Roger Ebert waves a sort-of white flag on the issue of whether a video game can be art, and scratches his head over the results of his push-poll.
It's been a month since I plugged in the PS3 I got for my birthday and played a bit of catch-up with Gaming's High Society, and I've been mulling over the "But is it art?" question. Ebert admits to two fatal flaws in his original rant: he didn't provide a definition of "art", and he is entirely unwilling to play a game -- any game -- that could potentially change his mind on the matter. To my mind the former fault is the greater. A link to Denis Dutton's criteria for art would have settled the matter in Ebert's favor.
I'm not completely on-side with Dutton, however, and I doubt Ebert is either. I'm happy to accord artistic value to Swamp Thing, a movie that amuses but does little to disturb the viewer into a heightened state of unanticipated empathy. Similarly video games: a player would have to be a morally stunted not to feel at least a little squeamish about some of the choices pointedly put to the fore in games like Bioshock and Half-Life 3. But in the main even these games are structured as a combined thrill-ride/shooting gallery. If you're not a gamer, imagine riding through Disney's Haunted Mansion with an Uzi. There is a textured aesthetic, and frequent meta-references. Video game aesthetics might not penetrate the player's consciousness to the degree that Huck Finn or Pride & Prejudice does. But is that depth necessary for something to be called "art"?