Friday, April 11, 2008

Things Gamers Need to Get Over: Movies

There are movies, and they are the dominant narrative art form of our age. Last night I was at a bar with a friend, and the friend's friend showed up, stoned, wearing one of those German Army jackets that say "I consider marijuana use a way of life", and with a bushy whaler-beard that said "I have no fucking idea how ridiculous I look".

And this gentleman, as a musician (see above) and general dick, was passionately of the opinion that cinema is not the dominant narrative art form of our age. This only served to cement my conviction that anyone who says movies are not the dominant narrative art form of our age is a dick with a dumb neck-beard.

When the fellow on the street - possibly not you or I, because we read Umberto Eco in coffee-houses without a sense of irony, but you know, the common, backbone-of-all-that-we-hold-dear salt-of-the-urban-earth fellow who doesn't see why it's necessary to hold a position on Dan Brown in order to function conversationally in modern society - when he wants to pay a book a compliment, he will say, "It had the cracking pace of a really well-made movie".

When Average Person - not you or I, of course, who can say "I like to listen to Fuck Buttons" with a straight face, but Average Fellow, who likes U2 and liked Oasis when they were big and has no problem with the continued professional existence of Jack Johnson - when he hears something he likes, consciously or unconsciously he very often likes it because it has a cinematic quality to it, a certain depth or grandeur or narrative cohesion such as might be found in a good picture. When Kiss wanted to do something really artistic and pompous and alienating toward their fanbase, what did they do? Release an album they described as "the soundtrack for a movie that hasn't been made yet". Aware of history as far back as Bush 1, Trent Reznor did the exact same thing and described it in exactly the same way a year or so back, but this did better because it turns out Nine Inch Nails fans are marginally less discerning than people who like "Lick it Up".

But nobody takes this pedestal-elevating as far as gamers. The games industry has decided that all gamers really want is games that feel like movies. Lazily-written advertising copy for videogames uses the word "cinematic" more often than movies do. What this means is that the game will feature stupid camera tricks of the kind that, when making atrocious 2-hour cutscene Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis would've discarded as too ostentatious. Games that say they're cinematic aren't wrong, but they're cinematic in the same completely correct sense of the word that Bad Boys 2 is cinematic. Which is to say, totally reactive, hopelessly vogue and dated as soon as they hit the streets, reveling in their lack of interesting use of the library of technique at their disposal, and not even doing at all well what it was they came here to do, which in the case of games is to be fun to play.

Discerning gamers are not sucked in by this. "Discerning", in this case, refers to maybe 10%, at an optimistic estimate, of the total gaming population. Of that 10%, most have got far enough to realise that movies are movies and games are games; they will then proceed to use every debate about the state of the art as an opportunity to launch into a comparison of How Movies Did It with How Games Are Doing It. They will only make very simple comparisons, and they will, if at all possible, bring it back to some cockamamie statistic about how games make more money than movies (so does petrol, that doesn't make it the dominant cultural purveyor of our time).

Basically insecure, gamers of this ilk had a fucking spaz when Roger Ebert expressed his personal and well-informed opinion that games would never be art. How dare he!? What would an old man in a sweater know about art? How could someone who had devoted his life to understanding and elucidating the possible definition of "good cultural product" know more than someone who had finished Halo 3?

If gamers would get over this insecurity, they could admit that movies are a much more mature art form than games, which is natural as they have almost a hundred years head start. They could admit that movies say more interesting things than games, and that it'll be a long time before a game comes along that can stay with you in the same way as Se7en or Collateral or City of God. (Hopefully they'll not even bother trying to bring up games that ape the style of the above - Silent Hill, Grand Theft Auto, Burnout Paradise - but because gamers are largely fairly unworldly teenage boys, they will). But then again, that no movie can have viewers staying up till the wee hours trying to beat someone's time on Mario Circuit 1.

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