Once upon a time Roger Ebert said something along the lines of "video games can never be art". I don't remember anybody caring, but I also don't remember hearing about it at the time. Then again, I don't even know when it happened. I think this was before Twitter took over the world, thus enabling us to hear about everything instantly and get all riled up within seconds.
Fast forward. Kellee Santiago gives a TED talk in 2009 about how video games can, in fact, be art. The talk makes it's way to Mr. Ebert's inbox about a year later. He watches it and decides to expand on his original statement, sticking to his guns. Ms. Santiago then offers a rebuttal via an open-letter posted to Kotaku. (*spit*)
Somewhere along the way gamers flipped the fuck out.
In their somewhat indirect exchange, both Ebert and Santiago are civil. It comes as no surprise to any one, though, that much of the internet had a considerably less controlled response. Gamers slid down their batpoles, grabbed torches and pitchforks and set out to lynch Mr. Ebert post-haste. (Hey, I bet that's gonna be great for our image!) Instead of attacking his statements, of course, most attack the man. I suppose torches and pitchforks are better suited to ad hominem than intellectual discourse.
At least it wasn't railguns and crowbars, I suppose.
While I disagree with Roger Ebert's views on movies often enough (I was more of a Gene Siskel fan back in the day), I also agree with him on other stuff, and I do like and respect the man. I was bummed that the vitriol from gamers was the chorus of the response though, and not just a few off-key warblers making us look bad. Bummed, but not surprised.
It really doesn't matter that he's wrong though. (And oh he is, but more on that in sec.) He's admitted to never playing video games. He's not an game critic. He's not in a position of political power. Art is subjective. It's just an opinion. So, he doesn't think that your hobby or maybe even career is art. So what? Do you think criticizing movies is art? (Hint: I don't care about your opinion on that either.)
I summed up my initial reaction on Twitter thusly:
So @ebertchicago is wrong about video games. So what? Lots of people I respect are wrong about stuff.
The most interesting part of this whole thing, though, is the debate itself. This little dust-up has spawned some interesting conversation in some of the more rational corners of the web. Gamers debating gamers on the concept of art. That's pretty cool.
Funny enough, neither of the original debators really did a good job of arguing on behalf of either side. Ebert dismissed the entire medium and never really explained it except pointing out that checkers and chess are not art. Santiago parried, but never delivered the riposte. Also, neither of them defined art.
Here's where I wuss out and skip defining art too, by the way.
What I will point out, however, is that games contain art. Writing can be art. Sculpting and painting can be art. Animation can be art. Acting can be art. Cinematography and direction can be art. Music can be art. Video games contain all these things and more. By that alone, I think it's clear that games can be art.
Beyond that, it's important to recognize that video games are a whole new medium and can be more than the sum of it's parts. The medium deserves judging on it's own right. How do you judge or critque something that's subjective unless you have actually subjected youself to it?