Fun and Games

December 03, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

First, a Mojolingo update: Based on the advice of a reader, I blocked Mojolingo's IP address so they can no longer re-direct to ReelViews. This means anyone accessing through them is getting nowhere. I just checked and the proper link has also been restored to its #1 position on Google. (The Mojolingo link is #2 but that doesn't matter because it's a dead end.) Thanks to everyone who helped with suggestions, encouragement, commiseration, and e-mails to Google. Now, on to today's topic...

From Roger Ebert's Answer Man, November 29, 2007:

Q. In your recent review of "Hitman," you boldly stated (again) the impossibility of videogames achieving the status of "art." I'm sure you again got flooded with e-mails arguing for one side or the other. What I'm wondering is, why bother? There is no universal definition of what art is or isn't. You can't possibly be surprised that a blanket statement that says "x isn't art" will elicit a contrary response. There is no right answer (especially in a world where a can of soup can be "art" if displayed as part of an exhibit). I do have a feeling you enjoy winding people up over this though.
Daniel Kozimor, Mississauga, Ontario

A. Well, maybe I do. But it also involves deep love of movies and a regret that millions and millions of life-hours could be invested more fruitfully.

This is an old, old subject that comes up every few weeks over at Roger's site, and I have even discussed it here before. This specific question, however, raises a couple of issues I want to address. My perspective on video games is fundamentally different from Roger's. He tends to look from the outside, while I look from the inside. I am what would properly be called a "casual gamer." I have various gaming consoles and a selection of titles for the PC. Realistically, I have more games than I could ever play. When it comes to free time, I parcel it out according to what I feel like doing at a given time: reading a book, watching TV, (re)watching a movie, writing, or playing a game.

The first issue is the question of whether a game can be art. This is one that no one is going to be able to answer at this time, and it can be contentious. I can understand Roger's stance, although I don't necessarily agree with it. As yet, I have not seen a video or computer game that I would classify as being "art." However, I believe it can happen. As technology advances and people become more creative in developing games, something is going to come along that will astound and amaze with its artistic potential. The key, as Mr. Kozimor indicates, is a willingness to think outside the box when it comes to defining art. There were probably countless people living 80 years ago who believed cinema was a cheap trick and didn't deserve to be considered art. That may be where we are with respect to video games today. As an art form, cinema is young. Video games are still in the crib. Let them start walking and talking before condemning them for being unproductive members of the art society.

The other issue relates to Roger's comment about "a regret that millions and millions of life-hours could be invested more fruitfully." Although probably not intended that way, this sounds arrogant. Roger is implying that playing video games is a waste of time but watching movies is not. Two points need to be elucidated. First, there are people out there who consider the act of watching movies (even "artistic" ones) to be a waste of time. I'm obviously not one of them, but they exist. Secondly, I'm not of the opinion that just because something doesn't fall into the category of being artistic or educational, it is therefore a waste of time. People need to unwind. They need to relax. They need to have fun. Video and computer games allow them to do all three. If others are involved, it can be a social activity. Some of the best times I ever had playing video games were years ago on Sunday afternoons when my sister and I would spend a few hours in front of a TV swinging from vines and jumping on barrels. Not an intellectual or productive activity, but it made Sunday afternoons something to look forward to.

Given a choice, I would usually rather re-watch a favorite movie than spend two hours playing a video game. I say "usually," because there are times when I would prefer the latter. Just like there are times when I'd rather collapse on the couch and watch Mythbusters than slide a movie into the DVD player. Sports enters the equation too. Watching sporting events can be as easily considered wasteful as playing video games. I'm a big baseball fan; I watch a lot of Phillies games. Sometimes I multi-task but not always. If I recall correctly, Roger was at one time a big Chicago Bulls fan (don't know if that's still the case), so he understands the enjoyment that can come from watching sports. It's a lot like the enjoyment that can come from playing video games.

If there's a point to this, it's to urge tolerance. Just because something doesn't work for one person doesn't mean it fails for everyone else as well. Roger's hard-line stance has irritated many people. I'm not among them, but I'm easy. However, I think it's worthwhile to throw out a contrary opinion and indicate that not all film critics share Roger's beliefs regarding video games, art, and time wasting.