Video games can never be art | Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert

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What stirs me to return to the subject? I was urged by a reader, Mark Johns, to consider a video of a TED talk given at USC by Kellee Santiago, a designer and producer of video games. I did so. I warmed to Santiago immediately. She is bright, confident, persuasive. But she is mistaken.Video games can never be art | Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert

I propose to take an unfair advantage. She spoke extemporaneously. I have the luxury of responding after consideration. If you want to follow along, I urge you to watch her talk, which is embedded below. It's only 15 minutes long, and she makes the time pass quickly.

She begins by saying video games "already ARE art." Yet she concedes that I was correct when I wrote, "No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets." To which I could have added painters, composers, and so on, but my point is clear.

Then she shows a slide of a prehistoric cave painting, calling it "kind of chicken scratches on walls," and contrasts it with Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Her point is that while video games may be closer to the chicken scratch end of the spectrum, I am foolish to assume they will not evolve. Video games can never be art | Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert

She then says speech began as a form of warning, and writing as a form of bookkeeping, but they evolved into storytelling and song. Actually, speech probably evolved into a form of storytelling and song long before writing was developed. And cave paintings were a form of storytelling, perhaps of religion, and certainly of the creation of beauty from those chicken-scratches Werner Herzog is even now filming in 3-D.

Herzog believes, in fact, that the paintings on the wall of the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc in Southern France should only be looked at in the context of the shadows cast on those dark walls by the fires built behind the artists, which suggests the cave paintings, their materials of charcoal and ochre and all that went into them were the fruition of a long gestation, not the beginning of something--and that the artists were enormously gifted. They were great artists at that time, geniuses with nothing to build on, and were not in the process of becoming Michelangelo or anyone else. Any gifted artist will tell you how much he admires the "line" of those prehistoric drawers in the dark, and with what economy and wit they evoked the animals they lived among.