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The games industry is becoming quite a monster. Just last week we reported how Resident Evil 5 had pretty much outsold everything apart from Mother’s Day cards in the UK. Remarkably, this came as no real surprise to anybody that has been following the growth of the sector over the past year or two, which says a hell of a lot for the confidence that is flowing through the industry in 2009.

The film industry, in particular, appears to be suffering as a direct result. Music has been in trouble for a long time – blame stubborn major record labels for that – but film has managed to ride a technological storm that is now slowly (but surely) transforming the business into a so-called “dinosaur”. Games are closing the gap – both financially and contextually – becoming, in many people’s eyes, the natural successor to Hollywood. After all, who would argue that Grand Theft Auto IV, for example, doesn’t offer a more worthwhile narrative and dramatic experience than most of today’s movies?

But while video games are constantly evolving and selling like hotcakes, bucking the global economic downturn, there are a few valid reasons why films have the upper hand over a sector that still hasn’t touched on the right nerve of the global masses. Here are three (or maybe four) of them:

  • Pre-release fanboy bickering

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I don’t have to tell you how frustrating it can be to enjoy a perfectly decent article about an upcoming title, only to then scan over the proceeding ‘comments’ section to find a whole host of utter bile.

Before a game has even been played, sometimes even prior to a trailer being released, a section of the gaming community will jump to criticize it in ways that belong in the playground with seven or eight year-olds. Inevitably, this leads to the defense team taking to the stand before the showdown commences, continuing until the game is finally released. Incidentally, this is when it can actually be judged fairly but, as we know, the insane amount of delusion displayed won’t stop there.

The film industry is not the victim of such hysteria. People usually become intrigued with a movie when it is announced and then form a judgment based on reviews or (shock! horror!) when they have actually seen it. Then the arguments can (and will) commence, but by then it’s fair game. Everybody has the right to an opinion but it should be based on fact rather than blind hope.

I guess not having specific formats to watch films on leads to a greater sense of togetherness but, even so, why do many gamers act as if they have shares in Sony/Microsoft? Don’t get me started on Peter Molyneux and Cliffy B.

It makes us all look bad.

  • Gamers don’t have a “cinema”

While, admittedly, I can’t speak for (please enlighten me) anywhere outside of the UK, it strikes me that while games are fast becoming one of the most popular forms of entertainment everywhere, they are still restricted on a social level.

You can go out on a Friday night with a group of friends to see a movie and have a jolly old time indeed, no problem. But what if you fancy kicking the living daylights out of a bunch of people on FIFA 09? Or running around like a madman surviving the zombie hordes on Left 4 Dead? Oh, that’s right, you get some friends around with a few tins or play alone, online.

The thing is, this is one of the driving forces behind people believing that gaming is an unsociable activity. And maybe it’s true. Perhaps if forms of “gaming centres” were opened up we would be able to go out, have a good time with friends and then make pals with random people. It’d make a nice change from sitting around in your room screaming abuse into a headset.

Maybe then the general population would feel more inclined to give games a try. It could sweep the nation/world like Bingo! I’m not talking about arcades either. The last time I walked into one of those it was like a members club run by some sweaty, vest-wearing, slick-haired yob who wanted no more for me than a lost pound in a broken Time Crisis 4 machine. I’m thinking cinema-sized arcades of epic proportions.

Maybe girls would go.

  • Less and less “stars” being generated

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Is it just me or are we running out of recognizable faces in our games?

Back in the “day” we had Mario, Sonic, Lara Croft and Earthworm Jim. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But they’re still around today!” That’s right – well apart from Jim, the coolest of the bunch – but do you believe that this is a good thing for the gaming world? Not really, it only goes to show non-gamers (film-goers, you understand) that gaming hasn’t moved on since the 1990s and is, therefore, a one-trick pony.

New movie stars are being pumped out all the time. Lining our silver screens and pages in glossy magazines and helping to sell films globally, these actors and actresses are helping to keep Hollywood fresh. It relies on these people to stay afloat, while gaming relies too heavily these days on greater graphics and higher frame rates. It’s not exactly the most inviting environment for somebody new to the experience. People need a come-and-get-me face to lure them to the Promised Land, not an impressive number of light sources.

