Is there a subculture out there that’s more defensive and quick to anger than the gaming community? If Roger Ebert were to say that he doesn’t consider political blogging to be an art, the political bloggers would simply write him off as a tool of the MSM and go back to debating over which branch of Congress is more corrupt. If Ebert were to say that he doesn’t consider reality television to be an art, Mark Burnett would shrug and go back to swimming in his pools of money. If Ebert were to say that fan fiction is not art, the ficcers would simply get into an argument over whether Ebert/Siskel or Ebert/Roeper is the One True Pairing.

But when Ebert claims that video games are “inherently inferior to film and literature,” gamers come crawling out of the woodwork to flame him. The real fun to be had in reading people’s responses to his remarks is in seeing them struggle with the urge to simply curse him out in standard message board style, substituting terms like “narrow-minded,” “arrogant,” and “elitist” for “noob,” “lrn2play,” and “bi0tch.” This is presumably because a high-falutin’ discussion of art requires high-falutin’ words.

At any rate, I pretty much gave up on discussions of whether games are or aren’t art when I realized that everyone was working with their own concept of what “art” means, and that most of these conceptions were of the kind that begin with “mis-”. The definition that Ebert and his critics seem to be working with seems to be “worthy of inclusion in the canon of Great Works, alongside ‘films by Fassbinder, Ozu, Herzog, Scorsese and Kurosawa’ or ‘novels by Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Bellow, Nabokov and Hugo.’” When people start talking about canon without irony, I usually cover my ears and make “la la la, I can’t hear you” noises.

The “games are/aren’t art” debate takes up too much of everyone’s time and energy (and three paragraphs later, it has taken up too much of mine, and yours). It gets in the way of substantive discussion about what games actually are, what they do for us, and what they do to us. Are games “art?” I don’t care. Are they “media?” Are they “significant cultural artifacts?” Absolutely, and that should be enough to get us going. Let the canon sort itself out.