Dead horse necromancy: Ebert vs. Video Games

Sure, she can command an army with the best of 'em, but you should hear her sing...

A random stranger approached me at the coffee shop last week, inquiring how long I’ve had my laptop.  After the first few minutes of the exchange, mostly touching on older Macs vs. newer Macs (a topic on which I’m about as much of an expert as a dung beetle), it became very apparent that the gentleman didn’t really want to chat about Macs so much as tell me how I could use mine more efficiently.  For about a half an hour, I was lectured on everything from the corruption of the mainstream media (apparently corporations and FOX News have ruined that, plus baseball and apple pie) to whether or not the written language is a kind of code (apparently I was completely mistaken in thinking that arbitrary symbols grouped together to represent sound-images that vary from language to language and must be learned, as opposed to internalized naturally, can be referred to as such).  I was rather proud of myself for keeping cool throughout the lecture.  Then the gentleman began to lecture me on the subject of movies and screenwriting.

As it happens, I wrote a screenplay for my master’s thesis.  Prior to that, I’d written at least a dozen scripts in various genres.  I’ve read many books on the subject and I developed my skill at the craft for many years.  Also, as it happens, I know a bit about movies.  I’ve read many books on the subject and I’ve developed my skill at writing about the craft for many years.  I make no claim to being an expert, but I’m usually a dab hand at making conversation on the topic, and I reckon that I wouldn’t embarrass myself in the company of most amateur scholars.

Forgive my chest-thumping; I’m still a bit sore at having been treated as an idiot by a mid-forties pedant who seemed to think that taking a few film courses at a no-name college in California made him a sage of cinema.  Wounded pride pricks the ego like a needle pricks a boil.  The man claimed that the term “Modern” in cinema is defined by the American films of the Seventies, such as The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, and The Conversation, and everything after that is “Postmodern.”  He also claimed that independent films are no longer being made.  (Although he qualified that by stipulating that by “made” he means “distributed,” and by “distributed,” he means “screened in a mainstream theater.”)  When I said that no book or critic I’d ever read had presented such ideas in such a way, he said, “Then you need to educate yourself.”

I promise that there’s a point to this anecdote.

Not to be confused with art or modern toasters.

Over the past few years, Roger Ebert has stirred up a few controversies.  This isn’t terribly surprising.  He’s easily the most famous film critic in North America, or at least in these United States; sooner or later, he’s bound to say something with which people take issue.  As the most prominent film critic in this cultural sphere, what he says carries a certain cachet.  So when he says that video games cannot be art, it makes headlines.

The back-and-forth between Ebert and gamers has been voluminous and sort of infuriating.  Ebert has the power to be incredibly generous, insightful, and persuasive in his film writing.  I admire many, many things that he’s written and done.  That’s why it was bizarre to me (though not entirely unexpected) to watch him stake out and defend a patently untenable position.  He doesn’t play video games.  Never has.  Claims to know virtually nothing about them.  Vows never to spend time playing them in the future.  Didn’t bother to define what he meant by “art.”  In response to this, gamers and other intelligent consumers of entertainment media collectively said, “WTF, dude?”

Literally hundreds of other people have already deconstructed and destroyed Ebert’s arguments against the artistic merits of video games.  (In a future post, I hope to comment more in-depth on gaming myself, but that’s for later.)  Having lost a debate he never had a prayer of winning (let alone truly engaging on any meaningful level), Ebert resorted to the last refuge of the pseud: “I still think I’m right, but I admit that I never should have said anything.”  I paraphrase, but that’s the gist.

Some folks seem to have taken this as a sort of retraction.  It’s not.  It’s like saying, “I regret getting caught with my pants down, but I don’t regret pissing into the wind.”  Instead of admitting that he’s just wrong, Ebert is admitting that he’d have been better off not getting caught being wrong.  It’s not an apology in any sense of the word: neither a mea culpa nor a more nuanced consideration of his original position.  It’s the sort of thing that should be beneath a professional of his experience and reputation.  In short, it’s embarrassing, and gamers have every right to be angry with him.

Somebody's not playing with a full deck.

The only question left is why they care what Ebert says.  Rich Stanton made the case that gamers desire validation, and they don’t like it when mainstream culture (in the guise of a famous film critic in this particular case) devalues what they love.  There’s some merit to this.  Don’t we all seek validation on some level for the interests that drive us and inform our self-identities?  I don’t think this kind of neediness is endemic to gamers, so much as it’s endemic to the human race.  In the case of gamers, yes, it so happens that what they love is something looked down upon by most people.  A fellow who says he plays video games for twenty hours a week is not treated the same way as a fellow who says he watches ESPN for twenty hours a week.  But the fellow who watches ESPN probably has the same (or similar) emotional needs as the fellow who games.  This doesn’t explain why they care what Roger Ebert has to say on the subject.

As I said earlier, Ebert is the face of film culture in America.  Among those who give any weight at all to “what the critics say,” Ebert is probably the go-to guy.  The next time the ESPN-watching sports fanatic wants to disparage his buddy who prefers to play Mario Kart all afternoon, he’ll point out that even Roger Ebert thinks games are stupid.  The next time parents want to have an excuse not to buy their kid the new console (even if they can afford it, and even if the kid is a good student, etc.), they’ll just say that even Roger Ebert doesn’t think they’re that good for you.  It almost doesn’t matter precisely what Ebert said or what his arguments were.  He gave video games a big Thumbs Down, and that’s what the people who don’t know any better are going to remember.

Besides being a weekly critic who told his readers how good he thought the new releases were, Roger Ebert has been a film educator.  A statesman, if you will.  One of his long-term projects as a film writer has been to inform his readers and viewers about the craft and art of cinema, as well as the plusses and minuses of various individual films.  That’s why his Great Movies series has been so popular and why people from around the country send him letters.  They know him as a guy with specialized knowledge that he’s willing and eager to share.  His opinion doesn’t matter just because he happens to be famous.  He’s famous, in larger part, because he has devoted a huge part of his professional life to outreach and education.  Taking a harsh stance on video games therefore isn’t just misinformed and stupid, it’s irresponsible: it makes him a bad teacher.

Now, it’s reasonable yet to object: “But people don’t have to read him or listen to what he says.  He’s just one guy.  It’s their choice whether or not they want to learn from him.” That’s true.  But it’s also a big reason why gamers cared so much.  If Ebert were just another local critic or Internet blogger who woke up one day and decided that he was going to tick off as many gamers as he could, then it wouldn’t really matter.  Because of his status, and because there are a lot of people who are no more informed than he is on the subject of video games who give weight to what he says, it does matter.  Gamers can afford to ignore Ebert for their own sake, but just as Ebert devoted his life to elevating the cultural consciousness on the art of cinema, there are a lot of gamers out there who devote their lives to elevating the cultural consciousness on the art of video games.  None of them, however, has the cultural cachet that Ebert currently does.  I think a lot of them directed so much vitriol at him because it was the only way to have their voices be heard by the same people they’re trying to reach.

There would have been just as much controversy had a cultural critic with a lot more expertise on the subject offered a similar viewpoint, but it would’ve had a much different tenor.  If Ebert himself knew a bit more about video games, the conversation would’ve had a much different trajectory.  Rather than being a “controversy,” the whole thing might have more closely resembled a dialogue or a debate.  All told, I’m not sure how fruitful the whole conflagration has been, since, when all is said and done, the only thing that was accomplished was that everyone now knows that Ebert doesn’t respect video games and that video gamers are a bit touchy about games being disrespected.

"Watch this," said the giant spider, "I'm going to do my Roger Ebert impression!"

