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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Zelda Is Totally Like That Guy From The Odyssey

Because he rides in a boat, and he fights monsters and other stuff.

There, someone has compared a video game to one of the great pieces of literature and can apparently now be elevated to the level of art. Now maybe Roger Ebert can go shut the hell up. So, I was seriously thinking of titling this post Oh right, Roger Ebert is full of shit - but I do try and keep cursing to a minimum here, in general.

When, many moons ago, Ebert suggest video games can't be art because interactivity violates the director's concept - I was willing to at least accept it as an interesting argument. It is pretty easily ripped to shreds when one reminds Ebert that games aren't movies, though - and so then he suggests that art can't have scores and rules and what not. And if the game doesn't follow along with Ebert's thinking - he just assumes it isn't a game.

This really should have spiked my bullshit detector. When someone constantly has to shift the definition of what "it" is to keep the argument going - well, then you're just arguing for the sake of arguing. Flower is a game, whether Ebert likes it or not, and it is a very artistic one at that. But Ebert can't accept this - so he just whines a lot and then goes back to this thumping point about how he won't accept games as art until someone compares it to great literature.

Which is also complete bullshit. And if mindful readers think I'm using a slightly less rational tone than yesterday's post, you would be right. And this is because I've realized that Ebert isn't interested in an actual debate on the subject, he just wants to brag about how many comments he can generate and then will finish with a flaming flourish:

I'm not too old to "get" video games, but I may be too well-read.
-- @ebertchicago

Yeah, it's not that he is wrong about games. It's just that he has read so many books that he has surpassed our capacity to comprehend of his understanding of games. For the record, I don't why Ebert assumes that everyone thinks he doesn't get video games because he's old, the truth is he doesn't get video games because he has no experience with them. He does not play them. He does not write about them (except apparently once in 1994). When confronted with games like Braid and Flower, he writes about them as if they are some alien construct from the moon and can barely seem to grasp them as games, much as less accept them as art.

People: Ebert is not an art critic. He reviews bad movies for a living. Movies which are, largely, not wildly artistic. He has no real grasp of modern gaming. He takes delight in creating a lot of angry comments and then insults an entire subgenre of readers in a single dismissive tweet.

Roger Ebert is not an art critic.

Roger Ebert is a troll. And sometimes he reviews movies.

If you want to read if Death At A Funeral (which he apparently adored) will make you laugh, then go look him up. If you want to debate about how games are evolving as a medium - go read a writer who writes about games. There are plenty. The next time he tries to form a position on games, I will treat him as I would a talking dog - extremely curious but unlikely to have much wise to say about the subject at hand.

He's a troll, let's put him back in his troll box and out of the limelight.


Steve said...

My overall sense of this whole "conversation" is that it goes something like this:

Ebert: Video games aren't art
Gamers: They are and here's why
Ebert: I don't know why you're all so concerned about what I think...
Gamers: You started it
Ebert: I'm right because I'm "well read"
Gamers: Whut?

Basically he's losing his argument because he's wrong and rather than admitting he's wrong he's just running away from the argument. Any definition he could come up with to consider games to not be art would require one of the following:

1) Limiting the definition of art to being high art. That is, games aren't art, but neither is beyond the valley of the dolls. Eventually games would then become art because they could show artistry on par with a Citizen Kane, etc

2) Limiting the definition of art in an arbitrary fashion. This goes back to discussions of interactivity, etc. I could similarly limit art to not include film because it's moving and only still art on a wall is true art

What's bizarre about his position is that he's saying that if you take graphics (art), music (art), story (art), and then tie all of those together you somehow don't get art. It's like the inverse of synergy I guess. If you want to judge art on the basis of an arbitrary definition of quality, okay fine, but otherwise, he's so off the mark.

Josh said...

Oh, I think he knows why we're concerned about we think - I think Ebert thinks *everyone* should be concerned about what he thinks. He is the well read erudite and we are the unwashed masses. He is simply trying to impart wisdom upon the people and maybe he can't understand why we are so uppity about it, but he certainly isn't questioning about being the center of attention.

Despite the fact really invited him to respond to Santiago in the first place. He took it upon himself as a self-appointed expert on the topic...

But yes, the other short lesson from this episode is that if you try to define art, art likes to kick you in the ass for doing so...

GregT said...

I was going to reply to Ebert's most recent post, but the very first comment summed it up nicely enough: "Roger, you just don't get it."

Which is exactly right. And he doesn't NEED to get it, and he doesn't have any obligation to get it. Ebert himself has said plenty of times that the obligation of the reviewer is not to be RIGHT, but to express a personal opinion, backed up by intelligent and well-informed reasons. And that's just what he's done here.

And in this case, well, obviously he's completely and totally wrong, but then he's the guy who gave Fight Club two thumbs down but gave three stars to the recent Clash of the Titans remake. Sometimes, all said and done, he just doesn't get it.

And that's fine. We're after his opinion because it's an interesting opinion, not because it's the authoritative one.

Josh said...

I think that part of what's annoying me - his first rant at least brought up some interesting points about interactivity and how it effects a creative vision.

This last one barely makes any real sense and only serves so that he can insist on how right he is - he really, honestly is just being a troll.

On a bigger scale, though, I think it is a bit sad we need a troll like Ebert to talk about games as art. Gamers are reactive - if Ebert says games aren't art ... we yell and kick and scream that they are.

And then if someone complains about a gruesome scene in Modern Warfare 2 - we kick and scream that it is only a game, and don't take it seriously.