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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I've Never Liked Ebert

It's true, I'm a Chicagoan who has always found that one of it's stars is more bluster than luster. I've read too many Ebert reviews that I thought was off-base and heard too many accounts of the guy being something of a jerk in public. Not to recently, Ebert said that games were an inferior form of art due to their fundamentally complicated and interactive nature.

Much bruhaha was made out of this.

Ebert has since responded to comments about his comments more times than I imagine he desires, but the tone that sticks in my head is this response:

I believe books and films are better mediums, and better uses of my time. But how can I say that when I admit I am unfamiliar with video games? Because I have recently seen classic films by Fassbinder, Ozu, Herzog, Scorsese and Kurosawa, and have recently read novels by Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Bellow, Nabokov and Hugo, and if there were video games in the same league, someone somewhere who was familiar with the best work in all three mediums would have made a convincing argument in their defense.
-- Roger Ebert's Answer Man

Which, I think if we look in our heart of hearts we know is partially true. Ebert has said repeatedly that he's not a gamer and hence may not be the best equipped to judge. In other words, I doubt he spent a lot of time playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or ever even tried to hack his way through the Infocom rendition of Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, both games made clearly not just by technicians ... but artists. Also, it's easy to point out that he's completely ignoring every non-narrative aspect of games. I mean, Ico might not have been Citizen Kane, but it sure was pretty and emotive.

Still, I'm not sure games have gotten their Citizen Kane. However, I think Ebert's mistake is assuming this makes the medium simply inferior. Just because a medium is technically complicated doesn't mean it lacks potential. At one point, making movies was terribly diffcult and it took revolutionary people to figure out how to make it work. Not even artists per se, just visionaries who could see how two cogs might fit together.

Look at all the time we spend debating the Hollywoodization of games or ludology or the narrative capabilities of ingame avatars. If not art, games are clearly a medium with the potential for art that is trying desperately to find it's footing to become artistic.

I don't think Ebert was wildy offbase on this one, just a bit of old timer. I'm guessing years down the way, we'll look back at his statements in way similar to how Bill Gates announced nobody needed more than 640k of RAM.

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Patrick said...

I quite agree. I think we're less than five years away from completing a transition to "artistic maturity", whatever that means. I think we'll see our Citizen Kane in less than ten. Maybe I'll be the one to make it, that I can't say with certainty.

Josh said...

Well all the power to ya :). I mean in some ways Hughes was just a guy who liked planes and he ended making epic films AND sleeping with Katherine Hepburn.