News Article

Video Gaming's Unexpected Critic Passes Away After Battle With Cancer

Posted by Damien McFerran

Roger Ebert once insisted that video games "could never be art"


Film critic Roger Ebert has passed away at the age of 70 after a long battle with cancer.

You might wonder why such news is being featured on a video gaming site, but Ebert was unwittingly embroiled in a battle of wits with gamers when he stated in one of his columns that video games could never reach the status of art. He would later mellow on this stance, earning the respect of gamers all over the globe for his considered and thoughtful response to their protests.

Ebert was arguably the world's most well-known movie critic, having started his career in 1967, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1975, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism — the first film critic to win the accolade. He would become a household name thanks to his television partnership with fellow critic Gene Siskel, which would continue until Siskel's death in 1999.

In recent years, Ebert's health had been impacted by cancer. In 2002 he lost his jaw — along with his ability to speak and eat normally — to thyroid cancer. Last Decemeber, a hip fracture was also revealed to be cancer, and in a blog post only this week, he stated that he would be taking a leave of absence due to ill-health.

Nintendo Life's thoughts are with Ebert's family. While he may have been a dogged and vocal critic of interactive entertainment, he was also man enough to listen to the other side of the debate — something which other critics of video games aren't always prepared to do.

Rest in peace, Roger — we hope they have good movie theatres where you are now.

[via eurogamer.net, bbc.co.uk]

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User Comments (71)

Cipher

#2

Cipher said:

My thoughts are with his wife and their family. Terribly sad news.

"I do not fear death. I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear."

MeloMan

#4

MeloMan said:

These guys were my childhood... Long live the memory of both Siskel and Ebert.

kkslider5552000

#5

kkslider5552000 said:

R.I.P.

I still love his Wizard review where "even a dummy like me knows that they only got to level 1" of the old NES TMNT game.

Lobster

#6

Lobster said:

I am so terribly sad. He was a real hero of mine.

We really missed out, btw. From his final blog post:
"In response to your repeated requests to bring back the TV show "At the Movies," I am launching a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter in the next couple of weeks. And gamers beware, I am even thinking about a movie version of a video game or mobile app. Once completed, you can engage me in debate on whether you think it is art."

Also from that same post:
"Thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."

RIP, sir.

Klimbatize

#7

Klimbatize said:

Sad news. He was a great critic because even if I didn't agree with his opinion, I could always tell from his review if I would enjoy the film or not. That's rare from most reviewers. He will be missed.

HawkeyeWii

#9

HawkeyeWii said:

Damn!! I didn't know he had cancer! I actually just read one of his reviews on rotten tomatoes not to long ago. This guy was awesome! RIP Ebert, movie reviews will never be the same!

Lobster

#10

Lobster said:

@HawkeyeWii Whenever I see a movie trailer, I immediately think, "Oh, I wonder what Roger Ebert will have to say about that?!" I was thinking that just this morning about Catching Fire and This Is The End.

SirQuincealot

#12

SirQuincealot said:

I kind of agree on the video games not being art, video games cannot crate a emotional repose the way movies or books can (but art is personal so i'll give them that) but video games have too much choice to be art, art is art because the artist is giving you a personal view into their soul, if you can pick and choose what to do it takes away form the so called masterpiece.

Having said all that,

Rest in piece Roger

DarkLloyd

#13

DarkLloyd said:

@SirQuincealot

i respectfully disagree, video games can create a emotional response, take the walking dead telltale game for instance. however i dont expect that to apply to everyone.

Electricmastro

#14

Electricmastro said:

This is what he said regarding his death:

"I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris." - Roger Ebert, R.I.P.

Xilef

#15

Xilef said:

Rest in peace Mr. Ebert. Now you can discuss old movies with the people who made them.

To be honest, i haven't really read anything of his work. I only knew about him from an episode of "The Gameoverthinker", but going by that episode he seemed like a nice guy. Looks like i have some catching up to do.

Tony_342

#16

Tony_342 said:

Mr. Ebert was the only movie critic whose opinion actually mattered to me. Even on those rare occasions where I disagreed with what he had to say, I still very much enjoyed reading his work (whether it was about movies or anything else). I've always admired his intelligence and ability to express his views so eloquently.

RR529

#17

RR529 said:

I've never followed movies that much, so I'm personally not too familiar with his work, but he's definitely a household name, and I pray for the best for his family & fans.

