Tuesday, June 01, 2010

John Joseph Adams' new e-zine launched today, and it's a beauty.
It's e-book friendly and has a great layout (thanks to the awesome web design of Jeremy Tolbert), but what's best is the fiction (thanks to editor/slush readers Christie Yant and Jordan Hamessley [@thejordache]). Clarion co-detainee Vylar Kaftan has the lead story, and it is as great an SF-built love story as you could want. Vy has been writing consistently great stuff since I met her in 2004, and this one is worthy of the lead page in a great new on-line Sf destination.
So go, read, and become instantly cooler.

Why Ebert Still Doesn't Get It

It has been some time since Roger Ebert's first claim that video games
are not art, and he has come out with a second
supporting the same statement. In this case, he writes his
essay as a response to Kellee Santiago's TED talk. Poor Santiago, who
didn't realize that she was debating rather than presenting.

I don't really care about Ebert's definitions of art, nor do I
particularly like the games that Santiago recommends as examples. In
fact, I chortlingly agree with Ebert when he refers to the story in
"Braid" as something that "...exhibits prose on the level of a wordy
fortune cookie."

But he's still wrong, and to me the reasoning is
still pretty simple. If I write a short story, one can argue that I
have committed art. In public, no less. When I create characters,
narrative, story arcs and moments of drama, that is art. Perhaps not
high art, perhaps not fine art, but certainly art. When game writers
like Marc Laidlaw or Richard Dansky write a non-game novel, they are
writing art. And yet, when we put these same skills and the same craft
into a video game, suddenly it is not art anymore. Dude, where's my art?

the illustrator who does graphic novels or posters or book covers and
is now doing games, isn't doing art anymore. Somehow to Ebert the
collective creation of all these artistic minds is less than the sum of
its parts; we start out with talented artists (I'm not necessarily
including myself in that) using their skills to their utmost, and manage
to end up with non-art. Sub-art. Pseudo-art.

Which of course, if
you think about it, makes absolutely no sense.

It's an uphill
struggle to talk to someone like that about games, because it is
difficult to explain the artistic nature of games to someone who has not
played one. Until a person grapples with a game like "Passages" or
"Flower" (which Ebert does not understand... because he has not played
it) it is unlikely that they will understand some of the subtler effects
of a game. Guess what? I'd have a pretty free time arguing films
weren't art if I'd never seen one. Or if I'd only seen stuff by Michael

Ebert also goes off on tangents that are nothing short of
bizarre, for instance stating that Stravinsky, Picasso, and Beckett were
not trying to communicate ideas to an audience. Why? Because Santiago
says that games do that, and it is why games are art. Therefore, in
Ebert's world, other forms of art cannot do that. Mr. Ebert, if you do
not believe that Picasso wished to communicate ideas to an audience in
order to engage them I have one word for you: "Guernica." But gosh, what
am I thinking? It would be ridiculous to even fantasize that Beckett
wrote plays because he had, you know, ideas to communicate.

Ebert decides that art is some indefinable thing that occurs to
imitations of nature as those imitations pass through the artist's soul
and become something indefinable. He ends up  admitting, after all, that
we know what is art and we can define it because it is a matter of

And there we have the crux of his argument. Video games
are not art, because Roger Ebert does not like them.

I shall,
respectfully, disagree.