By John Young
November 01, 2007 at 04:31 AM EDT
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If you’re a videogame fan at all, you know there is an ongoing debate regarding whether games can be classified as “art.” In one corner, Roger Ebert says no; in the other corner, the millions of gamers who’ve played Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Ocarina of Time and countless other examples say, “Hell, yeah.”

It’s a silly argument, for if we want to entertain the idea that “art” even exists as a concept, then surely videogames belong. What isn’t debatable, however, is the growing clout of the videogame industry. Halo 3 made $170 million on its first day, and as a result, Hollywood is starting to treat games with the same respect and enthusiasm typically reserved for movies.

Case in point: Tuesday’s The Simpsons Game launch event at the Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood.

I was not expecting the premiere of one, ahem, videogame to outclass the majority of movie premieres I’ve attended. But Electronic Arts put on quite a production. Everyone walking by was treated to free food from Tommy’s (a SoCal burger joint) as a trio of breakdancers did their thing. In front of the restaurant’s entrance was a yellow carpet, and at the end of it sat an enormous crate, from which emerged a group of performers in Simpsons costumes.

Inside, guests were treated to Simpsons specialty cocktails. I tried the Homer Ball (gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup, orange juice and grenadine syrup), and yummy it was, even though the Hard Rock bartenders seemed to grumble about having to mix drinks called Recon Maggie and Megaphone Marge.

addCredit(“The Simpsons Game premiere: Chris Polk/”)

Videogame stations were set up everywhere. As a person who recalls my intense frustration with Bart vs. the Space Mutantsas an 8-year-old, I can confidently say that The Simpsons Game is themost accomplished Simpsons game yet. It’s the first one that capturesthe show’s animated look — you feel as if you’re actually controllingan episode. And it’s funny, as to be expected. In the game, theSimpsons characters realize they are trapped in a video game, and whatfollows is a series of video game parodies (e.g. Medal of Honor becomesMedal of Homer, Grand Theft Auto becomes Grand Theft Scratchy) andjokes about game clichés (e.g. the inexplicable double jump).

When compared to a movie premiere, the only aspect in which TheSimpsons Game launch party was lacking was in its star power. It wasone of these gatherings where you recognize various actors’ faces butcan’t recall their names — such as Jonathan Bennett from Mean Girls, Ken Davitian from Borat, and Zachary Levi from Chuck (pictured, left, with Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Hanson’s Zac Hanson).

So, is that the last hurdle? Will video games finally be consideredart when their premieres start attracting top-drawer stars? Or are allthe people who would even bother reading this post off playing Halo 3right now? Play on, my video-gaming compadres, play on.

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