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Roger Ebert Reluctantly Relents in Fracas Over Artsy Games

Roger Ebert tweets about video games
Roger Ebert, both a cinema icon and a tech pioneer, sparked a recent firestorm of debate when he asserted, "Video games can never be art." Inspired by an ensuing reader response, Ebert watched a presentation from video game designer Kellee Santiago, and the two subsequently embarked on an entertaining, enlightened discourse (on Ebert's part, anyway). Snooty art house nerds and devoted gaming geeks felt compelled to proffer their adamant beliefs, inspiring one of the most comprehensive, informed and publicized dialogues on art and gaming to date.

While video games' relationship to art has been an enduring topic of discussion, Ebert unprecedentedly catapulted the argument into the mainstream. After two months of analysis, and 4,547 (and growing) blog replies, Ebert has now consented, "I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place." His latest lengthy statement, though, still adheres to his previously mentioned "never" stance, while also providing an exhaustive and detailed framework for his argument.


To add credibility to his argument, and to somewhat dispel Santiago's accusations that he hasn't "played many, if any, video games," Ebert describes his experiences with gaming. His compelling views and revealing information certainly possess value and relevance, but one irksome and contentious statement requires a rebuttal. Ebert asserts that, in terms of artistic games, 1993's entrancing 'Myst' represents the "infancy of the form." That belief, however, neglects at least 10 years of revolutionary and artistic gaming, particularly the "prose adventures" of Infocom.

The company's MIT grad developers, one of whom was a novelist and another a physicist, maintained a philosophy that, with certain titles, "It's closer to writing a novel than a script. You develop characters, you develop an environment, and the problems and the solutions come out of that." And that was espoused in an interview from 1984. At that time, titles like 'Q*Bert,' 'Pac-Man' and 'Tempest' curried the media's favor, but Infocom emphasized, "If people think that's all there is to computer games, they're missing the boat." The literary developers even created a game called 'Enchanter.' Its protagonist, "a novice who's graduated from Magician's School," had been preordained to defeat a powerful and peerless 'Warlock.' That theme sounds vaguely (well, blatantly) similar to a current film franchise whose "wondrous art design and cinematography" Ebert frequently celebrates.

Despite that glaring disregard for an entire decade of gaming, and few references to fan art or the expanding list of "interactive digital art" games like 'Linger in Shadows,' Ebert's exhaustive and informative artistic journey cites numerous works, artisans and games. So, to denegrate himself and his supposedly "foolish position" seems out of line. The prevailing significance of this entire discussion is that someone managed to finally divert the video game conversation from topics of violence and stunted behavior to ones of benefits and artistic merits. So, Mr. Ebert, an apology for your nonexistent guilt is unnecessary. A more deserved, "You're welcome," seems highly appropriate. [From: The Chicago Sun-Times, via Geekosystem]

Tags: art, Kellee-Santiago, RogerEbert, videogameart, VideoGames

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