Warren Spector asks “where is gaming’s Roger Ebert?” PAR is confused by the question
In his latest column on GamesIndustry.biz, Warren Spector posed the question "Where is gaming's Roger Ebert?"
It's an interesting question, but not from the standpoint that Spector asks it. Surely, gaming would benefit greatly from having a singular voice that encouraged the common person to think about gaming from a critical perspective, but I'm not sure it's possible for anyone to become a Roger Ebert-like figure anymore.
Ebert's message reached out to the common person in past years because the mediums he was working with at the time were still suited to the task. Today, media is built around the idea that nobody should ever have to spend a moment thinking about something they don't already care about.
Whatever your interest is, you can find niche websites, television channels, and other publications that are directly suited to entertaining you. There is no more opportunity to catch channel surfers with At the Movies or to lure in bored commuters with a newspaper critique about a new film. People are simply too entertained to bother with finding new interests.
Beyond that, there's the issue with considering the newspaper audience to be mainstream at all. Even something like the New York Times is geared toward a highly affluent, wealthy readership and, while everyone is worth reaching out to, the New York Times is not a mainstream readership by any stretch.
Finally there's the fact that authorship in video games is a relatively new phenomenon. There have always been brilliant games, but for most of their history they were commonly understood as entertainment, not artistic messages.
These days we have Spec Ops: The Line, Bioshock Infinite, or any number of brilliant indie games that are pioneering the concept of authorship in games, but it's a relatively new phenomenon. There were always smart, artistic games, but certainly not enough to base a regular daily or weekly column on. And if that column was about level design and force feedback then we'd probably turn more people off to gaming than we'd attract.
Game developers gained their voice too late for their messages to be carried to the mainstream. There's no vessel for communicating that message anymore.