Rest in peace, Mr. Ebert.

BakaKnight

#18

BakaKnight said:

I read the linked articles out of curiosity and I was impressed; he was respectful, smart and clear in defining his opinions.
A man able to gain your respect while explaining a perspective you disagree with it's a type of great person which is extremly rare nowadays.

May he rest in peace.

SkywardLink98

#20

SkywardLink98 said:

@Cipher Well if there is nothing to fear, is there anything to look forward to? If the answer is no, then that's a pretty grim outlook on life.

Captain_Balko

#21

Captain_Balko said:

He was a great critic and will forever be missed. I didn't always agree with him, but regardless, I enjoyed reading his reviews and he was clearly a very educated gentleman who was a genius in his field.

@SirQuincealot

The definition of art:
"The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture,...: 'the art of the Renaissance' "

Let's look at this, shall we? "Expression or application of human creative skill and imagination". Do people apply their creative skills and imagination to games? Yes, I think it is quite obvious that they do. "Typically in a visual form". Can you see video games? Then they are visual. Video games are, by the standard definition, art. That much is unquestionable.

But you claim art must provoke an emotional response as well. I don't know about you, but to me, not every piece of art I look at provokes an emotional response. A lot of time, I see a painting or listen to music and can't help but let out a resounding "meh". Other times, I feel a connection and the piece of art deeply affects me. Personally, I've played many video games that have released an emotional response. When I finished Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I felt joy - which was what the creators wanted me to feel. At the end of Dragon Quest IX, I felt a burst of emotions (a little happy, but a little sad too). At the end of Batman: Arkham City, I was quite sad and a little shocked, which is what the creators said was their intention to make the gamers feel. You can't tell me that a video game has never triggered an honest emotional response from you - and if you can, perhaps you just aren't playing the right games.

Also, the point that "video games give you too many choices" isn't correct either. First of all, art isn't one sided. The point isn't to "see the artists intention", it's to interpret the art and discover how it applies to you. Therefore, art itself has choices within it. Furthermore, often the most emotional triggering part of a game is it's story. Many games have the player play through a set story that has set plot points and a set ending - the only choice is what buttons you press in order to defeat enemies and overcome challenges. So even if it was true that art cannot involve choice (which I disagree with anyways), many games are like movies with set interactive elements - if you consider movies art, you have to consider video games art.

Please consider my arguments.

The_Fox

#22

The_Fox said:

Its a shame. I didn't always agree with the guy but I have to give him credit for his outlook on life after cancer took so much from him.

Ren

#23

Ren said:

I'm not going to go into the weird debate about "what art is and isn't", but I'll say that this is a big loss for Chicago and for brilliant writing. We're all mourning here in the windy city.

theblackdragonAdmin

#24

theblackdragon said:

I may not have always agreed with everything he had to say, but his writing was always wonderful to read. I'm going to miss him.

sinalefa

#28

sinalefa said:

I respect him and read his work regarding movies.
Since he knew so little about games, i dont care what he thought of them beyond the usual "i respectfully disagree with you"

I am sure he had a long and meaningful life, thats the most important thing

Henmii

#29

Henmii said:

I didn't know him, but my condolences!

However, he was wrong about games being no art! Games really can be art, it's just that many old-fashioned/high brow people don't want to admit that!

Funny thing is that those same people do defend books/music/paintings from people that live dubious lives to say the least. Books that are written by criminals, books full of vulgarity, books written by alcoholists, etc. Those are all considered art, while at the same time they think games are rubbish! Think about it!

Personally I think games could do with less violence (Bioshock infinite is very artsy, but seems to have lots of violence), but that's another story!

MarkyVigoroth

#31

MarkyVigoroth said:

To be honest, given how he seems to be at odds with gamers, I expected people here to CONGRATULATE his death... even saying that he DESERVED to die of cancer!

WaLzgiStaff

#32

WaLzgi said:

It was only a matter of time. He's been having it rough for a while :(

I always loved the parody Animaniacs did for him and Gene Siskel just because they bashed the show :D

@MarkyVigoroth Perhaps people aren't as heartless as you think they are? Cancer is a tough battle to win, no matter who you are.

MasterGraveheart

#33

MasterGraveheart said:

While I didn't always agree with his opinion, I still respected it and let it stand at that. Rest in peace, Roger.

