Gamers Prove Roger Ebert Was Right About Video Games

The great film critic Roger Ebert once wrote that video games could never be art. I have always believed that statement to be one of the few times he was egregiously wrong. Art evokes emotion and feeling when we experience it so of course video games are art. It is now clear to me that he was right. Except he wasn’t right in the sense that video games have no artistic value, they do, but he was right because the audience for video games does not want them to be art. That’s right I’m talking about the community hell-bent on giving themselves a bad name. Gamers.

I love video games and I have for 20 years. I’ve always been a proud gamer but the more I’ve interacted with other gamers online and the more I’ve seen the way they discuss and engage with games, one thing has been made clear to me. Gamers by and large do not love video games and it is a group I am not proud to be part of. Gamers do not see nor treat games like art, they treat them like nothing more than products. How can video games be art if the people engaging with them treat them like household appliances?

The biggest indictment of gamers refusal to treat games as art is The Game Awards. I’ve written enough rants about that pockmark of a show before but here’s the gist. That’s a show where you will see a crowd full of people in the gaming industry and games media clap like seals as they watch commercials for future video games under the thin guise of honoring the best games of the year. That’s a hell of a way to honor art, by cheering on the things you’ll be buying next. The sad simple fact is that’s how games are treated by gamers. It’s a thing you buy, you push the buttons and then you’re ready to buy the next thing.

Art evokes emotion out us, it makes us feel things, makes us think about the world and our place in it, and makes us reflect on our experiences. To discuss art is to discuss those things. Games are rarely discussed this way, even by major games media outlets. The majority of the time you will find games are only discussed on the basis of what happens when you push the buttons on the control and how many glitches there are. Game reviews often read like nothing more than a list of features and specifications. You push buttons to do this and that, and the game looks good 9/10. That isn’t how you talk about art that’s how you talk about a washing machine. This is how gamers want to discuss games.

Tech site Wired recently published their review of the game Hogwarts Legacy. This review, written by a trans writer is an absolutely scathing takedown of the game, the wizarding world of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling. They awarded the game a 1/10 not just because they don’t like the game but because they despise what it represents and how it makes them feel. This is how art should be reviewed and critiqued. Art and judging whether you think it is good is about a lot more than just how well made it might be. Art is about the feelings it evokes in us and the value we see in it. Gamers don’t want games to be about anything other than how well-made they are.

This review was subject to intense criticism by both gamers and people in games media, claiming that the writer doesn’t know how to review games. I say the people mad at it don’t know how to review games. The main takeaway from that review was people think well-made games don’t deserve low scores no matter what. Once again, that’s how you critique a microwave not a piece of art.

A couple years ago I wrote a review of the game Nerf Legends. While playing that game I felt like my soul was being sucked out of me. It offered no value as a game and the only feeling it evoked in me was despair for how terrible the experience it was. I didn’t give it a numbered score but my rating was that its mere existence was proof humanity was beyond redemption. According to gamer logic, since it was at the very least a functioning video game with no major glitches, that means it deserves a higher score. I would give Sonic Frontiers a perfect score not because of how well-made it is but because it made me feel like a kid again. It reminded me there is joy in an increasingly bleak world. By gamer logic that score is invalid because it isn’t the most polished game out there. Gamer logic is as full of crap as the average gamer’s underwear. Gamers don’t want the art they engage in to be art, they want it to be a product that provides a fun distraction. Feeling and emotion do not matter, all that matters is if it was made well.

IGN, the biggest games media outlet in the world recently published a piece explaining why most game reviews score at least a 7/10. The basic premise of their argument is that since there are so many games they only choose to review things they think they’ll give at least a 6/10. That’s the biggest gaming outlet in the world admitting that they don’t do their job as critics properly. They don’t want to engage with games that they don’t think look fun enough to be at least a 6/10. If the gaming publication with the biggest reach doesn’t want to engage with games seriously as art then why should gamers?

Major publications like The New York Times or The Atlantic have little to no gaming coverage and when they do it’s pitiful. The question is always asked why those publications don’t take the most profitable medium on earth seriously. The answer is clear. Why would they provide serious coverage when the readers will be children. No offense to real children, who are often more mature than adult gamers. Why should a major publication offer real coverage of video games the way it does film or music when the audience will respond with pre-school level foolishness? What would a publication gain by running serious, thoughtful, critical coverage of games when all that would be met with by the readers is console war comments, and complaints that all they wanted was to know whether it plays well?

Art does not exist in a bubble, it exists in relation to other art, the world, and the context of its creation. Gamers want every video game to exist in a multiversal bubble where nothing else exists. I wish art worked that way. I wish I could watch Chinatown, one of the greatest films ever made, without thinking about how it was made by a rapist. Gamers want to play Call of Duty without thinking about how it funds right-wing politicians who want to take away your rights if you aren’t rich and white, gamers want to play Overwatch without thinking about the sexual harassment that went on at Blizzard, gamers want to play Hogwarts Legacy without thinking about it directly funds the most famous transphobe on earth.

I know there are gamers out there who respect video games as art. I know there are gamers who see games as more than just things where you push buttons to have fun. But when the majority of public opinion among gamers is that the only things that matter are if it’s made well and fun to push the buttons then it’s clear gaming is a long way off from where it should be by now. Gamers don’t want to discuss games in any real critical way, either because they’re too ignorant or too stupid to see anything beyond “pushing buttons is fun”.

The most prominent public figure gaming has is Geoff Keighley, a man who exists solely to show you advertisements. He has three shows a year dedicated to making you forget about the games you’re currently playing and instead be excited about which one to buy next. He has an award show that spends more time showing you commercials for games that are years away than honoring the best games of the year. He is the anti-Scorsese. Martin Scorsese loves film so much that he is dedicated to preserving as much of its history as possible. He advocates it and speaks of it so thoughtfully and critically about how it moves people. Gaming has no one like that. Gaming has Geoff Keighley, a guy who only cares about the games he can show a WORLD PREMIERE for.

Video Games have been around for 50 years at this point. They’ve advanced from simple vectors to life-like immersive experiences. They should be taken seriously as art by now. Art is an experience and there is nothing else that can give you the experience a video game can. Art evokes emotion, it makes us reflect on life and ourselves, and sometimes it makes us reflect on things that make us uncomfortable. That’s the beauty of art, but you cannot discuss art without discussing the feelings it pulls out of you or the things it makes you uncomfortable about. You cannot discuss art as something that exists in a vacuum. When neither gamers nor games media can discuss video games as something beyond a well-made fun activity then how can anyone else? The way gamers discuss games convinces me that most of them would look at the Mona Lisa and think of it only as a picture of woman and little else.

Video games are art but it’s clear gamers don’t want them to be. If the majority of people engaging with a form of art refuse to treat it or acknowledge it as art then is it? Maybe it still is but I don’t know how you can call video games art when they are rarely engaged with as such. When they are mainly treated as a product akin to household appliances, how can they be art? Video games deserve better than gamers but gamers deserve nothing because gamers would give an elephant turd at least a 6/10 as long as it was well-made.

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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