Niko Bellic is an example of a refreshing character being introduced into gaming. He doesn’t follow the same tried and tested formula that seems to define many others out there today. On first impression his look is plain and generic, but take a second look and his features tell a story of their own, his mannerisms and personality helping to draw the audience in like a good actor would. His “everyman” image was reminiscent of Taxi Driver’s De Niro, free of bells and whistles; no need for a six-foot plasma gun to grab our attention. Rockstar’s effort in creating this icon made all the difference.

Putting some thought into a new character, whether it be the human qualities of Niko or Daxter’s pilot goggles, really makes a difference when you are trying to create a bond between product and audience. Far too often these days we are patronized with a skinhead marine with the kind of vocabulary his mother didn’t teach him and the emotional pull of a lamp post.

And finally…

You can’t be bad at watching films, therefore they will always be more accessible and acceptable. Come to think of it, video games probably deserve to be compared with table tennis rather than films. Next up: “Reasons why table tennis lacks the integrity of video games.”

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  1. I’m glad you came up with reasons how Games could contend with Film, citing Niko Bellic.

    Interesting read.

  2. Great read. Good stuff man. :)

  3. avatar LastDance

    Yeah sure, blame record labels for piracy.

  4. @Lastdance,

    Record labels hesitated for way too long. They had a paid and protected download service ready to go but were too stubborn to allow it to launch. Then Napster beat them to the punch and the rest is history.

    Thanks dudes. Rhinehart, I’ll have a think about that… good idea.

  5. avatar Grey

    “After all, who would argue that Grand Theft Auto IV, for example, doesn’t offer a more worthwhile narrative and dramatic experience than most of today’s movies?”

    Would anyone argue that it does? Serious question. Disregarding the atrocious writing and incongruity, quality narrative is not the apex of artistic achievement. Great film leaves behind silly childhood notions of stories. You can even find better dramatic experience in average Hollywood films like Benjamin Button.

    And yes, you can be very bad at watching films, especially if you can’t stand the black and white or foreign ones.

  6. @Grey,

    I firmly believe that GTA IV does offer a “more worthwhile narrative and dramatic experience” (can you quote yourself? Ah well, my writing’s strocious anyway) than MOST films that come out.

    I wasn’t referring to movies like the “average” Benjamin Button… that oh so “average” movie that appeared in many top ten lists in 2008, a metacritic of 70 and a B+ average score from critical consensus (wiki, which means it’s true). There are plenty of other examples of atrocious films that fall short.

    The gap is closing on lesser films; storyline, visual and character development improving all the time to help this happen.

    Steven Spielberg is working on a game at the moment. Ask him what he thinks.

  7. I agree with most of this with the exception that films don’t “attract” fanboy problems. Comic book films in particular suffer more slander on announcement than most video games I have heard of. Look at message boards dealing with “Watchmen” or the new Wolverine movie. Most comments on there, prior to release, were angry about something or other dealing with aspects that no one that hasn’t seen it could possibly know. Great read though.

  8. Thanks Matt,

    Thanks for that! Comic book movies are treated lots like video games in many respects. It takes great films like Batman:The Dark Knight for people to really appreciate the genre like they would an arthouse flick with a gorgeous French girl and a stubborn alcoholic pensioner.

    They can be too easily written off because of the audience they are associated with: geeks like me!

  9. @ Grey

    Not standing a movie, and being bad at watching a movie are two completely different things. There are games I can’t stand, and there are games I can’t beat. It’s not like I can “lose” at trying to watch a movie (I keep falling out of my seat, I forget how to hear, see, think during a movie).

    My take on all of this? I feel that gaming has arrived to a strange crossroads as relative to film, and I’m not sure it can ever cross it. Technically, you should be able to take it as red that a game is going to function well, otherwise no one should play it. Production values are through the roof, one cutscene out of GTAIV will tell you that Rockstar’s dialogue as well as voice acting is top knotch. Take the character of Brucie as an example who was a wonderfully written parody of most crime-fiction supporting characters.

    The foundation for a great narrative tale is there, but the fact that is has to BE a game is a huge roadblock. Long cutscenes risk alienating the players and there really isn’t a better way to evolve the story in a controlled way that actually gets anything done. GTA, as another example, sacrifices the momentum of the narrative for the sake of giving the player more to do.

    Half-Life 2 is possibly the closest to perfection, however the fact that the player controls the camera is risking that the player might completely miss something you want them to see.

    I feel that gaming can’t reach the narrative quality of films because most developers simply don’t know how. Once they figure that out, then we’ll see.

