It seems appropriate, for the first blog post of the semester, to take advantage of Eaton’s query – “What is art?” – to bring into the discussion the very conversation that led to my interest in interaction culture.

In 2006, acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert made a bold and controversial claim: that video games are not art. In 2007, amid a hailstorm of backlash, he responded to one of his biggest respondents in particular, novelist and video game auteur Clive Barker. In this theoretical dialogue, Ebert lays out his rationale for this seemingly volatile comment.

Ebert’s primary rationale is the role of interactivity in video games. Interaction, he claims, allows the viewer/gamer/user of a particular medium too much autonomy over their experience of the medium. Art, he purports, is an experience that can be guided by the intentions of the author – a play, a song, a film. Video games – and indeed, all interactive media – allow the user to experience the piece in a variety of unique ways; ten people can have ten very unique experiences of a game, for instance, even if they all win the game and end at the same point. These divergent experiences, and the capacity for unique experiences of the same piece, take away some of the author’s control over the experience, thus negating the artistic potential of the piece.

As were many, I was initially scandalized to hear that Ebert had made such a claim; and yet, after reading the trajectory of Ebert’s argument, I find myself more confused than anything. I am still not convinced that games cannot be art; rather, I find myself questioning the nature of what art is instead. In a world where the ability to create continues to grow and evolve with technological advancement, does our notion of art require similar advancement?

Take Eaton’s example of the Stone Field project in Connecticut. It is clear from the community’s divergent responses to the piece that – artistic intention be damned! – there were a broad range of experiences of this piece. Everyone was looking at the same set of staged stones, and yet one person could see it as a beautiful work of art, while others could criticize it as wasteful or amateurish. Regardless of the fact that we can objectively say that everyone was looking at the same thing, individual interpretation and user perception certainly led to very different conclusions about the piece. Perception and experience, it seems, could not be guided by the artist’s hand.

Are interactive media, such as video games, really that different? If myself and another can look at the exact same piece of “Art” and leave the experience with two completely different experiences and conclusions about the piece, does the personalized nature of interactivity really detract from the experience of art? Using video games once more as an example, even if I may choose to explore a different part of an open world than a friend, we are still both seeing only those things that the designers and programs put in the game and intended for us to see. If we both play the game to its conclusion, and reach the same end point, does it matter if we each took a different, but still artistically-guided path to reach that conclusion? In a world where perception is so subjective, is two people experiencing two different components of a media to reach the same conclusion really so different from two people experiencing the exact same media and drawing their own unique conclusions? As Weitz suggests, there is no true central definition of art, as many things considered to fall under the umbrella of art bear only a “family resemblance” to one another (Eaton, 7). Does his acknowledgement of the difficulty in defining art include only the various aesthetics components that come together to create art, thereby allowing diverse media such as film, paintings, or graphic designs to all be “art,” despite the different approaches to their individual creations? Or is the  very act of interaction a potential aesthetic component in and of itself?

There are no easy answers to this question, to be sure. And I’m not convinced I’m going to answer any universal truths. Through this class and our continued exploration of the readings and materials of interactive culture, I hope to give myself, at least, a better understanding of the intersection between art and interactivity. Art, after all, is a subjective experience.

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