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"I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place."
July 1, 2010 1:30 AM   Subscribe

Roger Ebert backpedals on his previous conviction that games can not be art.

"I should not have written that entry without being more familiar with the actual experience of video games."
posted by Herschel (205 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously and more previously.

Regardless of what is "right" and "wrong," I think it takes a lot of humility to admit that you're fallible.
posted by Herschel at 1:37 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I always knew Ebert was wrong, but it was depressing to consider that my reasons were never the ones brought up in defense of games. And truthfully, if I didn't have those reasons, I probably would have sided with Ebert.
posted by JHarris at 1:42 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


He didn't really backpedal. He just clarified his position and I think he made a stronger case for it too. As he says, anything can be art, even a Clive Barker bowel movement, but it is good art?
posted by acetonic at 1:51 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't consider this backpedalling. That term has negative connotations that I don't see here; namely changing your position when you realize popular opinion is against you -- simply for the sake of curtailing negative opinion. He did no such thing. He is straight up admitting he doesn't get it, that he was wrong to speak authoritatively about something he isn't into, and that he is possibly even completely wrong. But that it's still how he feels.

This is pretty much the model of sincere apology. Kudos to him.
posted by cj_ at 1:53 AM on July 1, 2010 [35 favorites]


There are times that Roger Ebert seems like the World's Only Adult.
posted by maxwelton at 1:56 AM on July 1, 2010 [55 favorites]


If I wanted to read misleading headlines I'd buy the daily mail.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 1:59 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


He at no point repudiated his previous stance, in fact he reiterated it:

"... I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this ..."
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 2:06 AM on July 1, 2010


You're all totally right, I'm going to have to backpedal on my use of "backpedal."

Ebert clearly states that he still believes that games are not art. Sorry for using such a strong term.
posted by Herschel at 2:08 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I throw my arms up in disgust. The man is unwilling to spend a beautiful two hours playing flOwer on a fully-loaded free PS3 geeksquaded by the most overqualified nerd out there; there's no hope. Next time I don't want to do something, I'm going to write an essay about how I don't think it's Art, too.
posted by Mizu at 2:16 AM on July 1, 2010 [20 favorites]


I think he surrendered the whole argument. No surprise that he wasn't able to come to a universally accepted definition of what is and what is not art. No one yet has. (Actually I think Tony Randall might have once on the David Letterman show but I wasn't paying close attention.)

He said fuck it, I'm going to the movies.
posted by vapidave at 2:19 AM on July 1, 2010


Why are all those pics from Jericho? That game was execrably bad.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:21 AM on July 1, 2010


Short form: "I didn't change my mind, but I'm not really qualified to judge, and I don't plan to put in enough time to become qualified."

That's fair, I suppose. He'll probably cling to his belief until he dies, but he's smart enough to realize and admit that his opinion is largely worthless.

I can live with that.
posted by Malor at 2:22 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I throw my arms up in disgust. The man is unwilling to spend a beautiful two hours playing ...

You know what? I'll probably never get around to watching Citizen Kane. I know it's supposed to be a masterpiece of cinematography, but I already know for a fact I'll be bored and not really care. I only have so much time and I have a lot of media to consume. I try to fill that time with stuff I'm interested in because I really enjoy it, rather than to please other people or win Internet battles. I imagine he feels the same way, except he is probably more aware of how little time he has. He has conceded the argument with grace. I imagine he gets the same sense of satisfaction out of movies I won't bother with as I do out of some video games he won't with. This is OK, I think.
posted by cj_ at 2:35 AM on July 1, 2010 [17 favorites]


Ugh, why does he have to use images from Clive Barker's Jericho?
posted by pyrex at 2:48 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, except that, if an expert in Citizen Kane offered me a free showing in a swanky home theater setup with perfectly calibrated sound, contrast, appropriately themed snacks and a personal discussion with said expert beforehand to prime me for appreciating the movie and after the fact so I could ask anything I liked, I would be hard pressed to say no. A simpler analogy - I don't much care for Thai food. But if a celebrated Thai chef is offering to cook me a meal in the comfort of my own home for free with highest quality ingredients, it would be a shame for me to say no thank you to such an opportunity.

Let me make myself clear, here. I have no real beef with Ebert, and I think he is quite good at what he does. I'm not involved in this particular kerfuffle in the first place and I don't give a mad aunt's garter about the true definition of Art. I'm just upset that someone is given a chance to enjoy something they have not previously experienced, in the best, easiest way possible, and it would take no longer than the time it takes to sit through "The Last Airbender", and yet that someone decides to be stubborn and not enjoy this aspect of life. It annoys me. Maybe I'm just hedonistic that way.
posted by Mizu at 2:51 AM on July 1, 2010 [20 favorites]


He has a definition of art: He knows it when he sees it, and he's not willing to look at videogames to find out if he sees it there.
posted by The World Famous at 2:54 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Of course you won't get a universally accepted definition of art (I'm not sure there's even universal acceptance of the law of non-contradiction), that's far too strong a demand. But in philosophical aesthetics (which is the main field that counts for this kind of issue- not dictionaries ffs) there are some very well respected definitions, and possibly even an emerging consensus (sorry the whole article isn't available).

Basically, many people agree that we shouldn't define art in terms of 'good art' (i.e. value based) and we should also accept that there is a high amount of variation in artistic goals. Rather the creation of artworks is about situating your work within a tradition in which you refer back to previously accepted works of art and either follow or subvert what they are doing (although older artworks (i.e. over a 100 years ago) may have had more definite standards such as mimesis or expression).

So what does this say about computer games? Well it would be theoretically possible for them to get incorporated within the art tradition (but they would also be part of a game tradition). But meanwhile, I think people are more interested in whether games deliver an 'aesthetic experience' which tends to be defined in terms of appreciating the forms, qualities and meanings of something for its own sake (i.e. not for any practical benefits it will deliver). This is an amibiguous area with respect to games because while players tend to be (though are perhaps not always) oriented towards the practical goal of winning (or playing successfully), that goal may be considered a fictional one that one adopts purely for the sake of appreciating the work. But there's also difficulties in whether having a fictional goal still qualities as practically oriented or not (at what cognitive level do you possess the goal- maybe you are just tricked temporarily into really having that goal). Basically, we can worry whether playing a game is a sufficiently contemplative activity, divorced from the endless striving of the will.
posted by leibniz at 2:54 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


The escape key is subime.
posted by srboisvert at 2:56 AM on July 1, 2010


Pope Guilty: I believe the pictures are from Jericho because he mentions Clive Barker's commentary on games as art in the piece, and therefore used images from a Clive Barker game. I think it may not have been the best option, but it was available.
posted by mephron at 2:57 AM on July 1, 2010


I think if an expert in Citizen Kane offered that because they felt a deep need to educate me on why I'm wrong for the purpose of winning an argument, I would decline. I'm not sure it's possible to enjoy something on those terms anyway.

(Not Citizen Kane-ist, I'm sure it's great, if you're into that sorta thing!)
posted by cj_ at 2:58 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Honestly Citizen Kane was kind of crap. But I had to watch it at 8am in a tiny basement classroom with the most evil film professor that ever professed.
posted by Mizu at 2:59 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The escape key is subime.

The preview button is also sublime.
posted by srboisvert at 3:06 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ugh, why does he have to use images from Clive Barker's Jericho?

Much as I love and admire Ebert, the choice of those images is a backhanded way of negating what the article is purporting to say. With a nudge and a wink, he's saying, "Look at this shit - of course it can't be art."

And yeah, why didn't he try Flower? Or for that matter, just watch someone else play it? For someone who has spilled as many electrons on one topic as he has on this one, the least he could do is invest 15 minutes in the topic at hand.
posted by jbickers at 3:16 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'll probably never get around to watching Citizen Kane. I know it's supposed to be a masterpiece of cinematography, but I already know for a fact I'll be bored and not really care.

My sincerest condolences. :(
posted by fairmettle at 3:23 AM on July 1, 2010 [10 favorites]


Just as a data point, this is the same guy who wrote a glowing review for "Garfield: The Movie."
posted by crunchland at 3:30 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


He spoke with authority on a subject he freely admitted having absolutely no knowledge of and then when people offered to educate him he turned them down and reiterated his ignorant position.

For a man as apparently classy as him, i find this a pretty shocking attitude.

He may not want to waste two hours of his limited time on earth playing a game but then why did he spend so long blogging about how trashy he though they were?
posted by ham at 3:37 AM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


Citizen Kane was a stand-in for: "a corpus of movies made before I was born that a lot of my peers (many film school majors) feel to be high art and notable for their influence." I've seen enough of them to hold the opinion that they are dated and boring to actually watch. I don't doubt for a second my film-nerd friends get something out of classic films that I do not. I do not doubt the sincerity of their enjoyment for a second. As such, I'm not willing to make a principled stand against them just because I don't enjoy classic film. I have nothing to stand on really.

IMO, Ebert's mistake was using his position of authority as the most respected film critic ever to make a principled stand against something he doesn't give a crap about in the first place. He seems to have acknowledged that and conceded he was wrong to do so. I don't think requiring him to play Ico, SotC, Braid or whatever is needed. He'd probably think they suck. He's just not into video games. The same way I'm not into classic cinema. I have friends that don't care much about music, too, which always baffled me, but it's no reason to hold people in disregard.

My sincerest condolences. :(

There are things I enjoy in life that you don't. It's sort of a given. Attaching moral weight to your own favorite things is, in my belief, a human foible. I knew full well when I mentioned I don't like classic cinema that people such as yourself would feel this was a travesty. So it goes. I don't like sushi either, which I'm sure bugs about 75% of the people reading this. I will spare you all the things I think are awesome.
posted by cj_ at 3:37 AM on July 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


Pistols at dawn, sir! Pistols at dawn!
posted by crunchland at 3:44 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


"There is the sense, illusory but seductive, that one could wander this world indefinitely. This is a wonderful game."
- Roger Ebert, 1994

Which doesn't refute anything, of course. It just pleases me that there was a time when Ebert could thoroughly enjoy a game, and write about it without worrying about whether it's Art or not.
posted by seikleja at 3:49 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Next time I don't want to do something, I'm going to write an essay about how I don't think it's Art, too.

And when you're a famous film critic and writer maybe your essay will get a MeFi FPP too. Then I can snark at more than just your comment.

He may not want to waste two hours of his limited time on earth playing a game but then why did he spend so long blogging about how trashy he though they were?

Because it's his blog? He writes for a living, you know?
posted by IvoShandor at 4:04 AM on July 1, 2010


I will spare you all the things I think are awesome.

I think the point is, cj_, that he didn't even take the time to try. You've tasted sushi, right? I don't think anybody cares one lick whether you do watch Citizen Kane or not, you're the one depriving yourself of watching one of the best films of all time. But it's ridiculous to sit around and say you don't or won't like it, just as Ebert is doing here, when you haven't even seen the thing.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:12 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know what? I'll probably never get around to watching Citizen Kane. I know it's supposed to be a masterpiece of cinematography, but I already know for a fact I'll be bored and not really care.

This movie you've not seen, it is nothing like you imagine it to be.
posted by JHarris at 4:12 AM on July 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


Not to derail this any further, but Citizen Kane is probably one of the worst movies to say you hate unseen. If there's a Rosetta Stone for films, Citizen Kane is it.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:19 AM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't like sushi either, which I'm sure bugs about 75% of the people reading this.

And when you can think of something to say that bugs the other 25%, you'll be posting that, too, I suppose. The whole point of it is that sometimes, sharing your opinions isn't always the wisest course of action.
posted by crunchland at 4:38 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


er... and "it" being the essay written by the venerable Ebert.
posted by crunchland at 4:42 AM on July 1, 2010


Say what you will about the man's position on video games, but his ability to have rational discourse with people who don't agree with him, and then publicly admit he thinks his argument was weak, is pretty much a huge part of what it means to have character. At some point, this man became my conscience, and I haven't looked back once.
posted by scunning at 4:46 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think it is interesting that he has a definition of art, he knows it when he sees it, and he doesn't want to take the time to learn video game enough to judge whether it's art. He's trying to take this philosophical argument about the nature of artistic expression, but then basically comes close to admitting that it probably is more due to his (a) preferences and (b) lack of human capital, investment and experience in video games.

As a side note on this - a lot of people with strong opinions make the mistake of trying to generalize a theory to justify their own innate preferences. You see it in art, but you also see it in a variety of ethical movements that happen all the time. As a rule, I've been skeptical for a long time with ethical arguments when I feel they are really just grounded in a person's own aesthetic preferences.
posted by scunning at 4:51 AM on July 1, 2010


I've seen enough of them to hold the opinion that they are dated and boring to actually watch. I don't doubt for a second my film-nerd friends get something out of classic films that I do not.

The sushi position makes more sense because it's more of a homogeneous group with some universal traits that you could not like, whereas the set of classic films varies so wildly that I doubt anyone could honestly consider all of them to be boring and dated. I suppose if you have an aversion to black and white and anything that signals pre-1980s style you could find classic films universally aesthetically unpleasant, but there's nothing inherently boring about them. I might not recommend some great classic films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, The Bicycle Thief, or Rashomon to someone who finds most classic films boring, but others like Dr Strangelove, North by Northwest, and Kiss Me Deadly are only more boring than modern films if you don't give them a chance at all. I don't think you are particularly missing out by not watching any given classic film, but regardless of your opinions about classic films you've seen, I don't think it's fair to say that there are intrinsic qualities in classic films that would cause you to not like them other than purely aesthetic ones, because there are not really any narrative qualities that all classic films share.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:55 AM on July 1, 2010


I think it takes a lot of humility to admit that you're fallible.

In general, yes. When it comes to celebrities, though, I'm more skeptical. Taking an extreme, controversial stance and then publicly renouncing it can be an effective publicity stunt precisely because people will have your reaction.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:14 AM on July 1, 2010


Back on topic, from the article:

I thought about those works of Art that had moved me most deeply. I found most of them had one thing in common: Through them I was able to learn more about the experiences, thoughts and feelings of other people. My empathy was engaged. I could use such lessons to apply to myself and my relationships with others. They could instruct me about life, love, disease and death, principles and morality, humor and tragedy. They might make my life more deep, full and rewarding.

I think I would point to Galatea as being the best evidence that a game can be as effective at this sort of thing as a novel or other work of art. It would be silly to argue Emily Short is on the level of Mark Twain or Shakespeare, but in-depth player interactions with an NPC or environment can be as effective at evoking empathy and telling a story about life as any other medium. The reason why most video games don't do it to the same degree as most books or films is that it's not really the point of most games, any more than it's the point of chess to tell a story about war, politics and death. Relatively few game creators have really tried to make "art" in the specific way that Ebert is talking about here, but I think his position that it's impossible for games to have those qualities isn't justified and I'm glad that he at least realizes that he doesn't know enough about the topic to really speak authoritatively about it.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:15 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to solve everyone's problems here and make a Citizen Kane video game.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:15 AM on July 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


I think if Ebert would educate himself on the process of game creation, then he'd be more receptive to think of it as art. But reading this column it looks like he can't be arsed to look into it.

