Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dad is Dead: Rebutting Roger Ebert - PC Feature at IGN

Mike Thomsen rebuts Roger Ebert, who claims (say it ain't so, Rog) videogames will never be art. I agree with Mike: bullshit.

Dad is Dead: Rebutting Roger Ebert - PC Feature at IGN

At the end of his essay, Ebert asks a pointed question. "Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?"

The answer is simple. Videogames are not games, and there is more in them than winning and enjoyment. The reason football is not art is because its rules were designed with the primary goal of competition. Competition is only one of a great many different experiences that a videogame can create. Games can also be about losing, and not competing at all. They can be about love, the impossibility of relationships, the beautiful indifference to our individual life choices, urgent intimacy in the shadow of death, sexual anxiety, and confrontation with life choices to which there are no right answers. There are games that, using the language of authored interaction, invoke all of these ideas, and many more beyond.

What's most ironic about Ebert's latest round of criticism is that it's based on an invalid reading of the works he's arguing against. After watching a video of "Waco Resurrection," Ebert concludes that it is a "brainless shooting gallery." Of Braid, he says the time reversal mechanic breaks the "discipline of the game," and doubts that "I can learn about my own past by taking back my mistakes in a video game." Ebert concludes by addressing Flower: "Nothing she shows from this game seemed of more than decorative interest on the level of a greeting card." He reaches these conclusions by virtue of having streamed clips of each work online. This would be the equivalent of dismissing a film after having read a dismissive essay about it.

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