Are Video Games Art?

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Video games went mainstream long ago, but now they're becoming high-brow. The New York Times' web site has a dedicated and highly polished section devoted to video games. Ultimate high-brow magazine The New Yorker recently published a lengthy profile of the Gears of War designer team. High-minded game designers even argue that gaming can save humanity. In a video recorded to TED, Kellee Santiago argues that "video games are, in fact, art."

But famed film reviewer and Twitter star Roger Ebert begs to differ. In a lengthy and photo-laden post on his Chicago Sun-Times blog, Ebert declares, "Video games can never be art."

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. ...

Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves? They have my blessing, not that they care.

Enter the American Prospect's Adam Serwer, who takes a break from political and national security blogging to counter Ebert and argue that video games are, in fact, art.

Video games, like film, are a hybrid medium. But the nucleus of both is often the narrative. There is music in film, and the visual presentation matters, but I would find it as impossible to compare The 400 Blows to the Mona Lisa as I would trying to compare the performances of Alvin Ailey to the buildings of I.M. Pei. Different artistic mediums are difficult to compare to one another in any meaningful fashion. Video games, like comic books, will eventually have their Watchmen and Maus-level accomplishments. But if Ebert thinks they haven't, that is primarily the result of video games being a relatively new vehicle for telling a story -- video-game makers have only just really begun to tap the potential of video games as a narrative medium.
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