It Took A Children's Movie To Show Me That Games Have Finally Grown Up

Yesterday I sat next to my spouse in a dark and surprisingly luxurious movie theatre, watching a childrens' movie. Aside from a group of four late-teenaged boys across the aisle, we were the only adults in the room not shepherding a flock of kids into their seats. And when, about 20 minutes into the movie, a piece of graffiti reading "Aerith Lives!!" flashed briefly on screen, we -- and that group of boys -- were the only ones in the theatre to laugh.

The graffiti, like a hundred other tiny moments of fan-service, appeared in Wreck-It Ralph, Disney's latest animated blockbuster. The film was number one at the box office this weekend, and even though reviews find it can't be all things to all people, the overall response has been generally positive.

For the record, I enjoyed the movie. I thought it was cute, and I appreciated all the nods and winks to the games I've known (and sometimes loved) through the years. But he part of Wreck-It Ralph that most lingered with me, and that has left me impressed a day later, is frankly that it exists at all.

The theatre drained while the credits rolled, though we sat through them all. As I watched all the children who had made up the (enthusiastic) audience burble out into the lobby, the generational shift that Wreck-It Ralph so clearly tells became clear. When I saw Muppet movies with my parents in the 80s, each movie was laden with cultural references and allusions that went miles over my innocent little head. They laughed when I didn't; the films were as much a reflection on the cultural stew of the adults' world as it was anything else, and the fact that I enjoyed them was almost (though not quite) incidental.

So, too, with Wreck-It Ralph. The film doesn't just acknowledge games, as others do. Nor does it set them aside as some silly thing nerds do. Instead, it lives and breathes 30 years' worth of games and gaming culture, laying them on the table for the viewer as a world of what simply is. These games, it posits, are now as broad and acceptable a cultural allusion to the adults of 2012 as Rizzo the Rat's inspiration was to the adults of 1982.

Until very recently, the most memorable appearances of video games on the silver screen have been as something frightening, meddlesome harbingers of doom. Either that, or games have been something that only children or the socially inept devote their time to.

Reality is, of course, much more complicated. Collectively, we still fight the "are games art" and "are games a worthwhile use of time and money" fights over and over like clockwork -- and yet, while the arguments cycle fruitlessly around and round, millions of new players have picked up an iPhone or logged into Facebook and found themselves getting hooked on systems and scores. The audience grows bigger and more diverse day by day, and the slow tide of mainstream culture turns to follow along with.

Through all of Wreck-It Ralph, the unstated assumption of the film was that this world of games is simply a language the audience speaks fluently, without question. Just as Toy Story didn't need to explain what 30 years' worth of toys were, or describe how children could play with them, neither did Wreck-It Ralph need to elaborate on the point and purpose of video games. The triumph of digital entertainment reads as a given, and its icons have joined the list of cultural touchstones that an average adult is likely simply to know.

Disney, and director Rich Moore, could safely release a multi-million dollar film about video games secure in the knowledge that adults would walk through theatre doors and recognise the icons of their 20th century histories waiting for them on screen. A telltale red-topped mushroom is a symbol as recognisable to the audience as the mouse ears that represent Disney itself.

"I was worried it would be more condescending than it was," my husband said to me as we left the theatre, and I knew exactly what he meant. So many little references could have been patronizing; so many scenes centering around games could have been delivered with a sneer rather than with a smile. Where the film could have talked down to a theatre full of people -- every age -- who grew up loving games, instead it shared the joy with a nod and a wink. In the end, that's what makes the movie work.

From doody jokes to a pile of candy-coloured mean girls villains, Wreck-It Ralph is indeed a movie for kids, for whom video games are simply part of life and always have been. But the world... the world Ralph and all the others move in is one for their parents, and the other adults in the room.

Generations of gamers have come of age during the 40-year history of video games. The games themselves have plenty growing yet to do, as does the community. But the fact of the matter is, games have well and truly arrived. Even while stereotypes will continue both in games and about gamers, the time has come when "gamer culture" is no longer counterculture but simply a new branch in the mainstream flow.


