Why Comparing Games to Movies is Doing Everone a Disservice

February 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

You may have noticed, but I’ve been a bit absent from Bitmob of late. Work ramped up, exams closed in, and suddenly I just didn’t have the time or energy to write articles that people would actually want to read (some would argue no amount of time and energy can change that, but that’s a debate for another day).

A little bit of distance never hurt anyone though, especially with the amount of time I’ve had recently to devote to just playing games. This extended break has reinforced some old ideas, twisted others, and has completely eliminated any desire I once had to read one particular tired old argument, about gaming and a certain film whose name I won’t care to mention here (though for the sake of those who may not have read the argument before, let’s just say it concerns a man by the name of KANE, who was a CITIZEN of the United States.)

So I’ve been thinking, analysing, and gaming for these past few months, and have come to the following conclusion.

Comparing games to movies is going to get us nowhere.

So perhaps at this point I should rephrase. It’s not the comparison between games and movies I resent – far from it, I think there’s much games can learn visually from such a medium – but the way this comparison is innately attached to the whole ‘Games as Art’ thing. Whenever anyone brings up the fact that games can, and should aim for artistic merit, someone else will inevitably come along and claim games can never match up to movies as art.

Of course games could never match the artistic prowess of movies, in the same way that books could never ‘match’ sculpture, and paintings can never ‘match’ music. They’re two very different mediums, both with their own strengths, and ideas about what they can accomplish.

So the idea of saying ‘Games can never be art because movies will always be better at telling a story’ is stupid, because games don’t need to tell a story to be artistic.

I suppose the reason why this argument is so tired to me, is that a much better medium already exists for comparing with games, music.

I like the idea of music, because you don’t listen to it in order to hear a story. It might tell a story, through its lyrics (similar to the way a game might tell a story through its cutscenes) or through the tune itself, harsh sounds creating the impression of violence, whilst subtler melodies conveying the emotions of love or happiness (or in video games, ‘gameplay’).

The point is that you never pick a song out of iTunes primarily because you want to hear the story the artist wants to tell. You might be interested in any story of course, in the same way that a big reason why I played MGS4 was to see the end of Snake’s story, but if the sound isn’t enjoyable to listen to, or if the gameplay isn’t fun to experience, then you’re never going to listen to an album, or play a game, in the first place.

Games should never try ‘just’ to be fun, but at the same time trying to imitate film is just embarressing. Most of this rant was brought on by playing through the recently released demo of ‘Heavy Rain’, which tries so hard to be a movie, and in many ways fails so badly. From what I can tell, it’s not a bad game, but claiming that this is the future of interactive entertainment is pure self indulgance.

I like films, and I like games, but anyone that tries to mesh the two together is doing both a disservice. Games can have incredible depth, and can illicit raw emotion, but anyone trying to achieve this in the same way as film is going about it in a very wrong way.

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