I think the argument needs to be focused on the process more than the end-product. Just like in painting you have studies, scraps, mistakes, and leftovers you have bits of unused code, assets, and test levels. It's a messy, unscientific process. You start with an idea and you end up using a combination of images, models, and code to realize that idea. If that's not art what is?
posted by hellojed at 5:19 AM on July 1, 2010


Video games can achieve the level of art, but are usually just wankery. The same is true of art.
posted by Pants McCracky at 5:23 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I throw my arms up in disgust. The man is unwilling to spend a beautiful two hours playing flOwer on a fully-loaded free PS3 geeksquaded by the most overqualified nerd out there; there's no hope. Next time I don't want to do something, I'm going to write an essay about how I don't think it's Art, too."
I grew up playing video games nearly my whole life, from the age of five or so, starting with a Commodore 64. I've played games up through 2010, and am currently nowhere near Ebert's age. At this point in my life, I would be unwilling to spend two hours playing any game on any system - not when I can read a book, walk my dogs in the woods, cook dinner with my wife, or play an instrument. Maybe there's no hope for me, either.
posted by mister-o at 5:45 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


"It seems to me that anyone passionate about video games has better things to do than walk chin-first into a sucker-punch argument about whether they qualify as art. Those who do not believe video games are not or ever will be art deserve nothing more goading or indulgent than a smile."

Tom Bissell, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter
posted by danb at 5:50 AM on July 1, 2010


apropos of nothing particular I just wish to say that one of the "wrong" things in today's society is our over reliance on pejorative phrases such as "backpedal"and "throw under the bus" when someone changes their mind. It makes it harder for people to be flexible and be able to reconsider mistakes, or reevaluate. Why can't we just say "X reconsidered his/her position on Y"? Is that too soft? Not punchy enough?

I mean I don't particularly care what Ebert thinks about video games, the price of bread or his morning piss (hell I don't care 66% of the time what he thinks of movies) even if I happen to randomly agree with a given opinion, he seems a decent chap and gets paid to do what he likes so good on him.
posted by edgeways at 5:58 AM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm going to solve everyone's problems here and make a Citizen Kane video game.

"Thank you, Jerry! But our Rosebud is in another castle."
posted by tzikeh at 6:00 AM on July 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm going to solve everyone's problems here and make a Citizen Kane video game.

Could you also crank out a game version of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? That would be wicked. Thx!
posted by Jon-A-Thon at 6:15 AM on July 1, 2010


Sorry boys, next up is My Dinner with Andre.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:18 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jesus Christ why are we still having this conversation. I like his movie reviews as much as the next guy, but his opinions on video games are less than irrelevant. He needs to stop having this conversation, and we need to stop encouraging him.
posted by pts at 6:20 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is this the third bloody post about Roger Ebert's dislike of video games?

Roger Ebert is a movie critic. He probably knows more about movies than anyone here. He has spent more hours watching and thinking about movies than a lot of us have been alive. What he says about movies matters more than what most people say about movies.

But when he writes about other stuff you like, if he says the non-movie stuff you like is crap, you don't have to take it so hard. If he had declared that video games are the greatest art form of the century, you might be happy that he agreed with you, but that opinion would be equally unimportant. He's a movie expert. From what I hear, he also doesn't like fixies. Are you mad about it?

It looks to me like he's seen enough of video games to think that he doesn't need to see more of them (life is short) and he's decided that they're pretty limited individually and collectively, but he's also heard enough grumbling from their defenders to make him wish he'd never opened his mouth on the subject.
posted by pracowity at 6:21 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The thing that strikes me as weird about Ebert's 'games cannot be art' idea is that he keeps emphasizing things like 'What if you had the option of Juliet not dying?! What then?!' whereas the existence of open-ended games in which vastly different stories are possible is a fairly recent phenomenon. While there are four different endings to Myst, for example, they all have the same story about paranoia and betrayal and the danger of attempting control over creative works. Just because you can get trapped in D'Ni or in Sirrus's book doesn't mean that Myst doesn't tell the same story about the same human characters and explore the same themes.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:28 AM on July 1, 2010


Martin Prince played a My Dinner With Andre game on The Simpsons once. The three inputs were "trenchant insight," "bon mot," and "tell me more."
posted by Iridic at 6:29 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Citizen Kane video game ... Can't wait to see the boss battle with the typewriter as Kane write's the review of Susan's opera debut.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:33 AM on July 1, 2010


Ebert is nearly right. Video games are fun, I love them and play regularly, but they are barely art, and the vast majority of video games are not even close to art. I mean, trying to get the guy to play 'Flower' - a game that no one in the world is thinking of as being representative of video games (and, although very pretty, is completely flaccid in any gameplay sense) - as a way to defend gaming in general as art is ridiculous.

There are artful games, surely, and games are worthy. But the depth of experience I've gotten from every other art form (well: music, film, writing, paintings) is in a totally different scale than games. I don't know if it is for the reasons that Ebert says, or some other reasons, or if there is in fact a depth of experience there that I am missing, despite having played them regularly for my whole life.

So, I guess, instead of 'not art', I'll say 'rarely art'. I think, as a medium, it just doesn't lend itself to it.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:36 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do wish he wouldn't resort to such ridiculous comparisons. Would he trade all videogames for Shakespeare? Of course he would. He just spent 1,000 words telling us how little desire he had to ever play another videogame. Huck Finn or a great game? Jesus. Long as we're at it, if forced would you kill your mom or your sister?
posted by graventy at 6:36 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now we just need to get Jun'ya Ota or Todd Howard to start reviewing movies and we'll be even.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:40 AM on July 1, 2010


Huck Finn or a great game?

Seriously. The fact that he poses the scenarios proves that he's already come to a conclusion. Would Ebert ever say 'Huck Finn or The Third Man?' Of course not, because attempting to weigh different aesthetic experiences is stupid.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:44 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


We now have a webpage full of intelligent, well-considered, well-written, capsule-sized arguments for why games are art.

Flawless victory.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:48 AM on July 1, 2010


Jaltcoh: Taking an extreme, controversial stance and then publicly renouncing it can be an effective publicity stunt precisely because people will have your reaction.

Maybe, but I don't think Ebert needs or wants the sort of cheap stuntish publicity you're talking about here, particularly at this somewhat late point in his life. (For what it's worth, I don't always agree with his film reviews, but I do respect him as a person / critic.) It seemed to me like he had just gotten a lot of feedback, thought about it, and had more to say.

pracowity: But when he writes about other stuff you like, if he says the non-movie stuff you like is crap, you don't have to take it so hard.

Well, but this is the Internet. Niche communities identify so strongly with their chosen pursuits that they take it (perhaps too? but who am I to judge the passions of aficionados) personally whenever anyone says something critical about them.
posted by aught at 6:51 AM on July 1, 2010


One segment of his argument that is so obviously flawed by his only having ever played two video games is his thinking that all video games must have more than one (or he seems to think, infinite?) endings. Some games have obviously been famously lauded for multiple endings, but I wouldn't even say it's that common of a trait, yet he's worried you'll save Juliet and Shakespeare will be ruined. So yes, you shouldn't spout off about an entire world you have no exposure to. It's a bit sad he wouldn't take anyone up on their offer to spend a little time with the best things a medium could offer though. I mean even if he didn't think they'd turn out to convince him they were art, he does realize that some games are really FUN... right?
posted by haveanicesummer at 6:55 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thinking you are clever for not watching Citizen Kane out of sheer petulance is about as stupid as any position Ebert has ever held on videogames. People pulling that shit deserves a They Live style beating until they finally watch the damn thing, IMHO.

Oh, and seeing most of the defenders of videogames make the same mistake as Ebert - thinking of them solely in terms of narrative, is pretty daft too.
posted by Artw at 7:02 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh, and seeing most of the defenders of videogames make the same mistake as Ebert - thinking of them solely in terms of narrative, is pretty daft too.

Yeah, this too. I don't see any functional difference between the aesthetic criteria of a Jackson Pollock and that of Tetris.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:06 AM on July 1, 2010


One segment of his argument that is so obviously flawed by his only having ever played two video games is his thinking that all video games must have more than one (or he seems to think, infinite?) endings.

That did strike me as pretty weird. But then if you can make a cursory glance at an entire genre and then pass judgement on it, I guess anything's possible.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:09 AM on July 1, 2010


I thought about those works of Art that had moved me most deeply. I found most of them had one thing in common: Through them I was able to learn more about the experiences, thoughts and feelings of other people. My empathy was engaged. I could use such lessons to apply to myself and my relationships with others. They could instruct me about life, love, disease and death, principles and morality, humor and tragedy. They might make my life more deep, full and rewarding.
There are already games that do this, and they are being appreciated as such. However, you are unlikely to see them on the shelf at Gamestop, because making a game that instructs you on life entails making it harder to learn, play, and appreciate, often for no appreciable benefit in entertainment value. You need to railroad the player into whatever message you want to give them, and you need to do so subtly enough, and with enough guidance, that the player will reason their way onto your rails--it's sort of like the Socratic method, with the "questions" being the clues that the game provides.

I'm thinking of the interactive fiction game Tapestry. There are probably better examples by this point, but I suck at interactive fiction, so I'll use this one. This game has you playing as a man's ghost, unable to get into heaven or hell, because he hasn't dealt with certain... morally ambiguous events in his past. To help him deal, you play through those events. They are one-room puzzles with multiple solutions.

That's a fairly conventional adventure-game structure. But you're not actually changing the past here. You can reenact it, and make him accept it, or do better than he did in life, and make him improve himself, or run away, and avoid taking responsibility. These are all implemented as different solutions to the same puzzle. Whichever path you take, you have to figure out how to take it. To do that, you need to understand the nature of the choice that the protagonist faces, think about the possible responses, and choose one.

Ethical dilemmas are surely instructive. What makes this game's dilemmas different from the kind you encounter in novels or movies is that it is actually impossible to progress in the game without considering the various options available to the protagonist. You have to consider them in enough detail that you can type in a series of commands that have the effect that you want. This is an adventure game, so your options, and the clues that help you choose between them, are deliberately hidden at the start, and you need to seek them out. Other media can't make you do that; they can only present the choice in the form of a decision a character has to make, and hope that you will consider what you might have done in their place.

The most instructive games are not the ones that give you the most options for how to play. They are the ones that restrict your options to the ones that will have the designer's desired effect, and then force you make choices anyway. Choices have power. The choices people make have a pretty big effect on the emotions they feel.

This all assumes that you don't use a strategy guide. That's cheating.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:10 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Ebert makes some really good points about why taking up that guy's offer to play Flower would be pointless:

Whether I admired it or not, I was in a lose-lose position

If I didn't admire a game, I would be told I played the wrong one. Consider what happened when I responded to the urging of a reader and watched Kellee Santiago's TED talk. It would finally convince me, I was promised, of the art of video games. I watched it. But noooo. Readers told me I had viewed the wrong talk about the wrong games. Besides, arguing with a You Tube video was pointless if I had never played a game.

If I should dislike it, I already had a preview of the response awaiting me: I was too old, I was over the hill, I was too aged it "get it."

posted by straight at 7:21 AM on July 1, 2010


The transition from static images to moving images marked a massive change in the realm of art: suddenly, one could (visually) capture not just a slice of a narrative, but a continuous arc of a story. Books, on the other hand, allowed (and allow!) the creation of a narrative in language, but with all of the senses stripped away to mere description. Film was a new interpolation of the major narrative media, informed by the older forms, but adding a new dimension.

Film combines the continuous narrative with visual and audible representation. Film can be art, but like paintings, they are static. Modulo director's cuts and extra DVD materials, there's a final version of the film which is THE film. So when we talk about THE work of Capital-A Art, it's with such a creation in mind. A final sculpture, a final version of a film, conveying in masterful perfection the intention and insights of the creator.

But there's some strangeness around the edges: this isn't exactly how Art actually works. Those pale Greek statues at the museum were originally colourfully painted, and George Lucas can never keep himself from updating his special effects. The intention of the author may actually NOT be what's conveyed by the finished product, and the product changes greatly in reaction to age and circumstance.

This issue of circumstances changing the Art appears centrally in theatre, where the play being performed is a bit different with each performance, and perhaps VERY different in the hands of different troupes. This makes Shakespeare a funny example: He wrote plays, but these are meant to be enjoyed as performed, and there are (as we have seen) a profusion of ways in which a performance can be made, even with the same underlying text. This is why Shakespeare is where we run aground: His work isn't a complete creation, and becomes an argument for both camps. Romeo and Juliet is an excellent script, but it is ultimately a skeleton to which the production company adds the flesh and glamour. Shakespeare is a space of possibilities to be explored, and each performance is a presentation of one such possibility.

Video games are also spaces of possibility, but in a much more structured way. In games, the exploration of possibility is a central premise; otherwise, we're just watching a movie.
Games with narrative are like movies with an extra set of dimensions added. You have sound and sight (usually!), but the story is allowed to branch into many directions. This really is no different from deleted scenes and alternate endings that we find on DVDs, except (and this is important) these things are always poor tack-ons to the film, rather than a central part of the medium. Film as a medium isn't properly equipped to deal with possibility spaces. Games are.

A game creator can absolutely say things about the human condition. The interactive fiction community writes (text-based!) games that often directly deal with such topics.

Example: The excellent 'Violet' is a game about a person trying (and failing) to write their thesis under the threat of losing his fiancée, whose disembodied voice taunts and encourages him throughout the process. Seemingly infinite distractions keep the protagonist from just writing the requisite pages... The game provides a space of possibilities - try as you might, the distractions just keep on coming, and the protagonist is forced to destroy all manner of hand-made gifts from his loved one in order to shut out the distractions and (maybe) keep his lover.

There's a story being told - even one with multiple endings - and many different ways to get through it. It's very well told. I would absolutely call it art...
posted by kaibutsu at 7:26 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Two thumbs up! One and one half thumbs up! Three to see! Thumbs in my ass! See it! Skip it! Rent it!

I've never found Roger Ebert to be a particularly intellectual film critic, anyway. I'm not surprised he can't take the effort and time needed to investigate something that he felt so passionate about as to write an essay.

If he did this at any university or film magazine that cared about intellectual rigor, it'd be game over.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 7:35 AM on July 1, 2010


"What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." -- Wittgenstein

I think Ebert's big mistake (albeit a common one) had nothing to do with video games. It had to do with the fact that he wrote something of this form: "x is/is-not art." That's not a meaningful statement when taken literally. I think there are non-literal ways it makes sense, which I'll get to, below. But I think he meant it literally, and that's how he's "foolish." Ebert dealt with this in his article when he tried to define art and couldn't. It's fine for him to "not be able to define it but know what what it means," but not in a piece of rigorous communication -- not as a scaffolding you intend to build on.

"There's this thing called a SPITCHT. I can't explain what it is, even though I KNOW what it is. Want one?"

And "art" is more treacherous than that, because with SPITCHT, we can see it's a nonsense word. Whereas "art" is a word embedded in the language. It's easy to hear it, not really think about it, and just assume we're all on the same page about it, when in fact we rarely are.

"Art" can, of course, have a personal meaning to someone. But having worked in "The Arts" most of my life and had thousands of these conversations, I don't believe we have anything close to a shared definition. So, when used in a public discourse, statements like "video games are not art" get translated into "video games are not BLEENS." Then everyone defines art in their own personal ways and so we're all receiving the statement differently. We wind up arguing apples and oranges.

