Magical Wasteland is written by Matthew S. Burns.

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The New Debate on Games as Ert

A raging war of words that never seems to disappear for long, the eternal question “are games ert?” has reared its many-spectacled head yet again. On the first side we find those who passionately believe in the idea that games are indeed ert, and wish them to be viewed as such. On the other, the stridently dubious, who feel that games are not ert, and either cannot ever be it, or at least have many steps to go in order to become it.

It is well understood that ert is important and a big deal. Many people pay respect to ert– and as such, if games became ert, then respect would be paid to games. This means we could talk about what we do in good company by saying “oh, I make video games,” and our interlocutors would respond “oh, yes, games– they are a kind of ert, aren’t they?” And we all know that this is certainly not the case right now.

To confuse matters further, there is also a contingent who have spearheaded a kind of backlash against the question itself– games, they counter, should be about something else– having “fon,” apparently, and thus it is lamentable that anything else (especially ert) would be the concern of those who make games, particularly because the quality of being “fon” interferes with, or somehow contradicts, the quality of being ert. Which begs another important question: can games be both ert and fon at the same time?

Many further symposiums, blog posts and ert-fon diagrams will be necessary to answer the question definitively.

Reader Comments (30)

An illuminating analysus.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Remo
Games are entertainment. Perhaps we should ask the question, "Are films art?" (the category of "art films" notwithstanding). If we answer "Yes", then we should also affirm that games too are art.

The big problem with games is that there are so many different kinds and the fact that they are interactive. A film, a book, a sculpture are not, by their very nature, interactive. A game, on the other hand, by its nature, is. So it becomes more difficult to identify, by its interactive nature, whether or not it can be considered art. If we do deem it art, we have to concede that the user is part of creating the aesthetic, and not simply an observer.

Yes, it will take a long time to answer the question definitively. For now, the answer is very much subjective.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrecklefoot
Was that a giant whooshing sound I just heard?
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbrandonnn
Either Frecklefoot suffers from a severe deficiency of growth hormones, or his head is bizarrely aerodynamic.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercorpus

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZaratustra
Reading this was so much ert, I would almost call it fon!
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaroquod
We have many good examples of ert games, such as the Cake Mania, or Diner Dash (gasp!) FRANCHISES.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArthurSA
Games can be fun, and imaginative while, still, being artistic. Nintendo, Capcom, Warren Spector, Lexis Numerique, Konami in its early years, Sierra before the days of F.M.V, Namco, and a wide variety of other companies, and designera have shown that games can be fun, strange, varied, and inspire our imaginations. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and Robin Hood: Conquests of the Longbow were well-written, intelligent games.

We need to mix great writing with grand imaginative worlds. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was the perfect example: Its world was very weird, showed a lot of imagination, and had a lot of strange twists. I think it should be the precedent for future games.

Problem is, repetitive games are becoming increasingly common: Madden, Halo, Gran Turismo, rhythm games, casual games, W.W.II F.P.S.s, all, sell millions--and companies would much rather make a guaranteed giantic profit than take a chance on an obscure game. These companies do, occasionally, make concessions to the hard-core market by producing games like Beyond Good and Evil 2 and A Boy and His Blob; but I suspect that such games are, only, made in order to maintain the illusion of variety, whether to appease us or their stockholders, rather than because the executives care.

This has the potential for a crash, just, like in 1983 and '94--in those days, companies had produced a lot of shitty games, the market was oversaturated, and imaginative title were buried under piles of terrible shovelware--sounds familiar? makes a good point: Microsoft and Sony are trying to appeal to the masses--jocks, casual gamers, older players, etcetra--but, unfortunately, the common man is fickle. Their audiences will, eventually, move on, and when that happens, the X-Box, and Playstation will become unprofitable, and be cancelled, while their creators return to creating things like business software, and televisions. Nintendo--having focused on video games--will be the last source of hardware, and, though this sounds like a good thing--since we will not have to worry about exclusives--but it is a terrible likely outcome. Nintendo will be angry at the companies who supported its competitors, and refuse to allow them to develop games for its sytems. We might, very well, find ourselves with, either, very few games, or an impossibly large number of competing consoles, each with a, completely, different set of games. Each console, in the latter case, would be made by a game company--and the more resources a company puts into hardware, fighting the competition, and marketing for the hardware, the less it has for software. This is very disturbing.
But when you think about it, what is ert anyway? Isn't everything ert? Andy Werhal made this clear when he declared a can of sorp ert.

