A response to Eberts post on video games and art (link can be found here: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/04/video_games_can_never_be_art.html).
“No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.”
As I have only read a handful of the nearly 2000 comments on this post I hope I will not be the first one to cite a game that not only should be, but is, art. And I’m going to try to use Eberts analogies of art to make that point.
First a few lines about why I’m doing this and why I and many gamers should care. Frankly, Ebert, you sound like my dad when I was trying to convince him that films are art, I was coming with names like Truffaut, Godard, Kubrick and even Spielberg. Why the haunting images Le Mepris and Sympathy for the Devil was so haunting and said so much about our society and the people in it.
Why the beginning of 2001 was so brilliant, like a great piece like Bach’s Air.
I don’t blame my dad, he has never seen those films and even if he did he would probably find them boring. It’s exactly the same way with you and a video game, even if the game was pure mastery you would probably… be bored.
And this is not because you are old, dumb or anything else. It’s for the simple reason that you have not experienced video games enough.
If my father would see many films and really concentrate on them he would find appreciation over time for a film like 2001.
If you, Ebert, would game your way through Super Mario, Sonic, GTA, you would find appreciation for other games and find what is art and not.
“For example, I tend to think of art as usually the creation of one artist.”
You point out that film is not made by a single person, by many. Herzog did not make Bad Lieutenant by himself, and would Fitzcerraldo be as good as it is without the patient film crew behind and in front of the camera (not at least Kinski)?
But if this is a requirement for great art Hideo Kojima does something extraordinary with The Metal Gear Solid Series, he had such success as a game creator that he has his own company and is said as one of the giants in gaming, and Metal Gear he had completely control over.
Sam Lake wrote the story and screenplay for the hard-boiled games Max Payne 1 & 2, and was one of the creative forces behind those games.
I’m merely setting this up for the next point:
“One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersing games without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.”
Here your definition of a game is becoming a little blurry and it seems like you contradict yourself. If a game is chess or Monopoly, then maybe you are right, but VIDEO games are something completely different and it may or may not have an outcome, rules and points. A VIDEO game is most of the time a representation of a story and can only be experienced.
The first Metal Gear Solid is not about winning, getting points, it’s about war, the destructive nature of humans and the beauty we can find in a person no matter how cruel.
In one of the famous “boss fights” we get to feel sorry for someone whom we (or the main character Solid Snake) had to kill, the story tells of great sadness and we get a feeling of doubt and the moral ambiguity of what we are doing, but we have to keep going. For the greater good(or is it?).
Not unlike Captain Benjamin in Apocalypse Now had to believe he was doing right (or had he?) even if he were sent into the unknown.
The ending for Metal Gear 1 is a sad one and there is no victory in losing the love of ones life, and not completely destroying the bad guy, but not unlike An Inconvenient Truth the future for Solid Snake seems bright. An experience not unlike Apocalypse Now (even though Metal Gear Solid 3 does this even more so), the underlying themes of Metal Gear Solid does just as Apocalypse Now, hiding it’s true meaning under a gritty war theme. And all under Kojima’s careful and overwhelming hands.
As for Max Payne it plays out as an action-packed film-noir story as you play a modern Humphrey Bogart who gets entangled in a more personal journey than first intended (the crappy movie makes the video game no justice). Here is a video game that can only be experienced, you go on a trail for justice with just leaving dead bodies behind you, but you do it because you have to (to avenge your loved ones and setting the bad guy to justice), and this game works so good that you even compare to noir classics as John Huston’s Maltese Falcon or Wilder’s Double Indemnity, as it works just as good and tells the story so effectively that you believe this to be true. And even if some say that the game has been dated it’s the same persons that say The Maltese Falcon has been dated (the graphics are bad vs. it’s in black and white).
Video games will always be restrained by technology, but so will film (the reason one chooses to make a black and white film today is the same reason someone chooses to make a side scrolling game today, because it serves the story and characters better).
If you are talking rules as: you can’t get past that wall because someone programmed that wall to be indestructible, it’s the same for movies, you won’t see past that wall because it’s not important to the story and characters we want to tell.
I can quote more games that have moral themes and so deep moral choices that is shakes the core of ones being (a certain baby-kidnapping in Fallout 3 comes to mind).
“Plato, via Aristotle, believed art should be defined as the imitation of nature.”
Santiago brings forward an interesting game, Flower. Flower is at its essence an imitation of nature, so much so as it tries to portrait nature literally. But what Santiago points out is that it’s about something else, balance in nature.
Sure one could say that, and it’s true. But one could also say that 2001 one is about evolution, and it’s true. 2001, Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi and Flower use the same engine in the human gene which is to find an explanation, the same way we try to find an explanation behind Mona Lisa’s smile.
Can’t it just be? Can Mona Lisa just be smiling? Can Koyaanisqatsi just be beautiful? Can not Flower just be beautiful too?
Flower is a haunting piece of art. The first time I started the video game I was in tears, it was the most beautiful video game I had ever seen, and like 2001 I just stared at the first spectacle of Flower and marveled by its beauty, after 10 minutes of just staring I grabbed the controller and thought this must be the way people felt when they first saw a painting by Monet for the first time in the beginning of 1900.
Flower is not about anything, you are the wind who try to capture flower leafs and as you capture more and more the environment changes. It’s the most hunting game I’ve ever played just because it’s pure mastery at mixing sound (more like music) and the picture in front of you. It’s as hauntingly beautiful as a Monet painting, Bach’s Air, or Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World.
You can even play it with just one button, which makes the experience more seamless and immersing.
Flower is not for winning, not for points, it’s for an experience, and an experience that not only brings me goosebumps but actually makes me fall a few tears by the sheer thought of it.
“Toward the end of her presentation, she shows a visual with six circles, which represent, I gather, the components now forming for her brave new world of video games as art. The circles are labeled: Development, Finance, Publishing, Marketing, Education, and Executive Management”
And this point is the worst yet, which only proves you are wrong. Go in to Warner Brothers, Fox, Universal at any point in time and see the exact same points on their wall, is it viable to finance Herzogs (put in any name you want) latest film, or even distribute it?
Film is a really expensive art (can be relatively cheap as once again proven by Herzog), but ever since the beginning of film it has been expensive, as you actually has to have a video camera (even though they are becoming cheaper). D. W. Griffith would not have made Intolerance if he had not had such success with Birth Of A Nation (and so on and so on).
A game company or person has to have a viable business method to survive and make the games that they want to make (exactly as Griffith), even if they don’t find a viable solution you would still find a person or group who makes great games with very little, but the time and money it takes does make it hard to make the next game, and if you are having short on cash it’s cheaper to make a short art film than a short art video game, in a pure money perspective (a cheap camera costs less than a good computer to render graphics).
I’m not a hardcore video gamer, I’m more of a film buff and do enjoy watching Truffaut more than playing virtual golf. But I truly believe that this is because of my upbringing and that I know how to appreciate Zombieland more than Left For Dead 2.
If Ebert learned to appreciate Super Mario, maybe he would learn to love Flower, and not only see it as a video game, but a truly wonderful work of art.
”Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”
As I have illustrated, I have already experienced video games as an art form. I rest my case.