Writer Alex Garland says he longs for a movie/game hybrid. Randy Lamberson wonders whether it’s already here
Awe the cinema. Going to the movies has been a shared cultural event for generations, giving people an escape from reality as they sit back and let someone else’s imagination take over. Movies can deliver a wide array of emotions as audiences connect with the characters on screen as a story unfolds, all while never leaving the comfort of their seats.
Just as the cinematic experience has evolved over the past 100 years ago, so has that of videogames, especially when it comes to the telling of compelling stories. Games used to be very primitive, making it very hard to write an engaging tale. Try to think up a good plot for two paddles and a ball, or a plumber who saves a princess from a dinosaur. Now that has changed.
Graphics have been a large help in this area, allowing for characters to look real and show emotion, which in turn causes players to better connect with them. Developers have also been pushed by the gaming community to write compelling stories, ones that draw in the player, giving them an almost movie experience. Have they succeeded? Very much so. Arguably, some games have better stories than some blockbuster movies, and evoke more emotions in players than some of the greatest films. Movie writers have even stepped in to write some of these games, helping transpose that movie feel to our controller.
An example of this can be found in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Enslaved mixed the experience we get from a movie, using character emotion and an interesting story, while delivering a compelling video game experience. This may be due to the fact that the writer of the game Alex Garland also wrote screenplays for many movies, including Sunshine, 28 Days Later, the recent film Judge Dredd 3D, and even the now-cancelled Halo Movie. he also wrote the original novel that was turned into the movie The Beach.
Garland believes the two mediums can flow together, and he encourages it. In a recent interview with OXM, he said, “There’s room for a lot more meaningful connections between video games and films, I also think that a hybrid between the two is going to arrive, and that it won’t be long before it does.”
As someone with experience in writing for both films and games, Garland has been able to see many similarities between the two, saying, “I’ve seen lots of games that have proved to me that narrative can play a part within the game. When I played BioShock, I thought: ‘This works as a proper narrative, it’s got depth, it’s got intelligence’. I was completely blown away by it.”
Personally, I found BioShock to be a perfect example of a videogame that tells a gripping story through the use of narrative, settings, and stellar gameplay. It took me on a journey as I unfolded the compelling story myself through playing it. I was the character and controlled when and how to proceed through the story.
This is something that games have over movies, the fact that the viewer, or gamer, gets to advance the story themselves. Watching a scary movie may get your heart pumping when the actor is alone in the dark or walks around a creepy corner while loud music is playing, but it is even worse when you are that person, controlling the character on the screen. Many games today also offer decisions that affect the outcome of the game, something movies cannot do. In a movie with a love story, we have to watch and see who the main character ends up with. But in games like Mass Effect, we get to choose ourselves. By making the decisions, we can get even more attached to the characters on the screen, especially because we are putting ourselves into the character.
Essentially, this hybrid that Garland spoke of already exists in a way. Some videogames are exactly that, a movie that advances through the player. Sure some games are just about blowing things up and that’s fine, but other games are like virtual movies.
While there are many things that videogames can do that movies can’t, movies still have one thing over them, and that is real people. Some may feel like they can’t connect to a videogame character because they aren’t a real person. Even as far as graphics have come, they still can’t match a camera on a real person. But, just as movies went from clay animation to CGI that look as real as possible, games have also come a long way. Perhaps that will be when the hybrid Garland mentions becomes a reality, when a videogame has real-life actors that players can control. It’s not far-fetched when you look at how game graphics have evolved, and may not be far off either.
Whether you are a film buff, a huge gamer, or even both, it can’t be denied that we live in an era filled with compelling stories laid out on either screen. I can admit that I have cried during a movie – Mufasa dying in The Lion King gets me every time – and I have cried during different games – don’t get me started on Aeris in Final Fantasy VII. Am I just a big cry baby? Maybe, but I like to think that both movies and videogames have touched my heart and the hearts of people all around the world. They are both very different and at the same time, are very alike. As long as there are stories to be told, I will be there to both watch and play them.
Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyOnP2R