My business is to Create: Roger Ebert and video games

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.

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8 Comments

  1. I concur: create more, and fight for more insights for everyone. 🙂

  2. Bah, clearly, you’re not thinking straight! We must kill everybody who disagrees with us in even the slightest way. There’s a specific way to do it, though. I will teach you how. First, you disembowel the person. Then, you pick up a vital organ (preferably one that there is more than one of, such as a kidney, or, failing that, one that is fairly large) and bite into it. Swallow. I don’t care if it’s gross, you coward, just fucking do it! Then you ask the person if they want some. If they say yes, you are to scream, “YOU SICK FUCK!” and shove it up their ass. If they say no, you force them to eat it. Then, you kick that person in the crotch (or, if they are of the female persuasion, in the breasts). Finally, you are to lap up their blood as they bleed to death. When they finally die, you are to chop off their head and put it on a pole to make sure people don’t dare question you. Optionally, you can make a neat BDSM outfit by skinning them. It’s sure to turn your mate on!
    Also, for some reason, people think I’m creepy. It makes me SAD. 🙁

  3. Bah, clearly, you’re not thinking straight! We must kill everybody who disagrees with us in even the slightest way. There’s a specific way to do it, though. I will teach you how. First, you disembowel the person. Then, you pick up a vital organ (preferably one that there is more than one of, such as a kidney, or, failing that, one that is fairly large) and bite into it. Swallow. I don’t care if it’s gross, you coward, just fucking do it! Then you ask the person if they want some. If they say yes, you are to scream, “YOU SICK FUCK!” and shove it up their ass. If they say no, you force them to eat it. Then, you kick that person in the crotch (or, if they are of the female persuasion, in the breasts). Finally, you are to lap up their blood as they bleed to death. When they finally die, you are to chop off their head and put it on a pole to make sure people don’t dare question you. Optionally, you can make a neat BDSM outfit by skinning them. It’s sure to turn your mate on!

    Too much work. I’m too lazy to do all that.

  4. Christine

     /  April 19, 2010

    Great comment on Ebert’s blog. You articulated a lot of very important points, very, very well.

  5. Great comment on Ebert’s blog. You articulated a lot of very important points, very, very well.

    Thank you. That is very kind of you to say.

  6. Well said.

  7. Devil's Retarded Little Nephew

     /  January 15, 2012

    I’ve been wondering, with the way you view games as art and you having made very story driven games… how do you feel about Doom?. I mean the first and the second, mindless first person shooter action with the most basic story. What do you think about them?

  8. I have absolutely no problem with Doom. That I personally prefer story-heavy games doesn’t mean Doom isn’t art. It may not be great art, but that’s not the point. Neither would such a game necessarily require an obvious, text-heavy story to be art; in fact, I can imagine a really fantastic modernized version of Doom that doesn’t bother with any “obvious” storytelling and does everything through its worldbuilding.