I’ve long admired Roger Ebert’s film reviews. Encyclopedic knowledge coupled with warmth, filtered through humanistic insights are what make him one of the best critics ever. And so while I was not surprised that Ebert is not a fan of video games, I did find his unwillingness to allow them status as Art a bit of a head-scratcher.

The problem seems to be at root his definition – or lack of a definition – of art per se. As he himself admits, he failed to define art in his piece that kicked up a firestorm of wrath from gamers. Moreover, in his response to those disgruntled readers, he makes the pedestrian error of confounding quality art with art qua art:

“My error in the first place was to think I could make a convincing argument on purely theoretical grounds. What I was saying is that video games could not in principle be Art. That was a foolish position to take, particularly as it seemed to apply to the entire unseen future of games. This was pointed out to me maybe hundreds of times. How could I disagree? It is quite possible a game could someday be great Art.”

And later: “But there are many forms of high art, and they have appeared at many times.”

Why this insistence on quality? Can’t video games be bad art, at least? When Ebert does eventually begin to approach a definition of art, I cannot concur:

“Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices.”

My rebuttal to that is for another time and another post. However, we do eventually agree on something:

“The conscious creation of art seems to be one area in which humans have a monopoly among living beings. Perhaps the turning point in our evolution as a species came when we grew capable of creating art and stories.”

Read the entire piece here.