Thursday, April 22, 2010

Roger. Out.

Roger Ebert, film-critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, recently published a blog post that's ignited a firestorm of debate across the internet. In "Video Games Can Never Be Art", Ebert sets out to refute a TED talk by game designer Kellee Santiago. In point by point fashion he lays out his reasons why video games don't (can't) carry the same artistic weight as music, painting, and yes, film.

Not surprisingly, hordes of tech savvy gamers and enthusiasts have offered rebuttals, refutations, and counter-arguments to Ebert's essay. As of this writing, there were over 2700 comments to his post alone. Add to that the news stories, blog posts, and opinion pieces devoted to the topic and you've got something close to a full-on backlash.

As far as debates go, it's been a pretty lopsided affair. Ebert stands resolutely behind his post while the chants of "you don't get it" grow louder around him. Personally I find myself less perturbed by Ebert's assertions than by the ham-handed way he's delivered them.

"Video Games Can Never be Art" is, to put it plainly, internet attention-whoring. It's trolling. It's calculated and contrarian posturing that's better suited for a 24-hour new cycle than honest debate. And it worked. In a few paragraphs of not particularly rigorous musings, Roger Ebert is thrust into the spotlight again.

As if to fan the flames of internet hoopla further, he's been offering a steady stream of condecension via his Twitter account. He happily taunts and heckles those who disagree, all the while remaining proudly ignorant of the gaming medium (He admits to having not played any of the games he critiques).

I suppose then Ebert would be advised to enjoy the warm glow of all this pixelated attention while he can. I'm not sure it will last. You see, people have been saying this or that can't be art for ages. They said photographs couldn't be art. They said movies couldn't be art. They said videos, quilts, urinals, splatters, drips, rips, and ideas couldn't be art. They were wrong. They're always wrong. In due time, Roger Ebert will find himself on the losing side of history as well. His contrarian stance will end up being nothing more than a quaint footnote, hearkening back to a time when film critics had a say in what could or couldn't be art.


  1. I agree with you. There, I said it.

  2. Ha! On the one hand, it seems like a debate worth having. On the other, the whole notion of what is or isn't art seems sort of outdated. In a culture that's much more particapatory, I'm not sure the old lines of creator/spectator mean as much.

    Plus, Ebert's been nothing but smug and dismissive. He's clearly not interested in any kind of common purpose or agreement.

    ...and finally, if Ebert is going to set himself up as an arbitor of what is or isn't art he'd do well to avoid introducing Rick Wakeman lyrics into the debate...just sayin'...