My anecdote at the beginning of his post is meant to illustrate something that I think lies at the heart of this whole kerfuffle.  It’s not that gamers are overly touchy or that Ebert overstated his case.  Ebert is like the gentleman at the coffee shop; he randomly sidled up to the gamers’ table and started haranguing them about a topic on which he was poorly informed and they are relative experts.

I do realize that the whole thing began with Ebert specifically being asked about video games.  It would have been more responsible (as he belatedly acknowledged) of him not to offer any opinion at all.  And I do realize that nobody has been forced to read his thoughts on the matter.  Again, though, Roger Ebert is Roger Ebert, Whose Opinion Matters For Some Reason, as opposed to random Internet blogger like yours truly.  Whether anybody is forced to read his opinions is a moot point; through the alchemical mysteries of pop culture, his opinions must be reckoned with regardless.  As someone with cultural clout and as a self-appointed educator, he really should have known better than to wade into a discussion he was ill-equipped to handle.  Yet even when he acknowledged that he shouldn’t have waded into the debate, he refused to admit that he was so far out of his depth that his opinion was completely worthless.  That bespeaks a kind of arrogance that matches the impression I had of the gentleman in the coffee shop.

The worse part of it is that he cannot be reasoned with, engaged in a genuine debate, or induced to reconsider his insipid opinions.  The worst part of it is that he cannot simply be ignored.  The gaming community’s response to Ebert is fully justified, and it boils down, in the end, to a very simple reason: nobody likes a pedant who patronizes you on a subject about which he knows bupkis.  There’s a word for that.  A word that is frequently misused, overused, and bandied about without justification.  Here, it is perfectly apt.  That word is “pretentious,” and with this video game debacle, Roger Ebert has fully earned it. ☕

Case closed.

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About tardishobbit

Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by tardishobbit

45 responses to “Dead horse necromancy: Ebert vs. Video Games

  • jubilare

    You had me at Celes. :)
    I was confused as to where this was going for a while, but you pulled your point together in the end. For some reason, people are often most vocal in their criticism of what they understand the least.

    • mjschneider

      Thanks for the comment (and for the props for Celes). I’m no stranger to spouting off arrogantly myself (obviously; I maintain a blog, after all), but it’s always a bit odd to see renowned experts offer ignorant commentary on subjects outside their experience. My wife pointed out that Ebert’s relative modesty about his film knowledge (bowing deferentially to David Bordwell, for instance) is consistent with his embarrassing opinions on non-film topics. Experts in any area know exactly the limits of their own knowledge, whereas neophytes do not. So I totally agree with you: often the most vocal criticism comes from the folks who, of all people, should be the most reticent.

  • jubilare

    And a victorious Mog, no less. That game was very formative in my creative development… which is rather humorous, if I think about it. :) Airships for everyone!

    Aye, I’ve spoken in arrogant ignorance too, which is why I dare to shake my head and click my tongue. I have some sympathy for Ebert because it is such a human mistake. What is that saying… the wise know how much they do not know? Something like that, but more eloquently put, no-doubt. In our own areas of expertise, we hopefully know our limits.

  • Daniel Swensen

    As a pundit on the artistic worth of video games, Ebert is a pretty good film critic.

    Oddly enough, even as a gamer, I never got angry about Ebert’s opinion on this. He’s just so thoroughly wrong in my opinion that it’s never occurred to me to give his arguments any weight. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. By his own admission. That’s kinda case closed on the credibility of his argument.

    • mjschneider

      That makes sense. I feel like I’m on the other side of the coin. I don’t particularly consider myself to be a “gamer” (even though I do play video games) yet his doubling-and-tripling down on his opinion really rankled me. Probably because I still have (had?) a lot of respect for him, and I don’t like to be disappointed by my idols. (“Idol” may be too strong a word, but you get the gist.)

  • Craig Simpson

    This is a lively read, and your introductory analogy is very clever – although there’s a difference between a buttinsky at a coffee shop and a guy posting an opinion on his blog. Even when that opinion is poorly argued and that guy is Roger Ebert, who physically couldn’t play video games even if he wanted to.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight or make anybody mad, but I’ve never been convinced that video games are art. Do I play them? Not for a long while. I did regularly up through my early teens, went back briefly in grad school, then another period around ten years ago before giving them up for good. I stopped playing them because of the suck on my time. And because, frankly, after long stretches of playing them, I often felt depressed. A movie can be plenty depressing too (perhaps not coincidentally, the ones that feel like video games), but there have been enough good ones to keep me coming back for more. I don’t think all good movies are art either, yet enough have been great to define the medium – for all its commercial properties – as an art form.

    My comparably minimal experience with video games may make me scarcely more informed than Ebert to comment on them – though, of course, if I felt any inkling of art in them I would have kept playing them all along, the way I’ve kept reading novels and watching movies. They’ve held my attention in ways that video games (and comic books) haven’t. To give a hint of my age, I would consider “Space Invaders” and “Pac-Man” to be *artifacts,* and valuable from a historical vantage point. They were fun to play then. They’re worth studying now. But I’ve never once thought of them as art.

    I certainly don’t begrudge anybody who likes video games. And it’s possible that the medium is evolving – as television has – to where perhaps one day they may become an art form. Having said that, I do have to ask: *Why* is it important to some gamers that video games be recognized as such? For one thing, it seems to go against the whole argument against “elitism” (see also “It’s only a movie!”) to tout them as part of the cultural pantheon. I may be elitist for not finding video games worthy of inclusion, but I also detect a kind of counter-smugness among some circles of individuals who assume the cache of artistic merit without having earned it.

    How is a work a work of art? Rick Stanton’s argument is interesting up til
    the point of false-equivalency where he implies there really is no such thing. In my own vague, imperfect terms, I think a work of art is something that conveys a worldview or reflects elements of one’s life. That’s just my own perspective, and there are plenty of ways to build on it or whittle it down or pull it apart, but for me that has to be at the core. It’s what draws me in, what permeates my consciousness, what affects me deep inside. For all the talent on display by video game creators, I’ve never detected this sense of real life in any single work that they have created. And I can’t help but feel that may be the case because they’re too busy playing video games.

    • jubilare

      I cannot, and therefore will not debate with you on the artistic merit of video games, as I do not share your definition of Art. I mean that in a friendly way, as all definitions of Art are highly subjective, my own included.

      I do feel prompted to reply to one aspect of your argument, though. Many, if not all, of the forms generally accepted as art, can and do both eat/waste time and cause depression when indulged in excess. I have a background in art history, and the ages are smeared with victims of painting, sculpture, poetry, prose, and music.

      How games ultimately effect you, or make you feel, has no bearing on the question of their artistic value, especially when one considers that not all art forms speak to all people. Some games, as you say, draw me in, permeate my consciousness and affect me deep inside. Art form or no, I am affected by them in a way you are not.

      Just so that you know where I am coming from, I do think that games can be art, but I do not advocate sinking one’s life into games. I no more over-indulge in playing than I do in sculpture or poetry. One’s life should be spent living, and while many things can enrich a life, nothing should be allowed to distract from it.

  • mjschneider

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies, Craig and jubilare. Hopefully you won’t mind me pushing the discussion a bit further by throwing a few more comments at you both.

    @Craig: I heartily agree that there’s a kind of counter-smugness on the part of gamers, especially since so many people trot out the “Art is Subjective!” card at the drop of a pillbox hat these days. And I do certainly agree that, in the case of many (maybe most?) games and gamers that the cachet of “Art” has not been earned. But I think your example of the evolution of television is incredibly salient. Games have progressed very rapidly over the last thirty years. I attended a gaming convention last year that included a museum showcasing the evolution of gaming media, and there were youngsters in there who stared, gap-mouthed, at the kinds of crap we used to play back in the day. I was born in the early 80s, and there was stuff in there whose antiquity surprised even me. If video games have not yet delivered their Citizen Kane (or Birth of a Nation, etc.), it’s only a matter of time. I’m sure there is a host of technical and economic reasons why there isn’t one go-to example yet, but the tech itself seems to me to be ripe for the right designer to come along and put together that one unqualified masterpiece that essentially justifies the cachet that arguably hasn’t yet been earned.

