July 1st, 2010

Erstwhile Concept Art


I'm trying not to use that word too much, but lately it seems to be the best descriptor of my life. For example, in about seventy-five minutes' time, it'll be Canada Day in every quarter of our fair dominion, from St. John's to Vancouver Island. And I'm celebrating by watching Army of Darkness and playing Secret of Evermore (on my dual-screen setup, natch) while drinking Coke Zero.

On Monday, I found a not-really-precious stone I'd bought in Saskatoon among a laundry basket full of liquor bottles which, if videotaped, may well have earned me a basic cable national television slot on the Hoarders programme. I'd been keeping those bottles since college on the pretext that they were "interesting." Ultimately, my investigation revealed precisely one bottle, a 375 mL "Mercurey" 1998, to which I could attach a legitimate memory: imbibing it with my best friend Shain one fateful morning, the appetizer course of one of those hazy summer days when last year's educational failures are far enough gone and next year's expectations are far enough away for the transitional student to lose themselves in a total cloud of personal worldliness.

The stone was purchased at one of those sort of Wiccan-mythological shops which also sells incense and texts regarding how to draw your soul mate by articulating the correct pattern of table salt on your carpeted basement floor. A young man came in, immediately fixating on the shelves directly in front of the proprietor, and soon he asked whether the store carried any literature "on blood-magic." I was old enough at this point to recognize a troll when I saw one, but it was hardly my place to deal with him in a strict manner -- so as the lady behind the counter fixed the youth with a steely gaze, I informed him in ambivalent terms, "that's not something you wanna mess with, dude." Whether he took my warning at its value against the actual act or the ire of the owner, I'll never know, but he departed immediately. I bought the stones I'd selected, more on superficial prettiness than any actual belief in their supernatural abilities (though still with an eye to each) and took my leave. One stone was a gift to my sister. The other, apparently, was a gift to myself, at the exact point in time when I found it, well after I'd forgotten its existence.

It's a clear stone, almost entirely transparent, a little bit white when viewed from the far side of a light source. I have no idea if the circumstances match up to its purported abilities. It rests on the left-side television, equidistant between Mewtwo, Bowser, and Captain Dragon, with Don Cherry (and Blue) off to the side. If anyone has any ideas as to its meaning or power, well, your advice will slot in nicely with the nature of the week I seem to have endured. Seventy-four days to go.
Cautious Pessimism

Pour acid on this man's lawn.

You'd think after the last two times I touched on the subject, I'd be done with Roger Ebert. Well, sadly, he's decided he can't leave it off, and thus neither can I. It'd be fine if his latest screed merely said, "that's it, I'm done with it, goodbye." And it does, for the first few paragraphs or so. He almost comes off as conciliatory, willing to admit the error in judgment that we all pointed out so quickly: his total lack of reference (I can't even say "frame of reference" because that would imply his chasm of ignorance had some sort of method to it) towards video games.

If only he'd seen fit to stop after that. Gradually, his humility turns to subtle mockery: "how could I disagree?" becomes "If I could save the works of Shakespeare by sacrificing all the video games in existence, I would do it without a moment's hesitation" in the space of a few passages, delineated helpfully by an image from Clive Barker's Jericho, lifted wholesale from IGN, as we can tell from the intact watermark. He implies that we would all value the full output of a single playwright over an entirely unique medium, which is fallacious at best. My dad has several copies of the complete collected works of Shakespeare, most of them in large-print hard-bound editions. Together, these copies occupy about a third of one of our standard living room bookshelves. A full collection of every video game ever made would take up an entire side of my house. But hey, okay, the guy doesn't know games, can't blame him for completely fucking up the semantics.

On he goes, playing the experience card: "I disagreed with them about age, which I know more about than most of them". We get it! You're an old man, therefore your opinion is worth something. But this is a way of saying that it's worth more than mine, or Clive Barker's, or anyone else who would dare disagree with you, and that's a blatant lie. Hell, it's outright propaganda, given how it reaches out to grasp the hands of those who might also be thinking, "I'm old, therefore I must be right." Like a thirty-five-year-old thinking all us twenty-somethings must be crazy to think games are art. Yeah, that guy's got so much more experience to validate his line of thinking! Thanks for dealing him that comfirmation of sheltered identity instead of helping him to open up to new possibilites. If you criticized films the way you did gaming, you'd be telling everyone to stick to action-thrillers with recycled plots. You never would've gone to Cannes, and I know you went to Cannes because you keep fucking reminding us. Am I supposed to be impressed? Tell you what, I'll be as impressed as you are that any given game reviewer went to E3.

