Videogames and cinema
The industry, journalists, gamers, the public, everyone's talking about the relations between videogames and cinema. These links are very much real, and much more complex than they seem. Dive into the analysis.
ON THE FUNCTIONAL AND DRAMATIC USE OF CINEMATOGRAPHIC LANGUAGE IN VIDEOGAMES
3D came out in the open, everyone has been talking a lot of nonsense
about the gaming experience turning into something close to cinema.
Although such allegations might contain some modicum of truth, they
are all too superficial : just because a game features camera movements
and narrative cut-scenes doesn't mean it resembles cinema. The apparent
similarities between these two media rely on pure logic : in order to
represent a virtual or real environment, a viewpoint is needed -whether
it belongs to the director, the painter, the graphic artist or, in our
present case, to the game-designer. As cinema provided a strong basis
to depict a setting and tell stories through the use of the camera,
videogaming naturally drew inspiration from it in such a way as to present
virtual worlds in the clearest and most convenient manner.
Yet the influence of film language on videogames goes beyond mere aspects of gameplay mechanism. The narrative -even though the term hardly applies to videogames- has learned a lot from the movies. Much like its 'real' counterpart, a virtual camera has an important part to play in dramaturgy, an obvious example being the oppressive camera angles in Resident Evil (the frightening high-angle shot of the elevator scene). Last but not least, cut-scenes might represent the closest thing there is to cinema in a game (whether as an introduction, a conclusion or implemented in the flow of the game). Those are short computer generated movies, sometimes featuring real actors as in Riven or Wing Commander (with, for the latter, the notable participation of Jedi Knight Mark Hamill).
ON THE DANGERS OF CUT-SCENES
which clearly don't have anything to do with videogames, might be the
most misused and excessive element in contemporary videogaming. Some
developers seem to forget there is an art of writing videogames which
doesn't rely that much on cinema. Squaresoft, notably with Final
Fantasy 8 and the infamous The Bouncer, totally forgot the fact that
a game cannot be summed up by a succession of cut-scenes punctuated
with vague gaming sequences. Cryo is another example, a developer which
favors the esthetic aspect and density of the narrative over gaming
value. As for the introduction to the nevertheless impressive Shenmue
by SEGA, it represents a landmark in the history of disappointing cut-scenes
: an endless and poorly-shot introduction (sideways tracking during
the dialogues, constant switching viewpoints and ridiculous slow-motion
sequences featuring after-imagery effects, a vain enterprise of John
Woo plagiarism), followed during the game by dialogues occuring every
five steps which convey a depressing staccato rythm to the action.
As previously stated, cut-scenes represent most of the negative influence of cinema on videogames. Some game designers are frustrated directors or defectors from the movie industry, whose ambitions aim at plagiarizing their favorite reels instead of investigating the field of singularities peculiar to the gaming medium. It is very much real in Japan, where the movie-industry is akin to a wasteland : cinema lovers would rather join the dynamic videogame industry.
leads us to this conclusion : trying to blindly integrate movie professionals
to videogaming can wreak havoc on the media, as proven by past mistakes
(interactive movies such as Night Trap, Rebel Assault and Dragon's Lair)
and some recent 'non-games'. Hopefully, the collaboration is at times
more satisfying, increasing thematic and artistic density in videogames
and paving the way for new approaches to story-telling. Coherent games,
pregnant with logically-structured sequences which do not sacrifice
action (on this note, Half Life and Zelda Majora's Mask are definitive
landmarks). All in all, we need some Hitchcock, some Cameron of game-design.
The worlds, genres and icons to which cinema gave life have always been an untarnishing source of inspiration for developers. Beyond the numerous licenses and adaptations from movie to game, a majority of game-designers multiply the references and borrow a lot from cinema, notably from US blockbusters of the past twenty years. Often, video-game directing and gameplay are directly inspired from memorable sequences of famous movies. Among the most plagiarized directors one can name John Mc Tiernan (Die Hard, Predator...), James Cameron (Terminator 1 & 2, Aliens, Abyss...), George Lucas (the Star Wars saga), John Carpenter (Escape From New York, Los Angeles 2013...), Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner...), Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park...), etc. Many major games hint at their graphic and thematic models: Blade Runner for Omikron (PC, 99), Tim Burton's gothic esthetic (Batman 1 & 2, Edward Scissor Hands, Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow...) for MediEvil (PS,98), Georges Romero's horror flicks (the Living Dead Trilogy) for the Resident Evil saga (PS, 96, 98, 00).
The Nomad Soul
More anecdotal, the aquatic Boss in Zelda 64 (N64,98) reminds us of
the translucid life-form in Abyss, a stage in Lylat Wars (N64,97) features
a gigantic flying-saucer a la Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 96),
in Goldeneye (N64, 97), the elite forces' two handguns fighting style'
are reminiscent of John Woo (extreme case of a film adaptation referring
to another movie!), some sequences in both N64 Zelda pay tribute to
the western genre...
WHEN VIDEOGAME CULTURE RUBS ON THE CINEMATOGRAPHIC ART
relations tying videogames to cinema are not unilateral. Pushing aside
the irritating adaptations of videogames to the big screen (Super Mario,
Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Double Dragon...), we can observe some
resonnance to the gaming media in the works of directors. "Videogames
clearly reflect on the movies", notes Gérard Delorme, "Matrix being
the most obvious example, with it's putting in parrallel a virtual and
a real world, its interfaces and constant alluding to the player's scheme
of thought (blue pills or red pills ?). On another note, we see an increasing
number of movies and novels where the character stops to resupply in
weapons, ammos, food, medicine, tools and varied accessories".
Ghost in the shell
In a few years, videogames have leaked through every layer of the cinematographic industry, driving directors to tell different stories in an innovative way. Both videogames' and cinema's futures depend on their ability to feed on each other without giving up their singularities. A difficult battle : indeed, the two media seem more likely on the verge of nullifying each other. The highly anticipated sequels to Metal Gear Solid and Matrix, each of which symbolises the relationship between cinema and videogames, should enlighten our judgment as far as progress in both arts is concerned. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the debate is going stronger than ever. Want to think it over in 2002 ?
Article by Pierre Gaultier (march 2001). English translation by Tristan Ducluzeau. Special thanks to Gérard Delorme.
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