The Relationship between Gaming and Cinema
The distinctions between film and games are have certainly blurred over the last decade. Modern games are often visually cinematic and frequently include soundtracks by established film composers. They are clearly influenced by prevailing style and trends that emerge from Hollywood. Yet simply plagiarising set pieces from popular cinema and revelling in excess for its own sake does not a necessarily make a good game. Involving mechanics is one of the keys to success. A strong narrative is another. The latter is often neglected, leaving a market littered with products based around excruciating clichés, hackneyed storylines and painful dialogue.
However the games industry has become increasingly aware of these short comings and has endeavoured to fill this narrative gap by employing the talents of established writers and creative luminaries from other genres. Fear 3 utilised the talents of legendary director John Carpenter helping on the cinematics as well as 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles. Kaos Studios Home Front was written by John Milius who co-wrote Apocalypse Now and wrote/directed Red Dawn. The Bond franchise game, 007: Blood Stone developed by Bizarre Creations was penned by Bruce Feirstein who co-wrote Golden Eye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough. As you can see, the current budgets and increased standing of the gaming industry can attract some major talent.
I mentioned earlier that composers of note are now often creating the soundtracks for high profile games. Furthermore, these soundtracks are then commercially sold as part of the total marketing campaign for the respective title. Hans Zimmer’s outstanding soundtrack to Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is still a top seller, nearly six years after its release. It is the inclusion of well-orchestrated themes at key points within the story that helps blurs the line between film and game. The fate of the characters Ghost and Roach are especially highlighted by the score and cinematics in MW2.
With the inclusion of stronger narratives, developers have managed to secure the voice acting talents of increasingly higher profile actors. This in turn has altered the public perception of the gaming industry and such work is now deemed totally respectable. Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Stephen Merchant, Daniel Craig, and even Timothy Spall have all contributed their talent to major franchises. Furthermore, many big blockbusters films inevitably spawn a game these days and many major games often make it to the big screen. LOTRO, SWTOR and AoC are examples of the former; Hitman, Doom and Silent Hill examples of the latter. The quality of such genre crossing products can vary but they still seem to make money.
However this synthesis of mediums seems to have moved a step closer with the release of L.A. Noire in 2011. The game is effectively an interactive film “noir”, with the actor’s performance motion captured. The reviews were positive, reflecting the games complex narrative, strong performances and immersive atmosphere. The gaming industry flirted with FMV during the early 90s considering this to be an innovative way forward. It wasn’t. The technology of the time could not deliver the quality required and often resulted in a shoddy compromise; Star Fleet Academy being a prime example. However with modern day game engines becoming increasingly more robust, the concept of photo-realistic gaming is becoming viable once again.
Ultimately the world of film and gaming despite being increasingly derivative of each other, remain different entities due to the single major difference between the two mediums. Cinema is a passive experience (although it is not emotionally neutral), lasting several hours where the story and outcome are shaped in advance. Games however are dependent on those who play them and are structured around the resulting interaction. A single player RPG or FPS can have anything between 10-40 hours of content. This makes cinema and gaming very different beasts, in the same way that listening to music is not the same experience as playing an actual instrument.
Film has flirted in the past with audience interaction in a very clumsy manner but it seldom works. When watching a DVD in the comfort of your own home, do you wish to have to press buttons on your remote control to decide from multiple endings? Conversely when playing a game, sprawling cinematics and cuts scenes along with an over burden of dialogue choices, can often interrupt the flow of the game. The emergence of “augmented reality” is potentially something that could be integrated into both games and films. However so far this does not seem to have taken off. So regardless of the superficial elements that each genre borrows from each other, ultimately both gaming and cinema seem fated to remain separate entities due to their different nature. Until someone can come up with a convincing argument I see no reason why the status quo needs to alter.