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Debatoid: Are video games trying too hard to be like movies?


Welcome to Debatoid! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support. Rules for voting are at the bottom of the blog, but it is recommended that you read the contenders' cases before you cast your vote.

CaptainBus frames the debate:

Video games are still a young medium. You still read that fact in magazines and on the internet, but it's such an unusual apect of our hobby to scrutinize, simply because it doesn't feel new to us.

Most of us have known of and played video games all of our lives. We are bouyant in a solution of video games. One thing that many of us may have noticed in our lifetime, though, is how far we have progressed technologically, and how this has affected our medium.

The adventure games of 30 years ago were often 2D affairs, with everything put together by sprites - static or animated figures integrated into a larger scene. A decade later, techniques such as isometric perspective, rotoscoping and pre-rendered CGI allowed for added elements feigning genuine 3D, but were still a graphical trick.

Current technology now allows for real-time 3D rendering. New techniques in creating games have allowed for incredibly detailed scenes and the ability to represent humans and the world around them with a level of fidelity such that we are not separated from the illusion into thinking this is not realistic. These advances have only come to light in the last 10-15 years and have had a great impact in the games we play today.

One such way in which games have changed with these advances is in the form of what constitutes the atmosphere of the game. 30 years ago, almost all games were high fantasy, with swords and sorcery in imaginative alternate worlds or cheerful hopping and boping in pastel-coloured dreamscapes. The current trend for games to tend towards gritty and historical, with any deviation from these forms designed to raise drama and tension rather than levity and amusement.

This week Debatoid asks to what extent our celluloid cousin is responsible for these digressions from the norm in videogames. Is there an aspiration toward the achievements in cinema in eyes of modern video games development? To what extent does the movie industry influence our medium? Is this a good or a bad thing?

The proposition: Video games are trying too hard to be like movies.

ImMatureTony states his case for the proposition:

We live in an age where (for most of us) life consists mainly of staring at lit-up rectangles.

This has led to the mistaken notion that if two pieces of media are viewed on lit-up rectangles, they ought to be awfully alike.

To be less silly and abstract, games are a medium whose distinct strength is their interactivity, whereas movies are passive experiences. Arguments from the film camp against the legitimacy of games as an “artistic medium" often hinge on this fact; that games aren’t fixed experiences that look and behave the same every time through.

The correct way to combat these arguments, and the general disdain for video games apparent in countless negative reviews of films like Sucker Punch that say things like “it was more videogame than movie” and act like that’s clearly an insult, is to embrace the interactive nature of games even more, not to riddle them with extensive cut-scenes and passive elements that take control away from the player in an effort to emulate that other, more “legitimate” medium!

When I stumbled out of Vault 101 near the start of Fallout 3 and peered out across the blinding and vast wasteland, I had a more fiery mix of dauntedness, wonder, and curiosity than I ever would have if the game had cut to a “cinematic” pan over the landscape instead of letting me experience it from my lost and isolated avatar’s wide-eyed viewpoint, in a view I had the power to control.

Similarly, Valve’s games have a history of sustaining your immersion by never breaking from the first-person view and always leaving you in control unless there’s a clear reason why you shouldn’t be, in which case the sudden lack of control makes you feel as trapped as your character.

This successful abandonment of cinema-style storytelling in favor of techniques unique to videogames extends to “third-person” games as well. The Mass Effect titles, for example, are most compelling when they let you morph and bend the narrative according to your own jittery moral compass. A compass the game frequently confuses with challenging ethical quandaries.

These same games are arguably least compelling when they focus on clips of space warfare over giving the player the exhilarating sense of agency that a film can’t, by its nature, allow.

I’m not going to argue that games should consciously avoid any resemblance to film. I’m just saying my Wii remote should be a bit different from a DVD remote.

Video games aren’t making progress when they sacrifice the interactivity and variability that make them so chaotic and engaging.

falsenipple states his case against the proposition:

I am not here to argue against games that leave you in soliloquies like the following, "So you're still in the death throes of that cut scene, eh? You seem to be doing a lot of keen stuff. I wonder when I'll get back in there? I sure hope that you leave something fun for me to do when you're done showing off. The disappoint that you'd cause if didn't would be entirely too much."

Rather I would like you to consider just how indebted video games are to film.

Go ahead and tell me that video games owe nothing to film in regard to production values and storytelling. I'd love to hear it. Being lied to by someone in deep-seated denial is like the cooing of a lover to my ear. Do it for hours. Tell me how decades of artistic inquiry, trailblazing visual techniques, and the emotions both of those stir should back the f' up out of your video games. I love it. Tell me more.

