The poor dear…

Excerpt from my Thesis

Roger Ebert on April 16th wrote a condemning article on the state of video games as an art form.  It’s hard not to be sarcastic towards Ebert in this regard, he’s old, doesn’t actually play video games, and is seen as a farty old-guy condemning what those damn kids are in to.  Clearly, it’s a threat to his lifeblood: movies.  Perhaps that’s a good reason to call video games not art. What is exceptional is the rebuttal various upper-echelon gaming pundits and innovators have given in response to Ebert.  Penny Arcade – a decade long-running internet comic and gaming culture critique website – said of Ebert and other gamers’ dialogue:

this weren’t never a dialogue. He is not talking to you, he is just talking. And he’s arguing

1. in bad faith,
2. in an internally contradictory way,
3. with nebulously defined terms,

so there’s nothing here to discuss.

Also, do we win something if we defeat him? …Because I can’t for the life of me figure out why we give a shit what that creature says.  He doesn’t operate under some divine shroud that lets him determine what is or is not valid culture. He cannot rob you, retroactively, of wholly valid experiences; he cannot transform them into worthless things.”[1]

And that’s exactly it.  Adam Sessler was more forgiving of Ebert, but expressed concern of the “very, very stubborn stance” that does not serve his argument well.  While, to Sessler – who is an avid gamer and critic on G4tv[2] – the “final product” may not necessarily be a work of art, it contains elements of art – landscape, literature, prose, and even game mechanics.  The more reasonable approach is the “problem video games pose… they really do not fit comfortably into how we understand things that we would term art.”[3]

Several years ago Roger Ebert stupidly claimed that “video games could never be art” (Stupidly? Yes, stupidly.  I learned in elementary school that the word never is a great way of setting yourself up to be proven wrong). His proof? No one in the industry could ever point to a game that was art.  In the current iteration of his argument, he immediately steps back from the word “never”. Instead, his new claim is “no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form”.[4] What Ebert is doing is being incredibly intellectually dishonest.  He claims that the “obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game”, which, by his very own logic, rules out films and books.  They have ends.  They can be completed.  They end.  Winning is just the end, some games the protagonist dies at the end.  Some games end Soprano’s style mid-sentence.  Not every game ends with the protagonist getting the girl and the bad-guy defeated.

Essentially, Ebert is saying video games aren’t art because they’re not paintings or movies.  Except that they kind of are films and they kind of are books.  What Ebert is really doing here, logically, is saying he doesn’t ‘get’ video games.  Since they aren’t his thing, they can’t be art for anyone.  It’s not allowed.  Can’t do it.  But, it doesn’t matter.  Video games don’t need to be on the same level as Michaelangelo or Matisse.  The label isn’t important, but the stubborn dismissiveness comes off as crotchety and doesn’t help the dialogue between video games and art.

The worst of Ebert’s editorial is the broad stroke he applies.  To suggest that Bioshock is not art is to suggest that Ayn Rand was not an author; that books aren’t artistic beings.  The only way to make that claim is from the vantage of political commentary.  No.  Bioshock encapsulates the philosophy of objectivism better than Ayn Rand ever could in her own works.  The literary and visual genius of Bioshock is a pittance to Roger Ebert.  Has he ever played this game? No, and even if he did, I don’t think he’d comprehend what he was experiencing.  He’s resting on his laurels… the poor dear.

And he’s willing placing himself, as of April 16, 2010, on the wrong side of history, from fall of 2007, when Bioshock was released.


[1] Jerry Holkins (Tycho Brahe). Penny Arcade. “Again with Art Stuff” http://www.penny-arcade.com/

[2] G4tv is a television channel of which a large part of it’s programming, and specifically what Adam Sessler does, concerns video games and the video game industry.

[3] Adam Sessler. “Sessler’s Soapbox: Adam Vs. Ebert” G4tv

http://g4tv.com/videos/45457/Sesslers-Soapbox-Adam-vs-Ebert—Games-as-Art/?quality=hd

[4] Roger Ebert. “Video Games can never be Art” Roger Ebert’s Journal. Chicago Sun-Times.

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