Ert is in the eye of the beholder.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Clark
You are so my favorite game blogger. Anybody who writes or talks about "Games as Art" from this point forward needs to be strapped into a chair and forced to read this over and over like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. That would save us about a decade's worth of pointless, repetitive blathering.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNick Martens
Frankly I find is disgusting that people would try and hijack a sophisticated discussion of the ertistic nature of games with such crass questions about the 'A' word.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon Porter
i found the perfect art game! ITS SFIV

was playin SF4 the other day with my older brother and i challengd my brother i never loose SO we were playing and then i started to lose then my brother said i was a failure and dispointmnet to him so i started to cry

SF4 made me cry so it must be the citizen cane of video games also the graphics are good
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRick
The Rohrer uncertainty principle states that certain pairs of video game properties, like ert and fon, cannot both be known to arbitrary precision.

PS: Sorry to be pedantic, but that's not what "beg the question" means.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Gallant
Whenever I hear someone say games must be fon and screw ert I tend to think they're the sort of person who just doesn't like ert in the first place.

I mean most people don't even get what Werhal's Sorp Can screen prints are about and yet they're perfectly willing to dismiss them as a meaningless stunt. Why? Because instead of just admitting that they don't understand it they prefer to believe that it can't have any significance or greater meaning. No Werhal's the problem, he's the one who's stupid (or a liar, or a scam artist).

Of course you're going to argue games should be just fon if you can't appreciate ert.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLyndon
Matt Wasteland is wrong here--the real debate is whether or not games are Bert & Ernie or The Fonz?

Are games roommates that play with rubber duckies in a bathtub, or is a game a high school dropout-cum-former bike gang member-cum-Mayor of Cool?
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex
And here I always thought games were best classified as Arzt.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJared
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhalp
To the evolutionary theorist, there is no such thing as ert; ert is merely functional. To the Germans, there is no such thing as fon. True, they occasionally have fön, but that's not the same thing.

In my own observations, I find the concepts of fon and ert to be inseparable from the larger concept of norfte. Who here would deny that without our cultural norfte we would be barely more than savages?
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Strike
So but also the main purpose of the symposium was not to debate art and games, but to showcase three commissioned games by some of the most provocative designers working in the medium. And there is actually a lot to talk about in those designs, and in their own unique ways, each of them does something genuinely powerful with the form and presentation of games.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike Thomen
Gonna be pretentious and claim that art is partially defined by the beholder, so games or a game may be art for some and not for others. Same way that some people think Avatar is art where I think it's shallow tripe.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBean
You know, most people around here are pretentious enough to make the case that they're only making games for ert and fon. But deep down I suspect that all they want are sax and muney =)
February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Strike
Words aren't enough to encompass ert or fon, much less both together. That's why I created this diagram:

I think it lays out the problem very well. Now to find the game, or anything really, that fills the region in the center. Such an item would be so great it would make Obart commit suicide in remorse. Then the rest of the world would join hands and sing in harmony.
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommentershMerker
Brilliant. You make it, just like it sounds, an utterly arbitrary and ridiculous thing to discuss. Thank you Matthew, made me chuckle :)
February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew
Empic pist. gamez are ert.
February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGUy
All art is interactive. The issue is perhaps that while a great film will change the wittness, a great game will be equally changed by the wittnessing. Perhaps then it is the act of interaction created by the game which is 'art' not the facets of traditional media within it.
February 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarc Bollinger

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