I was a heavy contributor to the infamous Roger Ebert thread on why he thought video games can never be art, Video games can never be art. I concurred with Mr. Ebert, and a few of my answers where highlighted by Mr. Ebert. I duked it out with some of the best pro-games-are-art word-ninjas and logic-dodgers, and have a few trophies on my wall to prove it.
That said, of all the arguments in the 5,000 comments left on Ebert’s post (before it was closed), few are more potent than one presented a recent article at CNN, which adds a novel and potent twist to the thesis that video games can never be art. But we’ll qualify “art”, as I did in Ebert’s comment section, as Fine Art. This important distinction escapes 99.999% of all the video-games-are-art enthusiasts:
“…Only 10% of avid gamers completed the final mission, according to Raptr, which tracks more than 23 million gaming sessions.
Let that sink in for a minute: Of every 10 people who started playing the consensus “Game of the Year,” only one of them finished it.
How is that? Shouldn’t such a high-rated game keep people engaged? Or have player attention spans reached a breaking point?
Who’s to blame: The developer or the player? Or maybe it’s our culture?
The correct answer is, in fact, all of the above…”
Houston, we have a cultural problem. Without rehashing the endless permutations of what-is-art theory and charges of “you can’t define art” followed by “I define art as…” soliloquies, we will simply dive right in to what this study means. It means we have scientific proof that video games are not Fine Art. It means video games are…games! Whoa nelly! But how?
Can you “not finish” a Monet? Certainly you write and ponder a Monet for this or that amount of time, but you can never say you didn’t “finish” it. You either saw it or you didn’t. And you comprehended to one degree or another. Now of course there is a certain kind of very delimited relativity to comprehending art, but it’s not nearly as complicated and relative as some make it out to be.
Who ever heard of a general pattern of 90% of movie-goers “not finishing”, say, Citizen Kane or The Godfather? On the other hand, how many sessions of Monopoly, Solitaire, Risk, and Chess have people abandoned? Yeah, thought so.
Perhaps the rate of abandonment for chess games played withartfully hand-carved chess sets is lower than for your run-of-the-mill plastic chess set from Target, but only because playing with beautiful set is probably more of an occasion. The chess-is-art argument falls short for the same reason.
Yes, you may have to run out of the museum to pay the parking meter and thus not finish taking in your Renoir.
Yes, you may have to pause Citizen Kane to take the dog for a walk. But you’ll be back. And you’ll finish the predefined journey that Wells has taken you on up to that point. You don’t have a general apathy about not finishing a movie. Unless, of course, it’s awful, like most of what is on Netflix streaming these days.
But unfinished video games? They are unfinished because they don’t speak to the heart and don’t compel it to continue. They don’t rouse the desire of the beloved. They don’t stoke soul-thirst. They speak of logic, of dexterity, of thrill, of adventure, and even imagination. But we can leave these kinds of things, willy-nilly, without shedding a tear or being moved or overcome with emotion or insight.
Art is in video games. Art is in the beautiful lamp on my desk. Art is in the design of my car. But Fine Art, especially the best that the cultures of the world have created, preserved, and handed down to us as our legacy, is about the human condition, the state of our souls, our place in the world, and our place in eternity. Video games are about our place on the couch where we don’t think about those kinds of things—except in the most trivial and trite kinds of ways.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a comment of mine that Ebert highlighted on his famous post:
The 20th century tyranny of mediocrity that has obliterated objective standards of beauty is slowly grinding to a halt under the weight of its own internal contradiction. There is a nascent renaissance for the recapturing of beauty in art as conceptual art runs out of steam.
And remember, don’t feed the trolls!