Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can Video Games Be Art?

Roger Ebert said no, at great length, on his blog fairly recently. But we're not so sure about that. For one thing, as he freely admits, "never" is a dangerous word to throw around, and then there's the question of what constitutes "art," something we're not prepared to get into here. Ebert contrasts "art" and "games" fairly well:
One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.
You could say, however, that this is cheating. If a video game ceases to have a clear objective and becomes an immersive experience, then he no longer defines it as a game, which means it can be art (according to his definition), but many contemporary games offer exactly that kind of experience. What is the point, really, of something like Animal Crossing? And many people spend time just tooling around in Grand Theft Auto's rich environments, wreaking havoc rather than bothering to solve puzzles and complete tasks. Even if a game theoretically has an objective, you don't have to play it that way, so does Ebert rely on the game's designers or the people who play it to make his determination.

And then there's Deluxx Fluxx, the New York (and previously London) art installation highlighted on the New York Times's "The Moment" blog and pictured above. Is it about the games, or is it about the experience? And does it count as video game art?

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