Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 04, 2013
Games vs. Movies

I started a new game this weekend, Ni No Kuni on the PS3. Now this game has very many excellent qualities: Solid JRPG gameplay, huge amount of content, and great graphics which are often indistinguishable from an Anime movie. My only problem with the game is that I don't like the story. It is a heart-breaking sob story of a little boy who loses his mother and ends up trying to save a parallel universe to bring her back. Not really my style, and I have problems identifying myself with "the pure-hearted one" main character I control and his childish naivety. Basically Ni No Kuni does a great job of creating an interactive movie, but it isn't a movie that I'd normally go to watch.

That made me think how far games still are from the narrative quality of movies. Nobody ever worries about the technical quality of a movie, it is something we consider a given. But if we read reviews for a game, the technical parts still take a very large room. Are there bugs? Is the user interface comfortable to use? Is the camera control good or getting in the way? Game review magazines often use some sort of point scale to determine a review score for a game, and as far as those scales are detailed, many of the details are usually technical, like graphics, sound, or controls.

What we end up with is many even highly acclaimed games just getting a good score for technical excellence, even if the story is bland. Nobody buys Crysis 3 for the great story it tells. There are a few notable exceptions of games with great stories, but overall it seems as if story is something the developers work on once they got everything else right. Or is just totally left out: I'm not expecting Sim City to have any story at all. And MMORPGs are notoriously weak on story, probably because they are too long for a coherent narrative.

I think games still have a long way to go before they are in the same "art" category as movies or books. Many games I've played and enjoyed playing would have made rather bad movies if the same story had been presented in a non-interactive way. A large part of gaming still is about interaction, a game like Pacman doesn't even need a story. But more and more games try to tell a story, and are either doing it badly, or end up telling a story of a kind or genre we don't really like, negatively affecting our enjoyment of the gameplay itself. It will be a long time before we take technical excellence in games as granted and choose the game we play just based on what kind of story we want to interact with.

"Many games I've played and enjoyed playing would have made rather bad movies if the same story had been presented in a non-interactive way"

If games are to be regarded as 'art', it needs to be on their unique artistic merits - the interactivity, the 'gaminess'.

But I do fundamentally agree that not enough attention to paid to narrative.
I do believe that The Longest Journey, Dreamfall, Dragon Age & the Mass Effects as well as Torment would have made great movies.

Also there are a handfull of good looking arty games out there, like Esther etc.

Just the majority of AAA titles don't care.
Just because films don't have individual scoring doesn't mean that the critics don't complain about technical details in the actual review. Hell, my primary complaint about Cloud Atlas was that the digital yellowface breaks suspension of disbelief.

But no matter how bad the effects or the cinematography are, they can't prevent you from finishing the film. Bad controls, lopsided difficulty, uncooperative camera and glitches can.
"technical excellence in games as granted and choose the game we play just based on what kind of story we want to interact with."

=> I am not sure story will ever be the only way to choose a game. Gameplay and how we interact with the world will always remain one important ( the main?) reason to choose a game against another.

Two different game can have the same story, but a RTS game and a FPS game will be very different.

As in a movie, some great film are beautiful and great with quite a not-so-good story : Kill Bill for exemple.
"Nobody ever worries about the technical quality of a movie, it is something we consider a given."

That statement doesn't represent the view of any group of people I have ever been a part of or mixed with. From school through university, through a number of different workplaces, whether talking about films with close friends or casual acquaintances, with film buffs or "once a year" cinamagoers, the technical quality of the films being talked about is a frequent topic or reference.

In my experience the great majority of people who take even a passing interest in any form of entertainment, popular or "serious" are very interested in and aware of the technical shortcomings or successes of the works they spend time with. As a bookseller I can assure you that many customers, having bought one book by an author and found it deficient in a technical aspect of the craft of writing will decline to buy any further books by that author, regardless of how interested they might otherwise be in the narrative. The same, I am certain, applies to the reaction of cinemagoers to films by certain directors.

Your point about narrative may be true; I personally feel games are a very, very poor way to deliver narrative fiction. The comparison with movies, however, does not help to make this case. Narrative is only a part of why people watch movies and often not the most important part. If it was, clearly many huge blockbusters would be far less successful and many arthouse films would be huge popular successes.
Of course there is criticism about the technical aspects of a film, as in many cases low review scores are given when CGI and special effects are done poorly. Also, isn't there a category in the Oscars for SFX?

Also, a comparison of the two genres is not exactly valid and falls into the same fault as when you try to compare a film and a song. Two completely different things that expect different things from the one experiencing them.

A poor narrative has never been a barrier to a blockbuster novel either.

How many copies of 50 Shades of Grey were sold last year?

Or the Twilight series?

Hey, I'll be buying Crysis 3 for the story, and thus when it goes on sale this xmas most likely.
Playing a game with even a little sandbox quality actively subverts "story"or "narrative". A story is a retelling of action that has already happened, and very often that involves repackaging the actual events to create a compelling narrative.

A game in which you have many choices is occurring now. It isn't a story, it's a life being lived with multiple outcomes. It will never live up to a story per se, any more than our real lives can live up to a TV character's life.

Playing games allows us to create our own narrative if we so choose, but most players seem to be primarily interested in the zen of being in the game, allowing setting to swirl around us, not telling a story.

A great game to me is like a car. I want it to be comfortable, responsive, perhaps perform just beyond my abilities, and give me a great ride through a compelling landscape.
I'm playing Ni No Kuni too right now, and I really enjoy it. Of course, it helps that we play it together as a family with the three kids.
People have pointed out that films do often get critiqued on their technical aspects - graphics/sound/camera angles - but it occurred to me that books have technical aspects independent of the narrative, too. Choice of 1st, 2nd, 3rd person and how well it's done, whether the prose is too flowery (Tolkein), or so scant that it reads like a laundry list (David Eddings).

Quibbling on that point aside, it's an interesting post that I mostly agree with, but I'd like to bend the angle on it a little.


Hollywood has its own format restrictions based entirely on how they want to deliver it, just like games do. There's a big difference between a 90min comedy, 2hr action blockbuster and a 3hr fantasy epic. You can suggest that the nature of the narrative is tied to those descriptions, but a 3hr rom-com would probably work about as well as Bioshock as a Real-Time Strategy game, and they've become indicators in themselves, almost as distinct as games in their delivery method (FPS/RTS/RPG/Platformer).

There's a reason that whenever a comic or game gets made into a movie, the director pretty much throws out everything canon and says they're 'rebooting' it, or drawing on the source material for inspiration, because they claim the original 'doesn't work as a movie'.

One former director of a Halo movie said the Master Chief just doesn't work for Hollywood, because he's not relatable, because the helmet never comes off. (And trying to get ANY actor to keep a mask or helmet on for an entire film is like trying to give a cat a bath, or take it for a walk on a leash. "But they have to see my beautiful FACE! It's not about the character, it's about meeeee!")
This comment has been removed by the author.
"It will be a long time before we take technical excellence in games as granted and choose the game we play just based on what kind of story we want to interact with."

I'm not sure how to parse this. I mean, we are talking about games here... shouldn't the "game" part matter?

If you just want the story -- books and movies are great at that. If you want to "interact with a story", I guess, "Choose Your Own Adventure" is an example.

But game ought to be evaluated on the basis of how good a *game* it is. Some things currently labeled 'games' maybe should actually have their own label -- 'experience' or something.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool