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Does it matter what Roger Ebert thinks?

So, movie critic Roger Ebert is at it again, stirring the hornet's nest and upsetting the demagogues of gaming with his definitive statement that videogames can "never" be art. In a recent editorial, Ebert defends his long-running belief that interactive entertainment does not deserve to be considered an artistic pursuit and, predictably, gamers lost their minds.

However, the community cannot say that it didn't ask for this recent tirade. As Ebert states, he has been contacted multiple times by game fans who are desperately seeking the old man's approval. All I can ask is why? Why are people clamoring for Roger Ebert, of all people, to validate a medium he clearly has no interest in, and has remained willfully ignorant of for years? Why is the opinion of a single Luddite so crucial to the gaming community?

I cannot claim I've not been guilty. I used to get offended when outdated and irrelevant human beings looked down their noses at a medium I've dedicated my life to covering. I used to take up my pitchfork when philistines like Ebert blasted a form of entertainment that they will never understand. However, the more I considered it, the more I had to ask... does it really matter?

Does it really matter what a 67-year-old man thinks about Metal Gear Solid?
Let us not pretend, of course, that what Ebert is saying isn't ignorant at best and stupid at worst. To say that something can never be art, when art is perhaps the most personal and subjective concept in human history, marks the critic out as a disastrously primitive and nescient individual. Ebert's entire argument is that games cannot be art because you can "win" them. He claims that because games have set rules and goals, they are disqualified as art.

Essentially, that argument is no different from me saying that paintings can never be art because they are hung on walls. Both arguments impose wholly arbitrary rules on the nature of art, a concept that is inherently judged not by capricious standards, but by instinct, perspective and that intangible thing we clumsily call soul. You can't impose strict and unchanging rules upon art, because it is based upon feelings, fashions, societies and emotions, things that are always changing. Art is an evolution, a formless thing that has no shape. To try and put it in a box, stick a label on it, and give it definition or structure is not only futile, but incredibly foolish.



The basic premise of that tangent is that Ebert is wrong. However, we all know he's wrong. We also know he'll never change. In fact, Ebert actively revels in upsetting gamers. He boasts on Twitter about being disagreed with, and goads the community with his perpetual statements. Evoking an image of the perfect troll, he successfully plays the hardcore gamer crowd like a Casio Songbank. Here we are, Pavlov's dogs, we drool and bark as soon as he starts ringing the same bell we've heard a dozen times before.

In fact, Ebert claims he was prompted to start round 100 of his slanging match by gamers themselves, who constantly bombard him with requests to play certain titles in an effort to sway his mind. Like an obsessive religious fundamentalist who is preoccupied with turning "sinners" toward the light, these self-appointed industry ambassadors only manage to expose their own insecurity and angst over the fact that somebody might not have the same opinion as they do.

Roger Ebert has no interest in educating himself about videogames. In his latest article, he makes definitive statements about Braid and Flower, basing his opinion on a few things he's heard in a talk by Kellee Santiago. He won't play the games he criticizes so confidently. He doesn't feel he needs to, nor does he care enough about the subject at hand. Why are we so eager to get this old man to play a game? He consistently exposes himself as a man who is not just ignorant, but proudly ignorant. This is a man who can simply hear about a game like Flower and write it off as "[nothing more interesting] than a greeting card."

Do you really want the approval of somebody who's going to publicly spout such absurd drivel?



You must also remember that people like Ebert are increasingly becoming the minority. Games are only getting more mainstream, and as our generation rises to become the next breed of critics, politicians, newscasters and parents, the acceptance of gaming as a legitimate art form is a complete and total inevitability. Ebert is 67, and those who think like him aren't much younger. They are fossils. Leftovers. They are nearly all dead. In a few years time, nothing that Ebert has said will matter because Ebert won't be with us anymore. You might as well already be arguing with a corpse when you engage any of these old men who sneer at interactive entertainment. It's a thoroughly pointless endeavor.

Gamers are a defensive lot, and again, I cannot claim to be innocent. I bristle and boil when pathetic "experts" go on TV and pretend that videogames are a corrupting influence on our unspoiled children. I engage in heated debates about whether this game or that game deserves more respect. However, I think it's high time we let the "games and art" debate go. It's a waste of time. Nobody will ever admit defeat, so it becomes a war of attrition, and since gamers are younger, it's a war we're destined to win.

Ultimately, it shouldn't matter what anybody else thinks about something you enjoy, provided that you still enjoy it. Whether Ebert says games are art or not will never invalidate the experiences you've had with the medium. Whether you choked up after fighting The Boss in Snake Eater, or laughed childishly at The Great & Mighty Poo in Conker's Bad Fur Day, there is nothing Ebert can say that will take your fun away from you. To me, fun is the highest form of art. Anything that entertains in this miserable world is worth putting in a gallery and cherishing for years to come, if you ask me.

That's the key phrase, though -- if you ask me. If you ask me, I'll tell you that games are art. Games are because I say they are art. That's how art works. It's what you, the individual, can take from it. Not what some obsolete stranger says. By all means, disagree with Ebert's statements. Laugh at his absurd commentary or disregard him entirely. Hell, agree with him if you think the guy has a point. However, let's stop getting so damn angry and bitter because an aged film critic doesn't respect videogames.



If Ebert wants to betray his own ineptitude, let him. If this old man who should know better is intent on acting like a twelve-year-old Internet troll, that is his prerogative. But whatever he says about videogames doesn't matter. If anything, its his opinion on art in general, and his attempts to narrowly define it, that should be taken as the gravest offense.

Let the art world get offended by that, however. Let us, as gamers, do the best thing we can do to prove Roger Ebert wrong... ignore him, and enjoy our damn games!

Apr 19, 2010

142 comments

  • acdcrock - April 25, 2010 11:20 p.m.

    I believe it was the masterful songwriter Bob Dylan who said: "Don't critisize what you can't understand" It's a pity such a highly regarded film critic finds a need to diminish another medium.
  • oldmangamer - April 24, 2010 5:54 p.m.

    Most of the arguments here boil down to "Anything I define as art is Art, so there." Mr. Ebert is entitled to use principle this as well. Rather than ignorant, Ebert comes across as brilliant, especially in comparison to the mostly fatuous gamer comments, including some very egregious ageist slurs. Too bad the libel rules aren't just a little stricter.
  • Sabtos - April 24, 2010 4:15 p.m.

    Holy shit, what an excellent article. Did you post this on his blog? LOL. Favorite quotes: "He consistently exposes himself as a man who is not just ignorant, but proudly ignorant" "You might as well already be arguing with a corpse when you engage any of these old men who sneer at interactive entertainment. It's a thoroughly pointless endeavor" "However, I think it's high time we let the "games and art" debate go. It's a waste of time. Nobody will ever admit defeat, so it becomes a war of attrition, and since gamers are younger, it's a war we're destined to win." "this old man who should know better is intent on acting like a twelve-year-old Internet troll, that is his prerogative."
  • FinderKeeper - April 24, 2010 1:57 a.m.

    My question is this: since effin' WHEN have gamers needed validation from a film critic? I don't go to the Games Radar website to read about movies, and I don't go to the Roger Ebert website to read about games. News flash: they are still VERY different forms of entertainment. Just because they both come out for purchase on DVD or BluRay discs doesn't make them the same. Why are gamers expecting that someone who has spent their life reviewing cinema suddenly give his imprimatur to video games? Hopefully Jim Sterling can stop focusing on controversies that aren't (such as this) and turn his attention back where it belongs... to video games.
  • ODST117 - April 23, 2010 5:31 p.m.

    Don't get me wrong he's a great movie critic but games like shenmue uncharted and mass effect ARE ART as well as GAMES
  • ranger1 - April 22, 2010 10:19 p.m.

    Im 60 so i guess that makes me an old man too, but im still playing all fps and still enjoying it...Video games are an excape from reality for a little while..i spend hours a day at these games and enjoy them more now then when i started with original halflife
  • G.T.Gizra - April 22, 2010 10:14 p.m.

    First Ebert makes a living by getting people to listen to him. Second every time he starts this crap people respond which puts money in his pocket. Third he has been a big nobody ever since Siskel died,sorry Roger face facts without your partner you are nothing. Fourth I think he sucks as a movie critic, so why should I give a rat's ass about what he thinks is or is not art.
  • A2guy - April 21, 2010 9:30 p.m.

    I'm told that art is a form of human expression. I see a lot of more story-heavy games that seem to do a lot of "expressing". so why wouldn't be games be art if they do just that?
  • Gam3rFERlife - April 21, 2010 3:12 p.m.

    Just look at the name bitch!!!!
  • damunsta - April 21, 2010 3:09 p.m.

    Thank you, excellent article and Elbert can suck on my giant circumcised ****!
  • philipshaw - April 21, 2010 1:09 p.m.

    Great article and have to agree with Jim on most of his points. Games are better than art
  • AlexMercer1337 - April 21, 2010 11:30 a.m.

    Roger Ebert can go fuck himself. Well said Jim.
  • Shrimpandwhitewine - April 21, 2010 4:27 a.m.

    This was an outstanding article, and I couldn't agree with you more. We know games are art - don't need some hack to tell us otherwise. Ebert is simply like a person believing the world is flat in the history of art.
  • bugcatcherjason - April 21, 2010 4:09 a.m.

    I always did like Ebert, but I don't think he actually knows the definition of "art." Art is not just visual, it is NOT about beauty, but it is about sharing a similar experience with other viewers (gamers, in this case) and relating to what similar feelings and thoughts that came about during the experience. This is not my definition of art. It is Leo Tolstoy's definition of art that is most referenced, recognized, and accepted when defining what "art" is. Hell, Marcel Duchamp took a urinal, signed it with a pseudo name, and presented it at an art show in 1917. It was smashed in a back alley with a sledge hammer next to it just after he displayed it because people were disgusted. Why? Because before his urinal (named the "Fountain"), was simply a urinal. Back then, art was only painting and sculpture. And because Duchamp put his urinal on display an an ART show, people started to question: "What is art?" "Can this be art? It IS at an art show" And yes, it was art. Now, it is voted to be the most influential artwork in the past 500 years, getting more votes than the likes on Michelangelo's, da Vinci's, and Picasso's works. It changed art forever and it's definition along with the mediums that an artist can use. The above paragraph is what video games are in the world of "art." It might not be accepted and it might disgust people like Ebert, but it IS art. We just have to wait and see what comes about on this topic in the next few years. I hope you read all of that.
  • TehKnuck - April 21, 2010 2:37 a.m.

    A-frickin-men. I couldn't agree more with this article. To each their own, and to gamers, more games :)
  • OneEyedGoon - April 21, 2010 1:16 a.m.

    Ah, the old "Are games art?" debate. My answer is: Who cares? This is a very well-written and well-thought out essay, though. I'm quite impressed.
  • skynetiscoming - April 21, 2010 1:05 a.m.

    Fantastic work Mr. Sterling, and a great defence from Eric as well. I love videogames, art and this website.
  • drunkenfish - April 20, 2010 11:18 p.m.

    What teh hell i didnt mean to do that. The recaptcha said that my post failed im sorry
  • drunkenfish - April 20, 2010 11:17 p.m.

    Jim, you have the charisma of a damp rag, the appearance of a low ranking bank clerk, and you're from Belgium which is essentially a non-country. We don't want you. We don't like you.
  • drunkenfish - April 20, 2010 11:17 p.m.

    Jim, you have the charisma of a damp rag, the appearance of a low ranking bank clerk, and you're from Belgium which is essentially a non-country. We don't want you. We don't like you.

Showing 1-20 of 142 comments

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