A couple of months ago, Roger Ebert wrote a piece about why videogames are not art. He got a few comments on this, (around 4500), with the vast majority telling him that he is an old fogey who doesn’t know crap about crap and how can you say that if you never even play them, blah, blah, blah. Now he has posted again saying that it was just his opinion and that he was a fool for talking about something that he has no real direct experience of.
Well, I think that Ebert is right. I do not think that video games are art at all, not even close. I don’t think that 95% of movies are art either, but that is another story. A video game is two things – it is a game, and it is a hobby. In the past, as now, these two things have often been combined. 50 years ago a big hobby was war minatures and model train sets. People often built, (and still do), incredible landscape diaromas of great realism into which they placed their trains or soldiers or even both. Very cool to look at, fun to do, but not art. We then moved onto tabletop war games from companies like Avalon Hill. My first game was The Russian Campaign. I played it a lot with my dad. We had a lot of fun. I beat him often. And once again, these are not art. They are a game and a hobby. Some of them, like the Squad Leader series, were incredibly complicated and very demanding of your time to understand and play.
And then came Dungeons & Dragons, and the gaming and hobby world changed. Ten years after the release of D&D, personal home computers were becoming more common, (I had the good old Amiga 500), and we were playing games on them. Among those that I played were, The Bards Tale, Faery Tale, and my personal favorite, Nethack. All of them great fun to play, and a cool hobby, but certainly not art.
Why are all of these things not considerable as pertains to the term, art? Take any one of them, and have some people involved in playing it. Now lets make another person appear from the outside. The conversation might go something like this:
“What are you guys doing?”
“We’re playing D&D.”
And the person might stay and watch. He may even sit down and ask to be shown how to play. But one thing is certain; he will have no emotional reaction on a scale that art gives you. Now I want you to watch this:
Did you have an emotional reaction? I would lay money that you did. Did you have to have anything explained to you, or be placed in a context before viewing this piece? I think not. And that, my friends, is art. And as much as I would like to raise up what we do to the heavens of the complexities of the art world, it is simply not the case. We play a game, it is a hobby. But it is not art. It’s not even fucking close.