Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Old Art Chestnut.

Come on -I had to at least show a picture of Rez
There are some things in life that we will always be stuck with; Indian tonic water left over from Christmas, limescale and Stuff And Nonsense are all good examples of this. They just don't go away no matter how hard you drink, scrub or burn. They just e-n-d-u-r-e. Recently I stumbled across another one life's little survivors; the debate over whether or not computer games are an art form. So in my quest to become omnipresent I have decided to add my last two cents to the subject and hopefully make a little sense along the way. After all, if something dose not go away you have to look at it eventually. Right?
I know, I'm not going into this with the same fervent gusto that is usually attributed to the old Gamers vs Critics debate. But in my defense that's because the whole thing strikes me as being inextricably stupid. There, I said it. I have no qualm with artists, critics or even five year olds giving voice to their thoughts and experiences of particular art they have encountered, but ever since I was forced to spend the better part of three years debating what constitutes art I have drawn a very simple conclusion: Who Cares?

That's not fair, I haven't simply given up trying to find an answer, it's more that I decided that the answer was very simple and once considered, very hard to argue against. My answer was this: Art is the interpretation of a moment. Nothing more. Nothing less. It's very simple, very obvious and covers just about anything you can throw at it. It basically means that once something moves you to the point of recording it you have created art. Or to borrow how Britannica Online defines art, you have engaged in "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others."

The only thing that I would point out about Britannica's definition is the "which can be shared with others" bit at the end because it is important to remember that art can be shared wit others and does not have to be shared with others. Other then that the definitions above imply that art is a matter of interpretation, both on the part of the audience and the artist which means it can be anything...including a game.
Roger Ebert
So what was it that moved me to publish the above piffle? Well as it goes, I happened to stumble across an ongoing debate between the entire gaming world and a man named Roger Ebert. And it's been going on for some while it seems. The story begins with your humble (and dashing) reporter happening across an article on Digg titled "Why Ebert Is Wrong: In defense of Games as Art" written on the day of my writing this. The article contained a link to Ebert's site (here) which contained a post written way back in 2007 -and that was Ebert's second post on the subject. Ebert apparently first attacked games as an art form back in 2006, so we're looking at a debate that has raged for at least four years. I should also point out that in his article Ebert creates a fictional coherent debate between Clive Baker and himself and is well worth a read. Even if Ebert is a pompous windbag.  

What really peaked my interest was not so much the points made by either side, although both sides put forward well thought out arguments, I was more impressed that after four years no one had vanquished this obviously out of touch dinosaur. He just won't quit. I know that sounds a little harsh but there just seem to be so many points that Ebert either doesn't consider or understand that his arguments fall flat on their collective faces. First off, Ebert made his career in the world of film making and television and later went on to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Film Criticism. His work in film and television puts Ebert near the end of a long list of entertainment medias which despite past criticism have gone on to be considered art forms. Plays, books, comics, music, T.V., films and now Games have all tread the same ground. To have worked in any of these areas and attempt to discredit the others is a huge hypocrisy.

In his article Ebert frequently mentions Shakespeare as the source of comparison between games and art. He says:

   "I might suggest that gamers have a prejudiced view of their medium, and particularly what it can be. Games may not be Shakespeare quite yet, but I have the prejudice that they never will be, and some gamers are prejudiced that they will."

They already are dingle berry! Both games and Shakespeare's plays started life as guttural entertainment for the masses and went on to gain further reputation as they got older. The only difference is that Shakespeare is really old and that plays are becoming so removed from the main stream you have to begin to wonder about their current, I stress current, cultural relevance. Old does not mean art or culture, interpretation and appreciation makes art and culture.

In all honesty I pity the man. I really do. Ebert seems to be the conservative type with very ridged views on what art can be -despite having worked in a cutting-edge business like film. His conservative viewpoint seems to create a rather right-wing sounding understanding of the very nature of art:

"If you can go through "every emotional journey available," doesn't that devalue each and every one of them? Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices. If next time, I have Romeo and Juliet go through the story naked and standing on their hands, would that be way cool, or what?"

"Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion." Are you reading this? No, no it doesn't! In fact often the opposite is true, linear games often take you to an inevitable conclusion, art is all about expression and interpretation. How exactly does abstract art or the work of Dali give us an obvious conclusion? That's nonsense. And what the hell is a smorgasbord?
Perhaps I am digressing too far by dissecting Ebert's article here, read it yourself and see what you think. And I'm not going to make anymore for the case for games as art, you can find that anywhere. But I will point out that millions are made from the sale of art all the time, so the commercial argument against games as art is out the window and Shakespeare is printed in the millions so that cocks can be drawn on it in school rooms across the globe (Globe...fitting), so in many ways art is also mass-produced these days. Like games.

My point is that only a fool would try to pin art down, the best you can say is that it is an open subject and if history is anything to go by soon games will be up there with everything else. Now leave me to play Romeo and Juliet 3: The Bitch Is Back!         


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