Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert reading "How to Win at Nintendo Games"

Roger Ebert passed away last week.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship towards Ebert. He gave the original TMNT film 2 ½ stars, the second he gave one star, and though I can’t find it, I’m pretty sure I remember seeing him give TMNT III a better rating than either of the previous movies. I guess I just never figured out how to come to terms with that. I mean, he’s a genius, right? A master of words and analysis. A titan among journalists, standing tall among his peers in my own hometown.

But I think we all know that Turtles III was awful.

But hands down, Turtles In Time was a better video game than Turtles III was a movie.

And I guess I should mention that video games thing with Ebert. Roger Ebert was noted for knocking video games. Not only is there a wikipedia page for whether games can be art, but Ebert has his own section, detailing multiple sallies into the messy battlefield of internet games conversations.

I like to think that a figure like Roger Ebert stepping into the blogosphere was a bridging act. He was established enough that he didn’t have to care about the internet. He didn’t have to write more words more often for even more anonymous readers, readers who would suddenly have far more access to him than the mediated interface of letters to the newspaper. The guy went so far as to join Twitter. He may have been asking for it, but I sincerely appreciate the gesture, a gesture that said that it was important to him as a journalist to be better in touch with his readership, and a gesture that said that the internet was important. You may not know this unless you’re into journalism, but Ebert fairly consistently went to bat for what he thought was best for the industry, even when it was clear that he could coast until retirement.

Ebert held onto 19th century notions of Art as governed by authorial intent, such that games, since they had to share control with the player (arguable — I’ve played a lot of very linear games), could never rise to the status of High Art, but could at best aspire to kitsch. And holding that perspective was important, because Ebert wanted to judge films based on what they were trying to be. Secret Of The Ooze was not as good at what it was trying to do as the original movie was at its own goals. TMNT III may have been great as a nonsensical cash-in full of mindless, early-’90s bastardized history.

And as much as I think Ebert’s theoretical stances might have been a couple points short of honor role, I can respect not trying to universalize a medium. I don’t want to approach Plants vs. Zombies, King’s Quest V, Gears of War or Paper Mario on the same terms as each other. That sort of analysis wouldn’t be likely to be any use to anyone, unless I specifically sought to approach them all from some angle where I could compare apples to apples. If I wanted to look at the business side of those games’ production, for instance.

But where Roger Ebert really shone into how I view games is in his approach to reviewing. Polarizing as the thumb-approach was, it didn’t try to lend an air of science to what was ultimately a question of “is this piece worth your time?” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone reference him explicitly, but it’s Ebert’s mode of thinking that informs how we approach reviewing games around here at GWJ. It’s the same resistance that I think is being voiced in Adam Sessler’s stance against MetaCritic.

So I may not have agreed with Ebert about games or some movies, though I can also admit that we each have far greater knowledge in own own fields than the other does. Maybe I missed something about Turtles 3 (or maybe I just read wrong, those two decades ago). But when I read that the world needs more Eberts, my gut-level agreement is not because of any one discrete thing. I agree because Roger Ebert was someone who deeply cared about his chosen medium, about his audience, and about journalism.

So thank you, Roger, and may you rest in peace.

Comments

I’m not, by the way, trying to claim that even the third film was better than the TMNT “Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour.” (Yes, real thing. No, it’s not worthy of putting in italics.)

Ebert will forever confound me as a really smart guy who completely missed the point with Blue Velvet. I don't put a whole lot of value on his movie reviews, because he's snarky about things he doesn't like, he sounds like he's oozing superfluous praise when he finds things marginally interesting, and worst, his M.O. floats between saying we should judge films on their own merits and falling back on personal taste/bias.

However, he was passionate, and he got a lot of people to think a little bit about what they're watching. More importantly to me, a lot of the stuff he's written later in his life and shared with the rest of the world blew me away. I'm sure you've all had a link to it dropped one place or another, but "I Do Not Fear Death" is a great piece, and I don't just mean it appealed to me because of, y'know, stuff. Sure, the bit about "feeling heartbeats" is a little not to my taste, but the rest is pretty poignant stuff. If you haven't read him beyond his reviews, I'd suggest giving it a shot. There's a reason he'll be missed.

It's Raph!

ianunderhill wrote:

If you haven't read him beyond his reviews, I'd suggest giving it a shot. There's a reason he'll be missed.

Good idea.

wordsmythe wrote:

the TMNT “Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour.”

