Roger Ebert hates video games
Assuming you haven't been following it, the game blogsphere is abuzz over famed film critic Roger Ebert's recent comments in his biweekly Answer Man column concerning video games. For those who just want the high points, I submit the following quote:
I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.
Where do you begin with a statement like that? Other than slapping your forehead and bemoaning how narrow minded it is, I mean. There are plenty of games that have an easily discernable artistic vision or "authorial control." They're called game designers. People revere folks like Kojima and Miyamoto so highly because of their artisitic vision. What's more, just because he's not aware of worthwhile game criticism doesn't mean it's not out there. And as far as the whole, "you could be reading Tolstoy instead of playing God of War" notion, please. Someone needs to remind him of that statement the next time he's at a Chicago Bulls game.
Rog's comments have certainly touched off a lot of online debate, that's for sure, some of it very thoughtful musings on what games qualify as art and why. One wonders if Ebert is aware of all the discussion that's going on. Probably not.
What's especially interesting about his statement is that it comes at the same time as this not so pithy piece from the New York Times. While I tire of the whole "hey, lookit how sophisticated these there games are" lead, I really like that the author includes a quote from Henry Jenkins calling Steven Spielberg to the carpet for his ignorance of the medium he's chastizing. "Cry by level 17" indeed.
What this is endemic of is the growing pains that games are going through right now. It wasn't too long ago that comics endured similar bouts of snark/patronizing. They're not out of the woods yet, but certainly the less and less people view comics with contempt. With works like Shadow of the Colossus out there, I don't think it will be too long before games join the "art club" too.
EDIT: I almost forgot to include Chris Butcher's thoughts along somewhat similar themes.