As the final project in one of my classes I chose to do a multi-part, multi-genre exploration on Games & Art. Where do they intersect? Do they intersect at all? What ramifications emerge? I decided this on Tuesday, April 13th.
Three days later, Roger Ebert made a proclamation that video games, no matter how they try, can never be art. The Internet exploded, as the Internet is wont to do.
I initially thought, “Great! Plenty of research material.” Then I realized that my space in the discussion was quickly shrinking. With so many people writing about, responding to, rebutting and rebuking Ebert, where could my voice fit in? Where would I be able to carve out a niche that wasn’t just a repetition of someone’s already published opinion?
I felt like I didn’t have time to carve out that niche, and I dropped the initial premise. The project went in a different direction, and we even talked a bit about the subject in a recent episode of The Way of the Game. I still wanted to respond to Ebert, though. My geeks hackles were up.
“I know!” I thought, “I’ll write a scathing satirical response! I’ll attack his favorite medium and turn his empty statements and dismissive tones and utter ignorance right back around on him!”
But when I started to write the piece, I just felt tired. When I went over his article, I felt less and less annoyed and more and more sorry for the guy. And then I realized why.
Roger Ebert is a crotchety old man.
Seriously. Look at the guy. This is not a man who is ever going to understand video games. This is not a man who will ever agree with any artistic point of view that isn’t his own.
He’s a critic. His job is to formulate an opinion and stick to it. When it comes to movies, I think he performs that job quite well. He’s knowledgeable. He’s experienced. He’s film-literate. He’s watched more movies than all the people in my family combined. I trust that when he comes up with an opinion about a movie, whether I agree with it or not, it will be an opinion based upon solid evidence with substantial claims to back it up.
When it comes to video games, Roger Ebert is ignorant, naïve, and utterly illiterate. His opinions are based solely on his gut reaction, rather than any sort of experience.
When I look at Roger Ebert, I imagine trying to explain my connection with games to my grandmother. Why do I feel this connection? What do games inspire in me? How do they affect my perception of the world? I can’t answer these questions. At least, I can’t answer these questions in a way that my grandmother would understand.
And if I can’t explain it to my grandmother, a woman who loves me and takes interest in my life, how am I supposed to explain it to Roger Ebert?
I’m not sure it’s worth trying. Let him live with his beliefs, while I live with mine. All art forms have gone through this phase, and there are people far more knowledgeable than I who can argue for the side of video games.
I just want to wish Roger Ebert the best. When he finally goes to his reserved seat in the sky, the only people that will remember his anti-game stance will be the geeks.
With any luck, we’ll have the good graces not to mention it.