that the players are creating art by playing the game.

John Green
profile image
There is no move you can make in Chess that doesn't adhere to its rules. In what way do I actually control how I play Chess more than its rules control how I play Chess? Where is this loss of authorial control? Just because as a player I have options does not mean the game doesn't control what options I have.

Daniel Mackie
profile image
Could be wrong here but I thought chess was a representation of war and as such does make a point that there is an art to war, the art being in the strategy. Although I suppose the art is in our recognition of the strategy as being of artistic merit. But the emotion intended by chess is the sense of victory or defeat although you will feel many other emotions as well.

Just throw in my opinion . Art is ( I feel ) an umbrella word for a myriad forms of communication and nothing more. So art is kitsch, low and high brow,pointless, devisive, blah blah blah etc etc.

Also A quick question about authorial control. As soon as say a painting is displayed or shown to others the painter has lost authorial control has he not ?

You loose control as soon as it is seen and interpreted by others. For me games are art because elements of a game are art. Visually an art style in a game will convey specific meaning ( although it can be interpreted many different ways ) as does the music, as does the writing.

It's certainly an interesting subject of debate anyways.

Eric Carr
profile image
"Authorial Control" means having control over how a participant will experience a particular piece. In music it's done through timing, in painting it's done through the composition (by way of creating a flow that leads the eye), in books it's the way the story is laid out.

Games lack this because of the player. Since they control the pacing, and the order and the specific actions of their avatar, the original creator has lost control of how their work is being consumed.

Now, with the Chess argument, the mechanics and the rules of a game do limit what a player can do. However, it does not control what actions you take or in what order or for what reason you take them. The rules simply structure the play, and in and of themselves cannot carry meaning or intent.

Jeff Beaudoin
profile image
I don't agree that "Authorial Control" is required for something to be art to begin with, but your argument for why games don't have it is specious.

Here, watch:

Paintings lack this because of the viewer. Since they control how long they look at the painting, what portions of the painting they focus on, and bring their specific experiences to their interpretation of the painting, the original creator has lost control of how their work is being consumed.

Every creation has a measure of observer input, categorizing two creations arbitrarily by the amount each has is just that -- arbitrary.


The mechanics of chess don't control your actions, they inform them, as I said above. It is the interaction of the mechanics that are artistic, not the play itself. I can't make that any more clear.

Eric Carr
profile image
With a painting the viewer cannot change the order that the strokes were painted. The outcome of the painting is decided before the viewer ever looks at it, and in and of itself is complete without further interaction. A game isn't complete unless there are players. That is the control that I'm talking about.

"The mechanics of chess don't control your actions, they inform them, as I said above. It is the interaction of the mechanics that are artistic, not the play itself. I can't make that any more clear."

: I agree with half of this. The mechanics don't control your actions, but they do shape the way you play. I'll rephrase that though in another way :

"The Law doesn't control your actions, it informs them, as I said above. It is the interaction of the Laws that are artistic, not the play itself. "

Rules != Art.

Jeff Beaudoin
profile image
I think this is the inherent disparity in our views.

If you don't see a difference between societal laws and game mechanics (in both function and intent), then we can reach no understanding.

Agreeing to disagree seems to be the endstate of every instance of the discussion of games as art!

Eric Carr
profile image
Maybe. I'm not willing to give up that easily.

The way I see it, in super basic terms, is that a game is a series of interacting mechanics. A player performs actions that interact with the mechanics. So, on a basic level, a game is simply the mechanics, or the rules. There are lots of things that can go into a game, but the rules are the only distinctive and unique aspect of a game as a medium.

Or do you disagree with that?

Jeff Beaudoin
profile image
I would say interactivity with the rules is the only unique aspect of a game as a medium, since something like the Chronophage follows specific rules, but isn't a game.

The "authorial control" that the designer has is in his ability to influence the experience of the player, by crafting the mechanics to interact in a specific way and express something specific. That is what, to me, meets your definition of art.

profile image
I'm seriously impressed by this lecture; the points are very well informed, articulate, and illuminating. Well done.

So I feel kinda bad making a simple utilitarian point: There will be no common agreement on what is Art for the same reason people do not agree on what Soul is. These are shared ephemeral things, the very existence of which is contentious. I would hazard a generalization that most people have almost zero understanding of both.

I would also caution that seeking such a definition from a consumer (and pro complainer *ahem*) is a dead end; any real insight on the matter will come from *artists.* I would challenge that Ebert is an expert even on the subject of what makes a movie art; that would be like assuming popular food critics know how to make the finest foods in the world. Mostly they only know how to eat, void, and write about consumption :D

Jotatsu Zies
profile image
One thing i learned in my art 101 class. Critics are pompous arses that stay relevant by beign excentric pompous arses. A sublime ego is the primacy of arts, a way of self-imposing authority. Point test.

