The Ebert of Videogames

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The Ebert of Videogames

When will games get their intelligent, high minded, accessible reviewer?

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They're not exactly Ebert, but the crew at Extra Credits on Penny Arcade (late of the Escapist) does a pretty good job of mixing high-minded rumination with accessibility. The real problem is going to be the Balkanization of popular culture in today's world - even Ebert couldn't be Ebert if he were just starting out today.

This guy makes a few comments on the need for academic types in gaming.


And yeah what craddoke said, maybe a singular voice like Ebert just can't reach prominence the way Ebert did back in the day today. Maybe games will never be accepted by the old school guys as "art" because the thinking of those people are from a different time. What we need to do is just accept for ourselves that gaming is important and can be art... and wait for all the old critics to die off (okay maybe that last bit was distasteful), but an academic changing of the guard has to happen sometime.

While I don't think there will be an Ebert-figure any time soon, I think the simplest thing that game reviewers can replicate is the dynamic he shared with Gene Siskel in the Siskel & Ebert show.

That's why I'm disappointed in the "Jim & Yahtzee's Rhymedown Spectacular". I would rather see Jim and Yahtzee review a game side-by-side, bouncing opinions off of each other rather than the typical review formula of one guy or girl gives his opinion and the reader/watcher has to take it or leave it.

Oh, Shamus... didn't you already know? You're our Ebert.

image

I think you have a very different media landscape, too, and it's worth considering how long film existed as media before someone of Ebert's caliber came along--and how long Ebert WORKED for it.

Mahoshonen:
While I don't think there will be an Ebert-figure any time soon, I think the simplest thing that game reviewers can replicate is the dynamic he shared with Gene Siskel in the Siskel & Ebert show.

That's why I'm disappointed in the "Jim & Yahtzee's Rhymedown Spectacular". I would rather see Jim and Yahtzee review a game side-by-side, bouncing opinions off of each other rather than the typical review formula of one guy or girl gives his opinion and the reader/watcher has to take it or leave it.

Jim has thoughtful, nuanced opinions. Yahtzee kinda trolls people, getting them worked up and excited with emotional -- not rational -- complaints, and they like being trolled. (That's not a jab at Yahtzee, people enjoy his shows, but I don't think even he would call them reviews as such.)

Having them review together is either a great idea, or a terrible one.

Though I don't think it would have a Siskel and Ebert dynamic.

craddoke:
They're not exactly Ebert, but the crew at Extra Credits on Penny Arcade (late of the Escapist) does a pretty good job of mixing high-minded rumination with accessibility. The real problem is going to be the Balkanization of popular culture in today's world - even Ebert couldn't be Ebert if he were just starting out today.

That is a pretty good point. Ebert was the result of his time, as evidenced because he is nowhere the first (probably Pauline Kael could be attributed that title) nor the last to use that style to "popularize" movie analysis, however, due to his TV show and, later, his web page, he gained international popularity in a circle that is usually relegated to regional popularity.

Now, however, the field is full of players. No one can claim the title of Ebert because there are hundred of thousands of aspiring; and its the same with video games critics. I would say Extra Credits or Errant Signal are the closest we can get, but they have a hard time differentiating themselves since YouTube critics are a dime a dozen.

I've missed Experienced Points these last few weeks. a great article, as always. except for the pluralisation of Beer's surname. seriously, what's up with that?

Johny_X2:
I've missed Experienced Points these last few weeks. a great article, as always. except for the pluralisation of Beer's surname. seriously, what's up with that?

Whoops! My bad. I think I was confusing it with the surname "DeBeers".

I'll send in a correction. Thanks for letting me know.

craddoke:
They're not exactly Ebert, but the crew at Extra Credits on Penny Arcade (late of the Escapist) does a pretty good job of mixing high-minded rumination with accessibility. The real problem is going to be the Balkanization of popular culture in today's world - even Ebert couldn't be Ebert if he were just starting out today.

