Monday, December 05, 2005

Mr. Ebert's Homework

I know that
Corvus is tired of all the discussion concerning Roger Ebert's spurning of videogames as a viable medium.

But I have to add some things.

The conceit that, since Mr. Ebert reviewed a single videogame years ago, he was thus gifted with the insight to write off an entire medium is the ultimate in snobbery.

I saw the movie Leprechaun 4. Based upon that viewing, it is clear to me that movies cannot be art. There were a few scenes of visual artistry (a leprechaun wielding a lightsaber), but all in all movies represent time wasted when I could have been bettering myself and culture by chiseling naked men out of marble. Shape them glutes!

The idea that authorial control is the dividing line for art is nonsensical. The idea that mutability of a medium is the dividing line for not-art is also nonsensical.*

He'll never visit
my site, but I've compiled some very basic coursework with simple descriptions. Playing through a good deal of games on this list might give him a single leg to stand on:

Visually Awe-Inspiring Games

--Shadow of the Colossus
Not only for its unity of visual elements but also for the way it completely understates its very sequential narrative and puts the player in a state of moral ambiguity, subverting the dominant thrust of typical heroic videogame archetypes.

Fully psychedelic, creates an interactive synaesthesia.

Games That Maintain Strong Authorial Control

--Metal Gear Solid and its sequels
Well-known for its incredibly strict interpretation of story. My favorite is the third game, which was the most coherent -- the exploration of cold war themes, escalation and shifting alliances that connected with modern issues.

--Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
The twist with this one is that within its linear structure there was a strong element of time-manipulation -- one could call it postmodern, if one wished to be a prick.

Games That Assemble An Implied Narrative From Disparate Elements

Almost like abstract art. A Picasso, perhaps, wherein familiar yet loosely-defined elements lead to the viewer filling in the blanks, building up detailed backstories. With time always moving forward and the interplay of reaching historical milestones there was never a case of stagnation.

Similar to the above, though at a largely tactical level. Had one of the best unseen methods of constantly and consistently raising the challenge without relying on fixed points.

Games That Encourage Empathy

Yes, it's a glorified tamagotchi. Yes, that actually matters. People do form empathetic connections with them. Deal with it.

--The Sims 2
Well, this one probably encourages both empathy and sadism. Still, even if it's not your cup of tea, it's pretty easy to figure out that a living freaking dollhouse is an appealing idea to lots and lots of people.

Games That Are Even Now Altering Society

--World of Warcraft
You can't get that many people together without changing something. For better or for worse. Or both.

--Second Life
The creative side of the online gaming scene. Some artists would scoff at considering anything modeled on a computer to be art; Those artists are idiots.

--Pretty much any MMO
And it's only going to get worse. Worse as in farther-reaching.

Most of the games I've listed are somewhat recent. While I'm sure that Ebert could gush for hours over the simple propaganda of Potemkin, he probably would be completely unable to see anything of merit in any videogame classics. So that can be saved for a later class.

Then he needs to travel over to Grand Text Auto and brush up on interactive fiction and different varieties of text adventures.

Then he should go to Water Cooler Games and read up on games that explore social, political, educational and other issues.

Then try Avant Gaming and see what is happening on the cutting edge.

Also, he could go out on a huge limb and at least take a peek at some pen and paper RPGs. And I advise him to go beyond anything strictly munchkin or swords & sorcery.

Of course, none of this, I suspect, would alter Mr. Ebert's view. I assume some kind of cultural blind spot, a gut-reaction on his part that would lead him to conclude that videogames cannot make people more cultured, civilized or empathetic; On the flip side of this, then, is the assumption that somehow all dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers automatically make us more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

My hats off to you, Uwe Boll.

*I use mutability instead of interactivity, the latter seems to be the word most commonly employed when defining games. However, I feel that all media has interactive elements -- even if it's as basic as yelling at the screen MST3K style. Mutability, of course, has its own problems -- what to make of a DJ re-mixing songs on the fly? -- but that's a subject for another day.


Corvus said...

First off, your blog is one of the handful that I'll read for intelligent reaction to the latest hubbub. So, when there's a topic I've been mostly ignoring, I know I'll get a good re-cap out of you. I just got tired of waiting on the Ebert issue!

"Mutability, of course, has its own problems -- what to make of a DJ re-mixing songs on the fly? -- but that's a subject for another day."

MY next crunchy post on Open vs. Closed texts is going to touch on this as well. Stay tuned!

Chris said...

Roger Ebert is 63 years old. We shouldn't be too hard on him for not being in touch with a medium which didn't exist when he was a teenager.

Johnny Pi said...

I wasn't trying to be too hard on the man. I've always felt his movie reviews were thoughtful and informative.

But, as my father told me over and over again, ignorance is not an excuse. And it is definitely what is at work in these kind of overgeneralized statements. They betray a very sloppy thinking. I still have yet to see an explanation of how, exactly, direct mutability of a thematic structure disallows a medium to receive the label of Art.

I'm sure if I spoke with Mr. Ebert and we discussed movies, I would have to defer to him, not because of his age but because he has a broader range of information from which to draw.

I would just like to see the same respect shown to gaming (in general, not just video).

Rama said...

His job is to review movies and critique them. He hass in this capacity had to view and critique movies that were based on games.

Name a really good movie that was based on a game.

I feel sorry for the man.