    What age do you rekon a kid is ready for their first cinema experience?

      2? The point at which they can sit still in a theatre without making lots of noise or wanting to leave.

        If you think a 2 year old can sit in a movie theatre without making lots of noise or wanting to leave for the duration of a feature length movie you've obviously never been the parent of a 2 year old :P

          Mmm. I'm not a parent.

          I'm the parent of a 9 year old. My son sat through movies at 2 years of age and was ok. It depends on what the movie is, if it will actually entertain etc, As a parent you should also be mindful to only take kids this age to special sessions designed for kids this age though, where kids CAN make noise, those 'babes in arms' type sessions...a little consideration goes a long way.

      my mum brought me to one when i was 6 months old so as long as they can keep quite

      I was 4-5 it was either Space Jam or Men in Black

      When they're little babies, they can go to mums-and-bubs sessions, no worries. They'll generally sleep through the film. Once they're up and running (8 months plus), you'll struggle to get them to keep their butts on the seats through a film until almost primary school age.

    I'd been working myself up to hate this simply because it's a Disney vehicle to link games with cineman and make then lots of money. It's the truly cynical view. But reaing this I'm intrigued enough that I really want to see it - if only for those nods to games the kids in the room are too young to have ever known.

      Pretty much all media is created in order to make money. Well, certainly the majority. Including this article.

      I don't see the point in getting hett up about a film maker wanting to make money. At least, by the sound of it, they're doing so in a talented and artistic, even thoughtful manner.

      This article makes the movie interesting to me. My wife has made me sit through all of the Pixar movies and having done that I quite like them now. I think this movie will be a little interesting at worst.

        Yeah there's nothing wrong with making money if by making money we mean "making something of value that people will genuinely enjoy and like to pay for."

        Media is about expression and money, the difference in enjoyment is which is the priority.
        If profit comes first, the quality of the exmression is tarnished.
        If expression is put at the forefront, profit can become a problem.
        The trick is to balance the two without insulting anyone.

          I'd say Disney have a deserved reputation for achieveing that balance.

        Yup. While this may or may not be the goal of big executives at the top, for the people who actually work on films/games/creative things, their goal is to a) make something that people will enjoy, and b) make a living while doing so. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    Here it's been referred to as a children's movie. These days I like to just refer to them as 'shows that kids would like' or 'aimed at kids' or something like that. To me it's a sad idea that an adult would separate what they know they would enjoy as kids from what they enjoy as adults based on them being adults.

    It's the childish immature self that promotes the idea that mature adults should not happily enjoy childish pursuits.

    Why do they continue to call her "Aerith"?

    It's "Aeris" - with an 'S', not a 'TH'!

    Every English translation I've ever seen of Final Fantasy 7 spells it with an 's' so I have no idea where this 'th' spelling has come from in the first place. Possibly the original Japanese, but the original Japanese shouldn't dictate how we spell English words.

    "Aerith" sounds like whoever is saying it has a lisp.

      Aerith is an anagram of "I, Earth"... Aeris is not.

        It was Aerisu in Japanese which can be written as aerith or aeris in English. In the US release it was Aerith, then in the PAL release it was Aeris. There's no "right" spelling, but in recent games like KH they kept it Aerith for all regions, same with adventure Children. Even though us Aussies grew up with Aeris, Aerith is the official English name now.

        Yeah when I heard that I switch from s to th

    Aerith thing would've gone right over my head if I hadn't gone and googled it just now.


      *Actually is can be either.

        I still think it's legitimately Aeris. I know why people think otherwise but I consider it because no other Japanese word as a "th" sound and Sepiroths name did have it.

          Yes, but the US version of the game had Aerith. And the film is American. SO technically we're wrong.

    Also, I'm really glad I could read this without having the movie spoilt at all. Props, Kate.

    Last edited 06/11/12 4:57 pm

      Agreed, really well written article too...

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