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 He kicked off the session with the controversial assertion originally made by film critic Roger Ebert: that not only are games not art, but that games could never be art by their very nature.
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.