Extra credits only reaches a tiny part of the numbers gamers and nothing of the world beyond gamers. Extra credits has no main stream media presence The truth here is that gaming is a minority thing, I know that the budgets of AAA games have gone up massively but they are still smaller than your average summer blockbuster. Look at the price point, the cost of entry into a cinema is far lower than the launch price of AAA game. This is because of the simple reason more people go to the movies than game.

10 to 15 years time gaming might be become more mainstream but at the moment the number of people interested gaming is to small for it to get mainstream critics.

I nominate thee, Shamus. Now, to do a little fundraising, who's up for a visit to the local bank?

Jumwa:
Jim has thoughtful, nuanced opinions. Yahtzee kinda trolls people, getting them worked up and excited with emotional -- not rational -- complaints, and they like being trolled. (That's not a jab at Yahtzee, people enjoy his shows, but I don't think even he would call them reviews as such.)

Having them review together is either a great idea, or a terrible one.

Though I don't think it would have a Siskel and Ebert dynamic.

I disagree that Yahtzee (only) gets people worked up with non-rational complaints: he's really more often than not quite precise in what makes him dislike/hate/want to kill a game. Of course it is a bit hyperbolical, but nearly always quite well-founded throughout.

I'd say that if it wasn't for the medium (videos on the internet) and the language, his work as a video game critic in Zero Puntuation could well be close to that of Ebert as a film critic. Extra Punctuation has the advantage of being text only, but is often heavily dependent on the vid that preceded it.

As for people outside gaming accessing those critics: I watched Yahtzee's vids regularly way before I started playing regularly, and they did inform my opinion on the medium as a whole - to the point where I'd say it played a positive role in me getting my actual job. Which has nothing to do directly with videogames, but for which a discussion of what is art in a "new technologies" environment is very relevant.

There already is a Roger Ebert of video games. It's me.
Don't believe me? ...ahem...

Movies can never be art!

...lol

I think if you could get the Extra Credits guys to work with Yahtzee, that would be the closest we could come to this with the people we currently have. Yahtzee's wit and critique mixed with Extra Credits' deeper analysis and generally more positive outlook would be fair and balanced while also being very entertaining.

I think in this day and age, that sort of public appeal would only come if the person already had a wider profile. So if a singer or actor started writing witty and insightful articles on the intellectual side of gaming, you will have the sort of thing that will draw non-gamers...maybe someone like Vin Diesel.

The major barrier is that even though gaming has become quite pervasive, there is still generally a social gulf between "hardcore gamers", and "casual gamers" and non-gamers; basically those who have an interest in gaming beyond just when they are busy playing, and the rest who aren't interested in the topic beyond when they are sitting playing.

I also don't think we have any games with broad enough appeal. The games that are widely known by people with different backgrounds don't have any real depth to discuss - you're looking at something like Angry Birds. It's not just about story or gameplay. You need the whole package.

You can't have an ebert without a Siskel first...

and then we would need the sacrifice...yes, the sacrifice...

This is going to sound harsh, but it's a pet-peeve of mine so here goes...

I interact with a fair number of "artists". Of these, I'd say maybe 5% deserve compensation for their work; they generate product of sufficient quality (concept and execution in tandem) to expect payment. You know how many think they deserve compensation for their work? Here's a hint: all of them.

If someone does something and gets paid for it, you are not entitled to be paid for doing something similar - not if your product isn't up to snuff. Now in entertainment, "quality" is a little hazy. It can refer to the producer's charisma/fame more than the product itself, which is confusing for all of the highly intelligent games journalists cranking out well-crafted criticism on a daily basis. But the fact remains: their product isn't something people want to buy, and there's nothing they can do to change this short of changing their product.

There's just a certain ratio of people who get to do what they love for a living, and people seem mad that this ratio isn't changing over time with the prevalence of higher learning, college degrees, etc. You could even go so far as to call "game criticism" a profession, but that doesn't mean everyone who trains for it gets to do it. You really need to be a celebrity, in your own way, to pull it off. Even then, with the highly fractured nature of entertainment today, you won't have the sort of broad appeal enjoyed by critics of previous generations - the ones who worked with film and literature when those were essentially the only games in town.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I couldn't care less that your average video game blogger can't turn the hobby he enjoys into a sustainable profession. This fate befalls most everyone in life, and a lot of them are doing more important things than talking about video games.

