Dear Roger Ebert

When I was a young boy, one of my very favorite shows was At The Movies. In my 6 year old mind, you were the good guy and Gene was the bad guy. While I’m sure that Mr. Siskel was a wonderful person, to young me, you were the ultimate and nobody disagreed with you. You were almost as cool as Optimus Prime. Almost.

In college, I used to run a computer bulletin board system. One of my favorite things for my friends and me to do was to review the movies we saw in a place where we all could see . I still tried to keep up with your reviews. I didn’t always agree with what you said, but hearing your opinion always made me think twice about mine. We agreed on Judge Dredd. We were, however, at odds on The Guardian. In retrospect, it being one of the secret VHS tapes I hid from my parents when I was 14 in order to repeatedly rewind and watch the nude scenes probably affected my opinion somewhat.

Now, I’m a blogger. Occasionally, I review things. I blame this partially on you. You’ve always been one of those figures in my life that I would eventually like to grow up to be. You have always had my respect. Recently, you said things that made me lose some of that respect. No, this is not about you saying videogames are not art. While it would be quite the understatement to say that I disagree with you, I think you’ve taken more than enough flak about that. Please, allow me to give you some new, fresh flak.

Mr. Ebert, my beef with you today is in regards to your recent article, “Okay, kids, play on my lawn“. I appreciate your saying you should not have said videogames can’t be art without having more experience with them, though you still believe they can’t be art. You’re entitled to your own opinion. I don’t have a problem with that.

What I do have a problem with, sir, is that you’re not even willing to try. From your article:

And I didn’t want to play a video game. If I should dislike it, I already had a preview of the response awaiting me: I was too old, I was over the hill, I was too aged it “get it.” That became the mantra: “Ebert doesn’t get it.” I disagreed with them about age, which I know more about than most of them, but I had some sympathy about the concept of not “getting it.” There are many, many things I believe many members of our society don’t “get,” but I don’t think they’re too old or too young to “get” them, only differently evolved.

Really? You’re worried what people might say if you didn’t like the game you reviewed? You’re the best movie critic. Ever. It’s your job to call things as you see them, even if that means declaring your undying hatred for something the general populace inexplicably loves. You think videogames are still in their infancy? That they might someday become art?

I submit, Mr. Ebert, that you are uniquely qualified to help make that happen. I don’t know of too many videogame critics with your kind of experience. You know well what touches you emotionally when you view what you consider to be art. Can you find it in another medium? Why is it you became a movie critic in the first place? To endlessly kvetch about things you don’t like? Or to improve the state of the art?

I’m not suggesting you play through every mindless beat-’em-up or explode every enemy ship that ever flew in pixellated skies. Some games are designed just for white-knuckled excitement, or to be eye candy. Some are terrible. Just like movies. I am saying that people are telling you they’ve experienced an emotional connection by suggesting games to you. I, for one, would relish the chance to see what you had to say once you gave them a spin.

Will people disagree? Of course. But, really, can you honestly tell me this would be a worse use of your time than confirming that Sex & The City 2 was a giant turd of a movie?

Besides, if you do this for me, you will finally be cooler than Optimus Prime.

Your friend (for my whole life),
Matt

(photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bsoist/514375711/)

Comments

  1. I think that though he’s being kind of weird about his reasons, Ebert is more or less justified in his opinions. I’d be doing more or less the same thing in his shoes.

    I’m not interested in supermarket romance novels. I can easily see myself saying something negative about supermarket romance novels even though I have never read one. If I were a highly visible media critic, and I said something negative about supermarket romance novels, even though I have never read one, I’d imagine that some supermarket romance novel fans would call BS on that one, and I’d have to apologize.

    This would not raise my interest in romance novels one iota, and I don’t I’d feel particularly obligated to give them a chance in order to continue dismissing them as something that I’m not interested in. In fact, I think I’d be even less interested in reading them, because by this point they would have become a hassle. Even if I got hundreds of letters about how sublime and transcendent they can potentially be.

    Besides that, video games have become increasingly more difficult to just jump into lately. Most of the games that tend to get the most critical acclaim for their artistic merits take a really long time to finish. Saying “give them a spin and see if you like them” in the current videogame market is kind of like saying “give War and Peace a spin” to someone who irrationally hates novels. I know that there are exceptions here, but to an outsider I’d imagine it’s incredibly intimidating.

    I think that Mr. Ebert is just plain old not interested in video games at all. And there’s no reason for him to be. He has a life. He has his own interests and hobbies. He seems to be content with them. He’s already got a niche. And I have no idea why a man who feels adequately entertained should be morally obligated to try new ways to become even more fabulously entertained.

  2. Ultimately, the problem here is a matter of celebrity. Allow me to illustrate my point:

    There is a commercial on television for a memory foam mattress that was “designed by NASA astronauts.” That is a major selling point, according to the commercial and I don’t understand why. NASA astronauts do not sleep on mattresses in space and while some NASA astronauts are engineers and scientists rather than pilots, there is nothing in astronaut training that requires an advanced understanding of mattress technology. While I won’t go so far as to say NASA astronauts are unqualified to design mattresses, I will say they are no more qualified than the average person, and certainly less qualified than, say, an orthopedist or neurologist.

    And that’s the point: Mr. Ebert is a film critic. He’s an insightful, talented, and entertaining film critic, to be sure, but his opinion on video games is no more valid than any other human being’s. In fact, he admits as much and even goes so far as to say he is less qualified because he doesn’t want to play a video game, never has, and never will. And yet, just like the people who buy astronaut mattresses, people cared about Mr. Ebert’s opinion.

    In the end, I like video games and certainly believe that some of them can be art. But I don’t really care about getting Mr. Ebert on my side to “advance the cause.” I’m not even sure what “the cause” is. And if there is a video game cause, it is being advanced by the fact that more and more adults every year grew up playing and enjoying video games and they are becoming a more ubiquitous part of the entertainment industry. There will come a time when the decriers of video games will be in the tiny minority just like those who once decried radio, television, and the internet. There will always be a few, but all of the Eberts in the world won’t change their minds.

  3. I think the drama llama pissed in your wheaties this morning again.