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Video Games as High Art? Roger Ebert & The Cultural Ghetto

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

I ran across this brief talk today, which I gave at the Game Developers Conference years ago, about video games, Roger Ebert, high art & the cultural ghetto. I think it’s held up pretty well over time.

The quick synopsis of my thesis is, simply, that art is something that people do, and the medium is irrelevant.

With video games, “the artist” is designing a possibility space for the audience—what can happen, and what are the consequences of the player’s decisions.

A video game doesn’t need to have any goal or explicit win-state. We’ve seen that with the rise of walking simulators, which are no different than experiencing a piece of architecture, a garden, or an art exhibit itself.

I’m also the person who prodded Roger Ebert into writing his infamous essay, which he later retracted after a rousing bit of internet outrage from all corners. But when I ran into him and Chaz at Ebertfest in 2010, and reminded him about our exchanges, he shook my hand and was all smiles.

The Museum of Modern Art has had an interactive wing for decades, but now it holds actual video games in its permanent collection so I’d say the question now is pretty much moot.

MoMA‘s inaugural selections, from Katamari to Dwarf Fortress, express a good range of what the what the video game medium has been capable of producing over the course of its first few formative decades.

Check out our video games on itch.io — they’re free

Working On A Game With A Goblin

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017



I’m working on a new game about goblins and a lot of other stuff. It controls from a third person 3d perspective with pixel art.



Aesthetic and mechanical inspirations include:

And you can find out more on the Doomlaser…



Game Videos

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

I thought I’d start the new year off with a few videos that feature some of our recent game work.

First up is a video of someone playing Braindead.

Next up is Hot Throttle.

This is a funny story. Back in May, I was out in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to show Hot Throttle at Babycastles. There happened to be a German/French TV crew out there from Europe’s Arte TV and they produced this segment. I sound much classier talking about Cactus and man-cars in French.

Finally, here’s a segment from PBS on the cultural relevance of videogames in the modern age. About halfway through, our very own Hot Throttle makes an appearance.

That’s it!

Hot Throttle

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Hot Throttle Title Screen

Hot Throttle is a new game from Cactus and myself, created for Adult Swim Games. It’s about a gang of men who like to race pretending that they are cars.


PLAY IT HERE.


Our Sketchbook

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Kevin and I are both proponents of the tradition of carrying around multiple sketchbooks and scraps of paper, to jot down ideas and inspirations for future review.

Evoking an idea often requires a prompt commitment of ink to paper, or text to keyboard, or it can be lost into the noise of modern life.

I’ve found it fun to give whatever sketchbook I’m using at the time to other indie game designers when we’re hanging out together. I’ll usually ask these fine ladies and gentlemen to take a page and draw whatever they want. Here are some of the hidden treasures contained within my current primary sketchbook.


Link to Full Set.

It features scribbles, elegant and crude, from Erin Robinson, Phil Fish, Adam Saltsman, Brandon McCartin, Kyle Pulver, Petri Purho, Jason Rohrer, and of course, sketch work from Kevin and myself.

The Ambition of the Independent Video Game

Monday, June 28th, 2010

This is a cute little essay on indie games, created by taking this NYTimes essay, and substituting ‘indie game’ for ’short story’.

The independent video game is always ducking for cover. The Triple-A game buys up the land, cuts down the trees, puts up the condos. The independent video game scampers across a lawn, squeezes under a fence.

I think it works really well! It’s funny how an essay about another medium verbalizes my fuzzy thoughts about the indie game scene so neatly, although maybe it works better for creators of short-form games like Cactus, Nifflas, Rohrer, and Messhof, than with games like Bit Blot’s Aquaria.

I don’t know what Braid would be… maybe a novella?

Found via kottke.