More Artistic Thinking

A few final thoughts on the game-review-as-art-critique debate, then I’m considering the matter closed for now.

First, a clarification: I didn’t mean to malign the whole of video game reviewing in my piece. There are plenty of outlets out there that treat games as holistic experiences instead of simple consumer products — many of them were mention in the posts comments thread, and many more were left out. The Web has led to a wide expansion in the variety and quality of game criticism out there, and that effect is beginning to seep through to the mass-market publications as well. I’d like to see this trend continue.

Second, the New York Times last weekend had a good piece on whether or not games should be considered art. The most important point, to me, was that people (and critics) shouldn’t necessarily look at artistic games the same way they look at artistic film or literature.

Movies are just one model for games to emulate. Henry Jenkins, director of the comparative media studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suggested that they are equally close to dance, as a medium of performance, or architecture, as a medium of creating unique spaces.

It’s the unique way that gaming combines elements of other artistic forms that makes them deserve special consideration.

Finally, I think this quote from Ebert (which I somehow missed in researching the first time around) gets to my point better than anything else:

I believe books and films are better mediums, and better uses of my time. But how can I say that when I admit I am unfamiliar with video games? Because I have recently seen classic films by Fassbinder, Ozu, Herzog, Scorsese and Kurosawa, and have recently read novels by Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Bellow, Nabokov and Hugo, andif there were video games in the same league, someone somewhere who was familiar with the best work in all three mediums would have made a convincing argument in their defense. [emphasis added]

That bolded sentence right there is Ebert calling us out as critics. It’s not enough for the games themselves to be worthwhile. If we want wider cultural acceptance of games as important, affecting experience, we need to convince the people who would never even consider them as such. Not an easy feat, to be sure, and not one we’re going to accomplish by just analyzing a game’s frame rate.

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