    @jubilare: I think there may be some relevance to my post on unlikable characters in what you wrote. Video games, by their nature, soak up a ton of time; in some cases, even more than it takes to read a novel, and certainly more than it takes to watch a movie. Finding the line between excess and appropriateness is a terrible task when some games require a minimum of 70 hours to complete. And you’re totally right that any given pursuit can lead to an indulgence that cripples one’s true appreciation for an art form. An analogy I’d make is to the unlikable character, especially in the structure category. Just as someone like me can’t stick with a show like Breaking Bad because it’s just too many hours spent with characters I don’t care about, I suppose that the time investment required by games — especially for someone who doesn’t find them viscerally rewarding in the first place — is simply too much. As you said, though, that unwillingness to invest that time isn’t really an indictment of the games’ artistic merits so much as a lack of personal motive.

    I realize that neither of you might have the time or inclination for it (my own time is limited as well, but I’m interested enough to venture this anyway), but the question of “What is Art?” seems to be pretty central to this whole thing. I’m not asking that we Settle This Once and For All, but it is definitely relevant.

    My own working (and continuously evolving) idea of art is that art is anything crafted for the use, enrichment, and/or pleasure of humanity. It’s really, really broad, but it reframes the debate. Rather than figuring whether or not a movie, book, game, etc. is capital-A “Art,” emphasizing the craft aspect allows me simply to consider whether it’s “good” or “bad” art. In the case of video games, I would be prepared to entertain the argument that no “great” video game — the equivalent of a Sistine Chapel or what-have-you — has yet been made, but the question of whether video games qualify as a type of art in the first place for me is moot.

  • jubilare

    I read and enjoyed that post of yours, mjschneider. I just have not had time to mull it over enough to respond.

    Art, in my opinion (and this particular definition relies a lot on opinion) is the marriage of concept and execution. This is also a pretty broad definition, though not quite as broad as yours. I would emphasize craft over concept. A well-executed painting on a weak concept is a good painting with a weak concept. A poorly-done painting on a good concept is just a bad painting. So skill + strong concept = art.

    It does not follow that I like all that I consider art, of course. Rococo painting makes me ill, but I can’t deny its artistic value as the artists intent and execution are sometimes impeccable.

    • mjschneider

      I like the concept + execution formula. It is a firmer definition than mine, but I think that it allows games to fall under its umbrella. And a good rule of thumb for a definition in this sort of discussion is that it covers things that one finds personally distasteful, i.e. your personal dislike of Rococo painting.

      I guess one of the issues that’s on the table here is the one of artistic intent (usually meaning something loftier than a mere diversion) and emotional response (or possibly spiritual). Craig’s definition includes those elements, whereas yours and mine don’t. I just wonder if there’s a blind spot in our definitions that would be because of those elements, or if perhaps Craig’s definition, rather than being idiosyncratic to his gut response, is indicative of a more general humanist priority.

      Just trying to keep the ball rolling. :)

  • jubilare

    p.s. sorry for feeding the troll on that other post. I figured what I said ought to be said, but don’t worry, I won’t feed him again.

  • jubilare

    I don’t think this comment box would allow for me to draw a venn diagram, but that would be extremely helpful right now. Imagine two overlapping circles, one of which represents Art, and the other of which represents things that have a deep spiritual/emotional resonance. I am laying aside, for the moment, the fact that spiritual and emotional resonance and response depend heavily on the individual.

    My point is that not all of Art, resonates with everyone in such a way, but some of it does. By the same token, some things that resonate spiritually and emotionally are not art. Say, a child’s blanket, loved to tatters, or someone speaking of their life experiences to a friend. Neither of these things are, by my definition, art, and yet they can be deeply resonant.

    I think that I do get where Craig is coming from. What he is expressing is value for the effect art has upon humans? If so, Craig, then that is part of my definition too, just not the whole of it. Even just by that definition, though, I feel that some games qualify. Even if they do qualify, though, not everyone must, or will, like them or consider them of much worth.

    Heh, thanks for the offer, but feeding trolls just ends up frustrating me. I am not thick-skinned enough. It is better that I say what I feel needs saying, and then have done. I will give you some troll-food related to the challenge you received, though. You may know this, as I think you said your wife is a librarian? But Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine: http://www.archive.org/web/web.php is hit-and-miss, but sometimes you can find old versions of web pages that have been altered or deleted.

    • mjschneider

      I’d like to single out the images of the child’s blanket and the friend relating his/her life experiences to a friend, because they’re lovely examples and because they’re good jumping off points.

      I could argue that the blanket itself, which inspired such love in the child, is a piece of art. It may have been manufactured along with thousands of others just like it; there may nothing special about it as a whole, but it’s special to that child. What could make it art (in my definition) is the simple fact that it was crafted for the use pleasure of people; the fact that such a strong emotional connection was developed might be evidence that it was “good” art as opposed to “bad” art.

      Similarly, one could argue that a particularly good telling of life experience qualifies as a sort of performance. Maybe it’s not intended as such, but oral tales, even minor anecdotes, usually take on a narrative quality. There are many passages in Henry Miller’s writing, for instance, where he admiringly elevates his friends to the level of artists, purely on the basis of them being excellent storytellers — even if they have no aspirations toward being artists in any of the traditional media.

      The common link between these two examples (besides me admittedly stretching my idea of art to the breaking point for rhetorical purposes) is that neither of the things in question — the blanket or the story told by the friend — are intended to “art,” per se. Nor would they commonly fit the unexpressed notion of art assumed by most people. Yet just as there is a certain art to telling a good anecdote, and there is an art to manufacturing a good product, I think that the things produced by the people who can do these things well (that is, artisans) could be considered artistic objects. They may be very minor, or mediocre, or flat-out bad, but they’re still art, of a kind. Since the emotional/spiritual response is supplied by the individual, it’s hard to formulate that response in a general fashion. But anything that can be a receptacle for that kind of response — even something like a blanket, a well-told story, a house, a car, a delicious dinner, a film, a game, etc. — that is the product of human imagination might as well be art.

      So my diagram would have one circle that says Art, another circle that says Spiritual Response (which is unique to the individual), and a third that says Craft. Where the three intersect, I would say is Great Art, or the sublime, or what-have-you.

      _________

      And thanks for that link! I will use it to supplement my troll feed.

  • jubilare

    First things first, oral tradition is a wonderful art form for which I have a deep love and a high respect! Thank you for pointing out the beauty of a story well-told.

    My position on Art or Not Art only makes sense when based on my own definition, which includes the necessary element of intentional craftsmanship.
    In my view, which I by no means consider the “right” view as this is such a fluid idea to begin with, many things in this world have great worth. Of those things of great worth, only some fall under the category of art. If art must contain both conscious craftsmanship and a concept/intent, then a story told in an oral tradition differs greatly from a story told casually and without forethought. Both may have great worth and meaning, but only one, in my estimation, would be art. The same thing goes for a blanket if it is not produced, or altered, with intention.

    There are plenty of people who do not agree with my definition of art, and in that case, my distinction between intention/craft and lack thereof is moot.

    Nom nom.