Magikarp3

#34

Magikarp3 said:

Wow. Roger Ebert was a seriously respected and intelligent man, I'm sure a lot of people myself included are saddened by his passing.

and @MarkyVigoroth, I find it rather disrespectful when people celebrate another's death just because they disagreed with one of their points of view. I'm glad to see this site doesn't have any disrespectful people :)

AJWolfTill

#35

AJWolfTill said:

This is sad news indeed, I remeber reading a response to one of those 1001 movies to see before you die in which he said he still had a few dozen left but was carefully rationing them. I hope the films he saw near the end were able to bring him the same happiness that they gave him throughout his life.

RantingThespian

#37

RantingThespian said:

I may not have agreed with him on every movie review (he did not like my favorite movie BRAZIL), or on his stance that video games are not art, but I had the utmost respect for him. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

Bakajin

#38

Bakajin said:

RIP Mr. Ebert. It was a punch in the gut to me when Gene Siskel passed away and no less with you. You will be missed.

WanderFan91

#39

WanderFan91 said:

I was shocked when I heard the news; even though I may not have always agreed with his reviews, I respected his opinions
R.I.P. Roger Ebert

GreenDream

#40

GreenDream said:

Jeez, never realized his body was running the gamut of just about every possible deadly ailment feared in the modern Western world... No one should have to go through that intense suffering.

I don't think he ever came to terms with the fact that any media is just as viable as any other- each serves their own purpose... and each are just as mortal as their creators.

All that exists is temporary, and must eventually come to the end of it's cycle. So his end is met, yet so long as he is not forgotten, his memorial lifespan is no lesser than his critiques. So, too, will we one day know the truth, as he now does. See you on the other side... The cycle begins anew.

GreenDream

#41

GreenDream said:

@MarkyVigoroth You would be looking for IGN, or Destructoid, or one of those other troll-tastic media giant gaming sites. The Nintendo Life community is better than that!

Swiket

#42

Swiket said:

This is so tangentially related to video games that not even Kotaku reported about it.

Tasuki

#43

Tasuki said:

R.I.P. Mr Ebert I always enjoyed reading and hereing your reviews even if I didnt agree with them at the time. Whenever I think of him I always think of the catch phrase two thumbs up.

Zombie_Barioth

#44

Zombie_Barioth said:

R.I.P Mr. Ebert, he may have passed away but at least hes no longer suffering. My thoughts go out to his family as well, my family has been in a similar situation as well.

@MarkyVigoroth I think thats a good thing. The only "celebrating" that should be taking place is that which is intended to give someone a proper send off and celebrate their life.

ToxieDogg

#49

ToxieDogg said:

Really sorry to hear about this. I've followed his reviews for many years, often look back at old Siskel and Ebert clips on Youtube if I'm watching an older movie for the first time and respected the guy's thoughts and opinions, even though I didn't always agree with them. Certainly he was one of the better critics around. RIP.

TotalHenshin

#50

TotalHenshin said:

I felt I disagreed with his reviews more than I agreed with them, but it was very rare that I'd ever find his reviews to be anything less than very greatly written. Good bye, sir.

Kroisos

#51

Kroisos said:

I started watching Siskel and Ebert at about the time I started playing my 2600. I will miss him.

Zodiak13

#52

Zodiak13 said:

I also rarely agreed with his reviews, or most critics really, but his opinions never really angered me like some do. I understood the reasoning behind his opinions even if they were contrary to my own. RIP.

Andyjm

#54

Andyjm said:

A considered and articulate article on a considered and articulate man.

Lunapplebloom

#55

Lunapplebloom said:

I never heard about this man till now, though I may have forgotten somehow...

In anycase, he shall be missed by many.

Intrepid

#56

Intrepid said:

I did not know about him, but he has my sympaty for all the hardships he has experienced.

ToneDeath

#57

ToneDeath said:

Ebert was the only film critic I read on a regular basis, and as someone who would like to make films of his own, it's disappointing to know that even if I ever do manage it I'll never get to read him say 'Your movie sucks!'
For anybody who loves films, his 'Great Movies' articles are a must-read.

Ralizah

#59

Ralizah said:

:(

Been a fan of his movie reviews for years. This news is so depressing...

Well, he had a good run. You'll always be one of my favorite movie critics, Mr. Ebert...

A1234

#60

A1234 said:

also note he was on the news the night before he died. they said his cancer came back and that he can't talk, but that he will continue to write about movies and that he had some other ideas about what to do. so, the next day news was a complete shock.

