‘Sibley Put’ is where Josh Sibley, real American hero, boldly and unabashedly dissects the hot-button issues of modern video gaming and its surrounding culture. Everything he says is to be taken as personally as possible, so get those brows ready for some serious-ass furrowing. You babies.
Holy shit, how did we forget to talk about this on the latest podcast? This is what I get for not refreshing my memory on the latest news before we record.
So Roger Ebert decided to write another article in which he yet again denies games as an art form. Games aren’t art, according to him. You can read the entire thing here, but you don’t want to read that. Let me break down the article for you in three easy paraphrases:
- The stories in games suck dick.
- I am going to rattle off a ton of definitions of art yet not have the testicular fortitude to really pick one.
- I am going to deride a bunch of games that not only have I never seen, but have only been vaguely described to me.
One of those bullet points is actually true. Can you guess which one? If you guessed point one, you are correct! This point isn’t up for debate. The best story I’ve ever seen in a game thus far personally is in Knights of the Old Republic 2. The best overall experience I’ve had in regards to telling a big tale would probably have to be Chrono Trigger. The most thoughtful, atmospheric, “artsy” game I’ve ever played would have to be Ico. So the three best game stories I’ve seen in all my years are akin to a really good Star Wars novel, a very solid anime series, and a Pixar film minus any actual characters or story. Not a really good track record there.
“Should games be worried about story?” is a question for another time, another rant, but the short answer that deserves a follow up later is “yes, all the time every time”. Games will never ascend to the level where they’re taken seriously until developers start actually giving a shit and stop pretending it’s okay to rip off the same three movies over and over again.
As for the other two points, I hate to burst Roger Ebert’s bubble so simply, quickly, and utterly, but what is and what is not art is a debate that was actually answered before any of us were ever born. Back in the twenties, there was a man named Marcel Duchamp. Marcel was two things: an artist who really liked to think outside the box, and King Troll, Troll Prime, the Troll from which all other Trolls are wrought. Ol’ Marcel was part of a growing number of artists that were unhappy that fine art was stuck in a rut of creating pictures of people and landscapes, and wanted to shake things up a bit. So one day, basically to just be an asshole and make a point, Duchamp picked up a urinal, wrote “R. Mutt” on it as a signature, and submitted it as his piece for a show. He called it “Readymade Art”, i.e. objects one merely finds and puts on display in a way that evokes emotion.
Now, modern art historians will tell you that Duchamp did that to challenge the notions of what art could be. People who aren’t pretentious douchebags will tell you that Duchamp did that as a “fuck you” that probably made him giggle on the inside. Guess what? That piece is in art history books and in a museum somewhere.
From that point on, bullshit “art” exploded. Andy Warhol silkscreened Marilyn Monroe four times. Mark Rothko painted a big fucking square. Jackson Pollock slung some paint around and then drunk himself to death. Piet Mondrian painted some lines and colored a couple of squares red and called it “De Stijl”. Whether Duchamp meant his little stunt as anything but a big “fuck you” or not, it forever obliterated the definitions of art.
What is art? Art is anything that is created or shaped by the hands of man with aesthetics in mind. Anything. The big thing idiots like Ebert and whoever happens to be on the other side of that argument don’t understand is that the word “art” does not go hand in hand with the word “good”, or “skilled”. Maybe it once did, but as soon as humanity in general decided it was totally fine with putting Pollock’s angry, drunken slingings on the wall in a museum and calling it art, that was simply no longer the case.
The time to debate whether something is “good enough” or “emotive enough” to be art has long, long since passed. If fucking bullshit like a single green square can be famous enough to be cooed at by an art professor in a major art university, then you don’t get to place any rules on art other than “It is a thing that was made once”, and you can goddamned well find some room for Street Fighter IV in your definition as well. The only way Roger Ebert can look at something like Flower or Braid and not call it art is if he’s never been in a single museum that has modern art in it since he was fucking born.
Is Rob Liefeld’s shit art? Yes. It’s BAD art, but it’s art. If the word “art” implies worth or absence of terrible-ness, then there is no such thing as “bad art”, and I’ll tell you right now THAT shit ain’t true because I’ve seen a pile of candy be a piece of artwork in a museum. Not a sculpture of a pile of candy, just a pile of candy.
You might be saying “Well shit Josh, that doesn’t answer the question, does it? Now the real question is ‘what is good art and what is bad art’, so you’ve just traded one question for another!”. Well, if you like it, it’s good art. If you don’t, it’s bad.
That’s the long and short of the discussion. An age old question solved forever. Anyone who tries to tell you anything remotely different is someone who either has an art degree and they really, really want it to be worth a goddamn someday, or is someone who wishes they had an art degree. If beret-wearing idiots want to keep video games out of their art clubhouse, that’s totally cool, but they also have to downgrade everything Pollock’s ever done from “art” to “embarrassment”. I think it would be worth it to deny videogames the “art” title if that meant 95% of famous 20th century art got hucked into a dumpster somewhere. “Metal Gear Solid 3 isn’t fucking allowed in this museum and neither is this retarded green square!”.
Beyond that, the fact that anyone in the games sphere even bothered to give this article the time of day is amazing. In essence, it’s a man who reviews works of art for a living dismissing an entire medium that he’s probably never even been in the same room with. If the tables were turned and some little Xbox Live shit went “I’ve never seen Seven Samurai, but some dude told me the gist of it and it sounded retarded so all of Kurosawa’s films must be boring and dumb”, Ebert would have flipped his shit and that kid would have obliterated every drop of his credibility. Yet Ebert decides to let out the throttle on his cranky old man engine one day and write an article for the whole world to see that basically says “Hey gamers, I haven’t touched any of these things but fuck you anyway”, and it’s totally fine? What Roger, you become a fan of Fox News when I wasn’t looking?