Do me a quick favor though.

Turn on your gaming rig of choice. Put in your favorite game. Mute the volume. Set your display to its lowest resolution. Completely ignore any dialogue between characters in game. Skip the cut scenes. Forget about the game's setting and genre.

How are you enjoying that?

What you're experiencing is the pure game. It's not all whored out like a nasty movie, but then again are you happy with that alone? Some of the best games, like Tetris, can skate by a test like this, but some equally entertaining games, such as Bioshock, would be irreparably neutered by it.

The video game medium is not budgeted for us to be totally content with playing pure games. Even Tetris has its theme music, and it can tug us back to into the game just as well as any geometric shape. This is where all of that misbegotten, silver screen magic swoops in. By placing games within the framework of stories, adding dramatic flare, a soundtrack, and all of those manipulative bells and whistles they become key motivators in how we game. They may not be as deep as the game itself, but they can be the carrot on the end of the stick that baits us to play the game. We all like carrots, right?

Of course, you have to realize that you're being trolled. It's not a pretty thought, and envisioning yourself as a tortoise with Bobby Kotick on its back is a mental image no one wants. Hell, I am having trouble right now rationalizing why I'd want that.

My gut tells me rather emphatically that I do though. In the end, I love something like gaming so much that, even when all it does is goad me with pretty colors, melodramatic music and smarmy dialog to engage in remedial level problem solving, I am content and entertained.

Should I really have to choose between cheap theatrics and juvenile logic? Because there are those that can only see one end or the other there. Both seem equally demeaning.

Take them as a package though. We've probably got enough entertainment to preoccupy ourselves for a long while coming. What more could we ask for?

Many thanks to ImMatureTony and falsenipple for their contributions.


Voting is now closed on another exciting Debatoid and it turns out I should really save some energy, because the more I keep getting excited about how close the outcome was on the last Debatoid, the closer the next one gets!

Only two votes separated the contenders in the end, so I really hope this serves as a hearty commiseration for the defeated rather than a stinging pain of closeness. I haven't yet figured out what Debatoid will do in the event of a tie, but we won't be finding out yet...

Congratulations to ImMatureTony on his victory and commiserations to falsenipple on a narrow defeat.

When it has come to propositions I do not want to shy away from a certain amount of ambiguity, and the understanding that the debate tends to frame itself around the contenders perception of the topic, because I believe it lends itself more for the contenders to tackle the proposition on their terms.

Nowhere was this more in effect than this week, with the emphasis of the topic based on video games and their unique qualities and to what degree they form the backbone or the garnish of a satisfying overall experience.

What those qualities were, how important they factored into the process, and to what degree they are present or absent in modern gaming was the subject of a frenzied discussion.

One thing I found notably absent from the discussion, though, was the juxtaposition of sophisticated storytelling with current video game mechanics. Most top-selling mainstream titles serve as satisfying the primal urges within play: Success through overwhelming odds, with powers beyond the reach of your foes no matter how mighty, be they finely tuned weapons or improved wits and technique to exploit the (typically glowing) weaknesses inherent within the mightiest of foes.

Games such as Uncharted 2, Bioshock and Pokémon Black/White have already shown within their stories that developers are asking questions about the wholesale shooting or battling of people or creatures and the moral implications when considering the wider perspective of video games and how they do their thing.

Is part of the aversion to more sophisticated video game storytelling going to be the need to address these concerns more directly? If we start considering the plight of the good guy or the bad guy, will we be more sensitive to his blind adherence to killing or wounding in the thousands?

Here are some of the highlights from the comments:

"Story is important for games and one main reason I play. Trying to get cinematic elements out of games would hurt more them help."

"I'm not against all games that contain cutscenes (Metal Gear Solid 2 is simply brilliant in my opinion) but it's the games that don't need cutscenes to tell the story that have stuck with me the longest (Braid, Bioshock)."

"Why do we still demand that games be so utterly beholden to their predecessors and judged by outside criteria, when it seems so unreasonable to do so with anything else?

Movies have seen widespread success precisely because they do not feel an inherent need to be held back by the era from which their inspiration first arose, and for games to reach their full potential they must be extended that same cultural courtesy.

Gaming and film will always share some common ground, but demanding much beyond this simple acknowledgment is overkill and a stumbling block."

