Movie nights are a big deal in my wife’s family, partly because she has such a big family.
There are five brothers and sisters. Two husbands (myself included) and one wife. Then there are the parents.
There are also children. Dear lord the children. All seven of them. My wife is in the process of carrying number eight. What have we done?
Movie Night image from Shutterstock
Movie nights are a big deal because they represents a moment of peace. When the family gets together (a frequent event) our collective brood of children tend to run riot. They make noise, they argue over toys. One parent (or more) in the corner, rocking in the fetal position. It’s a messed up scene.
Then – finally -- they all go to sleep. Exhale. We’ll order take-out and the movie night can begin.
But the last two catch ups have been different. There’s been a change-up. Our last two movie nights have involved a video game. That video game is Until Dawn.
This isn’t completely weird. We like video games. My wife’s family is a video game family. At one point in time they even had a Counter-Strike clan. My father-in-law and my mother-in-law – despite being in their 50s -- were big Counter-Strike players. Before kids came along, Christmas holidays usually entailed week long Call of Duty LANs in the house where my wife grew up.
But those were the ‘good old days’. We still play video games together, but I’m sorry to report that the girls and the (now) grandparents play a lot less. I’m not sure why that is. I managed to capture some of that old magic with Rocket League, but it’s never been quite the same.
Warning: children ruin everything.
Back to Until Dawn.
Believe it or not I’m not the biggest gamer in my family. I probably play the most diverse range of games but when it comes to raw hours spent I can’t complete with my brother-in-law Ben. Ben doesn’t sleep. Ben plays video games.
Ben was very keen to check out Until Dawn.
He timed it perfectly. The kids had just gone to sleep, but during that crucial ‘let’s decide what to watch’ half-hour Ben had turned on the PS4 and loaded up Until Dawn. He began playing.
Something strange happened. Slowly but surely, everyone started watching. Soon afterwards, they all sat down. Ben’s wife began shouting instructions. Then my wife started shouting different instructions. Five minutes later someone grabbed the controller and continued playing while Ben made a cup of tea.
Pretty soon, everyone was huddled around the TV, pyjamas on, guzzling popcorn, shouting instructions with mouthfuls of chocolate. Until Dawn is a game about making choices – every choice a chorus of voices. “NO, SAVE THIS CHARACTER!” “OH MY GOD TAKE THE SHORT CUT!”
As a family, we’d had ‘gaming’ nights before. Usually impromptu. Usually with same screen multiplayer games like Nidhogg or the afore-mentioned Rocket League. This was different. This was a completely different vibe. This was – unmistakably – a movie night. With a video game.
And a couple of people mentioned it off-hand. “This game is like a movie”. What I think they meant by that was this experience we were having, this experience of sitting round the television together, not necessarily playing, but shouting out instructions felt a lot like – I can’t believe I’m about to type these words – watching an interactive movie.
There’s something unique about Until Dawn. I don’t think this would have happened with any other video game.
A game like Heavy Rain. Probably too melodramatic. Takes itself a little too seriously. That’s not a problem but in this type of environment? I just don’t see it working in quite the same way.
Possibly Uncharted? I’ve heard reports that couples would play that game together, but I can’t imagine an entire family huddled around a television watching someone else play Uncharted. There’s too much shooting, too much ‘traditional video game stuff’. I think the majority of my wife’s family would tolerate me playing Uncharted for maybe thirty minutes, but it wouldn’t be long before I was asked to turn it off so everyone could watch a movie together and that’s fair enough.
I’ve never seen people react to other games like they react to Until Dawn.
It’s trashy enough to feel fun. Its structure is predictable and accessible enough for people to get involved. It allows people to drop in and out when required. It’s not too challenging. It races towards plot points quickly. It holds the viewer’s attention. There are no long drawn out shooting galleries. Things are happening. All the time.
Choices have to be made. You are given time to make these choices. Enough time to debate – internally or externally. It has incredible moments. It’s paced brilliantly. It builds tension expertly. It’s truly a fun video game to watch. Even if you have no interest in video games.
Last night was Thursday night. A school night. But regardless of that, my family all came to my house. They drove over with their children. They put their children to sleep in my house. They brought all the stuff required to do that. They put all this incredible effort in. They did this in order to play more Until Dawn.
It’s insane. We’ve done this before. For Game of Thrones. But a video game? I can’t believe we did this for a video game.
And we’ll probably do it all over again.
Sadly we didn’t manage to finish Until Dawn, despite playing the game for far too long, far too late.
This Saturday night though, once all the kids are snoozing in their bed, it’s on. And I can’t wait.