There’s been a weekly self-conscious panic among people who write about video games ever since Ebert’s passing. They worry about whether or not they’re doing enough to bring about The Ebert, as if each medium would achieve this magical state of enlightenment at a certain point.
This is not, and never will be, how it happens. The Eberts of any medium toil away for decades without ever breaking through. The few who do are held up as examples of success even as they wonder about the fates of all those wonderful people they passed on the way to the top.
Roger Ebert was already a fixture in movie criticism when we were watching new episodes of Animaniacs after school. This was decades after he got his gig at the Chicago Sun-Times, which was after he spent years watching, studying, and writing about films.
The truth is, the Roger Ebert of game criticism is here, now. He’s flipping burgers to pay a few people to help with the Kickstarter video. She’s flipping underpriced thrift store swag on Craigslist to pay writers for her game criticism blog. He’s finishing off a degree in film to understand how the old masters of art and entertainment did it. She’s letting us know video game criticism has a way to go.
The big difference, in 2013, is that we’re in an epic media transition. There’s no local paper to buy your criticism of the new Call of Duty that just hit Walmart. The New York Times might take your pitch, but they can barely figure out how to pay the film and theater critics. The idea that video games can be worthy of criticism isn’t mainstream in the way it is for older mediums, so even the few mainstream outlets that still stand can’t pay even if they have a place for it.
Ebert still had to do the hard work to become the Ebert of film criticism. He had the advantage of an existing mainstream media that paid for critics in his hobby. It’s going to be hard for the Eberts of game criticism to break through. But someone will eventually crack the monetization nut and find a way to pay for your words.
I wish I had some positive, optimistic thing to say, but it’s tough right now. Some people are going to give up and move on to a more mainstream medium to fight for the crumbs, while others will go off to do something else entirely. I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t know who’s going to come out on top.
All you can really do is keep mastering your craft so you’ll be ready when the future arrives.