I don't think that there will ever BE an 'Ebert' for the Video Games world simply because of the diversity and availability of numerous other voices. The internet can give you hundreds of reviews of a game in a few seconds, each one by a different person with a different set of standards. Ebert was a dying presence with the advent of the internet, his prominence came from being a notable member of a select few (or rather notable half of a talented pair). You don't have that limited selection with Games reviewers.

Something to consider is that Leonard Maltin, Ebert and Siskel all were getting their film-review starts in roughly the 1970s. I'm not quibbling specifics. The point is they gained an audience back when people were only just starting to be given more variety in their sit-com entertainment, the big shows being All in the Family, the Jeffersons, and MASH (things like that). Another big thing, though fading out back then, were variety shows. The popularity of variety shows was why someone tried doing that horrible Star Wars Holiday Special.

Siskel & Ebert, with their weekly half-hour film review show, Sneak Previews, was the equivalent of a sit-com episode that also provided information (i.e., entertainment news) and a bit of variety (i.e., it was hit-and-miss whether you'd care for a given review, but just wait a few minutes for them to move onto the next review). Keep in mind they interspersed their podcast-like talk-talk with video clips from the film they were reviewing, otherwise even back then it would have felt dry.

I think Maltin's film reviews on television came later in the early '80s, but I never followed that. But his main thing was the film dictionary he published back before the Internet. Just keep in mind that his dictionary was just as entertaining to look through as...a dictionary. It was a good resource if you wanted to get a quick film rating and synopsis.

So these days there are a handful of knowledgeable film reviewers, but most people are only so motivated as to type in a few keywords into a search engine field and just go with whatever comes up. I've never seen Internet film reviewers actually advertise and promote themselves, such that they might become more mainstream. Film reviewers just seem to add their link the the reviews section of IMDB and then cross their fingers.

It's the same deal with respect to game reviews. You're providing some entertainment, a bit of eye candy, and some information. But the game reviewers just go by word of mouth, so for casual gamer (i.e, the big majority) they again just type a few keywords into a search engine field instead of going to that "well regarded" game reviewer they heard about.

I think another worthwhile concern is that games tend to be much much longer than movies. I could watch ten movies in the time it takes me to play through Bioshock once. I think it takes a lot of time to really understand the nuances and depths of a lot of games.

Video games are nowhere near deserving a Roger Ebert. Slow down folks. If you compare video games to the timeline of cinema here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_a_Nation) is where video games are at.

I love it when you drop Campster's beautiful words and phrases, Shamus. It's less thievery, and more the spread of influenced intellect.

But, while we don't have that one singular voice that rings even for the luddites that don't share our medium, we do have several voices that are as well known among the interested as Ebert was for his. Yahtzee's harsh metaphors and dazzlingly decisive imagery are quite popular, and Gabe and Tycho (of Penny Arcade) speak with knowledge and impunity that inspires the collected throngs to either herald the newcome king of games or burn the false prophet inside a tomb of it's own failures. Extra Credits, while a bit more evangelical zealotry than advertisement, still endeavors to elevate gaming into the accepted and myriad ranks of it's parents in film, literature, and music. Errant Signal takes the more textbook approach to studying and trying to elevate the medium through classification, designations, and parlance, something that the nascency of film desperately needed and wasn't solidified until decades later.

In short, we may not have our Ebert yet, but the groundwork is being laid for one to come yet.

Does the gaming public want artsy ruminations and anecdote-driven analysis of intent and craft? Do people want to talk about kinesthetics, ludonarrative dissonance, narrative mechanics, gamification, and power creep?

Why yes, Mr. Young, I do read Rock Paper Shotgun. Why do you ask?

List of people who talk intelligently about video games.

- MrBtongue (Tasteful Understated Nerdrage)

- Chris Franklin AKA Campster (Errant Signal)

People who write intelligently about video games.

