Thursday, 24 September 2009
Are Games Films?
Uncharted 2 has recently been described as "A cinematic experience of epic proportions." and it's led to me considering a few things. Mainly, why are games compared to films so often these days?
Well firstly, I have to dismiss one important thing and that's the "These days" part of that last sentence. Higher production values, larger labour forces and of course modern day technology allow for games to stretch beyond the wildest imaginations of developers from as little as ten years ago, hell even five years ago and considering that's compared to let's say cinema, videogames are a VERY new medium of entertainment means that it's still a developing industry. I suppose HD gaming is like cinemas colour, or sound. It's only the first step. The thing is though, it has nothing else to be compared to, and because cinema is the highest grossing form of entertainment in the world right now (Gaming was for a brief period in 2007 I believe) videogames are often compared to cinema on a regular basis. But why?
The most obvious answer is of course, I would say, camerawork, voice acting, characterisation and of course narrative. Think of a game from early 80's, let's say Manic Miner. There was no narrative, it was simply riding high on the gimmick that was an interactive computer program even though it was released on what was effectively one of the first ever consoles. Ok, so there was a bit of narrative but you get my point. It was just to establish something.
Compare it to Xbox man fest Gears of War and the change is so astronomically advanced it almost seems silly me even comparing it, but think about it. We have a story so well rounded, so neatly and tightly packed within the games 6 hour playtime that it feels like a cinematic experience. The original Star Wars didn't have scenes where Luke sat and upgraded his weapons or, sat through a hefty piece of dialogue. Gears is none stop action, broken only by tiny little narrative "Reveals" you could say. It is pretty much, six solid hours of shooting. Yet it has depth, which is what makes in Cinematic in it's own right. I suppose these days, we need narrative in videogames because we've played every single gimmick that the industry can come up with and we're bored. We need something to entice us in. In fact, I think the only console that's got away with a gimmick for the past few generations is the Wii with titles such as Wii Sports and Dullness where you wiggle your hand like a tard. Even then, I highly doubt the Wii will last for the next few years. Sorry Nintendo.
Uncharted Drakes Fortune was a prime example of my definition of cinematic gaming. Uncharted had beautiful cut scenes that just set the scene perfectly, all of the characters were so well crafted and relatable too that you really did get emotionally involved, and of course the story. Goddamn. Indiana Jones, eat your heart out. Oh and of course, it played well as a game. Which of course, is rather important. Now when I say MY definition of cinematic gaming, I mean this. These days reviewers tend to focus on one thing when they're claming that something is cinematic and that's narrative. Gears of War, had a very finely crafted story and It's the same with Mirrors Edge which was also classed as cinematic. However, if you were to put the game into the perspective of a film... well imagine how bland it would be. Actors charging around killing or just some Asian bird jumping from rooftop to rooftop... you see what I mean? It doesn't flow, it doesn't work. The narratives there, but it's not really there predominately throughout. The game only reminds you of it when it feels it necessary too. "Hey remember this guy? Well it doesn't matter if you don't, we're just gonna give you a quick motive for killing him and let you do the rest. Don't worry, we'll sum it up after you're done".
In Half-Life for example, there's always this motive hanging over your head. You're confused, you're being hunted ,hell , you're in HELL right now. All you want to do is survive. In Uncharted every things so well paced, every things timed perfectly. Instead of being reminded, the game sits you down every once in a while just to tell you a bit more, reveal something, shock you, excite you. It's a film, in a sense.
However this doesn't apply for all things. Everyone will argue that books aren't the same as films and it's the same with games. It's a different format, a different medium. It's interactive, it's more user based. You don't just sit and watch the events unfold. You unfold them. Well, in a way.
For this very reason alone, games like Final Fantasy can NEVER be classed a cinematic experience in my books. For starters, it's too long. The narrative, too stretched out. The characters, too two dimensional and the gameplay too slow. In no way am I condemning these games as bad games. They're just, not cinematic.
So, in conclusion to this uncharacteristically long post, in no way are games films and in no way are games trying to be films. They're merely adapting all of the conventions that work in films, and applying them to the medium of videogames. Who can blame them? It works, doesn't it?