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.