Ebert's latest dig at gamer's

Sure… if you ignore Grand Theft Auto III and every game that tried to copy it.

Those aren’t wide open. Sure, you’re allowed to run around and kill non-threatening civilians for as long as you want, but when you decide that it’s time to play the game again, you’re snapped right back into the linear progression of events.

And there aren’t movies like this? What about Lucas and his visions (and revisions)?

Interactivity is not being “taken away” – games are not slabs of interactivity that get ruthlessly chipped away to make something linear. The creation of non-linear gameplay takes imagination and resources, the first of which has been proven historically to be in very short supply, and the second of which is unfortunately subject to the increasing costs of game production. That an author’s vision is “often pedestrian and pretentious in the first place” has no bearing on game design per se, since it applies to roughly 90% of anything that could be said to have an author, from poetry to novels to popular music.

These are selective and extreme examples, and I or anyone else here could easily refute them with a series of counter-examples. What you describe is the result of a games production becoming more mainstream in its aspirations to a wider, paying audience; history has proven that people often prefer to receive a linear story over having to exert the energy necessary to create their own. Witness most efforts at democracy.

Whoo, good one! Ya got me there. It’s all downhill from here, I guess!

Technology is not the problem – its economics. Your despair at the fate of game design could just as easily apply to the fate of any medium. The more money that goes into a medium, the more investors it attracts, and the more they expect to recoup from their investment. So the creators are encouraged to satisfy the lowest common denominator and reap the highest reward.

What I’m talking about is the growth and development of the medium itself – the language of games – not the market in which it exists. The two of course are inextricable, but even as money invariably and dramatically alters any commercial medium, the underlying medium will continue to grow and evolve, because at root it is driven by people – creators and consumers – who have a passion for it.

The market for film is dominated by mindless, crappy blockbusters, and so too is the games market; but independent and interesting works in either domain will continue to pop up and thrive on the periphery. The medium of film – depth and breadth of technique, the language of visual narrative, range of content – has just gotten better and better. You just have to sort through more trash to find the good stuff. This is true of everything else made by humans and sold for profit – why should games be the exception?

It may be that the desire for non-linear entertainment will only ever exist in a minority of the population. After all, interactive entertainment has been in development for thousands of years, and we have yet to overthrow the tyranny of linear narrative.

Ebert should stick to “feelm”. AC/DC should stick to high voltage rock and roll. I’ll stick to grossing out young females.

He clearly hasn’t played Shadow of the Colossus or Ico.

Why Ico or Shadow of the Colossus? Everyone suggests these. I guess they would appeal to Ebert’s sentimental and anime-friendly sensibility, but either of the Half-Lifes or the Halos or even the Super Mario games are better examples of how games can be effective narratives, which is what he was arguing against (to say nothing of whether the videogame is itself a kind of art form, or what its unique properties are thereby).

Who really cares about convincing Ebert anyway? He’s not a serious film theorist, he’s a journalist who wanted to retire and write novels but got stuck doing movie reviews early on and became popular for it. Send your demos to Jonathan Rosenbaum or Andrew Sarris or some other critic whose work is about something other than finding a subject to exercise their literary ambitions on. I guarentee you that if you trapped Rosenbaum in a hotel ballroom with a PC and a projector and took him on a tour of HL2, he’d recognize what a significant achievement it is.

Ebert’s foray into game criticism is a good thing. It’s got everyone chewing their nails, and he’s obviously happy for his lettercols to be chocked with well-argued defenses of games-as-art.

So what if he’s been pompous about it? He identified correctly a major artistic impediment to the authorial voice in games and basically admitted he was too old to get over it. It’s obvious from the way he talks that he hasn’t decided this lightly, and even spells out what it would take to change his mind.

He’s not out there trying to vilify games because of all the violence and whore-killing. He’s just setting a high bar. Don’t worry. When the bar falls, the bar is gone for good.

