The “games vs. art” debate is pretty much the same as the debate about abortion (and absolutely just that important).
It’s not that anybody thinks killing babies is cool, it’s that we don’t all agree on when something is a baby. If we all agreed on that, there is no debate about abortion.
When Roger Ebert says that “games aren’t art,” he’s right, if we’re going by the definition the word has had since c. 1300 save for the last 30 years or so.
The problem is that the interactive electronic entertainment Ebert’s detractors care so much about outgrew the “game” nomenclature practically as soon as it was assigned. When you think about all the incredible experiences that we use the word for (most of which Ebert is ignorant of, I’d assume), everything from creating extemporaneous fiction with a friend in Sleep Is Death to World of Warcraft‘s miraculous ability to get millions of adults to simultaneously pretend that they are elves, gnomes and orcs, it’s quickly apparent that “game” is not even close to a large enough umbrella.
For whatever reason, it’s a term we pretty stubbornly cling to, writing off anyone who tries to toss around “interactive cinema” as pretentious (and with good reason sometimes). But even “interactive cinema” doesn’t solve the problem, as it attempts to define this incredible, inclusive medium as an old one that’s just been refracted through a different lens.
But we’re already pretty far out to sea with “game”, and it seems like there’s little chance of rowing back. If someone was smart enough to come up with a word that encompassed the medium more accurately than “game,” we might be able to backpedal, but the thing is, they won’t. It just doesn’t exist.
Think about that for a second. Interactive electronic entertainment in 2010 is so vast, so varied, so filled with incredibly disparate experiences that it’s impossible to even come up with an accurate name for it. I don’t know about you, but I’d take that over getting everyone in the world to classify games as art any day of the week.
(Oh, and as for Mr. Ebert: He’s a man with an incredible voice and an unparalleled insight into film, let’s not waste the time he has left going in circles about this and sending a lot of negativity his way. We know what’s up — isn’t that enough?)