Cinema? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need… Cinema

Cinema? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need… Cinema

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.

L.A. Noire and Portal 2 are used as prime examples of games that are…

“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.


  • What no! What about Heavy Rain? That was just as good as your average Hollwoo…. BAHAHAHAHAHA. Sorry, I couldn’t say that in good conscience. Absolutely correct. I understand the good intentions but it seems like video games scripts (and correct me if i’m wrong, I have no idea) go through some kind of watering down process where they have to compromise story elements for gameplay. In a videogame, the ending has to be action-packed, it needs to be bombastic and the best, sometimes most difficult part of the game. A good movie wants you to walk away with a thought or a question posed, stories aren’t all about twists and plot points. The stories that are worth a damn question society, question politics, question humanity etc. It seems like this all gets lost (or may not even exist) in large-scale game development. In an effort to remain relevant, video games are ironically moving in the other direction.

  • Another Guardian reader amongst us. Excellent!

    Charlie Brooker is probably one of the best writers of the past few years.

  • Might be saying something about myself, but is it wrong that i wanted RDR to be more of a western than it was the universe as mark puts it was the thing that annoyed me most about RDR.

    Maybe it’s just that to me i would have prefered a open world western game along the lines of GTA VC, 3,SA. Instead of the lets go for realism that IV had.

    LA noire might be the serious game but i never saw it as anything but. Some games i play because i want a serious realistic experience and others i play because i want to muck around and have fun, to me RDR never achieved that

  • I agree, to a certain extent.

    Comparisons between movies and games don’t achieve much, nor do the endless series of articles proclaiming the rise of gaming and the fall of Hollywood help either industry solve its issues.

    That being said, taking a moment to reflect on the paucity of complex and interesting writing in video games (and the piles of sludge that pass for most games’ narratives) can’t ever be a bad thing.

  • I know what your saying. The fact is though, there are many people who see gaming as a secondary activity. Like someone who is into horse riding, building cars or reading is more iterested in doing that, than gaming. And vica-versa. Different strokes for different folks. Yes, sometimes us gamers try to hard to get someone interested in games, when games to them, aren’t that interesting. Same as horse riding is not interesting to me, even though horses are great creatures. Whatever Im saying… Anyways, whats wrong with cheesy game dialog (“metal gear”), and anime that sounds like a japanese porno, so when your out having a smoke hopeing no one can here it! Some game dialog IS grating, but alot of others is pure comedy gold – like Swarzaneger movies (sorry, forget how to spell…)

  • Always enjoy your stuff Mark 🙂
    I mostly agree… except for “the writing in the most mediocre blockbuster most likely surpasses the writing in practically any video game you can name – even the good ones.” The writing in Portal 2, for example, is leaps and bounds better than a lot of the movies I’ve seen in the past couple of years. Then again, Portal 2’s characters and the way they interact are quite unlike anything you’d really see at the movies.

  • Agreeing on the post. As a further concept however, we should have known this for years now. When has there ever been a good crossover (movie -> game, game -> movie). Thats right, Never.

    The truly sad part about gaming is that it lost a large number of true greats early on. Look back to the early 90’s when LucasArts wasn’t on what is left of the StarWars franchise. Games back then could inspire us to think and enjoy the experience rather than the derivitive junk that gets pumped out now.

    Like movies, gaming is suffering creative skill. I would rather dip my nuts in a deep fryer than play another COD (or COD clone), another NBA Live/Tiger Woods Golf (etc) or some other game that follows suite.

    Gaming industry, put down the whip, the horse has been dead for a while now. The saving grace of gaming however is the indie gamers. Portal started as a community thing to see what is possible years ago. Tell Tale Games, started as a small shop doing cheap fun adventure games.

    I don’t think the gaming industry is just out of diapers, it is a teenager screaming and breaking rules and wanting to kill and blow shit up. While there are sparks of clever shops and at least one powerhouse (Blizzard), I’m sad to say that there are just not as many games worth playing anymore. Mainstream got hold of the games and destroyed what was once a fantasic thing. Just like movies.

  • Isn’t making a reference to a film – Back to the Future and the Delorean – at the end of your article kind of contrary to your point?

