Video: Brian Moriarty's 'Apology for Roger Ebert'

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  04 April 2013
Video: Brian Moriarty's 'Apology for Roger Ebert'

In Memoriam of Roger Ebert

"Beyond Zork and Loom creator and Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Brian Moriarty delivers a defense of Roger Ebert's industry-stirring sentiment that "video games can never be art," given in this newly free video lecture from GDC 2011 courtesy of the GDC Vault.

"This is an apology in the sense of a Greek apologia, the systematic defense of a position or opinion," explains Moriarty as he begins to share the context of Ebert's industry-stirring statements from 2005. The debates that followed had mostly subsided until a later TEDx lecture by Kellee Santiago, then co-founder and president of thatgamecompany,
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  04 April 2013
This was probably one of the best most well thought out arguments against games as art I've seen. After hearing it and thinking about his arguments I have to say I agree with his assessment based on what we've come to consider art in society. The definition of art today can change and probably will change in the future, but I think its inherent to the definition of sublime art that the person experiencing it is not working in it or at it.

My argument against games as art has always been the fact that games, and film are commercial in nature. His argument that commercial art is by nature kitsch is very interesting and can be true, though I think its a bit of an over-generalization and though he mentions that Ebert thought most movies were trash, Films can and are under the same commercial pressures that games, indie or otherwise, are under. So if a game is inherently kitsch due to the pressure of selling a product, so are films. There can be an argument that even movies/videos posted on the internet for free for no commercial gain (like on youtube or vimeo) are posted for views which while there may not be a monetary exchange can still mean that you are making your movie/video to attract a certain demographic or target audience. Does that make your movie kitsch? He does make an argument that art is attraction which I thought clashed a bit with his argument against commercial art as "real" art.

He brought up a lot of cool points, that definitely has me contemplating video games as art and arguments for and against.

One thing I do want to bring up is that according to Moriarty based on his romantic philosophical views games can not be art because will is involved, art should be about contemplation, not work and games by nature are work that doesn't feel like work. So my counter-argument against sports, chess, and videogames falling into that category is what about spectators? Can we as someone not actually involved with the game play consider the game art?

When I see a beautiful 3 pointer being shot over 30 feet, I see that as art, when I used to watch Jordan do the impossible when he used to dunk the ball, I see that as art. When I watch Evo every year and see the amazing things being done by players in fighting games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Streetfigher 4, there can be some very artistic things done by players. To me seeing humans surpass what we thought was possible is art. Humanity is art imo (not to sound sappy) and one can sit back and contemplate the human condition, and how far we've come and where we are going.If dance is considered art, why isn't sport also considered art? I'm speaking strictly as something to be appreciated as a viewer?

Can games be art based on the romantic definition of art if one is just a viewer not involved in goal setting? Does a games inherent win or lose nature clash with that view even if you are just the viewer or 3rd party experiencing another playing? I don't really know.
  04 April 2013
Unfortunately this really just highlights that while everyone is entitled to an opinion, not everyone's opinion has the same worth. In this case, despite Ebert's experience as a film critic, his comments on "Are video games art?" was little more than an unqualified "I don't get it!?" reaction you'd expect more at a contemporary art exhibit than from a contemplative criticism.

Here at least Brian Moriarty offers a better argument against. And even if he didn't have the years experience he does in the subject, this presentation is much more valid opinion on the subject than what Ebert offered.

Even through I'd be hard pressed to describe "video-games as art", I do think there is "art in video-games" - and not just in terms of audio-visual output, but on what a game gives our thoughts or emotions. And by that same token I'd perhaps struggle to describe other artistic fields such as literature, theatre, music, film, etc as art, even through there may be art in them.
  04 April 2013
In my opinion, Games cannot be Firmly established as art, because if you put aside romantic notions, art is a controlled market for the affluent based mainly upon (projected and actual) historical rarity and fluctuated to some degree by the ebb and tide of fashion. Games and films can never be bought or sold so won't be of interest to those who invest. It is the literal buying into art that gives it any real value that can be quantified. This could be demonstated by the fact that If Damien Hirst designed a creature in a game, his drawing (a sellable unique one off Damien Hirst) could be valued, yet the creature as it appeared in the game could not. It begs the question of where the value of that design would really lie.

