On Roger Ebert’s view of videogames

A non-edited transcript from a comment reply that was written a few months ago follows. While visiting my blog, I just thought it deserved a full post. [take into account these may not reflect my current opinions (people do change…)] This will probably become common practice in the future, in order to spike further discussions with my dear blog readers.

  1. Rez said,

    May 24, 2008 at 5:16 am · Edit

    I agree with Roger Ebert. Movies are a far more superior medium than games. Most game storylines are just generic varations of other plots. Bioshock is basically Roger Corman.

  2. ruicraveirinha said,

    May 25, 2008 at 9:50 am · Edit

    “I agree with Roger Ebert.”
    Well, first up, let me say I’m a big fan of Roger Ebert… as a movie critic. When it comes to games, he clearly knows nothing about what his talking about. Did he ever play a game on his own? Probably not. Did he ever play (or even watch somebody play) the best games in the means? Surely not. When he describes games, he dismisses much of the elements that make the experience unique and interesting. It’s like a theater critic bashing on cinema, without ever being to a movie-theater – would you believe that person? No matter how valid an opinion can be, if it lacks proper justification, it means nothing. And in Ebert’s case, it lacks.

    “Movies are a far more superior medium than games.”
    No means can be seen as superior to another. In my opinion there’s no possible comparison, because each artistic mean uses different semiotic vehicles to express their author’s ideas. Can you compare literature to cinema? Sure, you can say that literature has far more complex narrative structures, dialogs, and whatnot, but Literature lacks the impact and beauty of image and sound. So how do you compare? Music with literature? Theater with Sculpture? How? It’s simple, you can’t, they’re different languages, with different expressions, different focuses, different motifs, different genres, different everything! To compare just seems silly to me.
    Now, what I do admit, is the comparison between means when it comes asserting the fulfillment of their potential. In that regard, I can see film as “superior” medium, but that is to be expected, it has had more than 100 years of history to perfect the craft, as opposed to 30 in the gaming means…

    Most game storylines are just generic varations of other plots.

    That afirmation is just completely generic and reductive, and the same can be said about most works of art. I bet I can reduce any movie to a composition of others works of art, and the same can be done with any other piece, because every bit of art that exists is always a product of previous works, either directly (when it is in the form of an adaptation), or indirectly, (when you can sense the artist’s influences and references). Artists are human beings and thus, a product of their means. They always take something from the past and use it to create their own unique expression. But that doesn’t make it unique, it makes it slightly different than his influences, but never detached from them. Art scholars do just that: examine a piece of art and conjure up the net of influences that rise behind and beyond.
    So, when you say that “Bioshock is basically Roger Corman.” you’re probably right, but it is far from being detracting to the piece, quite on the contrary, it means its authors have good references and know how to translate them into other means, with added value and expression. Reducing “Bioshock” to a single influence, forgetting all of its brilliant art-deco flair, carefully woven script, claustrophobic ambiance and beautiful soundtrack is mean and unjustified, and I think you can understand why. I could say the same about “1984″, “Brave New World”, “Metropolis”, or any other work of art, and it would always be unfair. So be careful when you say… “A” is “B”, don’t you go forgetting what “A” really is.

So, anyone wanna comment through? Please? What’s your view on Roger Ebert’s thoughts? You can visit his blog here.

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    • Angela
    • August 25th, 2008

    This reminds me of an MTV columnist’s post that I wrote about once in my blog. He tried to compare music to games, claiming music was so much better. So I basically had to defend videogames in my post =)

    I agree with you, that mediums shouldn’t be compared. And I bet that if Ebert played MGS4, he’d eat his words.

  1. Are videogames an art form altogether? – This is possibly the most crucial subject concerning the videogame industry today as we aim for the clear and unmistakable definition of the role of new media formats in comparison to older, broadly accepted means of artistic expression and communication. I’m afraid that, as passionate as we all may be, and in spite of our willingness to share our point of view, the discussion of this question is simply too… byzantine to be discussed here – in its entirety.

    As for the specific case mentioned here:

    Roger Ebert, as a public figure is, above all, a renowned movie critic. Unlike so many others from his generation, he has demonstrated to have an open mind towards new technologies, how they allow for new cinematic experiences, as well as the dreaded videogames, which he has been playing for a while now. Please take, for instance, this brief review of 1994 game Cosmology of Kyoto in Wired Magazine – a rare, mature and complex videogame which even most videogame-related publications ignored at the time. And yet Ebert picked it up, played it and wrote about it.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.09/streetcred.html

    Let me suggest a different perspective of Ebert who, in his turn, was possibly one of the first journalists to evaluate games not as a children’s fad, but as a whole new genre of entertainment pleading for a different treatment and vocabulary. He was proffecient, rational and he didn’t fear the ridicule within film circles – how shameful it would be to become known as an occasional videogame player and analyst among that particular crowd! For this reason, I have no other choice but to validate his opinion as being legitimate and formed in the possession of considerable knowledge and information about the medium of videogames. I’m not claiming that he is an expert, just underlining the fact that he is by no means a total stranger to the videogame industry. In the end, how many true experts are there anyway?

    My “validating”, of course, isn’t synonymous with my “agreeing”. Cinema is closest to videogames because it is an industry which was potentiated by the creation of a technological apparatus: the filming camera. Videogame’s roots are also found in an analog device that allowed direct control in real time between the player’s inputs and the imagery on the screen – and this was long before the age of digits and silicon microchips. Need I remind you that videogames are a product, and arguably the zenith of the moden technological age? Eugene Jarvis, that dandy old charmer, even went as far as to describe videogames as “the only legitimate use for a computer”.

    Cinema has also been affected by the Digital Age of computers. Art critics don’t understand, in their majority at least, the value of the digital, hence their scorn and prejudice towards videogames – even if they are irrevocably artistic. It is a defining feature of generation conflicts: remember the early 20th century theatre producers and playwrights who loathed cinema and its controlled scene shooting environment, rendering it as something in the lines of stage magic instead of art? Why are movie directors (from Spielberg to renegade video artist Bill Viola), writers, visual artists (Moebius, Giger, Ryden) and musicians (Peter Gabriel, Mike Oldfield) so interested in exploring this medium today? Not because of extra pocket money: they happen to recognize the inexorable potential which is unique to videogames.

    It’s a trial and error process of wild guesses and risky experiments. No cook got his recipe right the first time. Videogames, as a plausible “meta-art” (art that embraces other arts), will require many years in a process of studies, discoveries, technical achievements, self-identification, balance and affirmation/emancipation.

    So far video games have demonstrated to be a singular expressive medium, capable of providing both deep and light entertainment for the masses – not unlike cinema or music. So I agree with Rui, let us wait and see.

    But, oh!, there is so much marrow yet to be sucked from the healthy and ever evolving structures of videogame (as an) art.

    • Munira
    • June 5th, 2009

    I know this is an old post, but when I found it I just I can’t resist leaving a comment. I think this is one of the many reasons why so many film-makers are not giving enough respect to games when they get the “brilliant” idea of producing crappy movies-based-on-games and end up dumbing them down. I’ll try keep my opinion short because I think you and the previous two commentators have pretty said everything. But let me put it this way – Ebert obviously had not played the beautiful Grim Fandango with its lush story that totally blew so many gamers away when first played it (including me). If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.

    Most game storylines are just generic varations of other plots.

    Objection. I can think countless of games in my head with amazing storylines that could slap that argument flat. Games can be a great story-telling medium and a good game allows players to truly immerse in its world and myth. And let’s not forget there are so many computer/video games with gorgeous soundtracks that could give a lot of movie OSTs a run for their money.

    Great post as always.

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