If you spend years and years watching movies (this could also apply to reading books, looking at sculptures, etc.), you learn patterns in terms of what moves you and what doesn't.

Eventually, a very clear system of aesthetics naturally develops for you. And you're able to accurately predict whether you'll be moved by a film just by knowing that it contains -- or doesn't contain -- specific elements. You'll also be able to spot "errors" -- things that, if fixed, would make you enjoy a work you currently don't enjoy (or don't enjoy as much as you could). Being able to predict things so accurately is VERY seductive. It feels deeply meaningful. So it's tempting to feel that you've stumbled upon some universal principles.

And it's sometimes possible to move beyond yourself. You can notice larger trends. Ah, I see that when filmmakers do X, Y and Z, their movies affect people more than when they don't. But what do you mean by "people." Presumably, you mean "many people." You don't mean "all people." There has never been a movie that has been universally liked (or hated).

But when you've worked out a very clear aesthetic that never fails for you personally, and when you notice that this same aesthetic seems to work for many other people, it REALLY feels profound. And it may BE profound. But it's not universal. And that's odd, because we think of profound things as being universal. So, at this point, when we meet that guy who doesn't like "Citizen Kane" or Shakespeare or "The Wire" or whatever, he tend to decide "he's wrong."

Wrong about what? Wrong that he doesn't like "The Wire"? No, he really doesn't like it. It doesn't move him. It does nothing for him. So how is he wrong? At worst, he's eccentric. When we find a drug that cures cancer in 90% of patients, will the 10% it doesn't cure be "wrong"? No, it means that our drug -- which we think of as universally effective -- isn't. Which isn't to say it's not useful. It just means we're on shaky grounds if we make universal statements about it.

I think 99% of discussion about art are not literally about art -- at least not to everyone in the conversation (the talker may intend it to be about art; the receiver may not be interpreting it that way.)

Most conversations that claim "X is art buy Y isn't" are about I'm smart and your stupid. Again, they may not be intended that way (thought sometimes they are), but they are often received that way.

Why do people get so upset when Ebert says "video games aren't art"? How does that change anything? If, before he said that, you liked video games, presumably you still like them afterwords. "X is art" is like a stamp of approval. "X isn't art" is like a rejection. If you like that thing as much as you claim you do -- if you think it's as good as something by Twain or Shakespeare -- then there's something wrong with YOU!

Isn't that at least a facet of what most of these conversations are about? I think partly that's because most of us (me included) are lacking in confidence to some extent. But it's also because we have no shared definition of art, so our minds can't cling to that.

We CAN'T think about it rationally, because to do so, we'd have to say, "Well, let's see ... all art has the qualities of A, B and C. Video games have A and B but not C. Huh. I guess Ebert is right."

But we can't do that. Still, we naturally receive utterances as meaning SOMETHING. So if "video games are not art" doesn't mean something rational, it must mean something emotional, e.g. "you suck." (Which, again, is not necessarily Ebert's intent.)

If I was teaching a film or literature class, I would forbid the word "art" to be used. You could say all the usual stuff, but you couldn't use the word "art." So, if you said, "'Citizen Kane' is great art, because it has quality X," I'd ask you to rephrase. It's a great thought experiment. Worth doing for one class, at least. "'Citizen Kane' moves me -- and I think it moves most people -- because it contains quality X, and that generally has the effect of..."

Allowing "art" leads to slopping thinking and a kind of shorthand that seems way more meaningful than it actually is -- unless your meaning is to say, "If you don't share my tastes, you're stupid."
posted by grumblebee at 7:40 AM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


The weird thing about videogames as art debate is that almost all of the videogames that are cited as art are about videogames. Bioshock, Shadow of Colosus, and Braid all subvert the mechanics and/or iconography of video games to point at something about the experience of playing videogames.

Now imagine you have never played videogames. You aren't a gamer. You've played maybe a couple adventure games in your life or maybe internet bridge. You aren't going to get anything special out of them even if you can get familiar enough with the alien conventions involved to be good enough at the game to not hate it.

Imagine the only movie that you ever saw was kill bill vol 1. You grew up in the wilderness and had no concept of film. What you see is a revenge film with sort of senseless violence and ocassional intrusively fake special effects. You walk away thinking film as a medium is dumb.
posted by I Foody at 7:53 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


he does realize that some games are really FUN... right?

I think it's worth gamer enthusiasts remembering that the fun they get playing video games often depends upon having invested months or years in acquiring the skills needed to play video games. To expect someone -- especially of Ebert's generation -- to plug in a Playstation and have a grand old time from minute one is a little naive. I say this as someone who very much enjoyed a lot of pc games (Myst and other adventure / puzzle games) but who, when he sits down with his nephews at the X-box feels like a bit of a bumbling fool. And that's not really a "fun" thing.

Also, it's instructive to contrast the reluctance of non-gamers to experience your favoirte games to he disdain some in this thread have expressed at the thought of having to endure a classic film like _Citizen Kane_. For some of us, that film was honestly thrilling, and yes, "fun": consider it the other side of the proverbial coin.
posted by aught at 7:55 AM on July 1, 2010


Some games have obviously been famously lauded for multiple endings, but I wouldn't even say it's that common of a trait, yet he's worried you'll save Juliet and Shakespeare will be ruined.

Man, the whole topic there is interesting in its own right; I'd love to see someone take a long, seriously look at the evolution of multiple-ending resolutions to games over time.

One thing worth considering is the way in which some games make different endings available only in strict order (you can only unlock ending 2 if you've already beaten the game once), or in probable order (you could unlock the better ending the first time through, but you have to do things x y and z correctly to pull it off so you'll probably need to play through again once you're familiar with the game).

Silent Hill 2 is a nice example there; the game has multiple endings triggered through different specific choices and over all gameplay competency, from a dark and generally unhappy default ending (if you don't do anything particularly impressive, so this is probably what you'll see if you only play through once) to a somewhat more forgiving resolution (if you play through faster and cleaner and maybe make one or two specific decisions, I can't recall the details). And so you have multiple endings, and they're likely to occur in a specific order, and in the context of the story of the game the result is actually a kind of thoughtful progressive contemplation of a man's emotional processing of a terrible decision in his life. Multiple endings as a study in purgation, sort of.

It's not precisely "Juliet lives!", and that's the point and part of what makes it interesting. In SH2, you can't really upend the overall arc of the game by getting a different ending; it remains fundamentally a horror fugue, different quality and content of the various final cinematics notwithstanding.

Whereas a game like Deus Ex has multiple endings that are equally available to the first-time player, and which in fact are explicitly put to the player as a huge moral decision as their last willful action in the game—which of three truly epochal changes will you, having found yourself to be the narrative lynchpin of the story, pursue? Which is its own sort of interesting way to approach the storytelling, especially as there's no trivially easy answer to the question of which choice to make.

There's a lot to be said about how this stuff has been approached in games, and about how its execution compares to (and grows out of) pre-gaming experiments in multiple/alternate narrative stuff in film and literature. We mostly think of the "alternate ending" in a random film in terms of bonus content on a DVD—they shot/edited more than one ending for whatever reason, here's the ending(s) that didn't make the theatrical cut—but that gets muddy when you end up with multiple cuts from the same director treated as the ending under different circumstance, and then there's stuff like "Clue" where multiple endings is not even a side effect of the film but a literal, intentional part of the moviegoing experience. And so on.

I'm going to solve everyone's problems here and make a Citizen Kane video game.

Better: someone do The Discreet Charm...as a series of dinnertime minigames.
posted by cortex at 8:03 AM on July 1, 2010


There are artful games, surely, and games are worthy. But the depth of experience I've gotten from every other art form (well: music, film, writing, paintings) is in a totally different scale than games. I don't know if it is for the reasons that Ebert says, or some other reasons, or if there is in fact a depth of experience there that I am missing, despite having played them regularly for my whole life.

So, I guess, instead of 'not art', I'll say 'rarely art'. I think, as a medium, it just doesn't lend itself to it.


Personally I think the label of art is too subjective and undefinable to really have a coherent discussion about it. I think a better question than "Are video games art?" is "What traits does a work of art like a painting, novel or film have that video games do not?" Ebert seems to argue that a work of narrative fiction has one carefully crafted sequence of events, which is key to its function as art. He separately argues that art also tends to have an emotional impact, and a deep connection to some aspect of life that gives the audience some kind of profound insight. I agree with him that video games tend to be lacking in these areas, although I think if he had more experience with games and really engaged with them he would see more of those aspects, in the same way that someone could take a passing glance at an abstract art piece and not see art-like traits the way that someone from that world would.

Another question is, are the main traits of video games art-like? One of the key aspects games have always had is a sense of simulation. The game might be directly trying to replicate aspects of the real world (such as in Sim City) or it could be simulating a completely abstract and made-up world (such as Pac Man), but in practically every game some sort of world is being created that the player interacts with. Realism has been a movement in nearly every art movement at some point in time, and I think the same basic drive to perfect perspective in painting is what drives the push for 3D physics engines in games, so I think if games were just a simulation they would be more easily considered art. I think the major aspect that makes games less art-like is that the player has a large degree of freedom over what actually happens over the course of the game, and that the player's motivations for those actions aren't like those of an artist. Most people wouldn't consider a sports competition to be a work of art, because although their are aesthetics involved (the uniforms, the field, music being played, etc.) the actual play is chaotic and unplanned with no larger artistic purpose. So while someone like Roger Ebert can see a film about football or Pac Man and consider it to have the traits he expects in a work of art, I can see how he could see a game of football or Pac Man being played and not see those same traits.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:04 AM on July 1, 2010


I think it's worth gamer enthusiasts remembering that the fun they get playing video games often depends upon having invested months or years in acquiring the skills needed to play video games.

Yeah, this is really important. It's obvious, but it's one of those obvious things we often forget.

To me, it seems SO obvious that Shakespeare is magnificent. I have this feeling -- it's totally false -- but it feels SO true that I can prove to anyone how wonderful Shakespeare is by just handing them a copy of "King Lear" and saying, "read this!"

But I've spend decades reading these plays. I understand the "foreign" language they're written in, so I don't have to constantly look up words (or not bother and just be confused). It never felt like work learning all that stuff, because I did it very slowly. It now seems like just natural, instinctive knowledge that, surely, everyone is born with.

But of course it's not.

My father was a film historian. I grew up watching old, black-and-white movies. We watched them every night. So they don't seem like old movies to me. They seem totally natural. It's very easy for me to forget all that priming. When I hear someone call "Citizen Kane" "some old movie made before I was born," I think WHA...? But that's my own blind spot.

Someone on reddit (I think) posted, "When you put your hands on a keyboard, do your fingers instincually go to WASD, Space and SHIFT?" I have never been a gamer. I happen to know enough about games to get the reference, but that's it. It's funny to me to think about all these people INSTINCTIVELY doing that. I'm sure it feels 100% natural to them. It's alien to me.

Just that small difference means that, if I choose to play a game, I'm in a very different head space than someone who grew up playing them.
posted by grumblebee at 8:12 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Video games are just about the best art form available if you are bothered by the Law of Conservation of Detail.

In novels or movies, any background material that you can't implement into the plot must be excised, or relegated to tie-in novels and the like.

In video games, you add another secret area. Your opportunities for this are limited only by your time and budget. Actually, the secret area doesn't need to be all that secret; a lot of Final Fantasy's minigames crop up in places where they noticed they had room for another NPC.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:14 AM on July 1, 2010


Video games are just about the best art form available if you are bothered by the Law of Conservation of Detail.

To me, this is one of the most vital aspects of good works. I HATE gratuity. But I see as much of it in video games as anywhere else. The NIN boxes in Quake are gratuitous (I know many people like little injokes like that. My aesthetics don't have to be your aesthetics.)

As a programmer, I know how hard it is to build things, so, yeah, you think twice before throwing something in just for the hell of it. But the same is true of movies. Everything in a movie costs money.
posted by grumblebee at 8:25 AM on July 1, 2010


Non-conservation of detail is pretty important to the appeal of open-world games like The Legend of Zelda or Grand Theft Auto. If there were no more detail than what you needed to solve the game, there wouldn't really be a world to explore.

It's not really relevant to games like Quake, yeah.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:34 AM on July 1, 2010


Non-conservation of detail is pretty important to the appeal of open-world games like The Legend of Zelda or Grand Theft Auto. If there were no more detail than what you needed to solve the game, there wouldn't really be a world to explore.

I would argue that such elements don't necessarily violate Conservation of Detail. (The might, they just don't necessarily do so.)

In "Murder on the Orient Express," not every detail that's not a clue is gratuitous. That's because the story is more than just a puzzle. A puzzle is a big part of what it is, but it's also about how that puzzle affects the characters.

I have not played Zelda, but is it possible that it could be looked at as a world-exploration game, and that the puzzle (or goal) aspect of it is really just a way of leading you through the world?
posted by grumblebee at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2010


As far as Citizen Kane goes, I've got to admit that I have seen it, and I just plain didn't like it. I understand that it is one of those films that did lots of things we now consider so essential they are commonplace before anyone else did, but in the end it was kind of meh at best. Obviously that's a matter of taste and I'm sure there are people out there who love it for reasons other than its importance to film history.

But I don't think cj_ is being particularly shallow or narrow minded, and I do think sushi applies. American film from that era does share numerous traits, and if you don't like those traits you likely won't like most American film from that era.

As for games and art, I suspect one reason for the strong reaction against the asertion that games are not, and can never be, art is fear. Games, like all new media, are under attack from all directions, they are censored to a degree most would consider unacceptable in other media forms, decried as the root cause for all manner of social ills [1], threatened with legal action, etc. Does the First Amendment apply to games? Many would like to argue that no, it doesn't, and if games are categorically excluded from being art that would strengthen the arguments of those working to end First Amendment protection for games.

Not that I think Ebert was arguing for censorship of games, but I do think that his arguments against even the possibility of games as art help those who are arguing for such censorship.

[1] Exactly the same as comic books back when....
posted by sotonohito at 8:48 AM on July 1, 2010


There's absolutely nothing wrong with thinking Citizen Kane is boring. If you're going to watch one movie that you think will be boring in your life, though, Citizen Kane is probably it. It plays much more like a modern movie that you think it's going to, mainly because he invented/used a lot of techniques that modern moviemakers use.

And saying that you refuse to watch the film that is consistently rated as the best ever made because you just know it's going to be boring is pretty silly. Not wrong, just silly.
posted by Huck500 at 8:50 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have not played Zelda, but is it possible that it could be looked at as a world-exploration game, and that the puzzle (or goal) aspect of it is really just a way of leading you through the world?

The first game in the series, probably. When they grew a plot, they started kind of assuming that some players were not going to care about Heart Containers and made it easy enough to beat the game without collecting all of them. And then there was the camera in Wind Waker, which had you sailing the entire gameworld to collect pictures, and your reward is clothes.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:55 AM on July 1, 2010


You know what? I'll probably never get around to watching Citizen Kane.

It's a good film.

Citizen Kane was a stand-in for: "a corpus of movies made before I was born that a lot of my peers (many film school majors) feel to be high art and notable for their influence." I've seen enough of them to hold the opinion that they are dated and boring to actually watch.

