In November of 2005, renowned film critic Roger Ebert incited a storm of criticism after stating that video games as a medium should not be considered “Art.”
Ebert said, “To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers.”
That was 15 years ago, though.
With the technological advancements made in the past decade and a half, I believe the point should be considered once again.
So, can a video game truly be considered a work of art?
Proponents of Ebert’s side often cite the concept that a video game is inherently a game.
Games are something that are played with rules and objectives to be won and provide fun and entertainment and therefore cannot be considered art.
On this point, Ebert elaborated that even an immersive game with a compelling story stops being a “game” as it focuses on telling a story rather than following rules.
But if a game is focused on telling a story, wouldn’t that be considered a player’s objective for the game? To reach the story’s end?
With this reasoning, Ebert creates a paradox, leaving the classification of a story based game in the ether undecided if it’s a game, art or neither.
On a technical level, video games certainly incorporate many artistic assets such as textures, character models, and voice over work.
It seems odd that when all of these assets that are considered works of art are put together, that the final product would not also be considered a work of art.
As gaming continues to evolve, more and more games focus on the artistic presentation and story-telling while blending in gameplay that is engaging to players.
Real-world film directors like George Romero and Kinji Fukasaku have been brought in as visual directors and cutscene directors for games in the past. Romero and Fukasaku directed “Resident Evil” and “Clock Tower 3,” respectively.
Since the film product that these directors produce can be considered art, it could be hard to discern where exactly the line would be drawn toward their digital contributions not being considered the same.
Directors such as Steven Spielberg criticize the use of cutscenes as being intrusive and an interruption to gameplay, explaining that they don’t belong in the same area, as story cannot always flow naturally from these interruptions.
There seem to be endless caveats among those ingrained in more traditional media to which they can argue that video games should not or could not be considered forms of art.
Yet, in 2020, we have seen games released that seamlessly blend together cutscenes, gameplay, story and clear objectives that are critically acclaimed, some developed by single individuals.
2018’s “God of War” sticks out in my mind as the cutscenes and gameplay would blend together without loading times in between or interruptions.
“God of War” was also directed visually using the “single-shot” method, with the entirety of the gameplay and cutscenes flowing together without the camera ever cutting to a different shot.
“Nier: Automata” from 2017 is a philosophical exploration into the implications of sentience and what it means to be alive.
I could list off different examples of games that are both artistically engaging as well as thought-provoking and emotional, but at the end of the day, art is subjective to the audience.
What a person perceives to be art is art to them, whereas another person who views that art could deem it nothing more than garbage, depriving the work from any artistic meaning to that individual.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” wrote John Keats in his “Ode on a Greecian Urn.”
The beauty of art is subjective and wonderful. It’s our own truth and that is all we need to know.