    As for integrity itself, Games don’t have the mass market acceptance as a viable medium that films do. To most 40+ adults, they’re still of the toy mindset, and toys are for playing, not for studying or analyzing and definitely not for pushing boundaries. It really isn’t for them to decide, but if we’re to get games on the same level as film, it’s something that has to happen.

  10. avatar Grey

    Let’s say GTA is better than most films coming out today (would disagree simply because the story and game apsects are at odds, and that’s a big part of narrative), but isn’t better than Benji. That one I believe *is* average, hammering home the idea that life is a series of arrivals and departures, and that age has a sort of symmetry to it. If you can’t even tell a better story than an average film made according to Hollywood formula, why bother mentioning the lesser films you beat? The bar isn’t down there. It’s not an achievement to win against challengers that don’t even try for coherency, like Speed Racer or whatever.

    @Rick Yutig
    Well, yeah, there’s no physical challenge to watching a movie. I suppose I was just comparing the mental struggles someone might have to that, though someone might also have trouble grasping ideas in games that have removed physical challenge, so it wasn’t a good comparison. Nevermind.

    I’d say that there’s a wonderful segment in Half-Life 2 where you’re exploring Highway 17. That could have been the whole game and I’d have been happy. Unfortunately, what the game was was an emotionless, unexpressive protagonist fighting aliens and zombie aliens, while the story was…I can’t remember what. Not the same as the actions you took, I’m sure, apart from travel from A to B. They devoted a lot of story rooms to character monologues, where you could completely destroy immersion by chucking a PC at the doctor’s head or running out of earshot. So like you said, player control (perhaps of the camera) hampered it.

    • avatar Kevin

      The reading that I found most inetserting from last night was the Alice and Kev story based off one person’s experience with The Sims 3. When one writes a story, it is easy to assume that they are the only ones controlling the outcomes of their narrative decisions. When put in the video game world, though, there are certain codes and gaming strategies that make it impossible for us to have full control over the actions of our characters. Though The Sims is supposed to simulate reality with endless possibilities, we have to take into consideration that it is a game with planned out scenarios and outcomes. There aren’t unlimited options as to what to do. For instance, at one point in the Alice and Kev story, the person playing wanted Alice to talk to someone, but the game would not let her talk to him. Clearly, the storytelling control lies most of all within the limitations of the game itself.In this way, there are two levels of storytelling. The creators of the game are like the gods of the storytelling world, and I would say that the player is Prometheus. He has the power to bring the people in the game life and mold them, but the progression of events is not ultimately in his/her hands. This makes the player’s story so different from what we are used to reading because he/she is putting him/herself into the story as a storyteller that doesn’t have a full grasp on what is happening in his/her story.

  11. @ Rick & Grey,

    thank you guys so much for your unput here… It actually makes this all so worthwhile.

    I’m really glad you raised the point that, purely by their nature, games are being held at a form of “roadblock”.

    This is why I am more than hesitant about games being produced and regarded on the same level as film… I don’t want them to ever forget that they are games, purely for fun. What’s more, Grey’s point about being able to totally sabotage the illusion by carrying out completely random acts raises an interesting catch 22 situation.

    As the technology improves, as does the gaming experience, which, in turn, leads to more freedom for the player. This flexible gameplay with endless possibilities winds up destroying any hope to act as substitute for films.

    ** I love the freedom we are granted nowadays, which is one of the reasons I dislike the idea of trophies and achievements… Games want to offer more choice but end up demanding players are restricted with guidelines telling them to kill 100 with a pistol or score a goal from 30 yards out; but that’s a gripe of mine for another day **

    The generation gap will all turn around in the coming years… Games won’t be cast aside and accused of creating murderers and rapists when us young gamers (not quite me) are judges and politicians.

    “The bar isn’t down there”

    But, with the games industry so young, for now it is. Even that low bar was imposible ten years ago, but a game like Heavy Rain shows enough promise to really turn people’s heads on the matter. Am I concerned? Yes, I’m not convinced I want Heavy Rain to lead to a wider focus in that direction of gameplay.

    But I’m still very excited by it. Just please still let me put a PC over someone’s head for shits and giggles.