Cirno

#61

Cirno said:

He was a good man. Yes, I don't agree with everything he said, but he wasn't a douche about anyone who disagreed with him, he was surprisingly respectful.

Mario500

#62

Mario500 said:

"In recent years, Ebert's health had been impacted by cancer. In 2002 he lost his jaw — along with his ability to speak and eat normally — to thyroid cancer"

Roger Ebert actually lost part of his jaw and his ability to speak in 2006, not 2002.

guest37

#63

guest37 said:

apart from the fact that he attacked video games as a hodge podge of nonsense, he was just another lucky basement kiddy with a webcam (yes i know, he used a VHS or betacam camcorder back then but i am making a similar analogy) who was able to get himself on broadcast media. how was this old man any different from the thousands of informed reviewers we now see online on youtube, vimeo and so on? he wasn't.
we can have this discussion without being nasty, thank you — TBD

Blue-Thunder

#64

Blue-Thunder said:

That's very sad news. I read his reviews all the time on IMDB.
Are video games art? who cares, it is in the eye of the beholder

SirQuincealot

#65

SirQuincealot said:

@Gameday i play many games, and a few have been close to art maybe, but i dont really feel it can be art when you are controlling it, art is something that you let happen to you, not the other way around

there are some that probobly get close (fallout 3/ portal 2) but even than you dont come away from those changed as much as a movie like Cloud Atlas, which i personally think is the point of art, to emotionally affect someone on a deep level. Maybe some people can view video games like that (as art as very personal) but dont see video games that way.

Any suggestions that you can think of that will change my viewpoint?

SirQuincealot

#66

SirQuincealot said:

@Captain_Balko i too get emotions like joy and sadness when playing video games, but those are very surface emotions, art should connect on a deeper level than that, it should make you think, it should make you question things (life the world, whatever) and while nintendo does make excellent video games that are enjoyable i would not consider them art. many may disagree,

but i will say this and it probobly applies to most people that video games have never made me cry.

SirQuincealot

#67

SirQuincealot said:

@BestBuck123 for someone who claims to be a fan you sure miss the point, critics write what they do not to tell people what to see, but to start a discussion about it, to say who cares its in the eye of the beholder is to discredit every artist ever. artist do what they do to get a emotional response from people, and to say who cares takes away the entire point of art (which is essentially arguing about which is better) and im sure thats how the artists like it

JebbyDeringer

#68

JebbyDeringer said:

There was a huge uproar when he claimed video games are not art, I was one who completely agreed with him. Blockbuster video games especially take their plot lines (as shallow as many of them are) directly from movies. The original Call of Duty ripped it's plot directly from the WWII movies that were big at the time, it was complete Deja-Vu. Granted you can say that most blockbuster movies aren't art either, they are just explosions. There are games worthy of calling art though being interactive it's hard to classify them as such. I think Ebert would have enjoyed some of the more subtle games like Machinarium, Limbo, and others I can't think of at the moment. If any game is art it's a stylish game that doesn't require you to be a "gamer" to enjoy.

AlexSora89

#70

AlexSora89 said:

I think his stance on VGs changed definitely when Wreck-It Ralph (3/4 stars review IIRC) gave the audience the possibility to explore gaming in a respectful (both to newcomers and hardcore gamers alike) way.

The article's ending is as poignant as it gets. RIP, Roger.

Captain_Balko

#71

Captain_Balko said:

@SirQuincealot Okay, let's look at it from a different viewpoint. Novels are considered art. The part of a novel that makes it "art" are the themes explored. The same goes for movies. A major aspect of art is exploring themes.
Many video games do an absolutely excellent job of exploring themes - especially RPGs. These themes are often as potent as themes explored in movies, novels, short stories, et cetera. The thing is, a video game involves writing a story like many other forms of art. So, maybe one can argue that the interactive segments of a video game aren't art, but professional writers write stories for video games, just like professional writers write screenplays or novels, and the writers of these games include themes and take their work very seriously. The point I'm trying to make can be outlined in the following syllogism.
Good Themes indicate Art,
Video Games often use Good Themes,
Ergo, some Video Games are Art.

As for the idea of something "changing you", I can honestly say that video games have changed me more than movies or novels. After finishing games like Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Dragon Quest IX, I couldn't help but think differently about things.

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