Say i've said "Beethoven made no art, it was just a bleak entertainer for the masses in the XIX century and the pasture that give to eat to the people who have no idea about music. Certainly this so called contemporary "critics" are just as deaf as the object of their idolatry".

Sound like a critic right?

Kamruz Moslemi
profile image
Who wants games associated with art anyway? I mean, art in the classical sense, sure, back when art was an exquisite display of skill from a master craftsman creating an object of no actual utility apart from being beautiful and entertaining to behold. Games were already past that point in the 80's. But today's pretentious definition of the concept? No, I do not want games venturing anywhere near that. The one and only priority of games should be for them to be fun and entertaining, there is no point in pursuing any other path just to be part of some exclusive club composed entirely of windbags.

James Hofmann
profile image
I think there is something very key to this argument that demands further discussion. The sublime art definition requires the art to capture and freeze a moment of the sublime - as if the sublime were a microwave dinner, just heat and serve.

However, we can experience the sublime within our daily lives as well. And sublime art bases itself on the real, authentic experiences of life, carefully arranging things so that those experiences are echoed.

Which leads me towards a different point; game mechanics are fundamentally authentic. Even if the subject matter is incredibly kitsch, the mechanics have the power to expose sublime, one-of-a-kind revelations. But they require the author to LET GO of control. If the player is forced down a path in the hopes of manufacturing the subliminal experience, as in passive works of sublime art, authenticity is lost. But if the game is arranged so as to allow for breadth of experience - unlikely events stacking on top of each other - the experience is fresh, authentic and sublime all at once. And it cannot be reproduced or demonstrated to anyone. It is not a microwave dinner experience like that of sublime art. It is something you have to hunt for.

Jeff Beaudoin
profile image
I like this comment.

Reminds me of emergent gameplay. Anyone who has made a game and had something occur that you didn't expect but is completely intended will attest is a truly sublime experience.

Joe McGinn
profile image
Ebbert was being an idiot. To wit: "He went on to admit that his arguments might be more convincing if he actually bothered to play some games." Gee, ya think?

Obviously games can be art. It is so obvious to me the burden of proof rests upon Ebbert.

As for this article it seems to be summed up with, "But when I feel the need for reflection, for insight, wisdom or consolation, I turn my computers off."

Well good for you. Nothing to do with the subject at hand, but good for you.

I reject this obviously foolish nation because I have experienced video games that are art, as of course have many people (not Ebbert obviously ... I wonder how seriously he would take someone critical of his whole field if that someone had never seen a movie?). Basically he's just an old man too inimaginative to grasp a new medium. The fact that movies, in theor first decades, were derided in *exactly* the same terms Ebbert uses about games ... oh the ironing.

Pallav Nawani
profile image

Which is why Ebert and his apologists should be dismissed by a simple


Which was the exact comment I made. Sadly, the censors of gamasutra deemed it inappropriate. Oh well.

Philip Minchin
profile image
There's a key point a lot of commenters are missing - Moriarty (and Ebert) are distinguishing between art and Art (or "great art"). I started a comment on what the assumptions underlying the distinction were, but it got really long, so I turned it into a blog post myself.

Regardless, as alluded to above by Nate Logan, Ebert and Moriarty are both ignoring that there is a constant in the necessarily variable experience of any game - the underlying system. And that system itself can be experienced, apprehended, and analysed and critiqued, and can express (or fail to express, or distort) important truths. The fact that we are more used to analysing arrangements of visual data or arrangements of words, or interweavings of image, movement, sound - none of that invalidates the use of an arrangement of decisions to make important points, express important truths, or afford us an experience of the sublime. There is such a thing as "the poetry of system", and the world would be a better place if we developed more literacy in both systems and the ways in which they interact with the world around them.

The full thing is here:

Isaak KvE
profile image
Games do not offer their players choice, only the choice of playing the game.

Once a player has chosen to play the game, she is bound by the rules and goals of the game much like the viewer of a painting is bound by the artist's choice of brushes, colours, subject and the like.

Tore Slinning
profile image
Rules and boundaries are necessary in games or else the challenge aspect completely dissapears, however there are varius freedom and choices from the basic "move here", "do this" to more tactical approache and towards a meta-gaming.

Lee Richards
profile image
What an enjoyable and thought provoking talk, my thanks to whoever published the transcription.

Moriarty deploys a few too many rhetorical tricks to be utterly convincing but it was engaging. The publication has also generated many thoughtful responses that it has been equally interesting to read. I suspect Moriarty is not entirely convinced himself and is partly having fun with his gentle provocations. Schopenhauer and Kitsch, Stomp videos and Beethoven, really?

