While reading Andrew Sullivan I got linked to an article Roger Ebert recently wrote for the Chicago Sun Times regarding Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, specifically people getting in a moral tizzy over its language and trying to get schools to use "sanitized" versions. This is a worthwhile debate, in my opinion, and is well within his realm of expertise as he is a knowledgeable and thoughtful man in the worlds of film and novels. But then to bolster his love of literature he takes a wholly unnecessary (and not unprecedented) swipe at video games.
My love of Huckleberry Finn is great. I would sacrifice every video game in existence rather than lose Mark Twain's novel. I've defended Huck Finn for years against the tone-deaf Puritans who have banned it from schools for its use of the N-Word. Anyone offended by the use of that word the way it is used in Huckleberry Finn cannot read and possibly cannot think.
I know, I know, groundbreaking news: Roger Ebert doesn't like video games! What really hit a nerve with me, though, was him acting like the tone-deaf Puritans he condemns, willing to sacrifice an entire creative medium for which he has a personal distaste for in order to save a single work in another medium. Hit the jump for more on this absurd hypothetical Sophie's choice.
The debate about whether games are art will likely continue in perpetuity, because the concept of "What is art?" is fuzzier than a bear in a cardigan. Video games are undeniably a narrative form, however, and fit quite well as a hybrid of the narrative forms of film and electronic literature, specifically interactive fiction. Ebert has time and again made his disdain for video games known, which is all well and good, but the fact that he would so dismissively dispose of an entire creative medium to save a single work in another is insulting.
This is not to diminish Twain's work; the Sophie's Choice analogy I used was quite deliberate. When it comes down to it, though, it's weighing one unique work with a non-unique message, however well-written, against the works of an entire creative medium, and a young one that is still trying to find its footing at that. Film is over a century old, and we've had epochs to perfect written works and theater, some works more successful in their execution than others, whereas video games are barely 50 years old. I have many relatives older than that, so dismissing the medium because it has yet to produce a culturally-defining work (which is debatable) reeks of arrogant short-sightedness.
The video game medium may not have its Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn (well, actually it does, but the less said about those, the better), but it's not like the industry isn't striving toward that goal...and doing a damn fine job, if I do say so.
So, Roger, when it comes to discussing film and written literature, keep up the good work. You have great experience and insight and have a powerful voice that people would do well to heed. However, through your own insulting and dismissive words you have repeatedly shown that video games are so far beyond your bailiwick that you have no authority to make any judgment regarding them, ever. The next time you feel the need to address video games, whether as the focus of your discussion or as a mere tangent while making a larger point, I would like to ask on behalf of all of us who actually have a clue about the medium, would you kindly get stuffed?