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Video games: more than movies?

Last month, Later Levels was very kindly nominated for a Sunshine Blogger Award by Red Metal from Extra Life. It comes as no surprise that several of the questions this blogger posed to their nominees were on the subject of films: their site is a great collection of long-form reviews of both movies and video games, detailed and well-thought-out in their approach. This gives me the perfect opportunity to finally write a post I’ve been thinking about for some time now.

You see, I very rarely watch films myself. The last one I saw at home was Escape Room on Netflix (which was entertaining enough but ultimately unfulfilling); and the only reason that happened was because I was feeling too ill to play a video game one weekend last month. The length of time it’s been since I visited a cinema is even longer. The last time I can recall was in February 2017 as my stepson wanted to watch The Lego Batman Movie, so I had to go with him in order to fill the role of responsible parent.

EGX, expo, event, video games, developer session, Pewter Games Studio, Charles Cecil, chairs, microphones, presentation, screen

This isn’t because I don’t enjoy stories. It’s obvious to any regular Later Levels visitor that adventure is my favourite game genre, and that’s because of something noted by Charles Cecil at a developer session back in September 2016: I love the way it magically entwines fantastic tales within its gameplay. As mentioned in a post at the end of last year about the reasons why I’d play a video game, right up there at the top are ‘if it’s a point-and-click’ and ‘if it’s narrative-heavy’.

So if I enjoy stories as much as I do, then why don’t I watch films more often? I just can’t seem to focus for the entire duration of a movie and eventually grow bored. Unless it’s something I’ve wanted to see for a long time or its plot is entirely gripping from the outset, I start getting twitchy legs and just have to get up to move about – something which may be mildly annoying for the other-half if we’re at home on the sofa, but is more frustrating for anyone who’s bought cinema tickets for the same showing as me.

I don’t seem to have the same issue when it comes to video games though. As proven by our test streams in the run-up to GameBlast19 last month, I can manage to play the same title for 12 hours straight without too much effort; I might flag a little when tiredness sets in but I don’t lose concentration in the same way I do with a film. Completing a 24-hour stream may have been challenging both mentally and physically but it’s so much fun and I wouldn’t hesitate to do another (roll on GameBlast20 next February).

Storytelling in gaming has come an awfully long way since the days of rescuing princess from various castles. We now have access to a wide range of protagonists which aren’t always the stereotypical white male hero, and it’s far easier to find one we can relate to and even admire. Each character is fully developed with their own backstories, intentions, strengths and weaknesses, and the conflict they encounter drives the narrative forward in a way which causes the player to care about their journey.

In The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker wrote that there are only several storylines which are recycled again and again. Films present one of these plots and it can’t be changed (right now). With video games though, there’s always that feeling of being able to affect its outcome even if it’s just an illusion of choice. We may ultimately arrive at set end-points determined by the developer but those choices we’re presented with along the way change into something more than a simple story: it’s transformed into our story.

So does that mean I think that video games are better than movies? Not necessarily but I do believe they offer something different, or possibly something more special. Stepping into the role of a protagonist you can relate to or having the opportunity to play as a character you’ve created is an experience that films are unable to provide at present. With advances in technology and innovation, there’s nothing to say that won’t change in the future – but right now, gaming gives me a level of immersion that movies are unable to.

Developers have learnt to use storytelling tools to their advantage, just as film directors do. Just look at titles such as The Last of Us or Hellblade; releases nowadays suck us in by incorporating cinematography principles including shot composition, lighting and camera focus. As written by Jon Fusco in an article for No Film School in August 2017: “All of these elements come together to produce an immersive experience that you simply can’t get from any other medium of entertainment. It’s more than a movie – it’s a playable movie.”

Thank you once again to Red Metal for the Sunshine Blogger Award, and now over to you. Which does it for you more: video games or movies?

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

15 thoughts on “Video games: more than movies? Leave a comment

  1. I have to say I wouldn’t blame people for thinking of games as the superior medium to films because they’ve really been killing it this decade whereas filmmakers seem to have stagnated creatively as of late. When it comes to storytelling, they offer things that other mediums can’t through their interactivity.

