This past week, Ebert, still the most recognizable film critic in the United States, caught wind of a mainstream appraisal of Dark Souls and found it fit his view of video games as an intellectually bankrupt entertainment medium. "This critic took 100 hours to play the 'video game of the year,' and found it a soul-deadening exercise," Ebert tweeted, with a rhetorical cough for effect.
Frankly, I agree. I think Dark/Demon's Souls has been genuflected to enough. In qualifying high scores for it reviewers admit that it's not a game for everyone, which adds to its exclusionary cachet and makes completing it an argumentative trump card. Ebert should know that, for a lot of gamers, his snark wasn't anything new. It was just a second layer of snobbery, atop one of this medium's snobbiest games.
For starters, implying Dark Souls is the consensus "Video Game of the Year," is bullshit. It may be someone's video game of the year, but it is far from a universal choice. We lack a mechanism such as the Oscars that gives a work the mainstream best-of-the-year certification Ebert has applied. Portal 2 was Kotaku's game of the year. Others gave it to Arkham City or Skyrim. I think Ebert could find fault with any of the stories those games present.
That's the story, not the game, and I think Ebert is reacting to this criticism as if it was a 100-hour film, the medium he knows best. Any film that delivers a "soul-deadening" experience is primarily the failure of its messengers. Waterworld? Heaven's Gate? Ebert pins the same responsibility on games. No. An interactive medium is a two way street. This is probably why studies show there are so many games laying unfinished in gamers' collections (if not sold or traded off later). How many friends do you have with unwatched DVDs in their collections? (Whatever Netflix disc is laying on the coffee table does not count.)
This is precisely the kind of apples-to-oranges thought exercise a guy like Ebert wants others to get into. Let's not. We're firmly convinced video games are an art form. Fine. I feel no more compelled to defend Dark Souls or give a shit what Roger Ebert says about it than I do when an actual video gamer calls Dark Souls the game of the year, and I wholeheartedly disagree.
There is no disputing about tastes. I'm sure Ebert understands that, but he doesn't extend the same courtesy to video games, maybe because he doesn't consider them an art form. But a dispute is, like the soul-dead 100 hours in Dark Souls a two way street. We can unilaterally treat video games as art—something in which tastes can not be disputed—if we don't dispute Ebert's tastes in them. Which means ignoring whatever he has to say about them.
Hey folks, Something Negative is a rant. Love it or hate it, we all need to blow off steam on Fridays. Let yours out in the comments.