Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Obligatory Ebertgate Response

(And yes, I realize that for a blog predicated on the idea of not being topical, I'm doing a lousy job so far of being late to the party.)

Fair warning: I had fully intended to remain comfortably mum on the roiling tempest that is Ebertgate 2010, but I just can't hold my tongue any longer.

Not because videogames truly ARE art, and must be defended as life-changing works of beauty and grandeur. Come on. In my experience, debating whether something is "art" is about as productive as a monkey trying to hump a football, and much less entertaining.

Not because I need to voice my righteous indignation at Ebert's dismissive view of videogames and how they affect us, or to point out the various ways in which Ebert misunderstands the games he discusses. Others have already done that. A lot of others. Years ago, even.

No, it's because of this.

"I may be too old to 'get' video games," Ebert tweeted yesterday, "but I may be too well-read." Yowch.

For decades, Ebert has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for curmudgeonliness. As a budding curmudgeon myself, I consider the man a role model. Not for nothing is he an internationally-recognized icon of the entertainment world. Sure, there's the whole "legendary movie critic" thing, but let's be honest here: it's really about the snark. Dude is a scientist of snark.

Which is why the sentiment above finally ended my silence. The thing is, while it might be considered witty by some - and by "some" I mean Ebert's fellow self-described "ancients" - it commits the cardinal sin of snarkiness that crosses the line between "playful" and "just mean": it's not funny. Or remotely true. It's even more bizarre considering he wrote this just hours before. Feels suspiciously like baiting to me.

(In another tweet, Ebert marvels at how his videogame article could have garnered nearly 2,000 comments from gamers, while a piece he wrote on the health care debate went largely ignored by that same virtuous and vocal audience. Um. I'll let that question answer itself.)

Of course, I could be wrong. I sincerely hope Ebert's latest round of tweets is just good-natured ribbing from an old goat who knows he's pushing your buttons. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if the problem is that we're so intent on defending our passion and tearing down stereotypes that we're not getting the joke.

Ebert's made the same argument about videogames before, so he knew what he was getting into when he reopened this can of worms. He also knows that no one can win in a debate about "art" - but that provoking the debate, especially among gamer circles, would turn a lot of heads.

But please, let's not ask the "was the whole flap manufactured?" question. Somehow, Ebert doesn't strike me as the type to pull stunts for page views. His piece itself is relatively innocuous; it's not advocating for a government ban on videogames or making grandiose claims about the blinking lights rotting our children's brains. I don't think he has any agenda other than stating an opinion in his usual forceful way.

Look, Roger Ebert is a good sport who has developed a very thick skin over the years. The man fought cancer and lost his ability to eat and to talk and is still happier than you. He's not worried about your internet rage.

So by all means, keep trying to prove him wrong. But please, for all our sakes, do it with a sense of humor, will you?

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