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No I don’t want to talk about Roger Ebert and Videogames (but then I do anyway)

Step Right Up and Be Validated As Art

Step Right Up and Be Validated As Art

Dear Family and/or Friends and/or Random Acquaintances and/or Twitter Followers and/or Random Strangers:

Please stop asking me my opinion about Roger Ebert’s post about videogames and wether they (have, do, or will ever) constitute “art”. I understand given my occupation, hobbies, educational background, and unabashed love of pedantic petty argument that I would be a likely candidate for strong feelings on this topic – but I tried to avoid for three reasons:

One: I presume folks were looking for fiery counter-argument, and lots of thoughtful writers with much closer ties to gaming have already done that. That last article by Kotaku’s Brian Ashcraft was, perhaps, the most interesting to me personally given Brian’s background.

Two: At it’s core this is a debate about terms, and anyone who has actively engaged in debate as an abstract pursuit will tell you, “term haggling” is the last refuge of someone who doesn’t care about the issue. Even a neophyte high-school debate team knows when you haven’t done your prep – or are faced with a subject that holds no interest, you can always muddle through by dickering on terminology, and often the first to define the terms claims the “high ground” in the battle.

Roger Ebert has lasted longer than anyone in the film reviewing game because he has that rare combination of being absolutely brilliant about film, and being able to stir up gigantic amounts of ire with the things he writes. Read some of his legendary feuding with Gene Siskel from back in “the day” prior to their TV show. He knows what buttons to press to inspire vitriolic reaction (which is good for a syndicated columnist) and he’s smart enough to craft the grounds of his argument so that he can’t actually lose (or vaguely enough that he can extend the debate for as long as he feels he can get mileage out of it). It’s not a coincidence that he’s been poking this particular wasps nest for more than five years, but never more than once every couple of years.

As others have pointed out already, this “contest” is essentially rigged. Ebert is not interested in videogames, doesn’t play them, and likely wouldn’t like them if he did play them, and he’s the one setting the terms of the argument. So how do you propose to prevail with your position (and why would you try)? By the same token most gamers personal venn diagrams only overlap “Roger Ebert’s Opinion” on these rare bi-annual potshots. So why does it matter?

Yes, I get that a generation raised with authority figures telling them that electronic passtimes were juvenile distractions (at best) has a collective cultural sore-spot regarding external validation but at it’s core this debate has nothing do with gaming… which brings me to my last point.

Three: Boiled down, this is an art-theory debate, and there is nothing (and I mean nothing) less interesting than arguing about what does, or does not, constitute “art” – especially with combatants of (mostly) wildly disparate (and likely incompatible) backgrounds. This particular brand of conflict doesn’t lead to resolution, or insight; It leads to outlandish haberdashery, smoking kreteks and writing manifestos. And no one wants that.