    Wow, this is an entire new terrain we are on… Thanks guys

    • avatar Rema

      She gets handed the bill today.And filnlay one letter in the Banner. Doesn’t show up in their on-line edition yet but it could have been written by Bluthner. It might prompt some replies.Changing the subject.I’m not about to drive 30 miles for a newspaper, after all.There is an old story about a tourist who goes into a local store in the wilds of Scotland and asks to buy a newspaper. The store keeper asks if he want’s today’s edition or yesterday’s. The tourist replies Today’s of course. To which the store keeper says Then you had better come back tomorrow. 2

  12. avatar Grey

    10 years ago we had Another World, Abe’s Odyssey, Planescape and System Shock and Lucas Arts/Tim Schafer adventure games. In terms of quality narrative, today’s mainstream champions don’t fare well. In terms of realism, we haven’t yet reached the point of subtle emotions being captured and translated on screen, and I guess for most narrative or experiential titles, that point will be “the birth.” Film was never hampered by lack of colour, but it was by sound – even then, the only problem with sound was that when people talked no words came out.

    Games as they are focus on something different to narrative. A game isn’t a good game (to me) if I’m not having fun. In the games I play, I love the freedom afforded, but if I want something more, I’d rather the creative minds take control. I want to see more titles focused on humans instead of killing or scoring or adventuring. That, to me, is maturity.

  13. @ Grey, you make an excellent point about a Game’s focus.

    It’s disappointing to me that so many people force the idea onto designers that narrative needs to be a focal point of their games when it really does not. At the very least, it just needs to provide context to what you’re doing, and then the rest of the game speaks to its quality.

    For example, Call of Duty 4 has been one of the best functioning shooters since its release. The fact that infinity ward provided as comprehensive a narrative (by shooter standards) as it did was just icing on the cake at that point.

    Which brings me to the belief that while a film is made to tell a story and a game is made to be played, the integrity of a game and it’s acceptance in the main stream isn’t going be based on the story its telling, but the functionality of the gameplay.

    The fact is that games are inherently different from films, and as such, they can be appreciated in similar ways, but never identically.

  14. “10 years ago we had Another World, Abe’s Odyssey, Planescape and System Shock and Lucas Arts/Tim Schafer adventure games. In terms of quality narrative, today’s mainstream champions don’t fare well”

    You’re absolutely right about those games, I should have gone back a little further!! Although, would you consider those mainstream?

    Bioshock is an example of a game that crosses the barrier well in today’s market, while LBP is an example that gaming need to ignore the appeal of film and instead march onward to a place that leads film to drool over ITS dizzy heights.

    I hope Heav Rain gives you what you crave when it finally arrives, although I hope maturity isn’t too much of a target for developers… Although, saying that, judging by the aforementioned fanboys being a large part of their target market, I doubt developers would consider this an avenue that is worth exploring too much just yet.

  15. avatar Grey

    I don’t think they’re all that mainstream – some (most?) only sold a million or a few hundred thousand. They’re not completely obscure games, though, and it’s expected that someone, somewhere creating games today will recognise them and their narrative achievements. What we do know is that they achieved this ten years ago.
    I’m not that well versed in gaming history, but I’m fairly certain that before these there were many PC games catering to that audience.

    There may be a market for narrative/not gamey games, seeing as how much a title is derided for poor characterisation or story. I don’t know how receptive they’d be to something that doesn’t challenge them or grant them free reign. That wouldn’t really be a game, so maybe I’m talking about another market. (I don’t mean interactive movies, I mean something like ICO or SotC where you’re, broadly speaking, on a set path from start to finish.)

  16. @Grey,

    As time goes by, developers seem to be seeking a way of creating games that give the opportunity to determine the final outcome. So far this usually results in two or three possible endings – the technology is some time off allowing us the ability to REALLY change the ending or even the path of the story.

    Obviously, this seperates games from books, films, theatre etc… it’s possible that games can leave the film industry in their wake in terms of narrative outcome, while the art of storytelling may get lost along the way. Catch 22 again, really.

    PC games have certainly led the way with interesting narrative… I guess one of the reaons for this is that PC gaming has an audience tradionally made up of older people than consoles. The balance is shifting, but, you’re right, ever since the mid-nineties PC gaming has pushed boundaries in this respect.

    “There may be a market for narrative/not gamey games, seeing as how much a title is derided for poor characterisation or story.”

    That is so, so true.

  17. avatar Pindoriya

    Di, Every few years a Republican sees Doonesbury by mistake. Usually he just says Huh? and moves on but stemoiems he is overtaken by a fit of projectile spluttering, and then the offending paper hears about it. They all stock a supply of form letters that make bold claims about freedom of the press and diversity of opinion for just such occasions, and they feel really, really proud when they have to use one or two of them. 1

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