I taunted my news media/soon-to-be-filmmaking cohort Rob Steffen into responding to an antagonistic Facebook message about how video games cannot, by their nature, be art, and that the term "graphic novel" is stupid and fallacious. He responded:
"A comic book is a flimsy thing you buy at a grocery store checkout stand, starring HEROIC CODPIECE MAN, (if not Archie and Veronica). A graphic novel is hardcover, bought at a book store, and is about twisted shit like The Dark Tower, or Sin City. Most video games are art in the way that most television is art. Which is to say that there's art in all of it, but very few pieces can be considered art on their own. Like Heavy Rain and Breaking Bad, or GTA IV and Sopranos, or Portal and How I met your Mother (I'm assuming)."
My response is as follows, with a few added remarks:
Just because something makes you cry doesn't make it art. People cry when their home burns down. Is arson art? No, but Fahrenheit 451 is. I cried in fifth grade when I lost the spelling bee. Is failure art? No, but Akeelah and the Bee is. My buddy cried at a World Cup game. Is soccer art? No, but Invictus is.
A game of chess isn't art. The chess board and pieces themselves may be, but the process of playing the game itself isn't. The character design, the script, and the music for, say, Bioshock are each art. Pushing the buttons in order to progress the final singular package? Not art.
I'm not saying this because I don't like video games; I LOVE video games and spent a few hours today curled up with Red Dead Redemption. But in the same way that "graphic novel" is a stupid term created by self-loathing nerds trying to validate their own obsessions, so too did this "VIDEO GAMES ARE ART" thing happen. People want to justify their own pastimes and think that getting them referred to as "art" is a way to do so, but that's stupid. A list of things I love that aren't art: a good steak, the satisfaction of finishing a big project, and air conditioning.
For example, Transformers 2 is a work of cinema, thus making it art. It's also complete shit not worth anybody's time. Fallout 3 is an affecting work of--dare I say--brilliance, but it's a video game, so it isn't art. Doesn't mean that Transformers 2 > Fallout 3, it just means that Transformers 2=art and Fallout 3=not art.
Now, if you wanted to argue that video games are a form of cinema, and as such are art, yeah, I'll concede that, assuming you agree that the interactive portion of the game is just a way to get to the cutscenes, which are the actual cinema. Game writers are always talking about how "cinematic" a game is, so it sounds like they just want to be movies, anyway.
And Rob, you're confusing form with function. A comic book is a book of comics. Comics are the medium. To use the analogy I already use with Matthew, a short story by Raymond Carver doesn't stop being a short story if it's read on a computer screen, in a collection of his other work, or if it's written in macaroni art. The story is the story is the story. A monthly-issued comic book is just a serialization of a larger work, just as Dickens releasing chapters of his novels in smaller chunks were still prose.
"Graphic novel" is also a semantic grasping-for-straws that denigrates what good work has been made from superheroes and the superhero template. Something like Blankets, Maus, etc. is still a comic book, it's just one that's released as a standalone work. They've released Spider-Man stories like that, too: made for a bookstore market, rather than the comic book store/direct market.
In summary: this is all a misappropriation of the term "art." When Michael Jordan would dunk, people would say "he's an artist!" I know that they mean--and presumably you do, too--but part of it is that we know he's not ACTUALLY an artist, but he's playing a game with the level of skill, technique, and a certain degree of idiosyncrasy that an artist would (ideally) bring to their work. Obviously, a dunk isn't REALLY art, and anyone that argues otherwise doesn't deserve to be heard. That doesn't mean that a dunk is easy, or that a novel about sparkly vampires is of greater cultural significance--I'd personally argue that Michael Jordan is one of the most important cultural figures of the last century--it just means that is isn't art.
Obviously, this is strictly an issue of semantics; while someone like Ebert, peace be upon Him, is arguing that video games aren't worthwhile, I, as someone who DOES think video games have their place, simply don't want the concept of "art" being diluted by people who cried when Aeris died in Final Fantasy 7, you big sissy nerds.
FINAL THOUGHTS: One of the arguments that people make is that video games aren't art yet, based on the idea that it's still in its primitive stages, but such an argument has more holes in it than Tupac Shakur. Describing something as "art" doesn't make it good, and saying that video games aren't art yet implies that, as video games become better, they will become more artistic, which is simply...well, it's stupid.
Man's first cave paintings, while simple and rudimentary, were art. Basic art, yes, but art all the same, and art from their creation on. When Pong (jeez, I feel stupid italicizing that) was released in 1972, was it art? No, in the same way that table tennis, the activity that it more or less simulated, also was not art.
Buying into the application of the term "art" as a value judgment completely belittles what actually is art. Not all art is valuable, and things that aren't art may be valuable. A person can't survive without eating, drinking water, sleeping, or breathing. Doesn't make them art.
In all of this talk about instigation of an emotional reaction, something's depth of meaning, or its overall importance, let's examine the primary inspiration behind, well, pretty much all art, in one way or another:
Sex. Is sex art? No. (I'm sooooo tempted to use one of several The Big Lebowski quotes right here) Sex is not art, but Last Tango in Paris is. A relationship is not art, but Annie Hall is. A marriage is not art, but Scenes From a Marriage is.
In summary, being "art" isn't the same as being "good." I'm totally awesome, and I'm not art. I had a really delicious bunch of nuggets from Chick-Fil-A tonight. Tasty, but not art. Similarly, I watched an episode of the original A-Team series last week, and it was pretty stupid. Moronic, but art. I also read a really terrible poem by this girl I used to know. Nonsensical crap, but art. Doesn't mean I wouldn't rather be scarfing deep-fried poultry than subjecting myself to the poetic equivalent of Sylvia Plath sticking her head in an oven.
I'm gonna go play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic now. Yeah, it's a game, but it's still the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.
But it's still. not. art.
Nor is the Zinger I really want to eat.
And I still love you, Rob.