It has certainly made me consider the difference between purpose and function in relation to art and video games. I am not convinced of the need for a distinction between high and low art, nor of the usefulness of the split. Such distinctions tend to become irrelevant over time mostly as a result of artists creating work that refuses to recognise the boundaries of arbitrary taxonomy that are typically applied by non-practitioners trapped in time. Many of the so called great works of high art are really only contextually great amongst small groups of enthusiasts with vested status and interests, it is an elitist trick to say those who do not agree work X is high art do not get it.

I also don't see that anything enlightening comes from stating that the primary function of art is to attract. It seems to ring more true to say that the primary function of art it is to arrest attention and foster contemplation. The purpose being to express and communicate something about the human condition. That something can be more or less anything, emotions, meaning, information, concepts. The role of the artist is to create work, the role of the audience is to interact, interpret and ultimately make a conclusion.

These kind of generalities should probably be dropped however when considering the value of art as this has to be determined in relation to specific works and the context in which they are created and engaged with. Given that view I see nothing intrinsic in video games that eliminates the possibility that there will one day be a work that is understood to be a video game and that is held in artistic esteem by enthusiasts, critics and a more general audience. It all depends on the ability for video game designers to express and communicate something about the human condition.

It is possible that early master works have already been created by artists that see themselves as working in the medium of video games and we just haven't given them the credit yet or have not found the way to communicate the value to those not yet in the know.

Nicholas Brown
profile image
Interesting. Cool article! Though I'm not quite sure why we seek so hard to qualify our passion under the label or concept the general public considers as Art. Though it's nice to have generalizations, ultimately we will always have a subjective understanding (are we not individuals?) We all hold different definitions of even the (seemingly) most tautological concepts. Why try and force our definitions upon each other. Clarification I appreciate, which is why I enjoyed this article. It was an entertaining and engaging article which resulted in a host of equally fantastic comments! Games are close to all of our hearts, having spent years experiencing and creating experiences for others. If Ebert doesn't consider them Art, that's fine, he can continue doing what others deem him best at.

J Benjamin Hollman
profile image
Why hasn't anyone mentioned Noby Noby Boy?

Daniel Martinez
profile image
For all this debating: can anyone name a greater (more plentiful) nexus of arts and sciences than that of video games?

Christopher Blough
profile image
Though the article itself is compelling and thought-provoking, the basis for Moriarty's argument is no different than the approach any competent would-be influencer of the masses would take: if you want to change someone's opinion about the subject, don't attempt to directly influence the person via argument. Simply redefine the subject in terms that support the opinion you desire, and let nature take its course.

Art is by its very nature personal. Pretentious attempts to fit in with a social group aside ('Why, I /love/ the work of Andy Warhol! It's gound-breaking and amazing!' -- apologies to any Warhol fans), no piece of artwork ever made is universally accepted as beautiful, important, or even relevant. I find the work of James Joyce to be prententious crap -- but I recognize that many people disagree and it's fairly universally accepted as art.

The distinction between sublime art and 'commercial' art is a matter of the acceptance of the work by critics and, by extension, the masses that assume the critics know what they're talking about. Speaking from personal experience, I can think of a few times in my life where a plot point, visual representation, situation, or even a simple turn of phrase as presented in a game has genuinely moved me, sometimes in unexpected ways.

If that's not art, what is?

John Muir
profile image
It's not the main thrust of the article, but I nearly spat out my coffee at the assertion that "nobody confuses mathematics with great art". No less a thinker than Bertrand Russell did. So here for like the ten billionth time is his famous quote about that, in which he hits upon pretty much every quality ascribed to sublime art in the article:

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty -- a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry."

Mathematics is great art.

jin choung
profile image
if architecture (and its dependence on viewer experience and interaction) can be art, so can games.

also, it seems that the simplest and best definition of art is this:

"an interpretation of reality by means of a medium".

that's it. that's all it is... "interpretation" implies a p.o.v. and an "interpreter", "reality" is basically the raw material of our surroundings and an acknowledgment that nothing comes from nothing, and the medium can be almost anything at all including spoken word, performance, etc.

and especially in regards to how video games really do FRAME and INTERPRET the world in very specific ways, it's mind boggling that someone can argue that games are NOT art.

i mean come on, shooters represent a world in which all things are surmountable with a gun, uncharted is a world in which anyone who is relevant has extreme acrobatic and rock climbing skills and every problem can be solved by jumping around.

these are very explicitly the work of an artist moderating, shaping, interpreting reality in very specific ways.