I'm not a film major. I'm into it but not a true film geek or anything like that. There are some classic films I simply don't like, and there's no reason to take anyone else's word for it on that matter - taste and opinion are personal. But don't be scared of a film like Citizen Kane just because it's "important." Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were also considered important as far as the history and progress of film, and they were hilarious.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:56 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


And saying that you refuse to watch the film that is consistently rated as the best ever made because you just know it's going to be boring is pretty silly. Not wrong, just silly.

Or it's practical. I doubt he meant "know" literally. What he means, I suspect, is that the probability that he'll like it is so small, it's not worth spending time on, just on the offchance that he might be wrong. Life is short; we can't watch all movies; we have to make choices somehow.

As it happens, I have never seen a French film made post 1969 (or so) that I've liked. As I grew up, people kept saying to me, "I know you don't like modern French movies, but THIS one is different." And, every time, I gave it a chance and hated it.

So at SOME point I'm just going to classify French films as not-for-me. I'm going to assume I'll hate them before I watch them, just because induction has shown this to be generally true.

Does this mean I think it's IMPOSSIBLE that there's a French film out there that I'd like? No, of course not. I know it's possible. I just think any given one -- no matter how strongly it's been recommended -- is not likely to be it. Based on real life experience.

I might say something like, "I'm not going to watch that French film. I KNOW I won't like it." That's just a shorthand way of speaking. I'm not making a grand philosophical statement about what's knowable.
posted by grumblebee at 9:09 AM on July 1, 2010


his opinions on video games are less than irrelevant

True. This is like when Peter King turns away from football in his MMQB column and starts opining on the latest Hollywood blockbuster instead. It's not enough to say "well it's HIS blog"... presumably he wants people to read it, so there's a certain obligation to pen relevant material, yes.
posted by squeakyfromme at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2010


Between Grim Fandango and Heavy Rain, if you can't see the potential for art in games, then you really have no practical concept of what art is. Those games affect you as much as entertain and engage you.

That's art.
posted by grubi at 9:21 AM on July 1, 2010


I think 99% of discussion about art are not literally about art -- at least not to everyone in the conversation (the talker may intend it to be about art; the receiver may not be interpreting it that way.)

Most conversations that claim "X is art buy Y isn't" are about I'm smart and your stupid. Again, they may not be intended that way (thought sometimes they are), but they are often received that way.


A corollary to this, and the reason these "am it art" discussions strike me as being mostly a waste of time, is the use of "art" not as a statement of fact, but as a value judgment.

It's like the word "gentleman." That word used to have a definite, objective meaning relative to one's socio-economic status. If you said "Mr. Jones isn't a gentleman," you weren't insulting Mr. Jones, unless he did fit the right socio-economic category. But then people started thinking about what makes a "real" gentleman, that it had more to do with good breeding and manners and nobility of character, and so the word became emotionally loaded.

So it is with art. "X is not art" used to be a statement of belief based on well-defined principles of what does and does not constitute an act of art. If one worked within those defined boundaries -- say Britney Spears, who is a singer and dancer, both universally recognized artforms -- then that person was said to be an artist.

But we don't do that now, in these discussions. We use "art" as a value judgment. Most people say "X is art" and mean "X is good art" or "X is not art" to mean "X is bad art." "Britney Spears is not an artist" doesn't hold up if you're not doing that, but it makes perfect sense if you're using that statement as a weapon.

And I think that's what Ebert's doing here. One of his standards is "Would you rather play Deus Ex, or read Huck Finn?" He's asking "which is better?" That's a pretty shitty standard for whether something qualifies as an artform, particularly if, as has repeated ad nauseam, you're comparing a decades-old medium to a centuries-old one.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:23 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


As it happens, I have never seen a French film made post 1969 (or so) that I've liked

That includes Rohmer's Tales of the Four Seasons?
posted by vacapinta at 9:24 AM on July 1, 2010


Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were also considered important as far as the history and progress of film, and they were hilarious.

And could be quite moving. If you watch The Kid and don't tear up or come damn near it when you finally see the Tramp embrace the child at the end... well, I doubt your humanity.
posted by grubi at 9:24 AM on July 1, 2010


Also: if music, painting, film, sculpture, dance, opera, television, and literature can all be art and the vast majority of works from those genres are crap (and they are; we only ever talk about the good operas/ballets/etc because the bad ones are rightfully ignored after a time), why can't video games be art? It's just another form of entertainment. Art should be what stands out as an effort to move an audience. Beethoven's Ninth, Van Gogh's Starry Night, The Godfather, The Thinker, Swan Lake, Don Giovanni, "The Wire", and The Lord of the Rings are all examples of art (to those familiar with them). Why can't video games have their exemplary representatives of art as well?

(That would be my argument to Mr Ebert, who mostly agree with on many things and full respect.)
posted by grubi at 9:34 AM on July 1, 2010


Or it's practical.

Practical might be saying you know that you're pretty sure you won't like Down Mexico Way or Three Girls About Town or any of the many, many other films that came out in 1941. Citizen Kane's the one you take a chance on, simply because so many people think it's the best film ever made.

If a French film came out, and it received universal acclaim, and 60 years later was said to have changed filmmaking in major ways, and it was cited as an influence for just about every modern filmmaker, you would say, "Yeah, but I KNOW I won't like it, so I'm not going to see it." Seriously?
posted by Huck500 at 9:49 AM on July 1, 2010


Think of Ebert's skills at watching movies. I may be able to aim well first person, third person, with a mouse, thumb pad or joystick, rotate tetris blocks, identify potions, tank etc. But think of Ebert's skills with the movies. He has put in his time in front of his screen as much as any gamer. He is a highly skilled user of a media language with an enormous vocabulary. What will he do as terms that reference games enter that vocabulary?

Where are the comments from the dawn of cinema about how it was the media of low-lifes? How it was trashy? How it wasn't art?

This story with Ebert going off on games, getting offered an introduction to the best and reject it, is dismaying to me. There were two young neighborhood children playing in my yard this weekend. The girl picked some raspberries, the other, a boy, was sitting on a motorcycle. The girl went over to the boy and said "I've picked the most perfect berries, here try them." The boy was distracted by the motorcycle and I thought, "this is an opportunity like a moment in a poem about childhood and it is about to be missed."
posted by bdc34 at 9:51 AM on July 1, 2010


Just as a data point, this is the same guy who wrote a glowing review for "Garfield: The Movie."

But have YOU watched that movie?! Tou-fuckin-che!!!!
posted by msalt at 9:58 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


but it is good art?

Portal was brilliant art, without question.
posted by davejay at 9:59 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion

Aaand now Ebert goes back to he "philistine" pile. Has he even watched any of the movies he's reviewed? He really thinks that his interpretations of movies are the only ones? This is literal insanity.
posted by cmoj at 10:01 AM on July 1, 2010


If a French film came out, and it received universal acclaim, and 60 years later was said to have changed filmmaking in major ways, and it was cited as an influence for just about every modern filmmaker, you would say, "Yeah, but I KNOW I won't like it, so I'm not going to see it." Seriously?

You have a point.

I still think it sometimes makes sense to take a pass on things like this. For instance, imagine someone who tried "The Wizard of Oz", "Laurence of Arabia," "Casablanca," "All About Eve," etc. and didn't like any of them. I imagine that you, like me, like those movies, but imaging you didn't.

If people kept saying, "This is a CLASSIC. It was withstood the test of time," and every time, you gave it a try and didn't like it, wouldn't you eventually stop trying them?
posted by grumblebee at 10:08 AM on July 1, 2010


this argument is completely uninteresting compared to the question of whether table-top Role Playing Games are art, and if so, who is the artist?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:20 AM on July 1, 2010


Citizen Kane is the Pong of cinema.
posted by cazoo at 10:24 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


If a French film came out, and it received universal acclaim, and 60 years later was said to have changed filmmaking in major ways, and it was cited as an influence for just about every modern filmmaker, you would say, "Yeah, but I KNOW I won't like it, so I'm not going to see it." Seriously?

There are plenty of people who just don't like movies that contain acting conventions, mise en scene, production values, etc. that don't conform closely to the films they grew up watching. For whatever reason it takes them right out of the movie. Is that narrowminded? Sure, but that very narrowmindedness circumscribes those people's tastes to such a fine degree that it's not at all difficult for them to gauge what they will and will not like based on superficial context clues.

I mean, let's face it, the vast majority of films that almost EVERYONE - from academics to the average teenager on the street - agree are great are narrative driven films... "The Godfather", "Star Wars", "Wizard of Oz", etc. "Citizen Kane" does have a plot, yes, but many of the scenes function primarily to reveal the essence of Welles' character, not necessarily to propel the drama forward. Actually if it was merely a conventional narrative there's little likelihood it would have achieved the same stature. But at any rate yeah, I can see how people who like their plots heavy on the action would be dismissive of "Citizen Kane". It takes all kinds, I guess.
posted by squeakyfromme at 10:29 AM on July 1, 2010


For instance, imagine someone who tried "The Wizard of Oz", "Laurence of Arabia," "Casablanca," "All About Eve," etc. and didn't like any of them.

What kind of monster is this?
posted by grubi at 10:40 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


One difficult to contemplate without thoughts of leading them gently to a freshly dug ditch behind the barn.
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on July 1, 2010


If people kept saying, "This is a CLASSIC. It was withstood the test of time," and every time, you gave it a try and didn't like it, wouldn't you eventually stop trying them?

Exactly. I have plenty of friends with whom our tastes intersect on some types of films but not others. For instance, a lot of them just aren't into the "talky" fare of Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Noah Baumbach, etc so I try to tailor my recommendations around those prejudices. If I didn't they would almost certainly stop taking my recommendations altogether.

I can give you an example coming from the other direction pertaining to books. When people find out I'm completely uninterested in sci fi/fantasy because I find the characters to be wooden and the prose leaden, they often chime in with "oh, but not THIS one!" type recommendations. Well, inevitably it turns out that the characters may be more nuanced and the prose snappier than your AVERAGE sci-fi/fantasy but it still falls well short of what I expect out of the literary/experimental fiction that I prefer. So after getting burned so often in the past I really just can't be bothered to take new recs in the field anymore. If there's a Cormac McCarthy or Henry Miller of genre fiction I don't appear destined to ever find him.
posted by squeakyfromme at 10:48 AM on July 1, 2010


One thing worth considering is the way in which some games make different endings available only in strict order (you can only unlock ending 2 if you've already beaten the game once), or in probable order (you could unlock the better ending the first time through, but you have to do things x y and z correctly to pull it off so you'll probably need to play through again once you're familiar with the game).

A really excellent example of this is a short work of interactive fiction called Muse: An Autumn Romance.

It has multiple endings, and the optimal ending is one where the protagonist doesn't get what he wants at the beginning of the game. It's only by playing it once and getting the (more likely) sub-optimal ending that you can then see why the optimal ending is better in comparison.

Narratively, it's a little bit like the "what-if" visions in It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol, but here done in a way that's only possible in a video game.
posted by straight at 10:49 AM on July 1, 2010


What is this variant of Citizen Kane which is apparently a boring art film with no plot that you lot are discussing? It's a detective story framing a rise and fall semi-biography, not a bunch of shots of wheat or some crap like that.
posted by Artw at 10:57 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


As you know from what I wrote above, I'm a relativist when it comes to aesthetics. But while I don't believe it makes sense to say video games are or aren't art, I personally share Ebert's tastes.

Like him, I have an aesthetic that demands narrative control. I don't want to wander into any old room in the "Psycho" house. I want Hitchcock to lead me. (Well, that's not true. I may WANT to wander around, but that's because I don't know what's good for me. Regardless of what I want, I wind up having a better experience if an expert guide leads me by the hand.)

I'm not here to argue that that's a superior aesthetic. But it IS mine, and apparently it's Ebert's, too.

However, he hasn't really pinned down the nature of the aesthetic. I know what it is, and I know it when it's present (and when it's not), but I'm not sure how to describe it. And Ebert definitely hasn't described it.

If you take that aesthetic to extremes, you should be able to enjoy novels, but you shouldn't be able to enjoy any movies or staged plays (or paintings, sculptures.) Unless you skip around in a novel, it truly is linear and one-dimensional. One sentence after another, after another. There are no alternate paths (outside of choose-you-own-adventure books and the like).

A movie seems like that, but it's not. Not completely. True, it unfolds in time, but at any given moment, you have a choice of many things to look at. No shot is ever of just one thing. If you see Kong on the Empire State Building, you can focus exclusively on him, on the planes, on Fay Wray, etc. You can focus on all of these things, but starting with Kong. Or you can start with the planes and then move to Kong. These "choices" are probably not conscious in most cases, but there's no guarantee that I make the same choices as the guy sitting next to me in the theatre. The filmmaker is NOT in total control. I am not being completely guided.

Of course filmmakers can and do use all kinds of tricks to influence my focus, but the best they can do is influence. They can't absolutely control it. The cleanest example of this is watching a stage conjurer. Many of his tricks work by misdirection, e.g. waving a wand to distract you while he surreptitiously pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket. Sometimes he gets away with it; sometimes he doesn't. Contrast this with a novel in which misdirection is easy and foolproof. If you don't want the reader to know something until Chapter Five, just don't tell him about it until then.

So it must be a matter of degree. Like Ebert, I like being controlled rather than being in control. But clearly I don't mind having SOME control, or I wouldn't like watching movies. And I LOVE watching movies.

What I want is the FEELING of being guided. Clearly, I can have that feeling without being completely guided. But in order to turn this into a rigorous aesthetic theory, I would need to be able to say more exactly how much self-control is too much, what forms of self-control are okay, and what mediums will allow me to have some control but not too much.
posted by grumblebee at 11:09 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think this is a really interesting topic that is totally destroyed as something I want to participate in by the insane emotional levels that seem to orbit it. It's too bad, really.

Ebert is not as stupid as you would make him out to be. I'm not saying he's right, because to do that I need a definition of art that I'm comfortable relating his statement to, and I don't have one. But, I mean, jesus, that's what's interesting about it, right there. I'm a life-long, hardcore gamer. I've played everything that's brought up in these arguments. And I don't have any gaming experience that I care about in the way I care about my favourite books, albums, and films.

Can an open experience produce the same level of communication as a closed one? Do we need to distinguish between "message" art and "non-message" art in order to talk about this? Or between "high" and "low" art (stripping those terms of their loaded connotations, I still think there's a useful distinction there)? How do we do that? Is it possible to make those distinctions without being dismissive? A game director friend of mine for one of The Big Companies talks frequently about their market studies, focus groups, etc. Can art come out of that? A lot of my favorite art type things aren't fun, directly. Is a media focused on fun inherently limited? What would a non-fun game be like? Would I play it? How does corporate, profit minded direction affect the ability to produce art? How do we minimize committee decision making and group efforts' dilution of vision? Where does art intersect with entertainment? Why won't they make a PSP emulator for PS3 if they don't profit on PSP hardware so that I can play Peacewalker?

