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The Great Game Debate.

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn April 20, 2010 at 12:16PM

The Great Game Debate.
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A few days ago, Roger Ebert posted a controversial essay on his blog reaffirming his staunch assertion that videogames cannot be art. He unleashed his astonishingly blunt thesis in the very first paragraph: "No video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form."

Well, as an occasional gamer whose serious love of movies coincided with my awareness of videogames as a distinct moving image experience, I beg to differ. Ebert puts forth a coherent argument that probably works for many non-gamers. It may seem like both a lost cause and the rejection of certain self-evident realities to anyone with an advanced perspective on videogame form. But since my experience in gaming discourse is elementary, I refer you to Mike Thomsen's eloquent response, in which he offers plenty of examples to back up his rebuttal. (The Guardian weighs in here.)

To me, it seems like Ebert has become relentlessly hung up on the use of the word "game," and thus unable to remove it from the context of sports. With the exception of the Nintendo Wii's motion-based experiences, which probably belong more in the category of athletics, the unique design of a game often engages a player in a manner that veers off the binary path of a win-or-lose dynamic in favor of a truly organic experience. The nuanced opening sequence of Valve's Half-Life is generally seen as a pioneer in this regard:

As the above segment illustrates, game design dovetails into gameplay. Together, they create the hybrid aesthetic accomplishment known for eons as storytelling. We all know that stories serve a multitude of purposes, from the institution of cultural memory to the extraction of singular meaning from the oft-fragmented patterns of daily life. But they are also creative entities that come together through a synthesis of ideas and content, regardless of the specific medium. Gamers may not have found their Shakespeare yet, but that would be a derivative, anyway. Gameplay necessitates ingenuity, and within that ingenuity lies the indelible mark of artistic intent. Game on, players.

This article is related to: New Media