Turtles: TMI

Ebert to me remains classic old guard. I grew up with him, and he kindled a love of film, and I will be forever grateful. At the same time, as I slide towards 50, and thus, DEATH, myself, I see him as a bit of an object lesson in how to be a bit more accepting of new media. When I'm 70, I hope I see the crazy insanity of -- i dunno, implanted euphoria -- as a new artform, not as some new thing that cheapens all of human existence.

Regardless -- cheers, sir. You rocked it.

Ebert's blind spots always seemed very odd to me. I remember he knocked Spider-Man because he felt the webswinging wasn't "weighty" enough. But I also remember him being able to write an honest review, one that didn't try to be authoritative, but instead tried to reflect his voice. His famous tiff over Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo was a great example of is personality and his ability to approach a review as an exercise in communication.

Would that we could all find a career we could love as he enjoyed his work.

While I disagreed with him--on the grounds that game designers definitely do shape the player's experience by setting the context--he handled the whole debate with respect, even if he deeply disagreed with those he was arguing against. Would that more people did the same.

Grenn wrote:

It's Raph!

Yeah, a little too Raph.

ianunderhill wrote:

I'm sure you've all had a link to it dropped one place or another, but "I Do Not Fear Death" is a great piece, and I don't just mean it appealed to me because of, y'know, stuff. Sure, the bit about "feeling heartbeats" is a little not to my taste, but the rest is pretty poignant stuff. If you haven't read him beyond his reviews, I'd suggest giving it a shot. There's a reason he'll be missed.

Absolutely. That was a great piece, and a great stance toward life.

Spaz wrote:

Ebert's blind spots always seemed very odd to me. I remember he knocked Spider-Man because he felt the webswinging wasn't "weighty" enough. But I also remember him being able to write an honest review, one that didn't try to be authoritative, but instead tried to reflect his voice. His famous tiff over Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo was a great example of is personality and his ability to approach a review as an exercise in communication.

The Onion's final sendoff was pretty good in this regard: "Ebert Hails Human Existence as 'A Triumph.'"

I enjoyed the article as a whole, but did this feel... I dunno, un-edited to anyone else? Like, gramatically? Seems out of character for GWJ and Wordy in particular. [sidenote]Seems like if I were going to critique any piece, this is the piece...[/sidenote]
Spoilered to (possibly) not derail too much:

Spoiler:

-a number of sentences starting with "But" or "And", including 2 "Buts" in a row
-the last sentences of paragraphs 7 and 8; the first feels unfinished, and the second is a fragment that really should have been tied to the sentence before it
-can you "shine into" things? Maybe that one's just me.
-"this it’s Ebert’s mode of thinking" - extra "this", maybe? Maybe "this is"? It's a fragment that doesn't follow what came before it in either case.
-"...wouldn’t be likely to be any use to anyone" is missing a word (of)
-"It’s the same resistance that I think is being Adam Sessler’s stance against MetaCritic." What?

Chumpy_McChump wrote:

I enjoyed the article as a whole, but did this feel... I dunno, un-edited to anyone else? Like, gramatically? Seems out of character for GWJ and Wordy in particular.

IMAGE(http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mejpu0bPZE1rqfhi2o1_400.gif)

We are always own own worst editors. That said, I believe most of your issues are stylistic choices, including beginning sentences with conjunctions—a stylistic virus I believe I caught from Sands.

wordsmythe wrote:
Chumpy_McChump wrote:

gramatically

Well, crap. Apparently I re-read everything but that line.

EDIT: And stylistic flourishes certainly have a place, they just need to be used sparingly to remain effective.

God I love this F'n place. Grin.

Perhaps you watched the review? It's not so positive sounding though...

I really liked Gene and Roger as a combo. If I didn't like Ebert's take, I usually just had to wait. I think I took a lot from that about what a review is and whether there should be any pretense toward some "true" review.

wordsmythe wrote:

I really liked Gene and Roger as a combo. If I didn't like Ebert's take, I usually just had to wait. I think I took a lot from that about what a review is and whether there should be any pretense toward some "true" review.

I think it's time for GWJ to kickstart Andrich and Sands.

Chairman_Mao wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I really liked Gene and Roger as a combo. If I didn't like Ebert's take, I usually just had to wait. I think I took a lot from that about what a review is and whether there should be any pretense toward some "true" review.

I think it's time for GWJ to kickstart Andrich and Sands.

