A civil guest will no more talk all, than eat all the feast

With everyone weighing in on the “Are Games Art?” debate sparked by Roger Ebert, Tim and Jon of the Van Hemlock Podcast (to which you obviously subscribe, but just in case you don’t, do) decided that to properly tackle the subject needed a widely recognised expert in both fields, able to effortlessly leap from the merits of different weapons in Call of Duty to Constable’s use of light in Dedham Vale, from the legacy of Henry Moore in contemporary sculpture to Mortal Kombat fatality combos. Unfortunately Brian Sewell was busy playing the Halo: Reach beta, so I had to fill in instead.

As is probably obvious, my thorough and in-depth art knowledge comes mainly from Wikipedia (which is how I know Vincent van Gogh was a quadruped with four legs, a heart and a beak for eating honey, who lived in large rivers such as the Amazon [citation needed]), but I had a rather splendid time burbling away about narrative, interactivity, a proposed taxonomy of games and saying “aaaaah” (bonus game if you’d like to play along at home: every time we say “aaaah”, shout “No, not ‘aaaah’!”, and take a drink).

Ven Hemlock Show 102

If you’re particularly interested in the history of Ebert vs Computer Games, it starts around the time of the Doom movie:

Ebert in “Answer Man” on Doom (October 30 2005): “As long as there is a great movie unseen or a great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games.”

Strangely enough that prompted a little bit of feedback, the subject being touched on a couple more times in following weeks:

Resulting in lots of good reader feedback:

Christophe Gans, director of Silent Hill, was asked about Ebert’s stance in 2006, drawing another reply:

Clive Barker took up the cudgels in 2007:

And then there’s the most recent piece that kicked off the current round of the debate:

3 thoughts on “A civil guest will no more talk all, than eat all the feast

  1. Fortuente

    I agree with Ebert, games are more akin to toys or (as he said) athletics … they are “games.” Chasing after the mantle of fine art is pointless for the makers and players of games, whether it is Settlers of Catan, GURPs, Counter Strike or darts. It isn’t the same as “high art,” but that isn’t a bad thing, either – not in the slightest. Games are an art unto themselves and the cultural institution of gaming in its various permutations represents something unlike conventional art which seeks only audience interpretation, not participation.

    What I do take exception to, however, is his presumptions that gaming is a waste of time or feckless. One should point out to him the two grandaddies and current classics of gaming: chess and go. I have never once heard a person call either of those a waste of time or practice for lazy minds. Quite the opposite.

    If modern games fail at achieving the same lofty goals as their cousins in the world of fine art, it is the failure of game makers, not of the medium itself. But of course Ebert also is inexperienced with the medium and can’t pick a quality modern game like Civilization out of his hat. It seems in his mind all games are a variant of Halo.

  2. Tesh

    I’ve blathered about this, too, but in short form: Asking “what is art” is the wrong question. We should be asking what the bit of entertainment actually does for or to us, if we’re worried about whether it has value or not.

    Artists have used the “but, but, it’s (not) art” to excuse (or promote) some of the most idiotic opinions throughout art history. I say this as an artist and student of art history. It’s all nonsense.

    Fun podcast, though. :)

  3. Zoso Post author

    @Fortuente Yeah, I think my biggest beef with Ebert is his inconsistency in suggesting games aren’t worth his time as they’re not great works of art, then later saying he has no problem with mere entertainments. If he just said he didn’t like them, didn’t care for them, that’d be one thing, but to try and analyse them without any sort of experience is a bit daft.

    @Tesh Yeah, as we said in the podcast, without being able to define either “art” or “games” satisfactorily, the question is pretty moot. But it’s fun to blather!

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