At the time, I thought this was a relatively new argument. Games are a new medium, after all. Today, I realize that all of this haggling over what is or isn't "art" (or "high art" or "fine art" if you prefer) is nearly a century old. At least.
Ebert's arguments essentially boil down to this:
- I am going to make a list of criteria by which art should be judged.
- Games cannot be judged by this criteria, due to the nature of the medium.
- Ergo, games are not and can never be art.
Then, the so-called Postmodern movement came along and basically said "screw this, art can be more than Greenberg's one narrow slice of representation." All of a sudden, there was a trickle and then an explosion of art that looked absolutely nothing like Greenberg's ideal modern art. But the new stuff was still, clearly, art. The Postmodern charge was led by another art critic, Harold Rosenberg.
So, two artist critics already figured out the correct argument for why games can be art... about half a century ago. A few years ago we re-enacted the old debate, with Ebert playing the part of Greenberg and Hocking playing Rosenberg, but the arguments are essentially the same.
If I had known this back in 2005, I could have written an influential essay on the subject. Today, there are so many art games that I think such an essay is unnecessary. But I still find it interesting how we retread old ground without realizing.