    Having said that, I would actually argue video game narratives have reached the respectable spot they enjoy now without having paid much attention to what Naughty Dog did with The Last of Us. I do think it at least sold a lot of people on the idea that video games can have good storytelling, but the medium’s best moments have always resulted from marching to the best of their own drum as opposed to attempting to recreate Hollywood’s past successes. As such, when I think of good video game stories, I’m more likely to think of stuff like Undertale, 999, Majora’s Mask and OneShot. They’re far more comfortable with what they are whereas Naughty Dog’s games seem to be the result of the writers not realizing that certain film storytelling techniques don’t always translate well to games.

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    • When I was reading articles for research for this post, almost every one of them mentioned The Last of Us and it’s certainly what a lot of developers are aspiring too in terms of storytelling. For me personally though, it just didn’t hit the spot and I’ve never completed the game. I much prefer stories which are a little bit unusual or more personal; give me an indie adventure over a big-budget-blockbuster any day!

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      • I think the problem is that even if The Last of Us is influencing developers, said impact isn’t obvious (or at least not immediately obvious). It’s not like Dark Souls, which managed to exert its influence over the medium in a much shorter amount of time. As it stands, The Last of Us excels in a lot of ways that aren’t really unique to itself, which means it’s only a matter of time before someone beats Naughty Dog at their own game; in fact, I would argue it has already happened many times over.

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  2. They’re both great! I don’t think either one is better bet they have their own strengths and drawbacks. I remember what first amazed me about FF7 at that young impressionable age is that it had epic cinematic moments, but lots of characters like a TV show, and plenty of story and character building like a novel. It felt like something that couldn’t exist in any medium other than games 🙂

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  3. I haven’t watched a movie for years. It’s not as though I actively dislike the medium or anything, it’s just if I have some free time I’d rather immerse myself in a game.

    As Red Metal says above, the most memorable narratives in gaming have been those where the medium isn’t trying to ape Hollywood, but is instead concentrating on what it can do well. And that’s a lot of things — different for many people.

    For me, the fact that gaming can provide you a much more intimate, in-depth sense of characterisation than a movie is immensely valuable to me. This is, in many cases, purely a time thing; spending 100+ hours alongside the cast of an RPG gets you thinking of them as family. But video games can also play with perspective a lot more than film; they allow you to really get into the role of the character and understand what they’re thinking, why they’re thinking it and what that might cause them to do.

    Gaming is also a means of exploring fantasies and multiple outcomes, including negative ones. The game I’m presently covering leverages the whole “bad end” thing to emphasise how much danger its characters are in. Because every choice you make carries the risk of something really unpleasant happening, you pay more attention and understand that you can’t just fall back on the usual “oh, everything will probably be all right because they’re the main character”.

    There’s a lot to like about games, in short. Better than movies? Your mileage may vary; some value the opportunity the shorter length of movies provides to have a broader range of experiences. Some enjoy experiencing something that someone else has prepared for them without the potential interactivity provides to mess with that vision. Me? I’ll always prefer games, I think; it’s in my blood.

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    • I loved what you said here about characterisation. I enjoy the way video games really let you get inside of a protagonists’ head and understand what they’re thinking and feeling; getting the opportunity to step inside their shoes and make the decisions they’d make is priceless. I can think of so many characters where I almost felt as if I *knew* them because they were so well written.

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  4. I’m going to have to lean towards video games personally, as I often choose those over watching a movie.

    I do love my movies though, I’ve spent the last few years ripping my collection and setting up Plex. I’ve also taken to Facebook marketplace and now CeX to pick up bargains for 50p, in much the same way Steam sales often net £1-3 video games and provide hours upon hours of entertainment.

    We are spoiled for choice these days, across all forms of entertainment!

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    • I totally agree! Video game narratives tend to offer something a little more interesting than movies, or less ‘Hollywood’ as Red Metal above. I can see myself playing far more games in my lifetime than watching films. 🙂

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