These are, to me, really interesting questions. But the discussion is torn apart by wolves who are super defensive about the need to brand their hobby or profession as Art. Let that go. If there is a final verdict possible (and I'm not sure that's possible, at all), and it did come out negative (games = not art), so what? I'm still going to play Portal 2 and really enjoy it. Get over the anger so that we can talk about those questions, because they're fucking neat.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:12 AM on July 1, 2010


Now I want Ebert to play a couple good video games, get everyone to try Citizen Kane, and show grumblebee a French film he likes. We can do this!
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:15 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wish that there was less anxiety about a film critic condescending to the tastes of video game fans and more anxiety about the game industry condescedending to the tastes of video game fans.

For me, the elephant in the livingroom of this discussion is that video games are becoming, if anything, more infantile in their subject matter and more lazy in their mechanics, all while ironically trying to cover these deficiencies by aping Hollywood. In the ambition of its themes and quality of its writing, Red Dead Redemption is nowhere near "A Mind Forever Voyaging" or "The Last Express". And its mechanics haven't moved much beyond "Mad Dog McCree". Instead, for the critics who slobber over it, it offers a visual impersonation of Hollywood Westerns that allows them to fantasize that it compares favorably to The Wild Bunch, Stagecoach, and High Noon.

While gamers blast Ebert for comparing games to films, game developers have abandoned game design for film worship. And this trend continues. XCOM:UFO is about to be revived as a banal shooter with a 50s sci fi film nostalgia veneer. The mechanics that made XCOM:UFO - from base-building to the beautifully crafted turn-based combat system, will be happily ignored - so that another FPS-as-Hollywood-movie can be brought to a market of 'gamers' that appreciates the art and history game design even less than the art and history of film.

If you think Ebert's condescending to gamers, you'd be floored to hear what the people funding, marketing, and publishing your favorite game are saying about you behind closed doors.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:16 AM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


Better: someone do The Discreet Charm...as a series of dinnertime minigames.

Thank you, silly aristocrats, but your meal is in another temporal reality.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:20 AM on July 1, 2010


Here's another classic IF that plays with multiple endings. It's short and sweet. 9:05.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:23 AM on July 1, 2010


What I want is the FEELING of being guided.

Interesting distinction. I think when most people hear "that's not art" they take it as a qualitative judgment, that it aspires to the same aesthetic goals as Art but fails to achieve it. One needn't necessarily make a value judgment by saying that video games are not art, but Ebert's tone would seem to indicate that's exactly what he's doing.
posted by squeakyfromme at 11:26 AM on July 1, 2010


Now I want Ebert to play a couple good video games, get everyone to try Citizen Kane, and show grumblebee a French film he likes. We can do this!

Before anyone works too hard on my account, please note that I was exaggerating my feelings about French films in order to make a point. There was a period of about 15 years when people kept recommending French films and I hated every one. And it is true that I got to a point where I avoided watching them, no matter how many people recommended them. But I think, since then, I'm seen one or two that I've liked. (Can't think of any titles at the moment.)

I'm much less closed off to having experiences like this, now that Netflix and similar services exist. Seeing a movie used to be more of a commitment. Now, it's not a big deal to watch 20 minutes of a movie and then, if you absolutely hate it, quit.

(It's not a French film, but I'll admit that I STILL haven't seen "Avatar." I keep meaning to but the whole thing turns me off for some reason. Each time I see a clip showing those blue people, I'm overwhelmed with a desire to not watch it. They don't look real to me. That's not necessarily a flaw. But they look un-real in a really derivative, boring way. I feel like I've seen them on every Saturday Morning cartoon since I was six.

I really, really, really, REALLY hope the state of CGI improves, soon. It almost all looks terrible and fake to me. Recently, I rewatched "Full Metal Jacket," and it was like realizing that my eyes had been starved for years. Instead of using CGI -- which didn't really exist back then -- to make all the blown up buildings, they made the sets by really blowing up buildings. Oh my God! The sensual detail down to the last tiny piece of rubble!)
posted by grumblebee at 11:30 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


One needn't necessarily make a value judgment by saying that video games are not art, but Ebert's tone would seem to indicate that's exactly what he's doing.

And even if it's not what he was doing -- and I agree that it was -- it's pretty inevitable that most people will hear it that way. People want what they like to be labeled "art."
posted by grumblebee at 11:32 AM on July 1, 2010


Also, when a game is smart, funny, has a unique aesthetic and trenchant mechanics, gamers consistently reward it with bupkus.

This has been the lesson of Tim Schaeffer's "Psychonauts". Do NOT innovate. Do NOT make anyone think too hard. Do NOT take any risks or deviate more than the tiniest bit from last year's top 10 sellers.

If you do, you will fail and lose your job in the industry.

Think about that while you defend the theoretical question of whether games can be art.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:32 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recommend this French film. I watched it in French with Danish subtitles (speaking neither language) while extremely drunk and it was AMAZING, so imagine what it must be like if you can follow it.
posted by Artw at 11:32 AM on July 1, 2010


Do NOT innovate. Do NOT make anyone think too hard. Do NOT take any risks or deviate more than the tiniest bit from last year's top 10 sellers.

If you do, you will fail and lose your job in the industry.


Couldn't this same argument be made about film? It's true that most movies are exactly as cookie cutter as what you're describing, but there's obviously an audience for arthouse films as well, and even a small scale production with no special effects can still costs tens of millions of dollars to produce and distribute. Surely an "indie" video game could be produced for less than that.
posted by squeakyfromme at 11:39 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recommend this French film.

The French were at the forefront of the avant garde, post-modern movement, and I'm almost never into that stuff. I'm all about plot and character. I'm Mr. Linear. All the French films people used to recommend to me turned out to be po-mo or have lots of po-mo elements. Often, when there was a plot, it was full of holes, because "the plot wasn't the point."

I also hate didactic (idea movies), and if the French weren't experimenting with non-linearity, they were being didactic -- or (*shudders*) they were doing both at once.

Having said that I don't much like experimental or heady films, I also don't just like to watch car-chase movies. (Though they are sometimes fun.) I like the film equivalents of good literary fiction. I love "Remains of the Day," "No Country For Old Men," "The Squid and the Whale," etc.

The French films people recommended were always either didactic/experimental, or, when I said I didn't like that, popcorn movies. I'm SURE there are plenty of French well-told tales, but those just weren't what people were pushing me towards (time and time again).
posted by grumblebee at 11:44 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do NOT innovate. Do NOT make anyone think too hard. Do NOT take any risks or deviate more than the tiniest bit from last year's top 10 sellers.

Couldn't this same argument be made about film?


That's an excellent point. While industries are buffeted by market forces, there's no reason why individual artists have to be. There are plenty of independent musicians, filmmakers, novelists, etc. They have to work within very limited budgets, but they manage to create great things within those limitations (often BECAUSE of those limitations).
posted by grumblebee at 11:48 AM on July 1, 2010


Don't want to turn this into an "AskMefi", but @grumblebee, here's a few recommendations on where to revive your interest in French film.

1. The Red Circle (Le Cercle Rouge)

One of the finest heist films ever made, starring the impossibly cool-as-a-cucumber Alain Delon.
2. The Wages of Fear (Le Salaire De La Peur)

Possibly the most suspenseful movie ever made in any language.

3. The Triplets of Belleville

Animation that could charm the bike shorts off of anyone.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:48 AM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mainly like films in which a man on a motorcycle gets a grenade shoved into his helmet and wanders around making sounds of distress before his head blows up. And the plot is about a transvestite with a machineguna nd everyone takes drugs and goes raving and then shoots ab bunch of cops and gangsters or something. That kind of movie.

Or La Haine. Seriously, if you don't appreciate La Haine I don't know why I am even talking to you.
posted by Artw at 11:51 AM on July 1, 2010


If we're just going to try to find grumblebee a French film to watch, I'd mention A Very Long Engagement and Love Me If You Dare, as well as Three Colors: Blue which is directed by a Polish guy but is otherwise French.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:54 AM on July 1, 2010


"Swimming Pool" may be a French production but unless you find Hitchcock didactic I guarantee you'll eat that shit up with a spoon.

I actually love the old cerebral, art house French films but if anything I think the majority of French films have gotten progressively more conventional over the past few decades.
posted by squeakyfromme at 11:56 AM on July 1, 2010


Couldn't this same argument be made about film?

In the US, where even the indie scene has waned in recent years, yes. But not in the rest of the world. (Not that there aren't still American directors making great films. Pixar, Erroll Morris, and Gus Van Sant spring to mind.)

Here are a few directors who, often below the radar of American audiences, have been making truly amazing, innovative, films in the 2000s.

Claire Denis
Francois Ozon
Guy Maddin
Hou Hsiao Hsien
Wong Kar Wai
Tsai Ming Liang
Abbas Kiarostami
Fatih Akin
Andrei Zvyagintsev
Cristian Mungiu
Apichatpong Weerasethakul


While there is hope for the indie game scene, and titles like Braid, Dwarf Fortress, Spelunky, Cave Story, and World of Goo show how great indie games can be, the number of terrific titles being produced just doesn't compare to cinema today (in my humble opinion).
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:58 AM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


3. The Triplets of Belleville

I saw it and enjoyed it. So that must have been one of the exceptions I was thinking of.

I suspect that sometime in the late 90s, the French started making more and more films that I would like. By that time, I had already sworn off them, but it's probably time to put my beret back on, sit down with a baguette and enjoy the show. So thanks for the suggestions. I will try them all. Unless everyone else here wants to know about good French films, you guys should probably send suggestions to me via memail.
posted by grumblebee at 12:00 PM on July 1, 2010


None of the Three colours films feature scenes in which grenades are shoved into motorcycle helmets, therefore they are all inferior to Doberman.
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on July 1, 2010


Do NOT innovate. Do NOT make anyone think too hard. Do NOT take any risks or deviate more than the tiniest bit from last year's top 10 sellers.

This is a complaint about profit-focused mass-market-driven business decision-making, not about what gamers as individuals like. Like squeakyfromme suggests, it applies just as well to movies, and to literature, and to visual art.

In the mean time, people still manage to try and innovate and still manage to make wonderful, thoughtful games that lots and lots of people genuinely appreciate. Unfortunately, there's no great way to turn that appreciation into a compelling market reaction because there's always going to be a lowest-common-denominator element sucking up the dollars.

Believe me, I'm as cheesed off about the X-Com thing as you are. If not more so.
posted by cortex at 12:02 PM on July 1, 2010


You must not have seen the director's cut. Let me tell you, Three Colors: Red is not accidentally named.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:02 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


the number of terrific titles being produced just doesn't compare to cinema today (in my humble opinion).

Right, but there's no reason it HAS to be that way. If I had to guess I would say that there just aren't enough preexisting opportunities in video games to woo the artsier types away from other industries. But all it takes is one upstart to have a breakout hit and it could spawn legions of similar projects. At least there are plenty of examples of such in other media.
posted by squeakyfromme at 12:06 PM on July 1, 2010


This is a complaint about profit-focused mass-market-driven business decision-making, not about what gamers as individuals like.

I agree and disagree. While on the one hand I definitely agree that there's a market for games out there that are different/better than what the mainstream game industry is (mostly) producing, I also think it's misleading to compare the current state of the game industry to the state of film now or in any decade since the 1920s.

The video game industry is dominated by groupthink, a reviewing apparatus that is completely compromised by the biggest publishers, and a boys club atmosphere that seems especially keen to serve a 13-year-old mentality.

That certainly doesn't describe everyone in the game industry, but it unfortunately describes a large number of publishers, and even those developers who would like to be more experimental (there are many of them) are hamstrung by a funding apparatus that is even more dysfunctional.

Over the years, filmmakers have fought for, and won, a far more diverse and discriminating market. Video games need badly to do some of that same hard work, and the fact that this hard work needs to be done is often obscured by abstract distracting arguments about what games can be. We should be focused on what games will be, and not in purely technological terms. In aesthetic terms.
posted by macross city flaneur at 12:10 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how Shakespeare gets brought up. I saw the streaming version of Thomas' Hamlet a few months ago and once you accept that you're watching a third-generation version of the story that owes as much to Dumas as to Shakespeare, it has some awesome moments that are enabled by erasing half the cast. Thomas and Dumas has Hamlet survive a broken man at the end, which could be a great idea if the Met had actually performed it.

I think Ebert pins too much on narrative in terms of art ignoring the problem that narrative is really only important to the specific genre of cinematic art he specializes in as his career. I don't know if it makes sense to critique a Frank Lloyd Wright house in terms of narrative, or a composition by Arvo Part. David Baker performed a jazz composition in which the ensemble improvised around audience cell phones, while comics have often used audience-driven improvisation behind their performance.

And for that matter, it's a failing that seems to be a big problem among A-list game development as well. I'll gladly champion the side of the ludics who point out that narrative isn't necessary and may not be the most important feature of a game. Portal has a thin narrative but brilliant design ideas in terms of progressive difficulty based on theme and variations. (And again, I'll point out that ludics are not restricted to video games in their discussions.)

Even within narratives, I read a great little bit by Umberto Eco who pointed out that open narratives like the Bible seem to have better long-term legs than closed narratives that only have one interpretation.

So I still think he's wrong, but I do think he did the right thing in bowing out of discussion of aesthetics of a medium where he has no interest.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:12 PM on July 1, 2010


Pff. Filmaking is hardly exempt from Sturgeons Law. There's masses and masses of cookie cutter shit being produced by idiots with a copy of STORY right now.
posted by Artw at 12:13 PM on July 1, 2010


Pff. Filmaking is hardly exempt from Sturgeons Law. There's masses and masses of cookie cutter shit being produced by idiots with a copy of STORY right now.

Most of Syfy's programming for example.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:15 PM on July 1, 2010


Over the years, filmmakers have fought for, and won, a far more diverse and discriminating market.

It helps that film was accepted by adults as a serious artistic expression almost immediately after it was invented. I think the gaming industry might be more analogous to the comic book industry where it took decades to establish a market for serious adult-oriented comics. The demographic of gamers will probably shift upwards as time goes on and create a better commercial environment for games that don't appeal to a younger audience.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:24 PM on July 1, 2010


I recommend this French film. I watched it in French with Danish subtitles (speaking neither language) while extremely drunk and it was AMAZING, so imagine what it must be like if you can follow it.

I've seen Doberman subtitled and to be honest it probably didn't add much as to be honest shoving a grenade into a motorcycle et al is pure cinema in the critical sense. Though I remember the tennis scene being quite witty.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:26 PM on July 1, 2010


Right, but there's no reason it HAS to be that way. If I had to guess I would say that there just aren't enough preexisting opportunities in video games to woo the artsier types away from other industries.

And the industry is young still. Booming, obviously, but still very young as a major media format, and the boom itself is keeping it artificially young and raw in a lot of senses.

- The medium is volatile as all get out and in a state of more or less constant upheaval in terms of the tools used to make work. Hardware and software are both fast-moving targets at this point.

- The process of choosing a target platform, and the process of getting your work to paying customers, is more convoluted and fractional than film by far at the moment.

- Making a video game—in the core mechanical sense of doing the things that are required to cause a video game to exist—is relatively hard compared to making a film, and so there's a barrier of esoterica to the process of getting otherwise-potentially-brilliant game designers into the position of making something. Someone with a good eye can learn to use a cheap HD camera and some editing software pretty quickly compared to the time it takes someone with some good game ideas to learn to write workable game software.

