Hi, I’m fjveca, and I wanted to talk about something that has come across a lot of times from the gaming industry, some days ago a fellow twitter friend twitted about an article that Forbes published about video games and the developer David Cage (Why David Cage Will Help Sony Sell PlayStation 4 Hardware And Create The Citizen Kane Of Gaming) that I could not make myself to read completely, and the title of the article itself had a term that has become quite common for the video game industry "the Citizen Kane of gaming", Citizen Kane has become a staple of the cinema, often regarded as the best movie ever made, or the most important movie of all time, most influential film ever, and rightly so, it is a movie that really pushed forward how films were made and was greatly ahead of its time, incredibly praised by critics and surely used in cinema schools to teach film students how movies should be made, the question is should videogames developers strive to make this “Citizen Kane of gaming”?
There are many reasons why Citizen Kane set a before and after line, but to condense all that I would say is that Citizen Kane was the first to actually use the strengths of the film media to its advantage, but amazingly we have seen video games actually doing this, games like Bioshock have made incredible stuff with narrative (would you kindly scene) that was infinitely more powerful because most of the actions happened because you actually made them happen and that is something that movies could never pull off, even with games with little narrative like Journey manage to convey it's message through very little exposition and more with the mechanics of the game, overall at the end of the game.
But even those games, while moving the video game industry forward could not compare to what Citizen Kane did overall because that movie introduced so many things that later became industry wide standards on how movies should be made and at their very core both Bioshock and Journey are still an FPS and a Platformer really good ones but they didn't defined how FPSs and Platformers should be made, but that doesn't mean that games have not had such breakthroughs, it only means that we should be looking elsewhere to find something that could be considered this “Citizen Kane” games like Half Life 2, a game that absolutely refined how FPSs should be made, games like The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time that introduced a plethora of features that are now industry standards even for games that are not in the same genre of video games, or even the Super Mario Brothers series that completely defined how 2D sidescrolling platformers should behave and even Resident Evil 4 that did a lot for Third Person Shooters.
There is also a problem of length, films are incredibly short compared to video games, the average movie lasts between 90 and 180 minutes with very few films going beyond the 180 minutes, now if our standard video game lasted that long even with a multiplayer option most of the critics would rightly claim that asking 60 US$ for a 2-3 hour campaign is outrageous, we even think that a game that lasts less than 8 hours is short, but of course that a game that is 8 hours long can’t be 4 hours of narrative, unless you are speaking of a Metal Gear Solid game but those are generally not 8 hours games and it also is the exception that confirms the rule, but video games have the time to have stories with more depth and character development because most of the time restraints placed in a film doesn't apply in the video game industry and those who play the game have more time to think about what the game story is trying to convey us, overall since after a cutscene most games have 2 options, the first is offer a combat (be it a boss battle or a wave of enemies) or exploration time where we can digest and think about for a while what we saw.
Video games are an intrinsically different medium than movies due to their defining interactive nature, and even there are times where they don’t need narrative to be engaging, take Tetris as an example of this, it’s a very simple puzzle that has no story whatsoever but it is one of the most recognized games in the history of the medium, so asking for a videogame equivalent of the “Citizen Kane” seems like a lackluster comparison, overall taking into consideration that there are a lot of film technics used in video games cutscenes that very probably are derived from the Citizen Kane film.
But my main problem with this terminology is that every time the term “the Citizen Kane of gaming” is thrown it implies that video games so far have been unable to tell stories that have impact on our feelings and our points of view, that so far video games have not been able to generate emotions from its audience, and that is completely false, I have personally was moved on lots of moments in many games, I cried at the ending of Final Fantasy X, I felt the shivers of fear go through my spine in Dead Space 2 when I had to stick a 60 inch needle through Isaac Clarks eye, and it took a lot from me to actually pull the trigger to kill The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3, and completely helpless when the main villain of infamous decided to kill Cole McGrath girlfriend regardless of which choice did I take, games can generate emotions in ways that movies can’t even dream about performing, if you can’t believe me go and play all the episodes from The Walking Dead because they are the latest best example on how to make your audience engaged emotionally towards the characters and story of a video game.
Everybody knows you need at least 30000 polygons to convey emotions
In the end this term has become something completely misleading and that tries to put films and video games in the same place when they are a very different animals, it subjugates video games as a lower class of films that should forget what they are and try to be movies, but lots of people likes this term because Citizen Kane meant a lot for the film industry and using this term would make outsiders understand what those people think the video game industry is aiming to accomplish, and there have even been attempts to say such a game already exists, but it also creates lots of false expectations because video games are not movies.
And here is where I get absolutely frustrated about people using the term “Citizen Kane of gaming”, there are developers that actually believe that they will make the first game that will make anyone engaged in a video game narrative, and with that they dismiss a plethora of games that have actually made millions of people care about their storylines and characters, they dismiss lots of people that have made excellent games that have set trends and industry standards on how video games are and should be made, this term has become a staple of pretentious people that like to look down on us, their audience, and telling us that they know better than us about what we like, and that is just insulting.
Disclaimer: not a real David Cage quote
I guess that my petition to developers with great ambitions on leaving a mark in this industry is stop trying to revolutionize games like they were movies, try making better games, I know that the analogy that the term “Citizen Kane of gaming” makes, sounds pretty because it carries the sort of message you want to convey and even people outside the gaming world could understand, but singing early praise to your work will only come as pretentious, and you might end like Gearbox with Alien: Colonial Marines, so many praising was made before the game was released and we know full well how the final product turned out to be, so try to learn something from other peoples failures, be humble and just try to make your game great then if your game ends up being that good praise it all you want, but please stop using the “Citizen Kane of gaming” term while you’re at it, there is no reason to use this term and it sounds egotistical and completely out of touch with the medium you are working on.