From: Josh Korr, St. Petersburg Times
To Roger Ebert: I think the fact that you haven't played games is relevant, but only to a certain degree. Most people jumped on that just because it was an easy way of dismissing anything you had to say. And yeah, it would be a good thing if you tried games sometime, but it'll probably just confirm what you already suspect.
Nobody has convinced you there's a game you simply have to play because, well, there aren't any. At least not according to the criteria you're talking about. I rave about a game called "Guitar Hero" -- essentially a very realistic guitar simulator -- but I recommend it the same way I'd recommend a great mini-golf course or theme park, not the way I'd recommend "Pulp Fiction" or "Kavalier and Clay."
I just read your review of "Silent Hill," and I love the part about characters constantly "pausing in order to offer arcane back-stories and historical perspectives and metaphysical insights and occult orientations." The funny thing is, that's exactly how video games are! Information and character is given almost entirely through a narrator or tedious expository dialogue. Because the expositions and dialogue are so cliched and stilted (and, yes, chock full of metaphysical insights and occult orientations), and the major plot points are about as subtle as superhero fights, I usually tune them out right away. So the story, such as it is, doesn't matter anyway because I can't/don't want to follow it.
One example: A game called "Indigo Prophecy" was wildly overpraised last year because it purported to be a "cinematic" experience." But this sums up the level of writing in the game: At one point my character goes to visit an old lady to help figure out why he's been possessed. She turns out to be blind but reassures him thusly: "One need not have eyes to see." So "Silent Hill"'s laughable dialogue is no doubt just being faithful to the source material.
This actually makes video game criticism somewhat tough, and partly explains why so much of that criticism is woefully unsophisticated. There are many ways to approach a movie, many different elements ripe for analysis and criticism. But video games usually don't have stories, characters, or dialogue worth analyzing. They're shot according to what makes a game most playable, not according to which angle best serves a story or theme. And they're either fantasy or so tangentially related to the real world that it can be hard to contextualize them. What you're left with is talking about the technical aspects and some more elusive criteria of "fun" or "playability."
I very consciously try to elevate my game reviews (in the St. Petersburg Times) and make them more interesting than the typical checklist review that goes through the graphics, sound, brief story, and so on. But it's hard sometimes. I like my game reviews, but they're narrower in scope than my movie reviews.
Anyway, I think it's great that you're talking about this at all. It says a lot about the video game world that nobody else was grappling with the issue until you said something about it.