- Following on the previous, ambitious and mass-marketable truly indie efforts require a lot more restrictive bits of circumstantial luck to even be possible than does a little indie film. So actual gaming product for popular consumption tends to fall to larger business entities with established varied teams to handle all the aspects of production. Larger businesses, established businesses, tend to be more conservative in their risk-taking.

I also think it's misleading to compare the current state of the game industry to the state of film now or in any decade since the 1920s.

I think we may actually agree on this; I would specifically compare the game industry right now to the early decades of film. It will take time for the medium itself to grow and stabilize, and for the toolsets available to the independent game designer to become sufficiently powerful that some of the occultism that still exists now stops being so much a barrier to innovative development by folks not already in the coders club.

But, again, this is mostly the nature of a growing market and the situational difficulties of producing a marketable video game outside of a studio system. It says nothing about either the potential for video games to shine as artistic works nor about the desire of individual gamers to reject innovation in game design.
posted by cortex at 12:26 PM on July 1, 2010


All this talk of French films reminds me of something, but I can't recall the source. I'm pretty sure it was a movie vaguely like Amazon Women On the Moon or The Kentucky Fried Movie, though not either of those two.

There was a segment about "French film". It involved a man and a woman on the beach discussing, in French with subtitles, their mutual love and how unworthy of the other they were. This went on for some time, with the people building on the other's claim of being vile "I'm like a small bird", "I'm like a worm being eaten by a small bird", etc, claiming to be lower and lower things, until finally the guy says something like "I'm the slime of the worm!"

And the girl says "the slime of the worm? Ick!" Then gets up and walks away, repeating "ick", with subtitles, over and over.

Anyone else remember this and where it came from?
posted by sotonohito at 12:26 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Ebert counts simple games (e.g. Tetris) as video games. He and I seem to share some tastes, but I think some games (computer-based or otherwise) are beautiful in the way I think great art is beautiful. Chess is art-like. To me, it stands up to most great movies, symphonies, etc. It's an exquisitely well-worked-out and beautiful system. It doesn't follow the same path every time, but player choices are constrained by a very specific set of rules. Poker qualifies, too.

If board and card games are art, there aren't many that I would consider high art. Uno is fun, but it doesn't qualify. But chess and poker (and maybe bridge, which I don't know how to play) are the Shakespeare plays of the gaming table.

I think Tetris is in this category.
posted by grumblebee at 12:31 PM on July 1, 2010


I think the most interesting thing about this issue with Ebert is that given the thousands of hours he's has spent watching, pondering, and writing about movies, he really isn't able to speak very intelligently about art. At his age, with his experience, a couple timid gropes at the issue is all he'll venture?

(grumblebee's definition of art falls apart on paintings and sculpture. Ebert falls into the same trap, trying to narrow Real Art down to one appreciative experience that he enjoys most, that only applies to the enjoyment of good stories told by expert craftsmen (the classically best novels, plays, movies)).

...

Are chairs art? Not usually, not necessarily. While clearly many chair-makers have taken aesthetics into consideration, they primarily serve a function that has nothing to do with art. You can appreciate a good sit-down but that's still not art. I won't even go into weird things people say like, "I can stand on a chair, I can't stand on a movie, ergo chairs are not art", or, "Chairs can prop open doors. So can sculptures. Therefore chairs are like art."

Admittedly the practical angle confuses things. That is why so much art is physically useless in an immediate sense, so there can be no doubt that its role is to be appreciated. (I think to the worst kinds of artists, glaringly obnoxiously useless = art.) Chairs have a useful primary function that does not seem to necessarily lie within the realm of being appreciated as art, therefore it makes sense to say chairs are not fundamentally art. (This is not to be disproved by spray-painting a chair gold and nailing it to the wall, or making other kinds of chair-shaped decorations, painting pictures of chairs, or other things that might be art, but are not actually useful chairs.)

Ah, but you see, in my village we really appreciate sliding rocking chairs. These are relatively new, made by factories on the mainland. Hundreds of hours of work by very talented artisans goes into the production of a line of chairs—not just into the complexity of their mechanisms to ensure a smooth motion, but into their aesthetics too. They use quality woods or metal, with lots of detail work, and often they work in carvings of people and creatures into them that you can only admit are little bits of art into themselves. Comfort is still a factor, but looking at them and sitting in them often gives the sense of being wholly involved in sitting in a different way, it can be an appreciative experience that's difficult to explain.

For all that, we tend to get bored with our rocking chairs quickly, and every two weeks or so we sell or trade them in for newer models from the mainland factories. We do this because we like novelty, and because the mainland factories are still developing their craft, and because our neighbors have the new chair and we want a similar one so that we can talk about it with them. (In any case the new chair is often not much different than the old one.) Some of us are looking for a perfect chair. Some of us have some old chairs we still love and we stick with those.

Of course some people are sure these rocking chairs signify the death of our culture (or is it expression of it?). Lots of people simply aren't interested in them that much. You do have some weirdos who think everyone in the village should ideally be too busy to sit down at all, so chairs of all kinds are suspect. And you have some people who are pretty sure that some day everyone will own a rocking chair and that rocking chairs can save the world. Man, people say all sorts of stupid shit about rocking chairs in my village, you wouldn't believe it.
posted by fleacircus at 12:42 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


(On preview: please note I wasn't attacking you grumblebee, and of course I was talking about stuff way upthread when I started typing. Not trying to comment, necessarily, on whatever you might be saying now.)
posted by fleacircus at 12:45 PM on July 1, 2010


crunchland: Just as a data point, this is the same guy who wrote a glowing review for "Garfield: The Movie."

By bringing up this data point are you admitting to having seen it?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:47 PM on July 1, 2010


please note I wasn't attacking you grumblebee

No worries. I didn't even feel remotely attacked, but...

grumblebee's definition of art falls apart on paintings and sculpture.


grumblebee doesn't have a definition of art.
posted by grumblebee at 12:55 PM on July 1, 2010


There's another issue that's nagging me which is that why do we assume that the "art" of games/cinema necessarily involves the mass market? An exception to this is Pixar, who has the privilege of piggybacking their best work onto commercial feature films. (Toy Story 3 was great, Night and Day was the first film of the year to knock me out with joy and astonishment.) On rare occasions, really outstanding work in a medium crosses over with commercial success. The game industry isn't unique in this respect, and the same can be said about cinema, novels, drama and music.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:56 PM on July 1, 2010


One of the things that this discussion always shows me is how poorly-communicated the true nature of games as a medium to the layman. It seems that if you don't make an effort to really explore the depth and breath of possibilities in the medium, that you're going to end up with an incredibly emaciated caricature in your head. Without attacking grumblebee, I felt that his comment "I don't want to wander into any old room in the "Psycho" house." to typify this sort of caricaturization. In that one sentence is conveyed the notion that the writer's understanding is, "games are like movies but you can go into the other rooms" (I don't think grumblebee actually has this opinion personally, of course, I am just creating a caricature of people who have caricature-understandings of games).

Imagine if you thought of movies as "paintings that moved". You wouldn't really see any value in having the man in the Magrittes be seen shifting his weight restlessly and occasionally slipping his face out from behind the apple to wipe his nose. "I prefer that the artist have precise control over the position of his subjects on the canvas," you would say. Perhaps you would recognize that the motion would eliminate the possibility of having visible brushstrokes, and you'd say "the lack of texture deters me from enjoying them." Or perhaps you'd say, "are we going to watch the ladies in the renoir paintings fall asleep on their beds, that sounds insufferable!"

We live in a world where nearly all people are movie-literate, and so we all understand that these criticisms stem from a massive misunderstanding about how transformative and possibility-opening the step from static to moving images is. We understand that the purposes the two mediums are intended for are vast disjoint universes of equally-infinite size. So it goes with games. We essentially have to wait for the accessibility of playing games to get better and for the proportion of people who are game-literate to approach 100%.
posted by breath at 1:17 PM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


On rare occasions, really outstanding work in a medium crosses over with commercial success

Yes, but like I said earlier, even when this happens we're almost always talking about conventional narrative structures so there are still entire styles of filmmaking that have pretty much zero chance of crossing over. Even the most well known of avant garde filmmakers like David Lynch still toil away in a decidedly niche market.
posted by squeakyfromme at 1:19 PM on July 1, 2010


One of the things that this discussion always shows me is how poorly-communicated the true nature of games as a medium to the layman.

Part of the problem is just the word "game." It has a traditional meaning, and I don't think what's being developed on computers nowadays is the same thing as what's traditionally meant by that word -- though, of course, it's related.

Let's say we all agree that "2001" is a work of great beauty. Is The Game of Basketball just as beautiful in some analogous sense. To me it is, if you're talking about the game in the abstract -- if you're talking about its set of rules enacted by an ideal set of players. But is a specific game of basketball beautiful? It might be, but it might not be. It might be a clunky game played by bad, amateur players.

So when you tell a lay-person that a game is art, he may be thinking, "What do you mean by 'a game'? Are you saying that it's a work that's malleable to some extent by the player, and yet whatever the player does, it's still art?"

IF "2001" is beautiful, it is always beautiful, because it's not re-made each time you watch it.

Traditional games -- I don't know about computer games -- are more like theatrical performances than films, novels, paintings or sculptures. To me, given my aesthetics, it makes sense that "King Lear" as a play on PAPER is beautiful. Is it NECESSARILY beautiful in practice, live in the theatre? No. Some productions are, some aren't.

If we decide that game X is art, do we mean that it ALWAYS is art, no matter who plays it and how well or badly he plays? (As I wrote above, I think Tetris is like this). Or do we mean that it CAN produce art when played expertly? I think this is important to ask about any work that is essentially reborn each time it's performed. Which is true of any work that IS performed.

If you think of "King Lear" as a script -- as instructions for a performance -- rather than as a finished work in its own right, then (if I was the sort of person who believed in defining art), I don't do think I'd call it art. I'd call it instructions for MAKING a particular art piece. And by following those instructions, you MIGHT wind up making art.

Do games tend to be more like that? Or are they more like a finished art object that is impervious to being ruined (or weakened) no matter what the player does?
posted by grumblebee at 1:42 PM on July 1, 2010


squeakyfromme: Yes, exactly. There certainly has been an avant garde for digital media, but it's hard to find it within the commercial games industry as opposed to the museum scene, departments that experiment with digital art, and perhaps some edgy research projects at Google and Microsoft.

And part of it is that the avant garde in terms of digital art in many cases has left the computer screen behind, they're looking at immersive 3-D caves, multimedia installations, and ubiquitous computing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:55 PM on July 1, 2010


If you think of "King Lear" as a script -- as instructions for a performance -- rather than as a finished work in its own right, then (if I was the sort of person who believed in defining art), I don't do think I'd call it art. I'd call it instructions for MAKING a particular art piece. And by following those instructions, you MIGHT wind up making art.

Even here you're going to run into problems, because art for the last however many years has been, oftentimes, focused around the interaction between various places on the production timeline and attempting to figure out exactly what the designation of 'art' means-- this includes things like Duchamp's readymades and Warhol's Brillo boxes and factory-made Jeff Koons stuff but it also includes things like Sol Lewitt's wall drawing instructions, which is exactly what you've classified here (if you were into classification, which you say you aren't) as art: the piece is a series of instructions for the installers to follow when placing the piece in a museum.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:08 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


grumblebee I'm not sure. Honestly I'm not sure we can meaningfully define "art". Once you have a definition that includes everything from the cave paintings to Pollock's splatterings, to Deucham's Fountain, to Cage's 4:33, the question becomes "what isn't art?"

I had an Art History professor friend who defined art as "what people make", which seems to be the only definition broad enough to cover all of the above, and video games as well, but it also includes mass produced telephone cords, so yeah...

Until we can get a good working definition of "art", I think any discussion of what is and is not art is going to be stalled.

As for games as art, I think that they quite confusingly fall into both categories you brought up, both polished products which are art in and of themselves and "scripts" which can be art, or just crap, depending on how they are played.

Is the 2009 Superbowl art? By the "what people make" definition, yes, but again what isn't by that definition?

If the 2009 Superbowl *is* art, then I'd argue that a well played Starcraft match is also art.

If ballet is art, then is not also synchronized swimming and pairs ice skating? What about a gymnastics exhibition? Judo? Fencing? Chess? A Super Mario Bros speed run?

If a painting of a bowl of fruit is art, is not the bowl of fruit also art? If not, why not?

I don't know.

And then, of course, we get the good art bad art argument, and that seems to be more a matter of taste than anything else. And many people want to exclude things they don't like from the category of art. I'd certainly like to exclude 4:33, Fountain, and the entirety of Jackson Pollock's works from that category because I find them all to be either awful or pretentious or both. But I can't, anymore than Ebert can categorically declare that games are not art.

I suppose the only functional definition of art that we can devise is "anything which is claimed, by at least one person, to be art is art." Which is horribly post-modern.

But I do know this: if Deuchamp's Fountain and all of the other modern awful stuff is art then I will fight tooth and nail any effort to exclude any video game from the category of art, and I'm explicitly including every single one of the boring, poorly done, Japanese dating/rape games. If some guy tossing paint through a jet engine is art, then Doom in all its gore and mindless violence must also be art. If someone writing out 4:33 of silence is art, then how can Portal and its exquisitely ambiguous characters and plot not be?

If the defenders of Deuchamp, Pollock, and Cage can say that those who fail to appreciate the artistic genius involved in their works simply aren't educated/refined/whatever enough then by all the gods that aren't I get to say the same about anyone who fails to appreciate the artistic genius of every video game out there.
posted by sotonohito at 2:19 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe the best functional definition I've come up with for art is: An act or artifact of attempting to be interesting.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:24 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Grumblebee,

Have you seen Children of Men? That film used CGI better than any other, I think... basically only when it was absolutely needed. Great movie, too.
posted by Huck500 at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2010


I like where this discussion is going.

Definitely "game" is an inapt term, and I loathe "video game". I long for a word that conveys what is truly meant. But until such a term is developed, I feel OK with a term that brings to mind so many diverse human activities. Gambling is also called "gaming", even though horse betting has little resemblance to all the other things that are called "games".

I don't think there's any form of art that doesn't have some form of distinction between an instruction and the actual experience. It's especially obvious in the case of a play, but even visual arts are subject to interpretation by the motion of the eye as it wanders over the painting or sculpture, not to mention the presence of contextual information that shades interpretation, such that every experience of it is different. Art always acts like instructions; they're instructions to your body and mind to invoke an aesthetic response. Errol Morris's series of articles on the nature of truth as conveyed by a pair of photographs inspired me to start thinking of this as a universal phenomenon even though he's not talking about art at all.

On preview, well said, sotonohito.
posted by breath at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2010


Late to the game here, but I just wanted to add that Ebert's classy response and apology to the gaming community really shines (to me, at least) even greater contrast on the previous disgusting response by the Penny Arcade boys. Just dreadful stuff there.
posted by barnacles at 2:42 PM on July 1, 2010


It helps that film was accepted by adults as a serious artistic expression almost immediately after it was invented.

That's not actually true. Film faced tons of skepticism as an "art form", as did the novel. It was only the sustained quality work of filmmakers, abetted by sympathetic and sophisticated criticism that earned film the reputation that it has today. Even as late as the 1960s, film faced criticism of its claim to artistic status. And the novel too started as a "popular" medium, with a reptuation for trashiness, that only changed over centuries.

