Many of the rejoinders criticize Ebert for never having played video games himself. How, then, can he presume to pass judgment on them as being "not art"? It's a fair point, so I would like to say, as someone who has played hundreds of hours of computer games in the last three months alone: Ebert is absolutely right.
No one who has played games would seriously argue that video games are not at times artistic. From the beautiful images of island and sea in Myst to the view from Dive Rock in Oblivion to the cinematic cut scenes in too-many-games-to-name to the movie-quality voice acting in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to the music compositions that grace the backgrounds of countless games, games have always featured artistic elements. Some of them are quite grand. But the games themselves are not art any more than The Last Supper or The Thinker are games.
You may disagree by supplying your own definition of "art" or by trying to shoehorn games into an existing definition of "art," and it will be difficult to argue with you because at its basis this entire discussion is semantic. But in the same discussion, I could prove that video games are "pornography," that pornography is "literature," that good prose literature is "poetry," that poetry is "religion," that religion is "comedy," and on and on until we just end up hitting each other with shovels. Let's try it this way: whether something is or is not any of these things depends on its primary purpose, not what it might happen to accomplish tangentially along the way. Video games do not have, as their primary purpose, the enrichment of human experience through interpretation, and thus they are not art. Don't like that definition of "art?" Choose another, but either you won't be able to make video games fit the definition except through selective examples, accident, or metaphor, or you'll be using a definition to broad to be useful.
Gamers are upset about Ebert's comments, I suspect, because they're equating "art" with "good" and "not art" with "bad." This is just silly. There are plenty of wonderful things in life that are unquestionably enriching and and enlightening and worth experiencing but that are just as unquestionably not art. How about:
- The view from a balcony overlooking the Grand Canyon
- A muffuletta on Decatur Street
- A game of chess
- The Winter Olympics
- A Sunday New York Times crossword
- Falling in love
- Kant's theory of categorical imperative
I just wrote a posting about how, as a young man, a CRPG shaped my moral development. I'm investing hundreds of hours in this blog and playing the games that it covers, and thus I have as much reason as anyone to make believe that playing games isn't a complete waste of time. But something doesn't have to be "art" to not be a waste of time. And games are not art.
Later Edit: For those of you stumbling on this posting years later, please read this comment below before getting all upset.