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Film Critic Thinks Video Games Can Be Art

Film Critic Thinks Video Games Can Be Art (photo)

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At this point, the “Ebert vs. video games” hatchet’s been semi-buried, except when the man himself exhumes to take a whack at the dead-horse argument all over again. (Metaphor-mixing happens every day, people. Just roll with it.)

The last check-in (on July 1, 2010) had Ebert being kinda won over by the overwhelming responses to yet another critical dismissal he ran last April, saying essentially that he needed to learn more about the medium he was ragging on.

I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place. I would never express an opinion on a movie I hadn’t seen. Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.

I should not have written that entry without being more familiar with the actual experience of video games.

Since then, the Chicago Sun-Times film critic’s been largely silent on the matter of video games’s cultural merits. However, this weekend saw Ebert giving one of his recurring Foreign Correspondent slots to Michael Mirasol, the Filipino blogger known as FlipCritic. Mirasol writes often and passionately about film but this column in particular serves a knowledgeable defense of how and why video games can be considered art. In fact, the whole column serves as a nice capsule history of the evolution of aesthetics in games.

Narrative had been associated with the medium for quite some time, but initially as a marketing tool. Read the box covers for Atari’s “Berzerk,” “Defender,” or “Missle Command” and you’ll be told what your character, your tasks, and your overall mission will be. But in reality you’ll be shooting colorful lines fired from one pixilated blob to a whole host of others.

Mirasol also capture how the original chromosomes of the video game replicated beyond its early key texts, moving from a competitive pastime to something more:

Perhaps the very description is the problem, as “games” deal mainly with strategy and competition. But a video game is a different beast, one that has evolved significantly past its forbearers. It isn’t merely a game, but a medium, conveying information and artistry that has yet to hit its stride. Its capability for human expression is not a replacement for its original purpose, but a complement.

As to be expected, Mirasol name-checks some significant games of the last five years and a few–like Jonathan Blow’s “Braid”–are staples of the games-as-art argument. But, he also digs at the state of video game criticism and offers that reviews focusing only on the component parts of a game do little to elucidate the experiential appeal of playing a video game there. It’s a common but sound argument. If gamers want people to believe that their beloved medium is capable of carrying emotional affect in its highly technological form, then they need start talking about them as such.

Where Mirasol ultimately winds up is to say that video games doesn’t yet have the context or a canon of exemplary examples for a mass of people to consider them as art. I don’t know if I agree with that, but Mirasol at least opens the doors to having that conversation a bit wider. In Ebert’s backyard, no less. There may be hope for Mr. Thumbs Up yet.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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