Voices From E3: Gaming Luminaries on Games as Art and Roger Ebert

Back in April, film critic Roger Ebert stirred up a tempest in a teacup with his comment that gaming can never be art. Last week at E3, the game industry's annual mega-convention, I asked the gaming execs and creators I interviewed their thoughts on Ebert's opinion and if they could give him one game to change his mind, what would that be. Their thoughts below.

Laurent Detoc, North America president, Ubisoft:

Metal Gear SolidEven Hideo Kojima [creator of the critically-acclaimed series Metal Gear Solid] doesn't even consider that video games are art, if I recall correctly. As a consumer, I don't actually like to look at if it is an art form or not. I think there is an ample case for explaining why it should be. Ebert has his opinion, and so do another billion people. I like to look at games as a set of experiences. Would I call that art? As a consumer, I don't think it matters.

In my opinion, I think it is art. Because it is an artistic expression of one or more people who want to transmit their view. That would be my definition of art, and maybe if you look in the dictionary and it may something else. As for one game, I think every game is artistic. Based on what I am saying, it is the artists' representation of what they want you to experience. Either everything is art or none of them are art.

Marc Whitten, General Manager of Xbox Live, Microsoft:

bioshockThere's lots that fit into that. When you played through Bioshock the first time, the visuals were great and the story was amazing. When you played through and landed on the beach in the original Halo, it was a really special moment. When you play a lot of the games that we have on Xbox Live Arcade, the smile that comes to your face because you solve a cool physics puzzle or whatever, I think it is also art. It is for sure art to me--but then again, I love a lot of games. Geometry Wars I love, which I think is beautiful, and zen-like and having a great experience. Art is not one of those things that you want to put a box around.

Reggie Fils-Aime, President and CEO, Nintendo of America:

Super Mario GalaxyInherent in your question is part of what your industry needs to understand: Like any form of art, whether it's movies, whether it's books, whether it's television, the fact is, we don't have the same taste. And so there is a wide variety of option of every single taste. I can point someone to Super Mario Galaxy 2, which visually is a stunning game, easily approachable, something you would want to play with your kids. For some consumers that's great. There are other consumers, where their tastes will drive them to a product more like Halo. As an industry we have something for everyone. Which is, I would argue, one of the core fundamentals of an artistically-driven enterprise.

Joseph Olin, President, Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences:

OkamiI honestly thought that he might respond to Flower or Flow in some way, based upon his much publicized remarks--but he obviously did not pick up a game pad and play; basing his argument on Kellee Santiago's presentation from a TedX conference. I would have to say that Clover Studio's Okami would be my suggestion (although many arguments could be made for Metal Gear Solid 3). Okami was Hideki Kamiya's game based upon classical Japanese history (somewhat filtered) whose story was about Ameratsu, the sun goddess embodied as a white wolf and Issun, a self absorbed artist who ultimately forge a deep relationship while trying to restore life and color to black and barren land that was cursed by 8-headed dragon Orochi. The play mechanic, the 13 Celestial Brush techniques are the player's connection within this special world. It is a cerebral experience, not too challenging with its game play--and on the version for Nintendo's Wii--truly captivating on nearly every level. It is a game to be as much enjoyed today as it was in 2006.

Sadly, I believe that it is impossible to have a discussion with Mr. Ebert about how game makers continue to create artistic experiences. He is not interested and as such truly does not wish to engage in a serious discussion because he will not try to play. I believe our medium will show more of the emotion of the experience with each passing year and that we can find other critics, who as champions of ALL artistic efforts--will be pleasantly surprised with the state of interactive arts today.

Nick Earl, Senior VP and Group GM, Electronic Arts:

Uncharted 2I think Uncharted 2 is one of the most incredible, flawless entertainment experiences that I have played in my entire career. If he played that game, he would be able to get through it as a non-gamer, because you can't help but get through it. It is just so beautifully delivered--the dialogue, the story, the acting is world class. It will match up against any movie, in my opinion. I give them tremendous credit for what they did in that game. To me that is a beacon of hope for the industry, especially my group. I think it is art. It is absolutely art. You may have different opinions along the way, in the end you can't argue that is a wonderful experience that makes you feel so emotionally connected--I think that's what art is all about. I can tell you we have such aspirations here to match that quality. I think we are not going to rest until we match that in every franchise.

It's not just Uncharted. We are seeing a very strong macro-trend towards epic moments inside of a game. Call of Duty does it very effectively in their games. You feel like you are part of something absolutely magnificent. And it doesn't require you doing a 17-button combo to pull that off. There are magnificent moments in Street Fighter when it was in the arcade, but you had to hit six buttons to do it. What we're learning is that if you go out to a broader audience you have to be able to deliver something magnificent regardless of your skill as a gamer.

Susan Panico, Senior Director of PlayStation Network, Sony:

FlowerI am having a hard time picking just one. I think every game is a piece of art. Every game starts with an empty canvas that the game creator gets to paint his vision or her vision on and build something that is spawned from their imagination. If you really want to go to truly appreciating art, look at something like Flower. That created a new genre all together. It was beautiful to look at and presented a totally different, visceral experience than people were used to seeing in games. Little Big Planet, you can argue that is everybody's art, because everybody gets to create some type of expression of themselves.

I'm a little biased when I talk about Gran Turismo, because I used to working in the marketing department and I worked with Kazunori since the original GT. They go out with a microphone and put it up to the exhaust of an engine at every RPM rev of that particular car and do it for whatever hundreds of cars in that game. To have that level of passion, so you can express your product in such a realistic way. To me that is also art, or look at how the physics of that car perform or the reflections on the car. So I think in so many ways every video game is a piece of art in its own right.

Ben Feder, CEO, Take-Two Interactive:

Red Dead RedemptionIt's hard for me to pick one game, because I love all my children equally. Some of our games are really product, but some of the higher end games--just show him one. Show him Borderlands, show him Red Dead Redemption, show him Grand Theft Auto 4. These are beautifully set, cinematic games with character development, storyline development, beautiful setting. Red Dead is such an awesome setting; you just fall in love with it. I don't know how these games can be anything but art, and an expression of art. I am personally gratified to be in business with guys that can create that, that have that talent and that foresight and that vision to create beautiful works of art.

What do you think about Ebert's opinion? And what game would you give him to play?

Stay tuned for more interviews from E3.

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2 Comments

  • Chad Geri

    Best point made was that Ebert really has no business even making such a claim because he refuses to test it by actually playing some of these games. It would be like someone who's never seen a movie trying to tell him that a movie can never be art. It's just a joke.

  • tfh

    Though each of the execs seemed to have a well thought out response, I'm a bit disappointed that they only tried to sell sell their own stuff as art, personally I'd pick Zork. It's pretty much the essence of a game; you don't have graphics, you don't have a motion sensitive controller or any of that jazz. But without all the bells and whistles it still has all it needs: an immersive world, and an engaging storyline that takes twists and turns based on your decisions.