Roger, Roger, Roger

Apr 16, 2010

Roger Ebert is at it again, claiming that not only are games not art, but that they can never be art.

Roger, Roger, Roger.

Over the past year I have gained an immense amount of respect and admiration for Roger Ebert.  I read his blog everyday and it's damn good, some of the best and most insightful writing on the web (or anywhere).  He's gone through some very terrible and personal issues with cancer and hasn't let any of it stop him.  I remember watching Siskel and Ebert back when it was on PBS and credit it as one of the reasons I became so interested in movies and storytelling and almost sending me to film school rather than down the path of making games.

But I didn't go to film school, I decide to make games instead.  Why?  Because games gave me a creative and artistic outlet.  They allowed me to express myself and my ideas and my characters and my stories.

The games I was playing and wanted to make were adventure games and I didn't see much difference in how they told a story from how a movie told a story except they were interactive.  I saw them as an extension of the linear narrative of film.  I saw them as not only a way to tell a story with real characters, real emotions and real ideas, but one where the viewer got to participate in the story.  They got to touch it and twist it and become part of it and make it their own.

I can't imagine anything more artistic than connecting with your audience in that way.  It's unique to the way games tell stories and we've only begun to understand it's artistic potential and power.  Movies will never go away, but neither will games that tell important, interesting and deep stories and we're just getting started.

The problem is Roger has not played the right games, or any games.  Roger is a master at understanding movies and there is no person I respect more than him when it comes to understanding film and it's importance.

But games?  Not so much.

Here is my challenge to Roger:  Why is Monkey Island not art, yet, the Pirates of the Caribbean movie is art?

I will hold the story and characters of Monkey Island up to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie any day.  The story in Monkey Island 1 and 2 is as deep and complex and interesting as that of Pirates of the Caribbean.  The characters are as living and real and developed as you'll find in any film, I'd even argue more so since you can have conversations with them and explore the nooks and crannies of their stories in a way a movie or book cannot.

So, Roger, play Monkey Island.  Really play it.  Don't have someone that has played it tell you about it.  Don't get someone to play it for you.  Don't read about it on Wikipedia.  Play it and let it swallow you and then tell me it's not art.


Roger replied that he did not think Pirates of the Caribbean was art.

If that is indeed what he thinks, then his argument does make a little more sense to me.  He's not saying that film is art, but that some film is art.  Ok, I can believe, under his standards, that no game has reached the level of art, but to say they never will be art is naive and history will prove as such.

Although, he did say "no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form", so I guess that is his escape from the hammer of the future, but it can not excuse the fact that he's never played or tried to understand games at the same level that he does film.  If he wants to continually bring this issue up, then he should at least become a quais-expert in it first or at lease try to understand it.

And no, watching YouTube videos of games doesn't count because it's not experiencing the one thing that makes a game unique and that is how you interact with it.  This would be like critiquing film by only ever reading scripts and never watching the movie.  There is an entire layer that is missing.

Roger also mentions in his essay "Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?"  I would ask: why are you so concerned that they are not?  You're the one that keeps bring this up, not us.