I think the most interesting thing about this issue with Ebert is that given the thousands of hours he's has spent watching, pondering, and writing about movies, he really isn't able to speak very intelligently about art.

This. One of the greatest ironies about the great gamer/Ebert debate is that gamers seem to think they are arguing with some kind of sophisticated representative of the critical apparatus. The truth is, Ebert is considered a total lightweight by most serious film/art critics. He's what's called a "public intellectual", and even that's being generous. Ebert is a fan's film critic, a meat and potatos guy.

There's another issue that's nagging me which is that why do we assume that the "art" of games/cinema necessarily involves the mass market?

Because of Birth of a Nation, City Lights, Casablanca, Vertigo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Sunset Boulevard, Lawrence of Arabia, The Shining, Rocky, Jaws, and any of the other countless critically acclaimed box office hits throughout history.

Hollywood has, in fact, shown itself consistently capable of producing popular "art" in almost every decade of its history until the 1980s, when the schism between popular and critically acclaimed cinema became entrenched. This coincided with the rise of big movie budgets and a distrust of the director, with producers becoming much more controlling figures. After the failures of large-budget films by Bogdonavich, Coppolla, Cimino, and others, Hollywood became highly skeptical of "auteurist" cinema in the age of the 30 million dollar+ picture. Some "auteurs" - the ones who could demonstrate the ability to reap consistent profits, like Lucas and Spielberg - survived. Most others did not.

By now, the "visionary" filmmakers is seen as anathema in Hollywood, which now feels that it can make as much or more money with formulas and dumbed-down fare as they did with anything remotely aesthetically compelling. Largely, the box office has proved them right.

Keep in mind, however, that video games were being born just as this Hollywood trend was taking hold. Video games have thus "matured" very quickly into the attitude of the film industry. They have contempt for "talent", and espeically "auteurs" like Will Wright or Warren Spector. Credits? Names on boxes? Celebrity developers? Bah! Like a 15-year-old whore, game executives "grew up" very quickly. They realized that they didn't have to deliver "good games" or "innovation" to make a profit. And what's more, they realized that there was no entrenched critical community that they had to cater to. Hollywood has to churn out a handful of "art films" every year to compete at the Academy Awards. The video game industry took control of "game criticism" very quickly, so they never had to bother with that kind of butt-kissing.

Abstract comparisons between video games and film leave out a lot of specifics. In reality, there is NO decade in the history of film to which the current state of video games can be compared. Because video games have taken on Hollywood-style cynicism and corruption 100 times faster than film, and without the intervening decades in which film developed a sense of itself as an medium of expression outside of intensive market pressures.

That's why I call video games a 15-year-old whore. The question then remains whether video games can ever outgrow their original cynical marketing trauma.

I still have hope for the video game's future, but anyone who thinks this will be easy or "organic" is fooling themselves. The control of the major publishing house is all but absolute. They actually largely control the entire "indie" game-making apparatus as well, and the signs don't bode well for their embrace of "indie" values. Why try to do something new or nurture new talent when you can churn out the same old garbage year after year?

Why make dev kits cheap enough for four-guys-in-a-garage to deploy to your console? Why not just churn out the same old garbage year after year? After all, "gamers" are buying what you're selling. Who needs "innovation"? Who needs to nurture a "medium"?

I'm paid. You're paid. Everybody we know and care about is paid! Who cares about the future of games? Who cares about new talent? Who cares about the future? Who cares about gamers? Who cares about the art of game design? That's just a bunch of pretentious hogwash anyway! Halo 12, here we come!
posted by macross city flaneur at 2:55 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I disagree with your dismal outlook on the industry, macross. I think that there's a nonzero amount of innovation and pushing the boundaries coming out of the big three publishers. We could always do with more, but I absolutely understand the risk aversion. And the indie scene is very definitely not controlled by anyone. It could have a higher visibility, but I'm actually impressed with how visible it already is. And I'm very happy observing the "sons of new games journalism" start building up a very large and thoughtful corpus of analysis of games and their place in society.

I agree that we should be striving for more, though. Things are just getting started.
posted by breath at 3:05 PM on July 1, 2010


I'm not totally hopeless about the future of games, @breath, but since you're a fan of the new games journalism, let me just quote Rock, Paper, Shotgun in their recent profile of Deus Ex, by the great Warren Spector.

"There was more thought put into the Doors in Deus Ex than gets put into most major features of a modern AAA Blockbuster."

This.
posted by macross city flaneur at 3:22 PM on July 1, 2010


macross city flaneur: Because of Birth of a Nation, City Lights, Casablanca, Vertigo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Sunset Boulevard, Lawrence of Arabia, The Shining, Rocky, Jaws, and any of the other countless critically acclaimed box office hits throughout history.

My objection here is that cinema developed at a unique point in time where the great works and the mass market could develop together. Photographers didn't have a mass market until the development of photojournalism magazines in the middle of the 20th century. I'm not convinced that painters ever had a mass market. And music had a big honking schism in the 20th century with one side ossifying to snobbery and the other side dismissed as trivial. The literary avant garde is an interesting case, with some authors struggling in relative obscurity (or anonymity in the case of Jane Austin) and other authors becoming cultural celebrities.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:45 PM on July 1, 2010


"There was more thought put into the Doors in Deus Ex than gets put into most major features of a modern AAA Blockbuster."

Two thoughts about that*: 1) that was part of their day of lets-see-who-can-say-the-most-ridiculously-lauditory-thing-about-deus-ex, so it falls somewhere on the spectrum of misplaced nostalgia to willy-waving hyperbole. I doubt even Rob Hale would defend the literal truth of this statement. 2) Even if it were literally true, one naturally has to think harder about conventions that one is inventing. Shigeru Miyamoto clearly thought much more about the mechanics of jumping than the Deus Ex team did, does that indict the latter? Not at all, because we build on the knowledge of our forebears, and older games will naturally involve much more thought about basic mechanics.

And here's a counterexample: Left 4 Dead. That's a modern AAA blockbuster with metric shitloads of thought put into not just the major features, but also into how these major features interact with each other to produce a cohesive whole. My problem with Deus Ex when I played it back in the day was that it mostly felt like a collection of neighboring features, not a unified experience. Taking the next step in getting all those components to work well together is the new frontier.

I also think that focusing solely on AAA blockbuster titles is misleading in a discussion such as this, because they are so unique to themselves. Holding them up as examples for "gaming" is like holding up Michael Bay's work as examples of "movies". So what if the most money is in recycled pop crap? Nearly all artistic scenes work that way (even goddamn painting, thanks Kinkade).

* 1) That's terror. 2) That's terror.
posted by breath at 3:54 PM on July 1, 2010


Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources

Thank you for your time.
posted by tzikeh at 4:45 PM on July 1, 2010


Hollywood has, in fact, shown itself consistently capable of producing popular "art" in almost every decade of its history until the 1980s, when the schism between popular and critically acclaimed cinema became entrenched. This coincided with the rise of big movie budgets and a distrust of the director, with producers becoming much more controlling figures.

Well sort of. This glosses over a lot of the difficulties of the studio system, the influence that Cahiers du Cinema had over critical reception towards studio-produced Hollywood films (which, incidentally, is mostly where we get the idea of the director as the Single Artist), the example of Orson Welles struggling against studios as he produced flop after flop after flop. A lot of the films that we now look back on as Art that came from the studio system, like Gone with the Wind, were entirely made because of the influence of a great producer-- GwtW had something like four directors during its production, none of whom can really claim it to be their film. I agree that the era of the blockbuster that was ushered in by Jaws, Star Wars, and the failure of Ishtar et. al. is a new kind of difficulty for creativity in film, but the whole story is pretty complicated and not simply a narrative of The Visionary Directors becoming mistrusted by The Evil Suits in the 80s.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:12 PM on July 1, 2010


French films, Russian films, Hitchcock films, Black & White films, Silent films, Citizen Kane...

Boring films.

These films were boring for a reason. Because if you could stay awake long enough to follow the plot, then an insight could be dropped in by the end to create a profound sense of emotional resonance.
posted by ovvl at 6:25 PM on July 1, 2010


Have you seen Children of Men?

Yeah. I agree. great, understated effects.


Hitchcock films, Black & White films, Silent films, Citizen Kane...

Boring films.


Some of use actually don't find those films boring. I watch movies for entertainment-purposes only. If I thought a film was trying to bore me in order to deliver some gem at the end, I would stop watching at once. But I find "Citizen Kane" to be very entertaining throughout.
posted by grumblebee at 7:18 PM on July 1, 2010


I know diff'rent strokes etc., but how anyone could be bored by The 39 Steps or Vertigo is beyond me.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:47 PM on July 1, 2010


Jaltcoh: Taking an extreme, controversial stance and then publicly renouncing it can be an effective publicity stunt precisely because people will have your reaction.

Maybe, but I don't think Ebert needs or wants the sort of cheap stuntish publicity you're talking about here, particularly at this somewhat late point in his life.


I have no idea what Ebert's motives are with the video game thing. I was just making a general point about people, not about Ebert.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:49 PM on July 1, 2010


I love classic movies and can't understand how someone can call Hitchcock "boring." However, I was bored by Citizen Kane. I don't understand why it gets the praise it does. I'm sure it was very innovative in ways that I wasn't doing a good enough job of appreciating, but that doesn't seem like nearly enough to merit its "greatest movie of all time" reputation.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:52 PM on July 1, 2010


that was part of their day of lets-see-who-can-say-the-most-ridiculously-lauditory-thing-about-deus-ex, so it falls somewhere on the spectrum of misplaced nostalgia to willy-waving hyperbole

So is the new game journalism the future of game criticism or is it "willy-waving"?

I doubt even Rob Hale would defend the literal truth of this statement.

Speculation.

Even if it were literally true, one naturally has to think harder about conventions that one is inventing. Shigeru Miyamoto clearly thought much more about the mechanics of jumping than the Deus Ex team did, does that indict the latter? Not at all, because we build on the knowledge of our forebears, and older games will naturally involve much more thought about basic mechanics.

But the point is that the game industry has precisely failed to build on its past in many important and in countless detailed ways. This in favor of a focus on things that have nothing to do with game design - namely managing an asset pipeline and producing massive amounts of 3D assets. This is not game design.

My problem with Deus Ex when I played it back in the day was that it mostly felt like a collection of neighboring features, not a unified experience. Taking the next step in getting all those components to work well together is the new frontier.

I couldn't disagree more about Deus Ex, but there's no reason that "getting components together" has to result in a neglect of game design. Again you're obfuscating the fact that the mainstream game industry has chosen to focus, in the era of 3D, on graphics, models, and animation to the detriment of game design.

I also think that focusing solely on AAA blockbuster titles is misleading in a discussion such as this, because they are so unique to themselves. Holding them up as examples for "gaming" is like holding up Michael Bay's work as examples of "movies".

Go look at the Metacritic top 20 for last year and tell me what you see. Do you see Dwarf Fortress and Spelunky there? Am I the one who's holding up AAA blockbusters as models of "great games"?
posted by macross city flaneur at 8:34 PM on July 1, 2010


And finally, I just want to express a bit of exasperation with the people who've defended today's game industry as an inevitable product of the mass market and implied a broad equivalency between what is produced in many different media.

It's just not true. And what's more, this is what's so frustrating about the video game market. Gamers (especially, I find, the younger they are) endlessly defend and protect the mainstream game industry and think they are defending "games". There is a completely counterproductive solidarity between gamers and the game industry. Today's game industry does not necessarily have your interests at heart. It does not represent "video games". It does not, and should not, "own" video games.

Until gamers can put some critical distance between themselves and the industry, video games will never develop as a form.
posted by macross city flaneur at 8:46 PM on July 1, 2010


Here's where we just bypass the conversation and jump into "here is a video game that is art" territory, and I do so partially because I was on the fan-translation team for it: MOTHER 3 (Naturally, I was on that team because the game is just so damn good that I want everyone to play it).

Among the themes it deals with are loss of loved ones, the progress of society and urbanization and whether it's inherently a good thing, and, um, musical modes? Admittedly, some elements of the effects it has on a player require a familiarity with the genre (the discomfort that comes from the fact that, when you start playing it, there is no such thing as money, and you either just take what you need from your kind neighbors, or otherwise barter with them), but a lot of it is simply the story, the characterizations, and the attention to detail in the settings (SPOILER IN SMALL TEXT such as the abandonment of the town toward the end of the story DONE WITH SPOILER).

Basically, outside of the very end of Metal Gear Solid 3 (you know what I am talking about if you have finished it; it's effective primarily because it subverts our expectations of what's going to happen and forces us to do it ourselves — it took me a couple of minutes to bring myself to do so despite the fact that it's all fictional) it's hard to think of any other video games that have moved me emotionally on any real level like these have.

Rez and Portal are great games, to be certain — the former is beautiful, and the latter is a brilliant puzzle — but would I call them art? No more than I'd say Airplane! or Primer are art.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:05 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


MCF, I don't want you to think that I think the current mainstream game industry is all that. I think that in most matters we are largely in agreement. I'm more glass-half-full, but we agree about the facts, I think. I largely ignore the mainstream, to be honest, with rare exceptions such as L4D. So perhaps I think that things are rosier than they actually are.

But I do feel that you are giving off an "everything is fucked and it will never be fixed ever" sort of vibe and I want to counter that a little bit with some optimism. Nothing is fucked, dude! I think there's a long way to go before the mainstream is capable of the sort of gameplay innovation that is currently being explored by indies, but I see small motions in that direction and I'm hopeful. But even if I weren't seeing any mainstream action, not giving a shit about the mainstream means that if someone out there is innovating, even on a small budget, I'm happy.

So is the new game journalism the future of game criticism or is it "willy-waving"?

Neither? RPS is awesome because it often produces and links to the sort of literature that I think is needed to advance game culture, and which I enjoy reading. I did think that the recent "tell us how awesome you thought Deus Ex was" verged on puff piece, largely because everyone was equally inarticulately enthusiastic.

But the point is that the game industry has precisely failed to build on its past in many important and in countless detailed ways. This in favor of a focus on things that have nothing to do with game design - namely managing an asset pipeline and producing massive amounts of 3D assets. This is not game design.

Again, I caution you against saying "the game industry" when you really mean "the big AAA publishers". You risk tarring the people who made Plain Sight, Flotilla, Braid, World of Goo, Darwinia, Penumbra, Zeno Clash, and The Void with the same brush, and that seems unfair to them. Maybe we should say that there are two game industries, one that is big and conservative and marketing-driven and contains Bobby Kotick, and the other which is the opposite. Oh man, and the Eastern European game industry is so different from the American one, maybe we should count it as a third entity (played Space Rangers? King's Bounty? S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?).

Go look at the Metacritic top 20 for last year and tell me what you see. Do you see Dwarf Fortress and Spelunky there? Am I the one who's holding up AAA blockbusters as models of "great games"?