  • jubilare

    In case that was unclear, which it may be given the state of my mind today, my intent is to include, under the term “art,” those utilitarian crafts that show great artistry yet are so often dismissed as “only crafts,” while omitting from “art,” those creations which are incidentally or accidentally beautiful, important, or meaningful. Hopefully that makes sense. :)

    • mjschneider

      It makes sense, and — what makes it particularly germane to this discussion — it can still include video games. I would think that virtually any game made since at least the mid-90s (although almost certainly a few before that) has been made with a more sophisticated intention in mind. Qualifications for whether something is “important” or “meaningful” draw us into more debatable realms, but I think the gist is clear. It would be pretty easy to make the case that the creators of Final Fantasy VI were trying to make something grand and profoundly human. A lesser case could be made for another of my favorite games, Donkey Kong Country, though the rubric for what makes it good art would be different than what makes FF6 good art. It’s a lot easier to justify a Final Fantasy game, because that series abides by much more conventional signifiers of “artistic quality:” a narrative, lots of interesting characters, layered themes, etc.

      One of the big challenges I think games face is that video gaming is relatively new on the scene. I don’t think that we’ve really come to terms with it; our methods of considering it in terms of art are rooted in the ways we think of other media. But since gaming is its own thing — and especially since it continues to evolve at such a rapid rate — drafting a conceptual framework for evaluating it is probably more challenging. We’d really have to reframe the way we think about “Art” in general in order to accommodate it. I would suspect that many who don’t allow that video games can be art are simply unwilling to alter the paradigms they’ve been using, which have worked quite well for all the other, more established media. Or it could simply be that we haven’t lived with games long enough (“grown up on them,” so to speak) for a gaming worldview to become commonplace, much as I’m sure those who grew up when movies were new still might not really think of film as an artistic medium. These are just speculations, however.

  • jubilare

    Video games are certainly different from most of the accepted art forms we have, and yet time being necessary for it to gain recognition as an accepted medium is certainly nothing new. Every time something new enters an art form, acceptance takes time, and this is even more the case for truly innovative media. I think that we simply have not lived with these games long enough, though we are getting there.
    There is the flip-side, too. The more the medium gains acceptance as art, the more intentional people will be (and are becoming) in the design of some games, thus pushing the artistic possibilities inherent in the medium.
    Heh, I think that Donkey Kong can easily be as artistic a construction as FFVI, though I cannot judge, having not played it much. With a painting, the question is usually not “is this the kind of painting that can be art” but rather “is this painting a good example of its kind?” I am sure the same goes for film, in comparing the artistic merit of a comedy with a suspense or a tragedy.
    I want to know if a game does what it sets out to do with good craftsmanship and real thought behind its construction. This system of considering games is useful, I think, because it does not discriminate between old games and new. The same, again, goes for paintings, as the tools and intent vary so widely between different times and cultures.

    One final thought, before I toddle off to sleep. Gestalt. Because of my over-active imagination and empathy, I very easily get invested in games, but only some of them leave a deep impression. Those games that leave a deep impression seem to be more than the sum of their parts, and create their own emotional spaces in my brain. While this alone does not mean these games are art, it does mean, I think, that there is something to them that deserves some exploration.

    • mjschneider

      Those are some great comments, and I think the phrase, “Is it a good example of its kind?” is an excellent way to sum up my working definition of art.

      I’m also interested in exploring the nature of audienceship (not a word, but hopefully it makes sense). You express how you want to explore the way that some games sort of burrow into your consciousness and nestle there, like the seeds of a forest. I relate to that, but it does make me wonder about the notion of audience responsibility: if there even is such a thing, and if so, the degree to which it is generally applicable.

      I mean, we (by “we,” I mean people who get their collective nerd on over esoteric aspects of culture) always seem to be debating artistic merit in terms of difficulty. A book or movie that demands more thought or presupposes a certain level (or kind) of education from its audience tends to be more highly valued than something that does not. Yet, quite often, the most sophisticated audience members can find high value (read: “art”) in objects that are not typically considered to be “art.” And objects that are frequently accepted as “art” by the mainstream culture are dismissed as mediocre or kitsch.

      What I’m trying to get at isn’t so much the whole problem of “everyone’s view of art is subjective” as the problem of “how much consideration is it my responsibility to give every game?” I’m sure some very provocative, thoughtful pieces have been written about Pong and Tetris, though those games would not likely be considered to be “art” by most people, not in the same way as some of the Zelda or Final Fantasy games. This sort of touches back on that vlog I did, where people dismiss movies as art as a shorthand way to protect what they love about them. I’m venturing to ask if that sort of love is “correct.” Just asking, mind; not asserting.

  • jubilare

    *rubs palms together* mmmm fun stuff.

    I will begin with “A book or movie that demands more thought or presupposes a certain level (or kind) of education from its audience tends to be more highly valued than something that does not.” I may preach to the choir, as I don’t know your views on this yet, but here we go.

    The assumption that the “difficult” has, almost by default, more artistic value than the “accessible” is, in my opinion, elitist and unfounded. There is a pattern in the appreciation of art and literature that is, I think, just another example of the flaws inherent in human nature. The pattern is the creation of a class-structure based on questionable intellectual credentials, with highly educated esoteric critics at the top, and your average person who has the subconscious ability to appreciate art, but neither the awareness or the vocabulary to analyze that appreciation, at the bottom.

    I admit to having elitist tendencies. However, I do not dismiss the artistic value of something based primarily on its accessibility. In fact, while I can respect the artistic talent and forethought involved in creating Ulysses, for instance, its focus on the narrow audience that can understand and enjoy it lessens my respect for it. I have little patience for the intellect-flattery and ego-massaging that surrounds “difficult” works.

    I consider P. G. Wodehouse to be one of the most skilled and refined word-smiths ever to write in English. He is rarely lauded among our “literary greats” because he wrote stories that are accessible and (the horror!) comedic. In the same vein, a good children’s books is among the most difficult works of literature to create, and what is a children’s book if not accessible?

    Do I appreciate complex works of art? Very much. Do I like it when a film, book, sculpture, ect. has layers, or complexities that require digging? Yes! All of these things are wonderful, but to be elitist about art is, I think, very wrong. The viewer and the critic should approach each work on an equal footing, unbiased and open to seeing what the work means to do, and then they can judge if it does it well. And yeah, I know… that almost never happens, and I can rarely remember to do it myself.

    • mjschneider

      You are preaching to the choir, but I do enjoy me a good sermon!

      The only quibble I have with your excellent comment here is your use of the word “unbiased,” but in all other points, I find myself in general agreement with your position. I especially appreciate the framing of elitism as a class structure-based construct.

      Accessibility is very often derided, as if pitching an artwork toward the widest possible audience is an intrinsic flaw in the artistic process. It’s a tough balance to strike when you’re trying to criticize something for pandering or for obviously being the product of thorough test-marketing while, at the same time, you’re trying to appreciate how efficiently or successfully a work might hit that sweet spot right in the middle, audience-wise. If there’s one work of literature or mass entertainment that’s even harder to create than something for children, it’s something for “the family.”

  • jubilare

    And there was too much to say in just one reply. Forgive me. But I wanted to talk about another aspect of what you said as well.

    “You express how you want to explore the way that some games sort of burrow into your consciousness and nestle there, like the seeds of a forest. I relate to that, but it does make me wonder about the notion of audience responsibility: if there even is such a thing, and if so, the degree to which it is generally applicable.”

    I have been ruminating on a post on my blog for a while. It delves into the question of how the individual reacts to a stimulus.
    For instance, I play Zelda III, and it effects me deeply. Another person plays it and can’t even get through it, hating it. Someone loves Zelda Windwaker. I play it, and can’t stand it (I haven’t played it yet, so this is speculative). I do not think this invalidates either game from an artistic standpoint, nor does it mean that either player is not being a good audience member. It just means that something in the individual reacts differently to each game.

    I feel that, if the audience has a responsibility to any work of art or literature, it is simply to give the work a chance to move them. The responsibility of a critic, however, is much greater. A critic ought to be able to set personal preference and feeling aside and analyze a work on its own merit. As an audience member, I am free to feel sick when in front of a Rococo painting. As a critic, I should look at the painting from an intellectual standpoint and judge it on its own terms.

