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Published on November 14th, 2009 | by simeon


On The Justice of Beating Dead Horses

In the latest New York Times Magazine there’s an article on the indie gaming scene. The article itself isn’t terribly important- like most features written by someone with exactly zero confidence in his own knowledge of the subject matter it doesn’t say anything. It relies on vague non-committal disparagings of ‘the industry’ (about which the author seems to know very little) and cautiously praises the indie game developers for their ‘rebellious spirits’ and generally toes the party line. The author will go far at the Times. 

It is noteworthy, though, in that it provides us all as convenient an occasion as any to talk about how apocalyptically lame the entire games-as-art debate is getting. The specific reference in the article is to Jason Rohrer, who began his talk at the GDC this year by putting up a picture of Roger Ebert and calling him the enemy because of the fact that he’d pointedly refused to categorize games as art. 

Ebert isn’t the enemy. He’s a narrowminded aesthetic bigot, definitely, but he isn’t any kind of threat to anyone self-assured and talented working in games today. Actually, nothing is a threat to those people. They will go on making interesting stuff and we’ll go on playing it and if your weird and incorrect opinions prevent you from fully enjoying it, nobody will care. 

There are enemies here, though. And they are Jason Rohrer and everyone else who should know better. The issue of whether games are art or not falls to people like Rohrer who are presumably interested in more people taking games seriously. If you want to make art, make something and call it art and treat it like it matters and get others to treat it like it matters- not by giving speeches and conducting spurious word-salad debates about it, but by ignoring the blather and getting on with the work of your own personal interaction with the medium. Then it’s art, and Ebert will look even more ridiculous. This method works because the word ‘art’ is defined not in the dictionary but on the fly six-billion-plus times per day. Generally the only thing we can say we mean when we call something ‘a work of art’ is that it looks like it was put together on purpose and we like the way it turned out. So the sooner we decide that the games we like are art the sooner we can ship what remains of this terminally boring issue off to the glue factory. 

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