Hey, I love games and take them far too seriously. So I’m definitely going to disagree with Ebert and his phrasing of “joy <space> stick”. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled. I reckon the UK’s highest profile movie show and critic is the BBC’s Film 2005/06 presented by Jonathan Ross. Ross, although pretty hard to take seriously in almost any other context, appears totally credible when talking about the silver screen. Most importantly, he’s a self-confessed game nut. I’ve no complaints!

I’m wondering if Ebert is preparing some sort of call to arms. Imagine the scale of the flame war when all the film forum members go up against all the game forum members.

EDIT: When referring to film forum and game forum I meant internet-wide, not the different areas of QT3.

Yes, a full on tardfest slapfight. What a revolutionary concept you’ve come up with.

Are you sure that wouldn’t be a slapfest tardfight?

You are exactly right. The “game” part of games are manifestly not art, no matter how skillfully constructed. They’re a kind of sport or contest. You might as well call a football game “art” if that aspect is going to be allowed. So what we’re left with is the artwork and the story in whatever manifestation it assumes (still screen, animation, writing, acting, or whatever) These can be very artful, but only when considered in themselves, apart from the “game” part of the game.

This is true, with one esoteric exception: the entirety of the “non-game” part, the aggregation of graphics, music, dialog, prose and other “artwork the game contains,” is usually presented as a kind of world, a unified composite whole comprised of these individual components but fundamentally irreducible to them. As this “world” can only be experienced or consumed using the mechanism of gameplay, in this respect, the game itself is a necessary component of experiencing the art it contains.

Vitual dasein for gamers. Or, rather, shrieked in a loud German accent, dortsein und teabagging

Sure. No one’s denying that, Rob. But the point concerns what videogames essentially are; i.e. what their nature is, and videogames in themselves are neither pure art nor pure “sport.” They’re an unholy amalgam of the two, such that any attempt to treat them as exclusively either one is destined to fail.

IOW, any attempt to say that videogames are art is wrongheaded, because they contain elements that are not art. What you have to say is that the story or the artwork or whatever within the game is very artistic.

I often feel that the interactive part, the ‘game’ part, that logic governing how things reacts to my actions, is the most artistically interesting part of a game. Some of my favorite games screw with your preconceptions about what it means to ‘win’ the game in the first place.

What if the artwork within the game is in a composite form that cannot be experienced, as the author intended, through any mechanism other than playing the game? I don’t think games are art, much, but I’m wondering, if an artist chose to make a game as intentional artwork, even if it is crap artwork, is he just ramming semiotics and simulation up his own rear?

Bunch of simply artsy flash games

The word “art” has various senses. In one sense it refers to what we call “fine art,” and that’s the sense Ebert is thinking of when he critiques videogames. In another sense, “art” refers merely to some productive act performed well, like cabinetmaking or cobbling. Art in this second sense can be applied to the “construction” of videogames, i.e. when we marvel at how well or how cleverly they’ve been put together or whatever, but not art in the first sense.

There is a kind of beauty in perfection (hence, the mathematician’s love of numbers, for example), but it’s not the same kind of beauty as what we admire with our senses.

I was refering to “art” in the first sense.

It doesn’t matter what the author intended. People these days intend all kinds of idiotic things that don’t make what they do “art.” You’re simply buying into an erroneous modern definition of art.

This all reflects the same kind of muddled thinking, btw, that put figure skating, ribbon dancing, ballroom dancing and synchronized swimming into the Olympics. None of these are pure sport, but contain artistic elements that should disqualify them from that particular arena. I mean, just ask yourself, what is it about ballet dancing that’s so essentially different from figure skating that ballet shouldn’t be allowed in the Olympics? Then ask yourself whether there’s not something broken in the thinking of a person who considers ballet a sport? If ballet is a sport, then pretty much anything that requires use of the body is a sport. I expect to see grocery shopping showing up in the Olympics any day now. :)