    Hopefully that makes sense. I’m operating on only one cup of coffee. ;)

    • mjschneider

      That makes sense, proper coffee dosage or no. :) Me, I’m functioning on *diet* cream soda right now. I can’t even look myself in the mirror…

      A lot of the criticism I’ve been reading recently has touched on what role, precisely, the critic has to play. It seems to be a debate that stretches as far back as people have been criticizing creative works in writing, and I see no signs that the debate is anywhere close to being settled. Yet it’s a topic I find to be fascinating, especially right now, right here, in this time and place. I think the Internet is sort of collapsing the distinction between professional and amateur critics, which in practice means that there’s a lot of criticism out there being offered by people who, a mere fifteen years ago, were just audience members with opinions.

      I totally agree that different people simply react differently to different stimuli. And I totally agree that a critic should be educated and thoughtful enough to unpack a painting (or movie, or book, etc.) in an intelligent manner without necessarily letting his own gut reaction lead him to dismiss or diminish the elements of its craft or significance.

      But.

      A critic is someone who criticizes, whether the criticism is praise, denunciation, or exegesis. One of the questions that I like to raise regarding criticism as often as possible is one of quality. All things being equal, I don’t think all things are equal. To put it bluntly, I think some opinions are more “correct” than others, or at least more thoughtful. And we now live in an age when it is easier than ever for any given person to share an opinion about anything at any time. The act of offering a judgment about something makes one into a critic. As you said, a critic has certain responsibilities above and beyond that of the passive recipient of an artistic experience.

      Doesn’t the 21st century audience member essentially function, in a small part, as a critic? I mean, in the unlikely event that someone saw a movie but never offered an opinion about it to anyone, I would suppose that this person indeed owed the artwork little more than the chance to move him. But that is a very rare instance. Chances are, that person has Tweeted about it, discussed it at dinner, or written a whole blog post about it. This audience member is not a professional critic, yet he has performed acts of criticism, and these acts, in their own small ways, have had an impact on the culture.

      I guess my question is if it’s really true at this stage that there can be a divide between the roles of audience member and critic. And if the roles are blended, then to what degree should the 21st century audience member assume the kinds of responsibilities you mentioned in your comment?

  • jubilare

    That is a fair quibble, though I would like to know your reasons for it, as there can be two that I see. You seem, like me, to enjoy playing devil’s advocate in debates. It’s dangerous when two of our sort start debating over things.

    “It’s a tough balance to strike when you’re trying to criticize something for pandering or for obviously being the product of thorough test-marketing while, at the same time, you’re trying to appreciate how efficiently or successfully a work might hit that sweet spot right in the middle, audience-wise.”

    And so you take the point a step further! I agree that there is a delicate balance here, all the more tricky because there is no set of rules to govern it, nor would any rules suffice, I think. What might be acceptable in one instance won’t work in another. The place and purpose (for I feel there is such a thing) for cliches, tropes, and archetypes comes into play here. I roll my eyes every time a film or novel tries to shoe-horn a romance into a story where it does not belong for the sake of supposed audience gratification. And yet sometimes a romantic arc that is nauseating in one story works perfectly in another. A story that takes the “obvious” narrative choice can have a myriad of results depending on execution and intent.
    Personally I think the best “for the family” films are always the best-made “children’s” films. Same thing goes for books.

    I like cream soda, but “diet” soda, not so much. But then I rarely drink sodas. Tea? Lots. Coffee? Not as much as I used to.

    Hmm… that is a tough and complicated question… I will bring in my cynicism for this one.

    I think the distinction between critic and audience-member must be maintained if criticism is not to become meaningless. Relatively few people are aware of their own process of criticism, an awareness that is integral to the process of true criticism.

    Most people (interestingly, not all) are critical of the art they experience, whether they like something or not, and can give reasons for their views. This has always been the case, though our information-sharing abilities are making these opinions more widely accessible. What should separate a true critic from an audience-member with opinions is the self-awareness of the critical process. This is only an ideal, of course. Also, some excellent critics are “amateur” critics, because self-awareness in criticism is not limited to a certain set of people.

    Which, naturally, leads us to the crux, or what I think is the crux. Opinions on art are now ubiquitous, and anyone with internet access is capable of broadcasting their opinions to those in the world who also have access. How is someone to distinguish audience opinion to true criticism?
    …I have no idea. The best answer I can give is “compare, contrast and use your own judgement.” If this shift in opinion-availability blends the responsibility of the critic and the audience member, I would say that it adds a greater responsibility to both. The critic is responsible for making their process of criticism more clear, and the audience-member is responsible for framing their “criticism” as opinion.

    I am not optimistic enough to expect either to uphold this responsibility on the whole. In the end, this opinion on the niceties of criticism only serves as a guide for my own behavior.

  • mjschneider

    #That is a fair quibble, though I would like to know your reasons for it, as there can be two that I see. You seem, like me, to enjoy playing devil’s advocate in debates. It’s dangerous when two of our sort start debating over things.#

    I do like playing devil’s advocate, though not just for the sake of argument. I find that I can develop my own ideas more firmly only by thrashing them out with others. But that’s an aside. The main reason I find the word “unbiased” to be problematic is that it has the connotation of “objective judgment.” In practice, I find that it’s easier to render an objective observation than an objective judgment. A judgment almost always brings one’s own prejudices and personal perspective into the mix; this is not at all a bad thing. It’s just that most people use the word “unbiased” incorrectly, or with an incorrect understanding.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on message boards and blogs where people rail on a critic with whom they disagree, blasting him with such assertions as, “How about you try to review the movie without your own bias, you hack?!? Anyone with any objectivity would clearly see that you’re wrong!” Now, I don’t believe you to be one of those people, nor do I think you misunderstand the term, its proper use, or its connotations. In the context of your overall comment, it makes sense, and my quibble is more with its appearance, rather than your use. When a critic renders judgment, I think there’s an assumption that the critic is going to apply his education (context), his powers of observation (which ostensibly are based in objective fact), and his cultivated taste (which is deeply subjective).

    More to the point, I think the average person sees the critic as an evaluator and advocate, i.e. “I give this movie four stars because I think you should see it,” but they don’t like it when the person who is supposed to have more education, better observational acumen, and a more robust taste tells them they’re wrong. Rather than combat the critic’s worldview or actual arguments, they prefer to think of the critic as simply being in error. Simple errors aren’t matters of taste; they’re mistakes, pure and simple. Errors can be quantified if correctly apprehended. The idea of an unbiased evaluation of error feeds into this mindset. It’s a sort of reverse-elitism. For all these reasons, I just don’t like the term. That’s why I quibbled, though I certainly didn’t object. :)

    • jubilare

      Hm… a slightly different take than I expected :)
      I would have said that I doubt anyone’s ability to be entirely unbiased, whether in giving opinions or in making observations. It is the effort to be unbiased, and the awareness of one’s biases that are important in a responsible reviewer.
      I see no difference between reverse-elitism and “ordinary” elitism, save the numbers involved. Both seem narrow-minded and arrogant to me. I find that both types of elitism thrive in isolation, where “isolation” is an environment where the “groups” judging one another are not mixing enough to understand one another.

    • mjschneider

      I think the way you define “isolation” makes perfect sense. And, again, it’s bizarre (though not unexpected) that this isolation would seem to become heightened by the presence of the Web, rather than diminished. It’s almost as if people have to work harder *not* to be self-aware of their biases, and they’re glad to do it.

