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Monthly Archives: April 2012
“Video games can never be art.” – Roger Ebert
I spent a long time trying to figure out how to judge art. I came to the conclusion, admittedly a bit of a cop out, that judging art is an individual, subjective process. Certainly critics, laymen, and others can reach a general consensus about what does or does not qualify as quality, but in the end, each person has to judge for themselves.
That said, Roger Ebert is dead wrong.
It takes a certain amount of bravado, even for a celebrated film critic, to declare that an entire medium can never reach the pinnacle of artistic merit. It’s easy to point to Ebert’s age and believe that he mistakes the old days of fun if story-bare games like Pacman and Donkey Kong for the immersive, in depth, and often narrative world of video games that exists today. But I think that lets Ebert off too easily. At base, anything that tells a story can not only be art; it can be high art, and Ebert ought to know that.
Anything that uses carefully crafted visuals to evoke a particular sense or emotion can be high art. Anything that envelops the audience in a character, in a world, and transposes their experiences into a grand fictional adventure can be high art. In the same way that a great novel crafts a compelling narrative, in the same way that great visual art compels with color and composition, in the same way that a celebrated film brings the viewer into another world, a great video game can reach those same artistic heights. In fact, video games are uniquely positioned to do all three.
Which brings us to Braid, the 2009 game from Jonathan Blow. Blow is the yin to Ebert’s yang, a man who believes wholeheartedly that video games can be art, but who is relentless in his critiques of the industry as it stands today for failing to live up to its potential. Braid is Blow’s biggest salvo in this fight, and his example to the world of what a video game can be.
There was an ant, of no particular renown or distinction. He lived in an ant colony with his thousands of brothers and sisters. He, like many, spent most of the day venturing out into the world to retrieve food and building supplies for his colony. Early one morning, he came across an item so large, he couldn’t carry it alone. It was peculiar and unfamiliar. But something about it told him that it was extraordinary and would be useful to the colony.
The object was massive, and it was heavy, even for the strength of an ant. The ant called some of his siblings to help him lug it back to the colony. He couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Part of it was hard and molded. Part of it was shiny and gleamed in the sunlight above his head. Part of it was rubbery with little pads sticking out of it.
He and the others carried it back to the colony and laid it in front of his brothers and sisters. They all puzzled over what it could be. Various packs of ants were investigating the strange pieces and parts of the object. A group of the ants stood on top of a large circular pad at the top of the item. Suddenly, the entire colony floor was bathed in light, and a loud melody erupted from a collection of holes in the plastic.
The colony hummed with excitement. The ants swarmed all around the object as it showed an ever changing display of lights. They danced on its smooth silvery surface that reflected a million shades of a kaleidoscope. It captivated them, as they squirmed and shuffled from one mysterious surface to another. Then, as if by accident, the object began to rumble and roar. It shifted from one side of the colony floor to the other. In the tumult, it knocked a pile of ants onto a green pad near the mouth of the object that stopped the rumbling. In its place was a booming noise that the ants did not understand except to fear. But it was loud and clear in the small cavern of the colony.