3 Oct 2010

Gamers Vs Ebert - A Fight No-one Can Win

It would seem the controversy surrounding Roger Ebert's assertion (which he sort of retracted) that videogames could not be art is still running. In the post, Mr. Ebert posts clip which a gamer, calling himself nofec, has cited as blowing movies out of the water and Mr Ebert responds with a clip of his own. I'll reproduce them here.

nofec's clip which features Okami on the PS2

Mr.Ebert's clip from Myazaki's anime My Neighbour Tortorro

As is my usual style, I went to write a short comment berating them both for continuing this ultimately pointless debate and it turned into an epic ramble. So, instead of hijacking Mr. Ebert's comments thread I'm going to post my response here instead and merely link to it in the comments of that post. So below find the comment I was going to make in full.

Mr Ebert and nofec,

Games are art, movies are art they're just different kinds of art.

There are things that movies can do that games can't, but equally there are things games can do that movies can't. Same with sculpture and literature and music, and drama etc. etc.

And nofec, thats no way to make an argument winning point. You start from the premise that the worth of the clip you link to will be self-evident to everyone (and without the context of interaction that is the heart of every game its pretty meaningless anyway.) This is a common mistake when arguing a point like this. The whole point about art is that what it is and isn't is entirely subjective. Nothing is ever self-evident, you're going to have to be more convincing with your argument. The same, however, could be said of Mr Ebert's clip. Must try harder, see me after class :P

Whatever artistic value each clip has is ultimately given to them by those that experience them (and I'm including the experience of making the art in the first place.) So saying "look at this isn't it awesome?" may be a great way to share your perception of an artwork (whatever form that work may take) but you shouldn't be surprised if every so often the reply comes back: "Meh, its OK I suppose but it does nothing for me."

I can see the art in both your clip and Mr Eberts (amazing film btw, my 4 yr old loves Miyazaki-san's work, as do I. And Okami is one of the few mainstream game titles that really does deserve to be called art, along with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) but thats not going to help anyone, I can also discern the differences between the two mediums and why some people might not get either one.

From a critical standpoint you cannot say that one is better than the other, simply because they are so different. Its like saying that the sound of a violin tastes better than cerise. It just doesn't make any sense. So why don't you simply agree to disagree and admit to each other that there is value in both viewpoints? Continuing the debate is a pointless exercise as it is obvious that neither side is going to be convinced by the other. Let's just let it go eh?

There is also the risk that if either side wins (Games are never art and never will be art/Games are superior to film and always will be) the sum of human culture will be lessened by that victory? In my opinion the more different viewpoints there are of art and what it is (and there are approximately 6 billion and counting at the moment) the richer and more diverse our culture  becomes. This is something to be treasured, to deny that is to make us out to be less than what we are.

It is not the place of games to blow movies out of the water, and neither is the reverse true. You both may perceive that they accomplish this (from your contrasting viewpoints of course) but it is not the purpose of either medium. Their purpose is simply to be, and add to the great melting pot that is our culture, teaching each of us about ourselves and the rest of humanity in their own ways and in ways that each of us will perceive differently.

M out

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