news\ Mar 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Roger Ebert sides with New York critic, dismisses video games once again


Roger Ebert might know his movies, but he doesn't know his video games.

The revered film critic (@ebertchicago) has expressed his dislike for video games before, and he took up the same crusade once more in a recent tweet:

(*cough*) This critic took 100 hours to play the "video game of the year," and found it a soul-deadening exercise.

The tweet came in response to an article written by New York critic Michael Thomsen. The game he found so atrocious? Dark Souls.

Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to Demon's Souls, which was a huge success for publisher Atlus and developer From Software in 2009. The game itself was a response to King's Field, a previous RPG from From Software that contained elements found in the two games, such as the dark fantasy setting and high difficulty.

Both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls are critically acclaimed games. But critic Michael Thomsen allegedly played the latter for 100 hours and wasn't impressed: "The 100-hour game is not a pointless exercise because it's a game, but only because the relative meaning of its experience is almost always diluted into a thin, tasteless nothing by the time you’ve invested yourself in completing it."

However, more than once Thomsen makes a crucial mistake: He proves that he just doesn't get it.

For instance, he gripes about the "useless junk" the game has to offer, revealing his unfamiliarity with the genre and the importance of stat breakdowns to most RPGs:

In more than twice the time it would take to read Tolstoy's historical fiction, Dark Souls leaves one's head overflowing with useless junk like the difference in attack stats between a Great Axe with a fire bonus versus a Great Axe with a divine bonus. These bits of occult nonsense don't have an internal logic.

When you a review any game, you have to accept the conventions of that particular genre, even if you aren't fond of them. Thomsen is confused about a convention of RPGs that's been around for generations: weapon and armor stats.

He then complains about the game's senseless difficulty, failing to appreciate the satisfaction that comes with adapting to a game's challenges and learning to overcome them despite the odds:

Dark Souls takes so long to play because it refuses to tell you its basic ground rules, then kills you over and over again for failing to understand them. ... The game is teaching you, but it's not teaching you anything worth knowing. ... Dark Souls leaves you with the intimate knowledge of when to roll out of the way of an ogre's club swing.

Thomsen isn't seeing the forest for the trees, as they say. He's simply focusing on the individual aspects and denying himself the larger picture: that he emerged from an obscenely difficult, 100-hour game victorious. It's hard to imagine any gamer defeating Dark Souls and not gloating about it. Thomson never pauses from his rant to enjoy what is, in the gaming world, an envious accomplishment. Instead, he belittles the experience: "Think of Dark Souls as a self-esteem kit for people who can take marching orders from giant talking snakes called Kingseeker Frampt and Darkstalker Kaathe without withering a little inside."

Finally, for all the wrong reasons, Thomsen concludes the article by blathering on about a theme most gamers wouldn't even consider:

There is real beauty in Dark Souls. It reveals that life is more suffering than pleasure, more failure than success, and that even the momentary relief of achievement is wiped away by new levels of difficulty. It is also a testament to our persistence in the face of that suffering, and it offers the comfort of a community of other players all stuck in the same hellish quagmire. Those are good qualities. That is art. And you can get all of that from the first five hours of Dark Souls. The remaining 90 or so offer nothing but an increasingly nonsensical variation on that experience.

Somehow I doubt From Software had such heavy implications in mind when they were developing Dark Souls. I'm pretty sure they just wanted to make a damn hard game so that the bravest of gamers could test their skills in one of the industry's most unforgiving games and make it out alive. Because that's something worth bragging about, just a little.

At least he considers it art.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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