The Relationship Between Video Games and Cinema
The distinctions between film and video games have certainly blurred over the last three decades. Modern games are often visually cinematic in style, linear in their narratives and frequently include traditional soundtracks by established film composers. The prevailing style and trends that emerge from Hollywood clearly have an impact upon the aesthetics of gaming. Yet simply plagiarising set pieces and action scenes from popular cinema, as well as revelling in excess for its own sake does not a good game make. Involving gameplay and mechanics are both essential to success. A strong narrative is also invaluable. Sadly, the latter is all too often absent, leaving a market littered with products based around excruciating clichés, hackneyed storylines and painful dialogue.
However, the games industry has certainly been aware of this short coming and has often endeavoured to fill this narrative gap by employing the talents of established writers and creative luminaries from other genres. Back in 2011 F.E.A.R. 3 utilised the talents of legendary director John Carpenter to assist with the game’s cinematics. The developers also turned to 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles for assistance. Also, in 2011, developers Kaos Studios released Home Front which was written by John Milius, who co-wrote Apocalypse Now and wrote and directed Red Dawn. Bond franchise game, 007: Blood Stone (2010) developed by Bizarre Creations was penned by who co-wrote Golden Eye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough. Furthermore, Oscar winning film maker Guillermo del Toro is currently collaborating with video game icon Hideo Kojima. As you can see, the current budgets and increased standing of the video game industry attracts major talent.
Many composers of note are now creating the soundtracks for high profile video games. These soundtracks are then sold commercially as part of the overall marketing campaign for the respective title. Hans Zimmer's outstanding soundtrack to Call of Duty. Modern Warfare 2 is still a top seller, nearly nine years after its release. It is the inclusion of well-orchestrated themes at key points within the story and action, that helps blurs the line between film and game. Furthermore, 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. Then there is the matter of tie-in games and movies. Many big cinematic franchises inevitably spawn a game these days and many major games often make it to the big screen. LOTRO and SWTOR are examples of the former. Hitman, Doom and more recently Warcraft are examples of the latter. The quality can vary but these respective tie-ins still seem to make money both at the box office and in the game retail charts.
However, the synthesis of both mediums moved a step closer with the release of L.A. Noire in May 2011. The game is effectively an interactive film "noir", with the actor’s performances motion captured. The reviews were positive, acknowledging the complex narrative, strong performances and immersive atmosphere. The gaming industry flirted with full motion video (FMV) during the early nineties considering this to be the way forward. However, it patently wasn't. The technology of the time could not deliver the visual quality required and often resulted in a shoddy compromise. Star Fleet Academy is a good example of a great concept that was poorly executed. It looked far from cinematic. However, with modern day game engines becoming increasing more powerful and capable of rendering in a near photo realistic fashion, the concept may be potentially viable again.
Despite both cinemas’ and video games’ inherent plagiarisation of each other, there is still one fundamental difference that separates the two. Cinema is an essentially passive experience (although it is not emotionally neutral), lasting several hours, where the story and outcome have been predefined. Games however are dependent upon the agency of those who play them and are structured around the interaction. A single player RPG or FPS can have anything between 10-40 hours of content. This makes both mediums very different beasts, in the same way that listening to music isn’t a comparable experience to playing an actual musical instrument.
Cinema has flirted in the past with audience interaction but in a very clumsy manner. It seldom works. When watching a DVD or Blu-ray in the comfort of your own home, do you really want to have to press buttons on your remote control to choose from multiple endings? Conversely, when playing a game, sprawling cinematics and cuts scenes, along with an over burden of dialogue responses, often interrupt the flow of the game. Not all gamers enjoy these elements. However, there is a possibility of a new means of crossover between both mediums. The emergence of "augmented reality" is potentially another element that could be integrated into both games and films in the future. In the meantime, both gaming and cinema will remain broadly separate entities due to their core differences, although I don’t doubt they will continue to influence each other.