Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
04 November 2007
Maybe Ebert's Right
I enjoy the movie reviews in The New Yorker. This week, I read David Denby's review of "American Gangster", a movie about 1970s drug kingpin Frank Lucas, and this passage stuck with me. It's all worthwhile, so I can't really boldface any specific line:
Our loyalties are split between the hero of virtue and the hero of vice. We don't have to choose, which is fine -- irresponsibility is one of the pleasures of narrative movies. But can we accept the movie's glorification of Frank Lucas in the terms in which it's offered? It's true that movie audiences have always relished gangsters. They act out our fantasies of unlimited aggression, and when they are punished with death we are purged of the guilt we've felt from enjoying their rampages. The greatest gangster movies, however, deepen this transaction, taking us closer to the gangster's hopes and illusions, and then turning them inside out. In "The Godfather: Part II," Michael Corleone grows in power and then ravages his family -- the thing he most wanted to protect -- and we can see him rotting like a dead oak.
Things that came to mind after I read this:

  • There are no heroes of virtue in GTA. It really is a one-sided portrayal.

  • We don't have to choose in GTA either, except not to play or just play driving/stunt games with its cars. Movies have an excuse for lack of choice (linear media) while games don't.

  • Unlimited aggression is rewarded handsomely in GTA but death is never a real, serious punishment. It's a minor setback, nothing more.

  • There is nothing even close to a character like Michael Corleone in GTA, or really any game. The GTA games are all scenery (to mimic specific movies) and no character.

Maybe Ebert's right.

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--Matt Matthews at 22:27
Comment [ 5 ]

Comments on this post:

What Ebert suggested was that videogames were inherently unsuitable for art. I don't see how GTA proves that. After all, just because good art is so rarely done in videogames doesn't mean it's not possible! It just means that videogame creators don't have enough imagination.

By Blogger Mory, at 05 November, 2007 03:55  

Eh - just give the medium time to grow; it wasn't that long ago where it wasn't even technically feasible for games to challenge movies or television with regards to scripting, acting, direction, etc.

By Blogger Dustin, at 05 November, 2007 04:55  

I think pitting any video game against The Godfather films is a tall order. Pitting 99% of movies against those films is a tall order.

GTA is more comparable to Scarface than the Godfather series - one sided, linear, violent.

However, I think the mixed bag that is Ebert's statement is that he has a little bit of truth ... interactivity is a hard mistress. I just think eventually we won't feel the need to compare games directly to literature or movies.

We're not there yet. But games, and games as narratives, are still evolving.

By Blogger Josh, at 05 November, 2007 11:55  

GTA is now satire. The tone of art is not always serious.

By Blogger Mordrak, at 05 November, 2007 23:20  

I don't think the Godfather comparison illustrates GTA's failure to be art. I think it merely illustrates GTA's failure to have a story on par with Godfather. The key word here is "story". Concluding that GTA isn't art after examining nothing more than it's story alone is akin to claiming that Kandinsky paintings and Beethoven's symphonies aren't art simply because they don't contain stories with heroes of virtue on the same level of Michael Corleone.

Essentially, what you are doing is evaluating a piece from one medium by another medium's standards, which is the same fallacy Ebert has committed. You might as well say the Mona Lisa isn't art because it lacks melody and percussion on par with Beethoven.

But then again, I consider any discussion about what is and isn't art to be more an issue of semantics than anything, since it's one of those words of which the very definition is highly disputed. It's just too nebulous to have a meaningful discussion about it. If society can pin down a definition of the word "art", then we can bicker about what does and doesn't fit the mold. Otherwise the whole debate is futile.

By Blogger Abscissa, at 08 November, 2007 21:00  

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