With nearly 2,000 comments appending his latest blog post, Roger Ebert must be enjoying the whirlwind of controversy he's created. Five years ago Ebert declared that video games are not art, sparking a flurry of rebuttals from game designers and journalists. Now he's elaborated with an article denigrating acclaimed video games like Braid and Flower, saying "video games can never be art" and stirring up nerd rage like never before.


Game designers and thinkers have responded. First, video game producer and designer Kellee Santiago, whose presentation on games as art inspired Ebert's response. Santiago says:

It doesn't seem that Ebert has played many, if any video games. And if that's the case, then his opinion on the subject isn't relevant anyways... it's time to move on from any need to be validated by old media enthusiasts. It's good for dinner-party discussion and entertaining as an intellectual exercise, but it's just not a serious debate anymore. As a rapidly growing medium, we game developers have so many other issues deserving of our attention.
Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert weighs in:
He's not saying that film is art, but that some film is art. Ok, I can believe, under his standards, that no game has reached the level of art, but to say they never will be art is naive and history will prove as such.

Although, he did say "no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form", so I guess that is his escape from the hammer of the future, but it can not excuse the fact that he's never played or tried to understand games at the same level that he does film. If he wants to continually bring this issue up, then he should at least become a quasi-expert in it first or at lease try to understand it.
Speaking as an erstwhile video game journalist and someone who believes that games deserve every bit as much of your adult consideration as any other craft, I agree with Ebert in that they are craft, not art.

A game is a goal that is framed with rules governing the means to achieve the goal. The artsiest game is no more artistic than basketball or chess. Even a well-made marble chess set is not art.

In the same way, a game with a really fun story crammed into it is not art. A game with awesome graphics is not art. Most disappointing is the critical treatment of games like Braid, which is Mario with some admittedly clever puzzle elements, which try to cram meaning into an otherwise meaningless game mechanic.

In the words of my favorite games journalist, any attempt to derive meaning from a game mechanic, no matter how clever, can never sound any sillier than the following:

The stomping of goombas represents the justification of violence in the pursuit of a goal," or "The repetition of the levels symbolizes the futility of life and history's tendency to repeat itself.

Think I'm wrong? Tell me why in the comments.