Art Games: The Debate's Back!

Just as I was getting warmed up to fire away some additional posts on the art games discussion, fellow IndyGamer writer Shih Tzu beat me to the punch on Wednesday. Apparently, some time ago (as in 2005), Ebert caused quite a stir in this area. What brought it all up again was Ebert's reply to Cliver Barker's commentary at

Right away, game enthusiasts from all over the world saw holes in Eberts response. As Shih Tzu put it, "I expected gamers would react to his latest uninformed salvo, but what I didn't expect is the responses (the printed ones, at least) to be by and large so lucid and articulate." Jason Rohrer then ran with this, posting for us at IndyGamer, as well as on his Arthouse Games blog, a mock-dialogue addressing the Ebert vs. Barker debate.

Having written on the subject previously, it would be simply uncouth of me not to provide my commentary on the issue in light of these events. Everyone has brought up very good points in their posts to be sure, and it makes me happy to be among such intelligent company (albeit virtually). Nevertheless, some problems with the discussion that I see lying at the core have not been touched on yet, and I would like to address those.

One of the first things Ebert writes in response to Baker is that "anything can be art. Even a can of Campbell's soup. What I should have said is that games could not be high art, as I understand it." This really means that Ebert believes games can be art. Which is really the end of that debate, while also giving rise to the debate of whether games can be high art. I suppose that at first glance that doesn't change much, but let us take a closer look.

I have mentioned to a few people that I have grown tired of the same old question being asked and rehashed. It's the question of whether games are art. To me the answer is an obvious yes. And though it all lacks development, my position is that not only can all things be art but that all things are indeed art. The difference lies purely in how something is perceived. Did not Duchamp demonstrate this ninety years ago?

Based on this, the question of whether something is or is not art remains largely redundant. Yet when you ask whether something is high art, a different set of baggage is dragged upon the scene. As noted in the Wikipedia article just linked, the term "high art" has been most criticized for its association with elitism. At it's more basic level, high art vs. low brow art is once again merely a difference of perception. The existence of creativity cannot be simply measured by social status, or even the status of civilization.

Simply because a small percentage of people who live well and have money decide to call themselves and what is theirs "high," relegating the status of "low" to all that is so to speak beneath them does not make it so. Consequently, if high art is only that which is accepted by this select group of individuals, then I should hope for all that I hold dear not to fall into such a category. This includes games. I would be more than happy to let Mr. Ebert have his high art such as he likes it, so that he may enjoy it in his station.

Seeing as how I find the distinction of high art to be less than based in truth, I would just as soon eliminate it all together. Reverting to my initial assessment of what art is, I see no use for creating a class system for said art. The resulting assessment would be that whether games are high art irrelevant, just as the label of high art itself is irrelevant.

With that being said, it appears to me that Ebert has in fact admitted to games being art. He may be unclear as to what kind of art they are, and whether it befits someone of his status, yet they are art nonetheless.

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