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Friday, July 23, 2010

Ebert Folded

This may be the best evidence to date that film critic Roger Ebert's very public stance that games can never be art was, at best, fodder for flame wars. Ebert recently retreated, saying:

I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place. I would never express an opinion on a movie I hadn't seen. Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.

At this moment, 4,547 comments have rained down upon me for that blog entry. I'm informed by Wayne Hepner, who turned them into a text file: "It's more than Anna Karenina, David Copperfield and The Brothers Karamazov." I would rather have reread all three than vet that thread. Still, they were a good set of comments for the most part. Perhaps 300 supported my position. The rest were united in opposition.
If you assume I received a lot of cretinous comments from gamers, you would be wrong. I probably killed no more than a dozen. What you see now posted are almost all of the comments sent in. They are mostly intelligent, well-written, and right about one thing in particular:

I should not have written that entry without being more familiar with the actual experience of video games.
-- Okay, kids, play on my lawn[Chicago Sun-Times]

Emphasis is Ebert's, not mine. He continues to ramble on, sometimes his original stodgy stance reappearing but in general giving gamers the due they rightfully deserve. Yet the response now has been largely silent - Ebert is just reassuring us what we already knew, that he was clinging on to a position he didn't have any real reason to have except because it was generating controversy.

Kudos to him for reversing that, of course, and hopefully in doing so it will serve as a guidepost to others in similar fields to do a little research on modern gaming before trolling for posts, but it still feels like the opportunity to have a decent conversation on the subject was tossed away.

Stick to movies, Roger - Transformers 3 is coming out soon and probably won't be art either.


GregT said...

I think you're missing the point on this one. Ebert still holds the same opinion, he's just admitted that he wasn't qualified to hold it up as the truth, is all.

It's not a win, because he still holds the opinion, and it's still informing him when he writes on other topics (most obviously as something he trots out whenever he reviews a videogame-to-cinema adaptation, but at other odd times too). The opinion was never objectionable in and of itself - people are welcome to be idiots, and be idiots in public - but was rather objectionable because he's a gatekeeper of culture. His position is such that his view about what should and should not be lauded, decried, or treated with respect is influential. It amounts to an argument that gaming should be shunned and kept apart from serious public discourse, and as an instigator, arbiter, and critic of that discourse it's a worrying opinion.

So this isn't a win - he's not going to act differently. He's just saying he's going to stop disclaiming his bias up front.

Josh said...

I'll grant you that - I don't think this is Ebert admitting he was wrong or defeat, but I get the impression he'll walk away from the podium ... which is good enough for me.

Problem he has is that the isn't in the business of telling people what art is - despite what he thinks, so any continued debate at this point comes down to whether or not Kellee Santiago's job is, even in part, that of an artist. I think for Kellee Santiago, it's difficult to argue otherwise. Ebert's up against people way more experience on the subject, and he'll probably never catch up.

So let's hope he sticks to talking about Transformers 3, not War For Cybertron - and I'll take that as a plus if not a win.