Two GWJers, A Girl, and a Pizza Parlor?

With a Joust machine!

I honestly feel that too much flack was given on the man for his views on games as art. It is unfortunate because his opinion would likely be an influential one, but the man was old. When it comes to how much film has changed since he was a young one, it has mostly been in terms of technology and special effects. However, the basics of communicating the story and using the camera, set design, lighting, etc. to convey ideas and moods, as well as use of soundtrack, have remained the same. Therefore, he has a notion in his head of what art is as it relates to film.

Meanwhile, video games started out as, well, simple games. Electronic versions of Candyland, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders. He hasn't been aware of the changes in games beyond the technology involved. We now just have really pretty versions of Space Invaders. Or so I imagine that's what has formed much of his opinion.

But considering how often we discuss how stories or game endings are disappointing, or the various short-comings of the industry, is it really so bad that you can't see where he's coming from? My response has always been "Some games are art, others are toys". At least, when it comes to his idea of what makes art.

At the same time, I feel the challenge of trying to create fun itself is an art form, but it could also be more or less psychology.

As for Ebert himself, I think the largest take-away is that it isn't whether you agree or disagree with the man. What makes a critic good is their argument.

wordsmythe wrote:

I really liked Gene and Roger as a combo. If I didn't like Ebert's take, I usually just had to wait. I think I took a lot from that about what a review is and whether there should be any pretense toward some "true" review.

Absolutely. I loved watching Siskel & Ebert growing up. My friends all hated the show, saying all they do is argue. But that's the point! Hearing them argue their views was why the show was worth watching.

ccesarano wrote:

What makes a critic good is their argument.

Absolutely.

I never understood the outrage over his "games are not art" arguments. He knows film and I trust, for the most part, his judgment thereof but games - not so much. I certainly don't need my own opinion of games, on the whole, to be validated by him.

Really good interview with Richard Roeper on Aisha Tyler's podcast, touches on Ebert, and the end of the TV show:
http://girlonguy.net/podcast/girl-on...

I don’t want to approach Plants vs. Zombies, King’s Quest V, Gears of War or Paper Mario on the same terms as each other.

Why not? The art world does this all of time. We compare classic movements in history, to post modernist performance pieces. A dialogue and structure exists to compare Pre-Raphaelite compositions with a man slicing pieces of himself off infront of an audience no matter how unrelated they seem.

I believe the art world gets away with a lot more because of intangibility, esoterica and elitism. If we added in 'total units sold at retail' to the art world, we might see a different debate. I'm not suggesting this, but I think the videogame as art debate is automatically hobbled in it's acceptance due to it's origins as a mass consumed commodity.

It's pop art, but in reverse. From 'ready mades' and 'existing content' we are finding space for the greater moments (and movements) of visual and narrative expression from the video gaming world... IF we can get past the grubby, humble origins of the quarter muncher.

m0nk3yboy wrote:
I don’t want to approach Plants vs. Zombies, King’s Quest V, Gears of War or Paper Mario on the same terms as each other.

Why not? The art world does this all of time.

Because...

That sort of analysis wouldn’t be likely to be any use to anyone, unless I specifically sought to approach them all from some angle where I could compare apples to apples.

So when the fine art world compares things from different movements, that comparison has to be done in a way that focuses on areas that are in some basic way still similar (e.g., they share a subject matter). Without some implicit commonality, the discussion doesn't really go anywhere. There needs to be some relationship between the compared works that establishes the conversation. The exception would be a critic attempting to establish that two things are different in every way, which itself would be a fairly strict relationship.

Good point. I think it would be a very interesting read to see the same introspection of the art world applied to the evolution of videogames as an expression of itself. Who knows, we might even find that commonality we are looking for?

wordsmythe wrote:

We are always own own worst editors.

So true... so true.

Mex wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

We are always own own worst editors.

So true... so true.

I saw it. I left it.

m0nk3yboy wrote:

Good point. I think it would be a very interesting read to see the same introspection of the art world applied to the evolution of videogames as an expression of itself. Who knows, we might even find that commonality we are looking for?

Are you pitching an article?

wordsmythe wrote:
m0nk3yboy wrote:

Good point. I think it would be a very interesting read to see the same introspection of the art world applied to the evolution of videogames as an expression of itself. Who knows, we might even find that commonality we are looking for?

Are you pitching an article?

More a hearty discussion over alcohol that I started with some friends, but if you want to run with it, be my guest