?????????? Shamus Young????? But he mostly rants about stupid plot doors, or plot armor.

Most people know who Spector is, but if you're too young to remember a world before Pokemon, then a little refresher: Wing Commander, Thief, System Shock, and Ultima. And if THOSE aren't familiar to you then I shudder to imagine what they're not teaching you in history class these days.
Read more at http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/experienced-points/10492-The-Ebert-of-Videogames?utm_source=latest&utm_medium=index_carousel&utm_campaign=all#YWXq5wrXmDzcZGxR.99

*cough* Deus Ex. *cough*

The Random One:

Does the gaming public want artsy ruminations and anecdote-driven analysis of intent and craft? Do people want to talk about kinesthetics, ludonarrative dissonance, narrative mechanics, gamification, and power creep?

Why yes, Mr. Young, I do read Rock Paper Shotgun. Why do you ask?

RPS don't really do it all that much. They're good for having some perspective on all the Call of Duty-type bullshit and such but they're not all that academic about the medium.

Mick P.:
Video games are nowhere near deserving a Roger Ebert. Slow down folks. If you compare video games to the timeline of cinema here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_a_Nation) is where video games are at.

Different medium, different world. Trying to compare the progress of video games to the progress of cinema is like trying to fuck thin air. (Pointless.)

Having said that, just running with the idea that gaming will eventually "deserve" an Ebert, it's slightly paradoxical to claim that gaming is currently not "deserving" of its Ebert when Roger Ebert is often credited (at least in part) with legitimising film criticism - i.e. gaming would need to appear largely "undeserving" to have someone come along and make it "deserving".

We don't need an Ebert.
And by that I mean, we don't need someone telling us what can and cannot be art, art is subjective.

I shall decide what I think is art, I will then proceed to appreciate it.

I feel no need to justify my hobby with the words of another. I don't need recognition or legitimizing, because I'm having too much fun playing games to care.

The closest we have is Adam Sessler, I think.

Well, Ebert may or may not have gotten hate mail. I have gotten nasty comments from reviewing games that I was not a FanBoi of on Amazon. Pretty silly overall.

Ebert is a great writer and I loved going back over some of his articles I missed or from before I first found his print work. He does explain many things, allows that there are other reasons to watch or enjoy a movie than his personal favorites. He doesn't dictate what you watch or how to enjoy it but he does broaden the experience for everyone.

Besides you, Yahtzee and Ben Kuchera there are very few in the industry that I am willing to read on a regular basis. If one of you aren't Ebert then at the very least the three of you are.

Smokescreen:
I think you have a very different media landscape, too, and it's worth considering how long film existed as media before someone of Ebert's caliber came along--and how long Ebert WORKED for it.

I think that's the most important point. It isn't that games can't be an art form, whatever that is, it's that essentially we're still in the black and white silent film era. Okay maybe we're at the early talkie stage, but we still have a lot of miles to go before we're looked on as any sort of art form by the general public.

But that's another thing when you compare games to other modern art forms such as film. Games haven't really been as accessible as film nor has there been any sort of cultural progression like what proceeded film.
Let me explain what I mean. We started with radio which at first was pretty primitive but also had a low entrance cost. So low that you could actually build your own AM receiver, still can for that matter. Add to that the fact that the broadcasts were ad revenue sponsored and therefore free it's not surprising that listening to the radio became a national pastime. This in fact produced the social concept of people gathering together to listen to a popular radio program. Then films started to come on the scene, still a fairly low cost of ownership, while for the audience anyway. As well it was an extension of the radio's ability to bring groups of people together to be entertained. Then of course this all progressed to T.V. which was basically a free theater in your own home in a very similar form to radio.
There is a common theme running in each of these "art forms" they're all designed for passive consumption by large number of people at the same time for a relatively low cost, and there's been a logical progression from one type of media to the next.

Games are different, they're not passive, and even in a MMO they're not really designed with hundreds of players in mind, they have a high cost of ownership (even the so called free ones) when you consider both hardware and software, and lastly they're unlike anything that's come before. I guess you could say tabletop games were the forerunners to video games, but they were in the same sense that books and theater were the forerunners to our more modern entertainment forms. And consider the average market for tabletop games, compared to the one for books and the theater before radio became available.

