Charlie Brooker. Gaming needs folks like him. Folks that write about games intelligently - who can talk about games authoritively, yet still exist outside of the god forsaken loop of hype and bombast that makes up most of games writing. Folks that can somehow distil what makes gaming great to people who, in general, would rather dip their genitals in a deep fat fryer than give L.A. Noire the time of day.
I’m so glad Charlie Brooker exists. So glad he has the ability to do what he does. Charlie Brooker could probably convince your Mum and Dad to give Portal 2 a try – I sure as hell couldn’t.
But that doesn’t mean I always have to agree with him.
Charlie Brooker’s latest piece about gaming is titled “Hollywood shuns intelligent entertainment. The games industry doesn't. Guess who's winning?” That should give you a rough idea what the piece focuses on, but to paraphrase: games are embracing their new found ability to captivate fresh audiences; audiences that are utterly bored with the uninspired drivel currently being crapped out of the conveyer belt that is modern Hollywood.
“entirely different, utterly unique creations... In cinematic terms, it's the equivalent of films of the intelligence and quality of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Maltese Falcon not just being released to great fanfare in 2011, but actually going on to smash box office records.”
And then later...
“About once a month there's a film actually worth bothering with: either something with a quirky sensibility and a modest budget, or the occasional decent blockbuster the studios have made by mistake. There seems to be something missing from cinema: big budget dramas with panache, aimed at an adult audience. Where are they? They migrated to television. And – don't snort with derision here – to videogames.”
It’s the kind of article I so badly want to agree with. The kind of article I almost forwarded to my Mum, as if to say “there – look! Charlie Brooker says games are bigger than movies now! See! Look... what I do is relevant. Look!”
But then I thought to myself – what is this urge? What is this bizarre, twisted insecurity the video games industry is constantly cowering under? Like a bitter, overlooked sibling we bawl at the top of our lungs everytime we do anything of note – begging the mainstream to love us, embrace us in the same way they embrace cinema.
‘Modern Warfare made more money that Spiderman at the box office,’ we scream! Whoop-de-doo!
Who cares? When was the last time you saw Disney screaming from the rooftops about Pirates of the Caribbean having a bigger opening weekend than the latest Twilight novel? Why would they? It would be ludicrous; completely unrelated. Utterly pointless.
It makes us look silly. It makes us look less relevant. ‘Look at me mum’, we screech, our pampers replaced with pull-ups – ‘I’m a big kid now’.
And sadly, that really is the stage we’re at - just out of pampers. Charlie Brooker claims that “once a month there's a film actually worth bothering with” then points to two games released in the last six months to showcase the sterling example video games are setting. But the tragic fact is this: the writing in the most mediocre blockbuster most likely surpasses the writing in practically any video game you can name – even the good ones. Even your Uncharted 2s, or your Portal 2s...
Being perfectly honest, video games are often so derivative of cinema that it’s actually embarrassing. Homefront wasn’t billed as being ‘from the makers of Frontlines: Fuel of War’ (as it should have been) it was billed as the game ‘written by John Milius – remember that guy? He wrote some movies in the 80s you probably haven’t heard of, they were cool – right guys?’ Even L.A. Noire, which probably exists in the upper echelon of games with decent writing, is probably at the level of a good episode of CSI.
But you know what? It’s a pissing contest of absolutely no consequence whatsoever. Simply put, we’re asking the mainstream to completely misunderstand video games each and every time we compare them to cinema. It’s bizarre!
Why are we restricting ourselves? Portal 2 is magnificent because it could never have been replicated in any other medium – because it forced you to transform yourself, and reimagine what was possible. It was absolutely nothing to do with the snarky dialogue of GlaDOS, or Stephen Merchant.
Red Dead Redemption wasn’t the incredible game it was because it felt like playing through The Searchers or Unforgiven, or any other Western you want to name – it was incredible because you were drawn into a gorgeous universe you could engage with, and re-experience time and time again.
Gaming will never grow up, never become a ‘big boy’ until it works through its own insecurities as a medium; until it becomes comfortable with its own legacy. Who cares what they’re doing over there in Hollywood – how is it relevant?
I understand the motivations of Charlie Brooker et al – and to some extent I agree. Yes, video games are pushing forward – but not because movies are in decline, or because the production values and thematic content of games is approaching that of cinema. That’s a false assumption based on nostalgia for a Hollywood Golden Age that probably didn’t exist.
Games are pushing forward because we are a new medium, with new ideas about interaction and entertainment. As gamers we should be embracing that destiny, accelerating past cinema with gusto, instead of hitching our cart to a stagnant medium and whipping the dead horse incessantly.
This is video gaming. We don’t need a dead horse – we’ve got a Delorean, and we're going forward into the future.
Cinema? Where we’re going we don’t need... cinema.