    Then again, I guess “we’re moving forward and we’ve got a need for speed!” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  • Read a similar article by the GameInformerAU editor a while back.

    I disagree with the premise. I don’t think gamers are jumping up and down begging for relevance. I think the comparisons with cinema and other media are attempts to draw people into games who may not have otherwise given them any credence.

    I mean, if I knew someone who didn’t read books I’d be jumping up and down going, “oh you NEED to get your hands on LOTR, and after that some Robert Louis Stevenson” or w/e.

    It’s that we want people to share our passions. This isn’t unique to games at all.

  • Ohhh, that was a fantastic article. That’s a lot coming from me, I generally hate articles of any kind, the kind of person who skips through as much talking and writing as I possibly can to actually get to the part where I see the game myself. And my trying-too-hard meter is tuned a bit too sensitively, so most stuff comes off as pseudo-intellectual and I get a mental image of someone adjusting their glasses as they sit in a coffee shop writing on a macbook.

    I really enjoyed this one though. You hit a nail that most people are afraid to go near, and I absolutely love your point about writing in games. People think Final Fantasy games are masterpieces but if you showed that to a film critic they would chew it up and… Well you wouldn’t like what came out the other end. Even games with genuinely inventive plotlines or character development – Nier or The World Ends With You for instance – are delivered terribly when you really look at it hard, with tens of hours between plot details and huge gaping holes that need to be filled with either assumptions, optional NPC dialogue, or word of God gathered from buried interviews and backstory books.

    The sooner we can admit that storylines in games suck, the sooner we can stop trying to follow Hollywood – which isn’t the bar of storytelling we should be aiming for – the sooner we can actually improve on gaming’s very clear flaws.

    Anyway I’ll stop using your article as a soap box and just say thank you for the read. 🙂

    • I don’t think too many people are arguing that any of the Squeenix games have the greatest plots in the world. For most people, like me, it’s the worlds they created that made the games. Definitely not the cliched dialogue and uninspired plots (though I could say something about the Bard having done a fair bit of recycling in his time, too). For instance, everytime I play Kingdom Hearts I have to refrain from damaging something when Sora opens his mouth, but I still like playing to get through the Disney worlds that captivated my childhood. I guess something got lost in translation. For me, anyway.

      To the main article. Most other games have cringe-worthy dialogue, I’ll grant you. There are still odd games that have writing surpassing the general Hollywood scripts (which I think generally have MASSIVE writing teams to support them).

  • Hey now, Portal 2 has top-tier dialogue in it. Overall plots aren’t the defacto standard in determining what makes good writing. I haven’t seen many, if any, films with characters as well written as Portal 2.

  • I think that games like Planescape Torment prove how good game writing can be. It also shows that unlike film games have only a small window in which to shine. A box office bomb film can be a cult classic twenty years down the line but not many gamers outside certain circles would know or even care to know how to flash up something like dos box for classic gaming with non current gen graphics.

  • The gaming industry DID have a Charlie Brooker… it was Charlie Brooker, he used to write for PC Zone. He even did a Gameswipe, though it probably wasn’t up to the standards of his older Newswipes.

    There are many odd things about how the gaming industry is, in places, beginning to reflect the cinema industry. After the recent fiasco’s with both the makers of Conduit 2 and Hydrophobia lashing out at the public acting like children, it’s my hope that the one thing the games industry does take away from the cinema is to build a bridge and get over bad reviews.

    And then to get on with making games that don’t play out like movies, hint hint Modern Warfare and every other war FPS out there.

  • Yeah, I’ve always thought that good game stories are pretty average compared to good films. Even the Portal 2s. I think it’s also got to do with the way game studios hire. For starters, a lot of game stories are written by the designers and not dedicated writers, and even when there are writers involved, they never seem to be able to pull off a serious masterpiece of a story. It seems like a lot of game development professions are often second rate compared to their film counterparts.

    And yet even with the subpar stories and art etc, some games give me much more enjoyable experiences and memories than the best movies…can you imagine what would happen if the best screenwriters and artists got together with the best game designers and coders?

    It’d cost an awful lot of money, that’s for sure.

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