Video games won't really reach a point where they would be considered a modern art form by most people till they penetrate our society to the point where anyone over the age of 14 doesn't feel somehow silly when they say they play. Where videogame competitions are seen as real serious contests by the general public instead of just games. Till that point is reached there just isn't enough general interest to sustain a public personality/critic like Ebert.

Woodsey:

Mick P.:
Video games are nowhere near deserving a Roger Ebert. Slow down folks. If you compare video games to the timeline of cinema here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_a_Nation) is where video games are at.

Different medium, different world. Trying to compare the progress of video games to the progress of cinema is like trying to fuck thin air. (Pointless.)

Having said that, just running with the idea that gaming will eventually "deserve" an Ebert, it's slightly paradoxical to claim that gaming is currently not "deserving" of its Ebert when Roger Ebert is often credited (at least in part) with legitimising film criticism - i.e. gaming would need to appear largely "undeserving" to have someone come along and make it "deserving".

It's just my opinion but it's accurate I think. We will see if games evolve on a social timeline or a technological timeline. If it's social it may be 70 years or more before a relationship comparable to Roger Ebert emerges. I would have guessed that developments like the Internet would have accelerated the social timeline, but that doesn't seem to be the case, since games haven't really gone anywhere in 30 years. We seem to be stuck on the hard social timeline. Film began in 1880s. The Birth of a Nation appeared in 1915. So that's about the 35 years video games have had. And about the same social relevance has been achieved. It's definitely not Moore's Law.

I hope there will be an exponential acceleration thanks to Internet that has probably already begun to kick in. Maybe within the next decade or so things will begin to get interesting. But no real democratizing tools have emerged, and the industry that has metastasized around video games is not friendly to outsider talent. So we won't see anything like the post-Code boom of the late 60s and 70s if there is nothing to shake up the industry around the corner. My money is on free software and websites like Wikipedia for video game developers popping up. Development of some standards, and everything else that has made web browsers so successful.

EDITED: I mean, 70 more years before we'll see a guy on a couch on PBS reviewing the video games that came out this week doesn't seem so crazy to me. The idea alone seems so futuristic that it's not even worth thinking about. This is where movies were 100 years ago.

PS: Because deserve was repeatedly quoted in the quote above. Video games will "deserve" a Roger Ebert whenever such a figure actually emerges. If that seems like something that would never happen its just because the whole concept is so futuristic its way out beyond what anyone can even conceive of. The video game industry believes it "deserves" such a thing because they are rolling in the big bucks, but that says nothing of actual social capital.

We already have plenty of videogame Eberts. The problem is that they're being drowned out by everyone else with a Youtube account. Roger Ebert was mainly staying in the picture because of his pre-internet legacy.

We live in an age where media gets consumed by the bucket loads. By the time I finished writing this post I'll likely have watched 5 or so videos on Youtube. Red Letter Media made a good point in one of their reviews, that the more media options we get, the more everything will blur together, and the less anything special will stick out in our minds for very long.

There are few palaces that are above average:

MrBtongue
Bunnyhopshow
Errant Signal
Spoiler Warring/Diecast
Zero Punctuation
Extra Credits

IGNs, Gamspots, Gamestars, (...) those are just advertisements sites

If we ever find the Ebert of games, he'd better say that movies can never be art.

I think it'd be quite grand if Extra Consideration was revived as a weekly segment and included some of the latest reviews and perhaps included escapists outside Yahtzee, MovieBob, and Jim Sterling as regulars. Perhaps the three and someone to add some technical insight?

I imagine that'd be close to Siskel & Ebert. I know Yahtzee must be rather popular and Jim Sterling has a certain nuance of spoken language that's instantly recognizable. Typing "zero" in a search engine often offers "zero punctuation" as one of the top three suggested searches, and it's not like he forcefully extends his sphere of influence like Ebert did.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extraconsideration/

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