Games As Ebert

Well shucks, he’s at it again. Roger Ebert – a man whose lifetime of work I respect above most others – wrote another diatribe about why games can never be art. Well this is awkward, isn’t it?

Anyhow, I spent far too long just now writing out a relatively succinct, pointed response to add to his chorus of comments. In case it never gets approved or gets completely buried, I’m posting it here for official record. See, I do write things once in a while.

“My greatest disconnect with your running stance on this is that you’re ignoring the most basic tenet of games as a medium: quite simply, they are defined by their interactivity. Not by goals, or by scores. If you’re not interacting with them, you’re not experiencing the relationship that makes them what they are in the first place.

Would it be fair for me to critique any film, never mind the entire medium, only ever having listened to films, or perhaps glanced a scene here or there? It doesn’t matter how many examples are thrown at you to dismiss; you’re not playing them, so they’re equally irrelevant.

Gamers’ frustration and outcry with your argument – or at least mine – isn’t based on defending them as art. We know that they are. It’s that we’ve had these incredible, literally life-changing experiences with them, as much as with any film, album, or book; more often than not, it’s a whole lot more than “simply enjoying myself”. ┬áBut I can understand why you wouldn’t appreciate that, or see the potential for it, based on the way you’ve interacted with them (or haven’t, more appropriately).

Sit down and play an hour of Flower – actually play it – and then you can condemn it or under-appreciate it all you like; most gamers do already. It’s relaxing, it’s exhilarating, it’s creatively and intellectually inspiring. And over the course of its narrative arc – yes, you read that correctly – it develops an emotional resonance and a lasting impression that dwarfs the simple mechanics that you could no doubt forcibly distill it to. Within ten minutes of playing the game, my complete non-gamer, 56 year-old father’s mouth was agape. He had no clue that that’s what games could be, and he didn’t know because he’d never interacted with them AS games.

If it means you’ll play it, I’ll happily mail you a Nintendo DS and a copy of Electroplankton – you can hold it in your hand, play it by touching it, and won’t have to bother with learning anything. The barrier of entry for you truly having an informed voice in this discussion is remarkably low. After all, if a random music critic watched a couple of scenes from your five favorite films and dismissed the medium as not being art, you’d simply laugh it off. If it was someone you greatly respected, you’d feel more than a little exasperated. No?”

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm  Comments (17)