  • mjschneider

    #And so you take the point a step further! I agree that there is a delicate balance here, all the more tricky because there is no set of rules to govern it, nor would any rules suffice, I think. What might be acceptable in one instance won’t work in another. The place and purpose (for I feel there is such a thing) for cliches, tropes, and archetypes comes into play here. I roll my eyes every time a film or novel tries to shoe-horn a romance into a story where it does not belong for the sake of supposed audience gratification. And yet sometimes a romantic arc that is nauseating in one story works perfectly in another. A story that takes the “obvious” narrative choice can have a myriad of results depending on execution and intent.#

    Execution and intent are the key ideas there, I think. Part of the problem with tropes, archetypes, etc. is that they are the most-used tools in the storytelling toolbox, and being the most-used, they are the most-misused. It’s just a matter of sheer numbers. Proportionally, I don’t think deliberately “challenging” stories have a higher success rate than generic ones, but the more challenging works, when they work, tend to yield incredibly rewarding experiences for those who can appreciate them, whereas more generic stories, when well done, can be appreciated by everyone. And one thing I’ve noticed is that more generic stories are consumed much less discriminatingly than the more challenging ones.

    Again, it’s a bit of a numbers game, but I think elitists respond very positively when a work made “for us” hits the sweet spot, and they have the education to know how and why, whereas the average audience may respond equally positively to a crappy generic work as to a very well-executed one. Witness The Exependables, which was a really terrible film; it’s a massive hit, and a ton of people liked it, just as they liked the massively successful Bourne movies, which were far superior. It’s easy to see why the self-appointed elitists would be frustrated by the inability of others to see the difference in quality, and so they sort of dismiss anything generic as being aimed at less discriminating audiences. This may be true (in terms of target audience), but complete crap in terms of the total dismissal. By the same token, I think the mass audience revels in its own anti-elitism (which is elitism by another name). I’ve been called “an latte-sipping elitist” by enough people to know that trying to elevate a discussion with the wrong crowd is just not going to work, even if you’re trying to express appreciation for works within a traditionally-derided genre.

    
#Personally I think the best “for the family” films are always the best-made “children’s” films. Same thing goes for books.#

    What would be some good examples? (Not disagreeing, just curious.)

    #I like cream soda, but “diet” soda, not so much. But then I rarely drink sodas. Tea? Lots. Coffee? Not as much as I used to.#

    I bought the diet kind on accident. It will not happen again. Serves me right for not going with Sprecher’s.

    #Hmm… that is a tough and complicated question… I will bring in my cynicism for this one.

    I think the distinction between critic and audience-member must be maintained if criticism is not to become meaningless. Relatively few people are aware of their own process of criticism, an awareness that is integral to the process of true criticism.

    Most people (interestingly, not all) are critical of the art they experience, whether they like something or not, and can give reasons for their views. This has always been the case, though our information-sharing abilities are making these opinions more widely accessible. What should separate a true critic from an audience-member with opinions is the self-awareness of the critical process. This is only an ideal, of course. Also, some excellent critics are “amateur” critics, because self-awareness in criticism is not limited to a certain set of people.

    Which, naturally, leads us to the crux, or what I think is the crux. Opinions on art are now ubiquitous, and anyone with internet access is capable of broadcasting their opinions to those in the world who also have access. How is someone to distinguish audience opinion to true criticism?

    
…I have no idea. The best answer I can give is “compare, contrast and use your own judgement.” If this shift in opinion-availability blends the responsibility of the critic and the audience member, I would say that it adds a greater responsibility to both. The critic is responsible for making their process of criticism more clear, and the audience-member is responsible for framing their “criticism” as opinion.

    I am not optimistic enough to expect either to uphold this responsibility on the whole. In the end, this opinion on the niceties of criticism only serves as a guide for my own behavior.#

    Nice response. Again, I’m generally inclined to agree. I’ll take your points a step further, though, and question whether professional critics, up to this point, had really done their job well enough to give the audience a good idea of what it means to be aware of the process of criticism.

    Most people know critics as those people that give ratings to things. This was true even before sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic went live. Roger Ebert himself popularized the thumbs up/down dichotomy, even though his actual criticism was usually pretty good. There have always been great critics who went way beyond ratings and recommendations, of course, but most of the big print publications were in the business of providing “useful” information, so the format of newspaper and magazine reviews tended to skew toward reviewing (as opposed to “critiquing”). When I started stitching together reviews, they mimicked that format. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I started to break away from the “should you see this?” style of writing. But until I got to college, I didn’t have any other models.

    Now the social network sites seem to mimic this model. Think about the like/dislike buttons. Don’t get me wrong: I love it when someone “likes” my blog posts, but I’d rather have an interesting discussion in the comments. With all the possibilities for expression and discussion that the Internet has opened up, it still seems that the dominant form tends to emphasize a *lack* of critical discussion, reverting instead to near-meaningless scoreboards. The very format of online discussion is therefore often framed in a way that erodes the sense of responsibility that both critics and audiences should perhaps feel.

    I agree with your simple rubric for how to find true criticism: read lots and stick with the good stuff. I guess I’m just interested in how to bring the cultural conversation back toward the good stuff.

    To tie this back to video games, I’ll just reframe what I just said in terms of what Ebert did. I think we both would agree that he had a responsibility to be more thoughtful and informed about games if he was going to deride them (and, by implication, their audience). Ironically, the format of his blog offers Ebert the platform to offer extended, insightful criticism that move beyond black/white recommendations. He could have redirected the entire conversation back toward the good stuff. Yet, for all his words, what he essentially did was click the “dislike” button.

  • jubilare

    “Part of the problem with tropes, archetypes, etc. is that they are the most-used tools in the storytelling toolbox, and being the most-used, they are the most-misused.”

    I had not thought of it that way, but it does make sense. What interests me more, though, is WHY those tools are the most used. I expect there is no simple answer. And yes, art that appeals to a wide demographic is often indiscriminately consumed, though it does not follow that some of the art so consumed is not of as high quality as that which is neglected by the “masses” because of its obscurity or difficulty. There are many different reasons for this, in my mind. One is that something may be simple on the surface, but complex for those willing to dig deeper. Another is that there can be finesse and artistry in simplicity.

    “It’s easy to see why the self-appointed elitists would be frustrated by the inability of others to see the difference in quality, and so they sort of dismiss anything generic as being aimed at less discriminating audiences. This may be true (in terms of target audience), but complete crap in terms of the total dismissal.”

    It is throwing the baby out with the bath-water that I object to. I understand the frustration. I guess my problem in this, as in so many things, is that I refuse to take sides. I get frustrated with “reverse elitists” and elitists alike. No matter which side someone is on, the evil lies in assumption, stereotyping, and self-aggrandizing. Art is too complicated for such willful blindness, and so are the people who consume art.

    I am sorry that you’ve run afoul of reverse-elitism. It can be as bad as its counterpart. I’ve run afoul of that a few times, but not as painfully as I have run up against intellectual elitism. Maybe it is a fault in my own pride that I am more bothered by someone who underestimates my abilities than by someone who is offended by what they perceive as my elitism.

    “What would be some good examples? (Not disagreeing, just curious.)”

    I am not well-versed in film, but several of the Pixar films are loved and enjoyed by both children and adults. I think the new Tintin film does a good job for both adults and kids. A true for-the-family film, and a truly good children’s film share this attribute: they contain different layers and levels of enjoyment or understanding. The former needs these layers to appeal to different age-groups watching at once, while the latter needs the layers in order to, in a way, grow with the child.

    “I’ll take your points a step further, though, and question whether professional critics, up to this point, had really done their job well enough to give the audience a good idea of what it means to be aware of the process of criticism.”

    I am remarkably unqualified to give any opinion on this, but I do find your observations intriguing. The internet has so many pros and cons, and it is difficult to say where it, and our culture with it, are heading. I don’t believe that human nature has changed over the centuries, though our cultures change dramatically. The easiest road is always the one most traveled.