Then he props up an old standby in the form of Huckleberry Finn. First of all, I liked Tom Sawyer better, so I clearly have no place whatsoever in this debate (not that anyone of his mentality could've read this far down in my entry, I'm sure. Preaching to my choir as he salutes his megachurch.) Second, he goes off about an informal poll which he conducted on Twitter -- wait, is that ironic? I can't wait for the "Twitter isn't art either" article! But he admits that it proves nothing, though not until after the results have turned against his favour of course.

Finally, we get to the meat of the article, the only part that really needed to be posted in my opinion. The definition of Art. That's with a capital A, to prove that Art is really as Serious and Important and Worth Debating In Those Contexts. He quotes a dictionary, presumably the Oxford English. I kind of wish he'd gone to Urban Dictionary's definition instead, but that's neither here nor there.
I thought about those works of Art that had moved me most deeply. I found most of them had one thing in common: Through them I was able to learn more about the experiences, thoughts and feelings of other people. My empathy was engaged. I could use such lessons to apply to myself and my relationships with others. They could instruct me about life, love, disease and death, principles and morality, humor and tragedy. They might make my life more deep, full and rewarding.

This is fine, Roger! This is a grand definition. It encompasses a great many things I can describe as "artistic" in my own life. Literature, theatre, films, video games, chalk drawings on the sidewalk, random acts of nature, the way a human being walks down the street. Something that attracts me to view them, to think critically about them, or about myself, or other people, or just react instinctually. It all flows from the vivid tautalogy you have just described.

So why did you step back from it?

The very next paragraph, he "admits" that he can't explain what the "it" part is that makes him think about the art. He just sort of knows, man! He just gets "it." And, buried in this seemingly deep message, he's saying that we don't. We're not old enough, experienced enough, mature enough, anything enough. Think back to his accusation that games wouldn't be art in my (not his) lifetime: we, our generation, will never be anything enough. Well fuck off. As the cap-off, his dismissal is reiterated as doubt in our capabilities. Well fuck off again.

I may not get "it," Roger, but I get you. I know how it is: you saw the pagehits you were getting from writing about these vidya game thingies, more than all your words about all the latest Twilight movies combined, and you decided it was in your best interest as a self-promoter to whack our hive again. And here I am, buzzing around your head. But I'm not just writing this to sting and die as you might expect. (See that? An effacing admission of my own interests, couched by the weasel term of "not just" so as to subconsciously present me in a more favourable light, which is eye-covering wool shorn from the same sheep as he's raising in his farm.) I have some advice for you to follow.

I mentioned your article, "I'm a Proud Brainiac", in a prior entry. In it, you related a quote from the late Gene Siskel: "There is a point when a personal opinion shades off into an error of fact." That's you about video games, Roger. On their artistry, on their quality, on the whole goddamn shindig. You know nothing. You are wrong. I can't say it any more clearly than that.

Therefore, what you should do is go back and delete all three articles you have written on the subject, as well as any others that I might be unaware of. Remove them outright. Remove all the discussion that ensued, both positive and negative. I wish you could remove all the syndicated links and comments on all the gaming blogs that keep mentioning you too, but you'll just have to do what you can. Then post a short entry, no more than a few sentences, without linked (watermarked) images, stating that you have performed this removal. Something like: "I have removed a selection of articles regarding video games. This is a website for reviews and discussion of films." Nothing more than that, not even the phrase "nothing more." You should probably lock the comments so that people will take their debate elsewhere, too. Hell, I'll even match you for deletions and take down the three responses I've written -- you can't tell me you wouldn't be glad to see my instructions for "Roger Ebert is a Cunt Bastard" disappear from the Internet.

If you truly, earnestly believe yourself when you say that you should not have written about video games, put your money where your mouth is. You can't erase the entirety of your effect on the culture at large, but when you own up to your mistakes, you're not supposed to use your apology to aggrandize yourself in the manner of Marc Anthony at Caesar's funeral (which is a reference I just realized I don't get, as it seems someone's erased it from the space-time continuum. But I doublechecked my shelves and all my video games are okay.) As long as you continue to attack an entire generation over a chosen medium, there will be a war. I expect the grass will be a little thinner in front of your house next summer.