I’ve been participating in the discussion on Roger Ebert’s article/post about video games not being art, and wanted to share a couple of brief thoughts.
On twitter, Anna Anthropy asked why anyone actually cares what Roger Ebert thinks about video games. It’s a valid question, and here’s my answer:
Whether we like it or not, critics and academics still play a part in how culture is shaped. Sometimes this is great, sometimes it’s completely absurd – but it’s how things are. If Roger Ebert’s opinion changes, if Roger Ebert can be made to see the beauty and potential of computer games, it will have an effect. A tiny effect, but an effect nonetheless. It will push the world towards the light, if only by a minuscule amount.
Does that mean we should be running around begging academics and critics for their approval? No. Quite the opposite. That’s why the quote on top of the games page on this site says:
“I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s.
I will not Reason & Compare; my business is to Create.”
– William Blake
That’s the essence of my creative approach. My business is to create, not to talk and theorize about creating. (I do that too, but in my spare time.)
But Roger Ebert is someone I respect. Oh, I disagree with at least 50% of his reviews, but I respect him because he comes by his reviews honestly. He thinks about the things that he writes about, and though he often misses the point, even his wrong conclusions are the result of thought and honest emotion. Ebert cares about art. I’d rather have Ebert as an opponent to argue with than a million games-are-art-because-they-sell hypocrites agreeing with me.
Roger Ebert has been known to change his mind, when persuaded by logical argument. He has even, to some degree, gotten over the snobbery a lot of people exhibit at the work of Stephen King. (My own position is that King is the most significant American writer of the last 50 or more years. Just so you know.) If he could get over his dislike of computer games, if he could actually engage the subject instead of simply talking about it, I think he would find a great deal of potential for beauty.
He would also find a great deal of shoddy work and uninspired crap passed off as great art, and frankly I wouldn’t mind another critic who would call this stuff out in clear and strong language. Besides, it might be refreshing to have someone with Ebert’s perspective of a long-time movie critic looking at games, both good and bad. Not that I think he’ll start writing game reviews, but still. I would like to know what he would think of (I Fell In Love With) The Majesty of Colors, or Photopia, or Bioshock. After all, this is the guy who recognized Dark City for the masterpiece that it is, when so many other critics dismissed it as weird sci-fi crap. (Pretty much the same way so many critics are currently dismissing games.)
But it only goes so far. For me, and hopefully for all the other game creators out there, responding to Roger Ebert’s comments (thoughtfully and nicely, please) is something I do in my spare time, like theorizing about games. If Roger Ebert can’t be convinced, I won’t lose any sleep over it. If Anna Anthropy never again spends a single second thinking about Roger Ebert’s position on video games, I won’t mind, because that’s absolutely her right. More than that: it’s the perfectly healthy response of a person with artistic integrity. But I think my response is OK, too.
Our business is to create, and that’s what I do.