  • mjschneider

    #I had not thought of it that way, but it does make sense. What interests me more, though, is WHY those tools are the most used. I expect there is no simple answer. And yes, art that appeals to a wide demographic is often indiscriminately consumed, though it does not follow that some of the art so consumed is not of as high quality as that which is neglected by the “masses” because of its obscurity or difficulty. There are many different reasons for this, in my mind. One is that something may be simple on the surface, but complex for those willing to dig deeper. Another is that there can be finesse and artistry in simplicity.#

    Actually, I do think there is a simple answer, though I can’t justify it rationally. The simple answer, to me, is that those tools are the most used because they work, and they work consistently. Otherwise, I don’t think they’d be so popular with audiences. I don’t know precisely *how* they work, but they do. But I do agree that complexity and finesse can be layered into even the most well-worn trope.

    #It is throwing the baby out with the bath-water that I object to. I understand the frustration. I guess my problem in this, as in so many things, is that I refuse to take sides. I get frustrated with “reverse elitists” and elitists alike. No matter which side someone is on, the evil lies in assumption, stereotyping, and self-aggrandizing. Art is too complicated for such willful blindness, and so are the people who consume art.

    I am sorry that you’ve run afoul of reverse-elitism. It can be as bad as its counterpart. I’ve run afoul of that a few times, but not as painfully as I have run up against intellectual elitism. Maybe it is a fault in my own pride that I am more bothered by someone who underestimates my abilities than by someone who is offended by what they perceive as my elitism.#

    I don’t think it’s a fault in your own pride at all. It just is what it is. And I, too, object to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What I find maddening (and interesting) about the highbrow/lowbrow false dichotomy is that it seems that elitists try too hard to overcomplicate things, which reverse elitists refuse to recognize their own complicatedness. You hit that on the head.

    #I am not well-versed in film, but several of the Pixar films are loved and enjoyed by both children and adults. I think the new Tintin film does a good job for both adults and kids. A true for-the-family film, and a truly good children’s film share this attribute: they contain different layers and levels of enjoyment or understanding. The former needs these layers to appeal to different age-groups watching at once, while the latter needs the layers in order to, in a way, grow with the child.#

    That is a wonderful, concise explanation, and I concur.

    #I am remarkably unqualified to give any opinion on this, but I do find your observations intriguing. The internet has so many pros and cons, and it is difficult to say where it, and our culture with it, are heading. I don’t believe that human nature has changed over the centuries, though our cultures change dramatically. The easiest road is always the one most traveled.#

    It seems so. I also suspect that, all things considered, critics have never done their job effectively in the sense that I mean it. As complex as our cultures have grown, and as much as we’ve learned as a species, I think it’s true that we always find ways to box a heightened self-awareness off into a corner where most of us don’t have to think about it. You could call this a cynical view, but I think it’s just human nature. We make things complicated, but then we refuse to acknowledge how complicated we all conspire to make our lives. Maybe that’s one of the central battlefields of criticism. I think that could even be one of the central challenges facing video games as they struggle to attain their rightful place as a legitimate art form. Video games are probably the most sophisticated, complicated form of entertainment we have, yet most people refuse to acknowledge the artistry that goes into something so complex. Right now, critics and audiences are more or less on the same side, agreeing that video games aren’t Art, but I think that’ll change, just as it has with novels, new forms of painting, movies, and the like. The mass audience always seems to be the first one to embrace a new art form, forcing critics to consider it in a legitimate light, but then the critics make it more complicated, and the audience rejects the more sophisticated diagnosis of what makes the Art “artistic.” Just a thought.

  • jubilare

    “And, again, it’s bizarre (though not unexpected) that this isolation would seem to become heightened by the presence of the Web, rather than diminished. It’s almost as if people have to work harder *not* to be self-aware of their biases, and they’re glad to do it.”

    People prefer not to have their biased bubbles burst… it’s a painful process, after all. It’s human nature to want to assume that our views are objective and unassailable. Due to that, I think most of the “reaching out” via the web is focused on reaching those more “like” us than “unlike.” Our conversation here could be taken as a case-in-point, though hopefully we are otherwise willing if not happy to seek out the unlike. The double-edged nature of the web allows us not only to create communities that are more varied than most in the “real” world, but also communities that are so uniform as to resemble a cult. Lack of “time alone” with our thoughts and time in one-on-one face-to-face conversations may also aid us in escaping the dreaded self-awareness.

    “The simple answer, to me, is that those tools are the most used because they work, and they work consistently.”

    I laughed out loud at that. Very true, though I was too focused in on the details to see it. I tend to do that. The details of why they work are complicated, and I have been niggling away at the question for years.

    “I don’t think it’s a fault in your own pride at all. It just is what it is. And I, too, object to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What I find maddening (and interesting) about the highbrow/lowbrow false dichotomy is that it seems that elitists try too hard to overcomplicate things, which reverse elitists refuse to recognize their own complicatedness. You hit that on the head.”

    My pride is a monster that frequently threatens to eat me. My only saving grace in that quarter is God’s grace to let me see it and fight it.
    >_< I may have hit that on the head, as did you, but it's me that gets the headache from it!

    "You could call this a cynical view, but I think it’s just human nature."

    That, to my way of thinking, isn't cynical. What separates cynicism from realism, in my view, is that small percent, that chance that has always and will always exist and on which hope thrives.

    "Video games are probably the most sophisticated, complicated form of entertainment we have, yet most people refuse to acknowledge the artistry that goes into something so complex."

    Hmm… it is certainly possible that the very complexity of a game is daunting when it comes to deciding whether or not it is art. It then begs the question of which elements are art, or is it artistic as a whole thing, and if the latter, how does one evaluate the parts with the whole? Does any intrinsic part of a game invalidate its artistic merit? I have little doubt that, while there is agreement among certain groups that video games are not art, the reasons as to WHY they are not art may vary.

    "The mass audience always seems to be the first one to embrace a new art form, forcing critics to consider it in a legitimate light, but then the critics make it more complicated, and the audience rejects the more sophisticated diagnosis of what makes the Art “artistic.” Just a thought."

    Oh the irony…

  • jesusisking

    Nice dicussion you’re having here!

    Anyways, just out of curiosity; what, in your opinion, makes a good film?
    (Sorry if you already answered this, but that is a LOT of text to read through, sometimes my mind doesn’t register XD)

    Also: About the just being curious thing? That might be a lie XD

    • mjschneider

      Sorry for the delayed response. I don’t think I’ve ever formulated a philosophy about what makes a good film. I’d love to have some overarching theory that puts everything in a neat order and makes sense of my taste and judgment, but I don’t. I know that I tend to prefer things that look pretty. I tend to prefer things that are in dialogue with my moral and philosophical beliefs; this isn’t so say things that *agree* or *reinforce* my beliefs, but things that engage them productively. I tend to prefer genre entertainment; I tend to dislike confrontational or polemical aesthetics. I tend to prefer things I enjoy watching, as opposed to things I appreciate after I’ve seen them. I tend to base my judgments on my gut reactions, rationalizing them after the fact, rather than applying a cool, intellectual judgment from the start. These are just evaluations of my biases and prejudices, though, rather than a coherent theory of what’s good. What do you think makes a good film?

    • jesusisking

      Well, now its my turn to apologize for a delayed response XD. Our ISP finally stop playing with their lego’s and put in our internet again.

      What makes a good film for me? Well, something that engages me emotionally, intellectually and entertains me. But even if it is only intellectually, it still is satisfying for me. (For some weird reason I really enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the rest of my family completely hates it.)

      I have yet to come across a film that I find my absolute favorite, and by the looks of things, I might have to make it.

