GDC 2011: An Apology for Roger Ebert

Brian Moriarty
You can also just read it in full here: http://www.ludix.com/moriarty/apology.html

-          Introduction
o   This is not an apology in the same sense as regret for anything done wrong
o   This is the Greek apologia – a defense of an opinion
-          History of Conflict
o   Started with Doom the movie. A bad movie and a bad review.
§  A reader’s comment about how the movie related to game prompted Ebert’s response: “As long as there is a great film unseen or great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games”
§  Ebert considers games to be an inherently inferior medium – because of the conceit of player choice
§  There is no game worthy of comparison to great art
§  Purpose of art is to make us more civil, compassionate, empathetic
o   A few weeks after GDC last year – Kelly Santiago gave TED talk about games as art (prompted by Ebert’s comments)
§  Talked about Flower, Braid and WACO Resurrection
o   Ebert responded – games can never be art. No gamer currently alive will live to see it
§  No one in or out of field has been able to cite a game worth of comparison to great works of art
§  (Kelly Santiago conceited this within the first minute of her talk)
§  As much as Moriarty loves games, he agrees with this sentiment
o   Ebert eventually admitted later that he never should have said it (although he does believe it)
-          Why are people in games so anxious to wrap themselves in the mantle of great art?
-          The Chess Players
o   Painting by Northcote, 1700s
o   2 guys playing chess, young boy looking at viewer, dog in corner
o   The boy becomes the center of attention because he is ignoring the game, and looking at you
o   More on this later…
-          Historically, games and sports have never been regarded as art
o   Philosophy considers games as categorically different
o   Natural to assume games all move into this pantheon of art
§  But! Games are ancient
§  They aren’t new technology like film or photography
§  Are analogue games less artistic than new games? If Go and Chess aren’t art, how can Missile Command be?
§  Are we so willing to refuse the wisdom of ages for the sake of our egos?
-          Most movies aren’t art
o   “Hardly any movies are art.” – Ebert
o   “Most of the movies we enjoy are not art.” – Kale
o   (2 of worlds great film critics)
-          Sublime Art – (Art with a capital “A”)
o   Art that’s good for you
o   Worthy of lifetime of contemplation
-          What is Art?
o   Some consider art to be anything that elicits emotion
§  Can end this idea pretty easily by seeing horrible videos of cute animals being killed
o   Is art something that is attractive?
§  Common attractions vs. sublime attractions
-          Enter Kitsch!
o   Highly charged with stock emotions
o   Simple ideas, automatic response
o   You know how you’re supposed to feel about James Dean or horses running on the beach
o   Instantly and effortlessly identifiable surface art
o   Does not enrich our associates related to subjects – not innovative
o   All popular art is kitsch
o   Could anyone be more familiar with what happens when commercial pressure is applied to a medium than Ebert?
§  COD Black Ops – doesn’t innovate, but doesn’t have to – well oiled machine
§  COD made more money than any game faster because it didn’t try to challenge us
o   This is product art – kitsch art
o   It’s not bad art, it’s commercial art - time tested, good for business
-          By contrast - Sublime art is fragile
o   In great literature, there is the idea of “That word and no other in that place and no other”
o   Sublime art is always relevant (or not at all) never subject of nostalgia
-          Kitsch is often regarded as art and celebrated
o   Camp = celebration of kitsch
o   We shouldn’t expect publicly traded companies to create anything other than kitsch
-          What about Indies?
o   They only have a little wiggle room
o   Really have much bigger risks involved – they HAVE to succeed
-          Danger in trying to create an art game – tend to just create an arty game
o   Not an excuse never to try
-          Back to the painting: The dog is in the painting because someone asked for it
-          Tools & tech for games is slippery
o   Film remained unchanged (largely) for 150 years
o   Compare this to the 4 decades of games – tech and business are constantly changing so fast and so much
o   How can anyone create in such a maelstrom
-          Last reason for failure – is there an intrinsic reason why games can’t be art?
o   Arthur Schopenhauer
§  Romanticist, believed in the idea of “Wille zum Leber” (will to live)
§  We are constantly willing ourselves to attain our goals but are constantly disappointed
o   Schopenhauer believed that the goal of art is to transcend the will
§  Thought that striving towards art is one of the noblest professions
§  Contemplation of sublime art is a door to perspective on reality, and a glimpse to what we really are
·         Bob Dylan – the purpose of art is to stop time
o   Choice is a fundamental expression of will (choice is what games are) – how can this be used to transcend will, when will is what you’re expressing to do it?
-          Sublime art is like a toy
o   no rules, goal, or purpose
o   All art is quite useless
-          The justification of art is the internal combustion that it ignites within the heart
o   Gradual lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity
-          Moriarty’s definition of art – “the still advocation of the inexpressible” 
-          Recreation is not a waste of time
-          All sublime art is devotional
-          Games didn’t need to be great art to get here – they just needed to be great fun

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