Farewell to a Frenemy…
Mr. Roger Ebert passed away yesterday. He was 70.
There are many reasons to celebrate the life and work of this man – not least his biting film reviews which are legendary. He was a very intelligent, very articulate man. So when he said that “Games Can Never Be Art”, some thought he had put his foot in it. Little did we know that was the beginning of a very pronounced change in the way we, and others, view our video games – both as customers and those working inside the industry. His acerbic assertion did wonders for the medium; and unlike a certain Tropes star, when Roger Ebert laid down his argument the Internet responded not with bile, or vulgarity, or anything of the sort. Thousands of people took the time to e-mail Mr. Ebert with thoughtful, articulate and imaginative arguments of their own and the majority were very respectful. Mr. Ebert succeeded where many had failed; he not only made us look at our medium as a medium, but he united us in a common cause and brought out the very best in us.
This might seem like a bit of rose-tinted wistful fancy, but Roger Ebert noted that he engaged and at times even enjoyed the discussion with the games industry. Not that he hated video games; oh no, Mr. Ebert had reviewed some games in the past and even liked them. This was not some statement intended to create a divide between the movie industry and the games industry; it was a statement that created a genuinely interesting discussion not just with him, but with others. With the industry itself. Indie developers wanted to prove their artistic credentials. Games like BioShock Infinite began life in the wake of the debate, ending up as artistic and more than the sum of their parts.
Even if “his standards” were so high that games couldn’t be art, the reality is that he was important enough – a Pulitzer-prize winning critic, the first to do so way back in 1975 – that his opinion held such weight, and gave us something to chew on. Even if you think he is wrong, or will eventually be proven wrong, his arguments were thoughtful, often insightful and focused not merely on the end product, but the processes involved in that end product. Also remember that Roger Ebert often lamented that movies themselves had been drifting from the artistic for some time, so his accusations were not merely limited to the video game market but the commercialised market of Hollywood as well.
Also know that Ebert was a shrewd businessman. He took the time to write a movie – 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Aside his Television and Columnist career, he was an early investor in Google, an investment that saw him make millions. Ebert was very into the Internet; especially after losing the majority of his jaw to cancer. He was not an old-fashioned man looking to grumble about modern technology; he obviously saw the potential in it, and with the Internet he garnered many more thousands of fans and followers than ever before. His biting critiques and acerbic wit were always enjoyed and relished.
For what it’s worth, I’m deeply saddened that he never got to see BioShock Infinite (or maybe he did?), or the next generation. Whilst he may not have been a dedicated gamer, I enjoyed his regular little challenges and discussions. I feel it is sometimes very nice to have that, and again, where some bring out the worst in the Internet, Mr. Ebert and his huge popularity and intelligence seemed to bring out the best in most of us. He is an irreplaceable man and I will mourn his departure from the mortal coil.
It was only a few days ago he was talking of retiring. Now he is gone.
Whatever you may think of the man, he was one of the worlds true greats. And for that, we should mourn, as there is unlikely to be anyone else who will challenge us and our industry to answer the call of artistry and soul in what we do and feel. I can’t see anyone else uniting us, or bringing out that passion in us.
A remarkable human being, still laughing to the end, as he published a cookbook; in spite of not having a jaw and not having the ability to smell or taste anything. His attitude was always sunny, always optimistic and I hope that we remember him not as a grumpy old man (which most will, sadly), but a man with a passion for life and a love of the finer things, even if that meant his standards were higher than the Empire State Building.
And I can never, ever be mad at a man who said; “To say that George Lucas cannot write a love scene is an understatement; greeting cards have expressed more passion.”
Goodbye, Mr. Ebert.
Hopefully we can thank you by, one day, proving you conclusively wrong…