Arguing over whether they are 'art' outside this market is totally subjective, as is art itself. I've played games that have had a major influence over my creative direction, and I've had the same spark from many other mediums. Personally I don't draw any distinction between them any more.
I dont care about whether somebody else calls what i admire 'Art' or not as it's of no relevance , and I try not to use that vague term myself nowadays.
Over one hundred polygons

Last edited by pooby : 04 April 2013 at 06:37 PM.
  04 April 2013
Penny Arcade on Ebert's rants:

Quote: He is not talking to you, he is just talking. And heís arguing

1. in bad faith,
2. in an internally contradictory way,
3. with nebulously defined terms,

so thereís nothing here to discuss. You can if you want to, and people certainly do, but thereís no profit in it. Nobodyís going to hold their blade aloft at the end of this thing and found a kingdom. Itís just something to fill the hours.

Also, do we win something if we defeat him? Does he drop a good helm? Because I canít for the life of me figure out why we give a shit what that creature says. He doesnít operate under some divine shroud that lets him determine what is or is not valid culture. He cannot rob you, retroactively, of wholly valid experiences; he cannot transform them into worthless things.

Heís simply a man determined to be on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the human drive to create, and dreadfully so; a monument to the same generational bullshit that says because something has not been, it must not and could never be.

Last edited by Venkman : 04 April 2013 at 02:28 PM.
  04 April 2013
i do not believe that games is directly "art", but since most games are based upon beautiful concept art and so on i strongly believe that many games is at the very least "a work of art"
  04 April 2013
I think Bioshock Infinite pretty much puts that whole debate to rest - sure, it has flaws (the biggest being that it's an ultra-violent shooter when it never needed to be) but Columbia, its story, its residents and Elizabeth are the high-water mark of intellectual and aesthetic game design.

That's not to discount many other games I'd include in a list of 'works of art' but I dare anyone not to wander the streets of that incredible floating city and proclaim what they're experiencing isn't 'art'.
Andrew G. Morgan
Survivor Films Ltd.
  04 April 2013
Did Ebert start this or was he replying to someone comparing a game to Hamlet?

I think the best argument is that no one cares if chess is considered an art (although most people dont consider playing chess a waste of time) and the interactivity-
-that it would be like a painter making a painting then inviting the audience to strip away the paint to reveal another painting if they dont like the first one. I am not sure the interactive nature would invalidate it as an artistic experience if the artist is controlling the options. But even if the audience is contributing, not sure it would matter either. Isnt a preview film screening a form of interaction? Asking the audience to give an opinion on the story? I read Lethal Weapon's ending changed because of audience response.

Eh who cares.
  04 April 2013
Ah, but chess and video games aren't the same thing.

In fact, even the nomenclature of 'video games' could be considered misleading now.

True, video games in their infancy were little more than bat and ball, moving and shooting and racing cars - more in common with sports than games really, but in a medium where literally anything is now within our grasp, perhaps calling them 'games' is part of the reason they're not considered art.

Is something like Bioshock Infinite not more of an interactive movie? Where the star is you and your actions determine the flow of events (if not, the eventually outcome)?

It's a debate that will doubtless continue to crop up again and again but

if certain words in the form of a book or a story can be considered art,

if certain music can be considered art,

if certain performances and stories on celluloid can be considered art,

then how can a medium capable of encapsulating all of these and more be incapable of creating 'art'?

Whether that art exists or not (and I believe it does) is a subject for debate, but I think it's clear that the medium of 'video games' is capable of it.
Andrew G. Morgan
Survivor Films Ltd.
  04 April 2013
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