      But in the meantime, I guess the film that is my temporary favorite is Inception.

      *Speaking of making films, I recently started writing a novel, (Or two.) and came to a realization: Telling a good story is hard work. There is no easy way to tell a good story. I don’t know if other people just walk up to a computer, straddle the chair like a cowboy, pop open Word, and just fling their awesome script into the digital world, ready to go, but I doubt it.

      I remember reading something about PIxar saying that they take their movies from suck, to un-suck. I hope that is something I will be able to do, and I still am fully committed to making filmmaking my career. Hopefully I will turn out better than the Kendrick’s. (Yes, I still don’t like their movies.)

  • mjschneider

    Sorry for the delayed response, jubilare. I’ve been busy, and I’m still busy, but I thought it was important to reply, so here goes…

    #People prefer not to have their biased bubbles burst… it’s a painful process, after all. It’s human nature to want to assume that our views are objective and unassailable. Due to that, I think most of the “reaching out” via the web is focused on reaching those more “like” us than “unlike.” Our conversation here could be taken as a case-in-point, though hopefully we are otherwise willing if not happy to seek out the unlike. The double-edged nature of the web allows us not only to create communities that are more varied than most in the “real” world, but also communities that are so uniform as to resemble a cult. Lack of “time alone” with our thoughts and time in one-on-one face-to-face conversations may also aid us in escaping the dreaded self-awareness.#

    Certainly true on all counts. I’ve had a substantial amount of dissent on my blog already (I think), and, with a notable exception or two, I’ve tried to engage it as fruitfully as possible.

    #I laughed out loud at that. Very true, though I was too focused in on the details to see it. I tend to do that. The details of why they work are complicated, and I have been niggling away at the question for years.#

    Same here. The details are the reason for doing blogs like this one, but on another level, it’s worth it just to apply what we term “common sense” and accept that, for most purposes, some things just are. Not that these things can’t be questioned or investigated, but I think those who conduct criticism tend to overlook the basic functionality of a lot of things.

    #My pride is a monster that frequently threatens to eat me. My only saving grace in that quarter is God’s grace to let me see it and fight it.
    >_< I may have hit that on the head, as did you, but it's me that gets the headache from it!#

    My head aches, too, though it's probably from eating too much sugar lately. :)

    #That, to my way of thinking, isn't cynical. What separates cynicism from realism, in my view, is that small percent, that chance that has always and will always exist and on which hope thrives.#

    I try to be hopeful. But I do come from a Protestant tradition that insists that the reward we all hope for only comes after we're dead. Which, to some, is possibly more horrifying than the fact of a pitiless, meaningless existential reality. But I do try to be hopeful. (He repeated to himself.)

    #Hmm… it is certainly possible that the very complexity of a game is daunting when it comes to deciding whether or not it is art. It then begs the question of which elements are art, or is it artistic as a whole thing, and if the latter, how does one evaluate the parts with the whole? Does any intrinsic part of a game invalidate its artistic merit? I have little doubt that, while there is agreement among certain groups that video games are not art, the reasons as to WHY they are not art may vary.#

    That's why we come back to details. As I said, my fallback on functional definitions allows me to just call the whole thing "art," but evaluating the effectiveness and/or quality of the discrete parts and how they collaborate with player participation is where everything gets messy. I'm not sure it's the sheer complicatedness of games, in particular, that's so daunting. It seems to me that virtually every new form of communication or entertainment has always been viewed with skepticism or disapproval for various reasons, and games are no exception. When books first started to be printed, as opposed to copied, different people had different reasons for hating them, but eventually, they came to be the dominant form of propagating culture for several centuries. Anything that complicates the status quo is greeted with suspicion by most folks, while others tend to see the potential and champion it. I'm not personally educated enough in the art of video games to be one of those champions, though I'm certainly open minded enough to be easily persuaded by the people who are.

    • jubilare

      I am busy too… why has Spring come early?! WHY?!!!

      Ahem.

      “I try to be hopeful. But I do come from a Protestant tradition that insists that the reward we all hope for only comes after we’re dead. Which, to some, is possibly more horrifying than the fact of a pitiless, meaningless existential reality. But I do try to be hopeful. (He repeated to himself.)”

      While I do believe in the “hereafter,” I also believe that we live with heaven and hell mixed in our present lives, and that our relationship with God profoundly affects our state. This is mostly due to my personal experiences and, of course, my own definition of the words. Words being such tricky things makes it complicated. But the upshot is that I see reason to hope in the Here as well as the Hereafter. In my opinion, being a recovering pessimist and all, is that reality laughs at optimists and pessimists alike, as both views are delusional.

      I just want to play! Play play play! …ok, I’m being a brat. Sorry! But I am very resentful that I haven’t time for videogames right now. :(

    • mjschneider

      I like the idea that everyone is equally delusional. It is the most generous reading of the human condition I can imagine, and therefore, it does give me hope. ;)

  • jubilare

    Heh, I am glad. Delusion seems to be something humanity does very well… that is, if I am not delusional for thinking so. ;)

  • mjschneider

    Well, now its my turn to apologize for a delayed response XD. Our ISP finally stop playing with their lego’s and put in our internet again.

    What makes a good film for me? Well, something that engages me emotionally, intellectually and entertains me. But even if it is only intellectually, it still is satisfying for me. (For some weird reason I really enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the rest of my family completely hates it.)

    I have yet to come across a film that I find my absolute favorite, and by the looks of things, I might have to make it.

    But in the meantime, I guess the film that is my temporary favorite is Inception.

    I don’t know how weird it is to enjoy 2001. It’s been a critical favorite for the last few decades, and most cinephiles with whom I’m acquainted think it’s a masterpiece. I happen not to like it much, but I’m the outlier, not the norm. I liked Inception, and I’ve heard from a few people that it’s their favorite, though I think Nolan has made better movies.

    *Speaking of making films, I recently started writing a novel, (Or two.) and came to a realization: Telling a good story is hard work. There is no easy way to tell a good story. I don’t know if other people just walk up to a computer, straddle the chair like a cowboy, pop open Word, and just fling their awesome script into the digital world, ready to go, but I doubt it.

    I remember reading something about PIxar saying that they take their movies from suck, to un-suck. I hope that is something I will be able to do, and I still am fully committed to making filmmaking my career. Hopefully I will turn out better than the Kendrick’s. (Yes, I still don’t like their movies.)

    Yep, storytelling is hard work. If you ever meet someone who straddles his chair like a cowboy and/or someone who claims that storytelling isn’t hard work, then that person is not right in the head. Or a certified genius. More likely the former. I wish you luck both in making a career for yourself in filmmaking and in making good movies in that career!

    • jesusisking

      Thanks for the words of encouragement!

      I do happen to be wrapped up in my work at the moment, but that does not mean I cannot do research about films and write stories.

      I just happen to be suffering from a bit of perfectionist’s anxiety at the moment, but looking at the three page’s of what is to be a novel, it does look promising.

      I also discovered that you should pre-plan a complex story before you write it, otherwise it has a tendency to squeeze you to death later on.

      Once again, thanks for the words of encouragement!

    • mjschneider

      I highly recommend checking out Surly Muse; it’s in my blogroll under “Friends & Graces.” Dan Swensen does most of the writing on it, and he’s got gobs and gobs of awesome insight and advice for writers. If you’re looking for inspiration and guidance for your writing projects, it’s a wonderful resource.

    • jesusisking

      Thank you! Much appreciated!

      I always try to soak up as much information on writing as I can.

      Thanks again!

  • In praise of controversy | Catecinem

    […] tweet about “Jackass” Ryan Dunn’s death? And, of course, there was his dismissal of video games as art. The point isn’t that Ebert was right or wrong in any of this stuff. The point is that when […]

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