Game Developers Conference 2011: In The Trenches

An Apology For Roger Ebert

The final session I attended was a tour-de-force lecture by Dr. Brian Moriarty from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he tried to tackle the thorny question of whether or not games are art. He kicked off the session with the controversial assertion originally made by film critic Roger Ebert: that not only are games not art, but that games could never be art by their very nature.

Brian Moriarty tackles the issue of games as art head-on.

This kicked off a firestorm of protest from the gaming community, which was in turn fueled by more comments from Ebert. What Ebert was trying to get across in the end was lost in the flame wars that erupted on Internet forums worldwide.

Moriarty noted that Ebert had also said, on a different occasion, that the vast majority of film wasn’t art either. Only a few movies over the years have attained the status of high (or as Moriatry called it, sublime) art, according to Ebert. Moriarty also pointed out that even games as ancient and highly respected as Go and Chess, have never achieved that lofty status.

To try to sum up Moriarty’s point, who was himself trying to interpret Ebert’s comments, sublime art is in the end a contemplative experience. The artist, in a sense, removes all choices from the person contemplating the art in question. Video games (and all games) are heavily influenced by user choices--the user's own decisions affect the outcomes and the experiences of the game.

Although unsaid, Moriarty seemed to be driving towards a point that games could certainly qualify as popular art. But to try to turn games into high or sublime art might, in the end, destroy the essence of the gaming experience. Games and art are fundamentally different, which is not to say that one is inherently better or worse. If anything, games have existed longer than the concept of high art.

In the end, my translation of Moriarty’s talk is only a faint shadow of what he said. I’m hoping that talk will somehow show up on YouTube or the GDC Web site, because it's something every gamer should hear.

After all, if Samurai nobles could revere Go masters as great warriors, there’s something to this whole gaming thing after all.

  • madjimms
    "Today, games are both highly integrated into the culture, yet apart from it. We clearly see conflicts between the growing gaming culture and those who consider gaming a waste of time, or in the case of some news networks, even dangerous."

    I know what "news" network hes talking about. *cough* fox *cough*
  • radiumburn
    Still don't understand how fox can be considered a news network when it seems that its main goal is to push out false information and fear
  • davewolfgang
    Wow you two - this is SUPPOSE to be about gaming. Leave your bias about cable channels because you don't agree with them or don't like one of their show hosts, for a political website, not Tom's.

  • I don't think biofeedback can help , I mean every person is different you can't measure a game like that, could be the greatest game for some people and the worst game ever for others ...
  • dennisburke
    FOX is playing the biggest game of all "Battle For Your Brain". Spending hours watching FOX is more dangerous to society than spending time playing games.

    Playing a stratagy game is no different than playing chess, other than being treated to a great visual watching a sunset art?

    I like playing fps games...maybe because it reminds me of playing 'Hide and Seek' or 'Cowboys and Indians' as a kid...the thrill of a chase, etc.

    Art will always be in the eye of the beholder and it cannot be defined.
  • So MSNBC and CNN aren't slanted one bit? Get out of your caves.
  • yose3
    we born playing games and we die playing games!
  • Khimera2000
    this is all cool, but to be honest whats really going to happen is once the new consols are released, everything spoken at these confrences about quality, new technolagy, and intergration will be lost (unless its intergrated into the consols).

    As it looks from my side these companies will be tooooo buisy trying to program for technolagy that they all but ignored since the release of currant generation consols.

    the games comming out will be full of leaks, bugs, and problems, then when they get ported to PC it will be made worse.

    There is nothing impresive happening in the game industry. they can talk all they want, but like De Vinci, if all you do is talk and draw pictures thats all they will ever be talk and fluff.

    once they use whats out there then ill start listening, till then I would be terrified to try anything these companies would pump out just by the chance of bugs destroying the experiance.
  • sudeshc
    In my opinion games are art it all starts with good concept/story and takes it to another level games are do inspired by culture but more or less global culture. we can or can not say they are waste of time or are dangerous as all of us know "too much of anything is not good" and there are always exceptions.