You've lost me here. I don't understand what relevance the metacritic top 20 has to this discussion, except to further underline my point that the mainstream isn't relevant to the art-ness of games. Is your point that the top 20 contains exactly zero innovation and therefore people who are interested in becoming wealthy are incentivized to create derivative works? I feel that the very fact that both Spelunky and Dwarf Fortress exist and that we've both played them to death means that the system is working at some level.
posted by breath at 10:01 PM on July 1, 2010


Hey, nice work on that Mother 3 translation, DoctorFedora! I gave that a run and was very impressed with the quality.
posted by breath at 10:03 PM on July 1, 2010


Rez and Portal are great games, to be certain — the former is beautiful, and the latter is a brilliant puzzle — but would I call them art? No more than I'd say Airplane! or Primer are art.

Ah, but Airplane! definitely is art. It may not be high art, but just because it's not high-blown doesn't mean it's not.

I love classic movies and can't understand how someone can call Hitchcock "boring." However, I was bored by Citizen Kane.

I can only conclude that you have no soul, or at the very least no empathy. What about Mr. Bernstein and his memory of that girl? Kane's showing up of the former editor of his first paper? His cooling relationship with his first wife? The chorus girl number? The newsreel? The bizarrely cold mother? All the visual tricks? The raucous early days of the paper? The long, slow fall of Kane, his alienating of all his friends, his growth into an institution and in so doing becoming the very thing he hated? The countless contrasts throughout the film? That scuzzy butler? The dark hand of the mob? The mobster offering to give the first Mrs. Kane and her boy a ride, and us being unsure whether to take it as a horrible premonition of their fate or a simple act of kindness by a complicated man? How about the confrontation between him and Kane? Dear god, the opera! Remember the stage hands' opinion of the performance? Remember the torture it put the girl through? Remember those final scenes with her and Kane? Kane going berserk in her bedroom?

While Hearst famously hated it, Citizen Kane doesn't so much paint an unfavorable portrait of its subject as an unflinchingly human one. By the end of the film, despite the horrible things we see him do, we still feel deep sorrow for him, or I do anyway. I suppose it is possible for someone to not like Citizen Kane, but I enjoy so much that it always causes me to think it reflects poorly on those who don't like it, instead of the film itself. You can always find someone who won't like something, after all.

It occurs to me that I wrote a post a lot like this one a few months ago about Earthbound. I seem frequently to appreciate things by providing lists of memorable moments.
posted by JHarris at 10:54 PM on July 1, 2010


MULTIPLE ENDINGS IS WHY THE CLUE MOVIE WILL NEVER BE ART!!!!!
posted by speicus at 11:30 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, whatever, I'm downloading Citizen Kane. I will report back, don't worry. I want my money back if I hate it.
posted by cj_ at 12:46 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why, when people say they don't like French films , or Citizen Kane, or broccoli or whatever, do other people feel it is their duty to MAKE them like it??
This whole thread is making me not want to see Citizen Kane at all despite no previous hard feelings. It's not stupid to limit your movie watching to things you reasonably assume based on past experience you'll like. It comes off as really dismissive and arrogant to say how wrong that person is.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:49 AM on July 2, 2010


Why, when people say they don't like French films , or Citizen Kane, or broccoli or whatever, do other people feel it is their duty to MAKE them like it??

That isn't what's happening here. What's happening here is that some people are saying 'I don't like Citizen Kane because I assume that it's boring,' and then people who have actually seen it are saying, 'You should watch it, I don't think it's boring at all.'
posted by shakespeherian at 5:03 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


And finally, I just want to express a bit of exasperation with the people who've defended today's game industry as an inevitable product of the mass market and implied a broad equivalency between what is produced in many different media.

I haven't been defending the big publisher mainstream game industry, I've just been trying to explain why I don't look at its existence as a relatively conservative outlet for marketing-obsessed pop titles as anything other than an artifact of the basic economics of any industry.

I do not look to the big publishers for hope. Neither do I feel any need to stake the future of innovation on them. The fact is that if there is money in games, there will be big publishers putting out sequels and retreads and milking franchises and failing to take significant artistic risks. My argument is not that this is good or desirable; it is only that this is not a reason to bemoan the death of gaming innovation, because it's got nothing to do with it either way.

While those big publishers are making their money mostly by playing it safe, there's still little shops doing new things, solo coders cranking out crazy prototypes, smart designers managing to get some amount of large-scale development support, big companies throwing spare R&D cash at actual ideas, etc. There's plenty of hope out there.
posted by cortex at 7:48 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, whatever, I'm downloading Citizen Kane. I will report back, don't worry. I want my money back if I hate it.

Well? Don't keep us (well, me) in suspense!
posted by JHarris at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2010


I've just remembered that Half Life has multiple endings, and one of them totally contradicts the start of Half Life 2. OH NO IT CAN NEVER BE ART!
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on July 2, 2010


I'd like to think that the alternate ending there doesn't actually contradict the sequel, that what we're actually seeing is a little slice of the coercive methods of the G-Man and his employers in action—the alternate evisceration scene is an induced hallucination design to push him toward making the correct decision when given another chance. He can refuse again, and be torn to shreds again, ad infinitum, but eventually he will break (if you're willing to believe that he was not already fundamentally broken, not already in fact the mute puppet of the G-Man before he stepped into the test chamber at Black Mesa lo those many lifetimes ago).

Gordon doesn't really have a choice to decline the offer, he only has the choice to end the torture by finally assenting.

Wilt thou help us Gordon? Y/N
> N
But thou must!
Wilt thou help us Gordon?
Y/N
> _
posted by cortex at 10:01 AM on July 2, 2010


So it's a battle you can never win?
posted by Artw at 10:07 AM on July 2, 2010


There's plenty of hope out there.
posted by cortex


Ken Levine is working on something as-yet-unnamed over at Irrational Games and presumably being given a pretty long leash after the huge success of Bioshock. That alone engenders great hope in me.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:43 AM on July 2, 2010


I saw Bioshock's ending taking a cab from Times Square to JFK, hopping on a plane, flying on over, taking the bus into town, and then knocking on my front door. That on top of the extra special gimmick - "Now that you've made it 7/8 of the way through the game, SURPRISE! The abilities you spent hours building up are now knocked back down to the levels they were at when you first booted this game. Adios, vendejo!" - was enough to put me off FPS's for a long time after that.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:36 PM on July 2, 2010


Isn't that more of a mid point twist?
posted by Artw at 3:23 PM on July 2, 2010


If I remember it right, after you get the reveal of who the real bad guy is, you carry on your merry way for a while, meet up with the secret lair of the Little Sisters, and that's when you're suddenly ridiculously de-powered. From that point on you go through the relatively quick process of becoming a Big Daddy, getting your own Little Sister, and then ta-da. So the span of time between your power-down and the final confrontation sure felt like it was the last eighth of the game, but I fully admit this is just how it felt to me, and the power-down may have very well happened at the halfway point.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:28 PM on July 2, 2010


Ken Levine is working on something as-yet-unnamed over at Irrational Games and presumably being given a pretty long leash after the huge success of Bioshock. That alone engenders great hope in me.

ken levine is one of my favorite developers, and I feel you on the love for the guy, but:

let's be clear. when ken levine sits down to make a game, he accesses the dungeons & dragons playing kid in his brain, lets him run wild with a purple crayon and does it. this is his great gift. this is not to say he will not or cannot make a game that finally gets acclaimed as "art" or whatever, or that you're wrong to have hope. I'm just saying, sometimes when people access that part of their brain the result is The Lord Of The Rings movies, and sometimes it's just another rpg. Bioshock, for everything that is wonderful about it, should not have been touted as being the harbinger of any kind of revolution or foray into art. It's a fantastic game, and that's all it needed to be.
posted by shmegegge at 3:29 PM on July 2, 2010


Doesn’t the whole forest sequence happen after that? I’m rusty on this, admittedly.

Also though losing all your weapons and having to regain them is kind of a FPS cliché by now I think I actually enjoyed the powers-going-haywire bit a lot as it made me use a bunch of powers I hadn’t played with prior to that point.
posted by Artw at 3:32 PM on July 2, 2010


The forest sequence - if by that you mean the one with the gas - is earlier in the game. And there's definitely something to be said for a game that suddenly pulls the rug out from under you. For most of the game, I was killing splicers with my wrench alone while gathering up a metric ton of weapons and ammunition. This really came in handy later on. I like being kept on my toes in a game and was worried I was going to just coast through Bioshock from beginning to end - I didn't need to be regenerated a single time until the power-down, for example - but being knocked back down to Level 1 levels of Life and Eve seemed too easy a gimmick to me. What I'm used to is just meeting a proportionately more powerful boss. OTOH, being met with the unexpected is definitely welcome. I just wish it had been a more creative surprise.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:47 PM on July 2, 2010


To me the actual final battle was the most boringly predictable by the book bit, and that you get to basically max out on everything in the room before is the bit that invalidates the work you've put in beforehand.
posted by Artw at 3:50 PM on July 2, 2010


Also though losing all your weapons and having to regain them is kind of a FPS cliché by now I think I actually enjoyed the powers-going-haywire bit a lot as it made me use a bunch of powers I hadn’t played with prior to that point.
posted by Artw


Ditto, the game had started to feel easy as I got in a power rotation, so I quite enjoyed that part. I guess I'm a Ken Levine fanboy because everything he touches (that I've played) I love. Indeed I don't really care if his games are high art or whatever, I only care that they are fantastic, and that there are really ideas behind them (both in game mechanics and story), and that he genuinely wants to make new and different games in the mainstream.
posted by haveanicesummer at 3:50 PM on July 2, 2010


The other thing that's a bit annoying is that it gives you hints that at one point the intention was to let you roam more freely around the city, with the bathysphere and the one level that's a hub with a choice of paths to take, but it never really quite lets you off the rails to do that.
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on July 2, 2010


Oh, don't get me wrong. It was definitely great fun to play and an amazing concept. And there were some moments there that still stand out to me. In particular, in the very beginning: you're taking the bathyosphere down into the sea, watching some cheesy film about man's capabilities, when suddenly an underwater city is revealed to you. You are awe-struck by the view, and can only imagine what wonders you'll encounter within as the sphere docks. Through the window, total darkness. And then, a spider splicer advancing on some poor schmuck, begging for his life. After he's torn to ribbons and the splicer bounds away, I distinctly remember thinking, "Oh, hell yes. This is going to be good."

I love that new-game feeling, but more so, I love that "I'm so fucking glad I bought this game" feeling. And I still don't regret playing Bioshock, or owning it still.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:58 PM on July 2, 2010


So it's a battle you can never win?

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?
posted by kaibutsu at 4:00 PM on July 2, 2010


I forget...

(DEUS EX SPOILER)

is there an equivalent sequence when you get the whammy put on you in Deus Ex, or do you just get told you're going to die for a bit and then not?
posted by Artw at 4:03 PM on July 2, 2010


A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

Well, I was thinking more of this...

Gordon Freeman, in the flesh - or, rather, in the hazard suit. I took the liberty of relieving you of your weapons. Most of them were government property. As for the suit, I think you've earned it. The borderworld, Xen, is in our control, for the time being... thanks to you. Quite a nasty piece of work you managed over there; I am impressed. That's why I'm here, Mr. Freeman. I have recommended your services to my... employers, and they have authorized me to offer you a job. They agree with me that you have limitless potential. You've proved yourself a decisive man so I don't expect you'll have any trouble deciding what to do. If you're interested, just step into the portal and I will take that as a yes. Otherwise, well, I can offer you a battle you have no chance of winning... rather an anticlimax after what you've just survived. Time to choose...
posted by Artw at 4:05 PM on July 2, 2010


(obviously that little speech is NOT ART because it doesn't have a bunch of little Keanu Reeves' reacting to it on monitor screens and it;s a lot shorter and easier to follow)
posted by Artw at 4:13 PM on July 2, 2010


(Nor was a CGI Garfield involved.)
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:18 PM on July 2, 2010


is there an equivalent sequence when you get the whammy put on you in Deus Ex, or do you just get told you're going to die for a bit and then not?

Yeah, the captured sequence, though all your confiscated items are in storage.

And Bioshock's midway surprise twist was pretty great. The makers of Bioshock had something to say, and that puts them far ahead of the majority of films that come out in any given year.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:20 PM on July 2, 2010


I was thinking more about when spoiler.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on July 2, 2010


I prefered Bioshocks twistyness to that of Metal Gear Solid 2, which like the rest of the game was mostly just annoying.
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on July 2, 2010


Speaking of which: An Objectivist on Bioshock.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:25 PM on July 2, 2010


Heh! "It's not like real objectivism because the people are all jerks!"
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on July 2, 2010


It appears that the pictures on the blog post have been switched from the Clive Barker game to Shadow of the Colossus
posted by Anything at 5:16 AM on July 3, 2010


BIOSHOCK SPOILERS:

Bioshock is a good example. It doesn't have a clear cut message, which, surprisingly (hamburger), the Objectivist misses. It's not an indictment or a defense of objectivism, but a discussion. Ryan's society didn't work because no one was really on board with his philosophy. The thing is, Atlas was also an objectivist, but without the pretense of benevolence. He was certainly self-reliant and unwilling to be hindered by the desires of "the weak." He broke down because of the level of deceit required to achieve his goal in that way*. And then you, yourself can be seen in this way, depending on how you played the game, which points out another flaw (or feature) in the logic of objectivism. When you get down to it, one can only be self reliant. Strict altruism doesn't exist. If there is no reward, whether it's physical or emotional, you don't do it. Gandhi had to care about his people enough to hunger strike, for example. At which point, the distinction becomes meaningless.

*Okay, maybe the makers did mean to have a fairly specific message what with the cover from The Fountainhead (is that the one?) being the end boss, but the author's intention means nothing.
posted by cmoj at 10:40 AM on July 3, 2010


Apparently, lots of Objectivists have played and reviewed Bioshock. This review is particularly compelling.
The decision of whom or what to rescue in an emergency is not as altruistic as you think. Like every other choice for an objectivist, this one is also simply a question of value. Megalomaniac manipulators like Fontaine don't have much value. Tanenbaum has great skill in genetics and so has high value. The little girls have potential value for the future of the species (what's the point of building a better world, if no one survives to appreciate it?). The splicers' minds are fried so they have no value at all. So when leaving I would take Tanenbaum and the girls, but leave the splicers and Fontaine to his own devices. Killing him is pretty hard and is really not worth the effort, since he does not control the bathyspheres anyway. If he really wants to leave, he can become a Big Daddy, who can walk outside and just float to the surface. I suspect he'll just stay in Rapture and rule it, and I say that's fine with me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:27 PM on July 3, 2010


Ryan's society didn't work because no one was really on board with his philosophy.

There's also the barely-concealed authoritarianism concealed with Objectivism, as exemplified by Andrew Ryan. When it became apparent that everybody wouldn't do what he told them to all of the time, and that a lot of people disagreed with him, he started stringing people up for dissent, smuggling (what the hell kind of an Objectivist restricts trade?), and similar "crimes". Ryan, like most individualists, only believed in freedom as long as it got him what he wanted.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:17 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's precisely what I think made the Bioshock concept so brilliant. I can appreciate FPS's that there more or less "go from A to B and kill everything in your path", and Bioshock could have been that alone. But instead, Levine made the failure of the libertarian ideal the fabric of the game itself. That's a really bold move, and one that worked beautifully.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:24 PM on July 3, 2010


The Ten Games Roger Ebert Should Play
posted by homunculus at 11:47 AM on July 30, 2010


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