Byronic Man
"Consider the number of moments in any Valve game where you must wait patiently for the NPCs to finish their dialogue before they cart you into the next room, or how a given scenario is orchestrated to direct the player's visor to a particular space in a direct application of mise-en-scène.

Half-Life relies on taking all the aspects and topics of a cutscene and removing the letterbox in favour of the illusion of interactivity (for with what can you interact that alters the events onscreen?) - but if interactivity alone is sufficient to remove the guilt of a cutscene, MGS4 (where a player can enter first-person-view or hit X to engage flashbacks) and Heavy Rain are inadmissible as culprits of the prevalance of cinema in video games. I hope everyone accepts that thought as absurd.

falsenipple has a much better understanding of how cinema affects video games - not exclusively via cutscene utility, but through reliance on visual and audio languages. The argument that games should disregard the tricks of cinema because of their other differences in nature is akin to the argument that films should disregard the rules of narrative, characterization, pacing, and so on, that developed out of literature."

Vali: "I think that is selling both the cutscene and what Valve have done with their games short.

A cutscene done right has the potential to deliver emotion and points of interest much better than simply delivering narrative or introducing features while retaining the first person perspective. What Valve does is carefully craft stories and situations in which they never have to break character and thus never break the immersion, something a cutscene can never do.

It's more than just removing the letterbox because it has a significant advantage and a number of trade-offs (which have gotten fewer as games have gotten more sophisticated)."

ImMatureTony: "You bring up some good points, and I can see how my focusing on examples of very narratively-driven games is a bit baffling.

I kind of took it for granted that games which aren't trying to spin a yarn obviously aren't trying too hard to be like movies and intended to point out that those games that are focused on a tight narrative become immensely more compelling when they deviate from purely "cinematic" ways of telling that story, not to imply that they share nothing with film."

falsenipple: "And that's what I'm confused by. A lot of the commentators aren't actually addressing whether or not games have crossed the line, but rather assuming that they have or that they're ready with torch and pitchfork in hand to rush blindly to some lynching.

I mean it's cool that that they care and all. This is a gaming blog, and passion should never be at a premium here, but regardless I sometimes wonder if people tend wonder if people are so terrified and cynical that they take what-if situations with as much gravity as ones that actually exist, or, worse yet, as if they already do.

Go back and look at just the question. Disregard both of our arguments, and ask yourself right now, and I mean as of this moment, "Are video games trying too hard to be like movies?" "

For the record, my answer to that is still no.

"The industry's biggest failure is because it was trying to adapt a movie to a video game. And the fact that the video game industry is built by people who grew up on and worshiped Star Wars.

Also, the influence of movies has far more deeper than the fact that there are cut-scenes involved. The pacing is relentlessly like action movies, characters are constantly based off those in the 'Geekdom film vault', the set pieces often pay homage to/rip off action films."

"Honestly, I'm starting to doubt if video games can be a legit art form. Why do so many developers inspire to be a made for TV movie director? Why do people think interactivity is better than being told a story? In my opinion, the former doesn't hold up to some of the "better" art forms the world has to offer. If you control art, then that's when art seizes to be art."

RichardBlaine: "I understand and agree with the the spirit of a lot of what you're talking about, but I don't think you can make so many declarative statements ("Videogames are not art", "Interactivity is the key to success", "If you control art, it ceases to be art") about things that there is quite a bit of disagreement on. There are always exceptions to rules and the concept of "art" is not nearly that cut and dry."

Byronic Man: "I think many people who find that the element of interactivity prohibits games from being art are going on the assumption that is has been interactivity that prohibits many games from being particularly good in quality, story-wise, whereas more than likely that's down to the lack of talent of most game developers at story-telling."

"Pong came out in 1972, that is just 1 year shy of 40 years ago. Can we PLEASE stop calling video games young? They've been around long enough to have gone to school, college, have a decent wage at work, get married, have kids, and have their kids graduate from college."

VenusInFurs: "40 years is not young, but you put to light how far video games have come. 40 years and still not an art form, 40 years and still suffer from generic plots, 40 years and games are still pretty meh, 40 years and developers still suffer at telling a good story, 40 years and we're still debating."

LawofThemalDynamics: "Paintings are centuries old, film has been around for over a hundred years, both the internet and videogames are young."

Malik: "Film was well established 40 years with hundreds of great pieces of work. As had photography."

"If a movie was 90% film and 10% interactivity, it would be a game. For over 20 years, Japanese gamers have had interactive novels on their consoles. Would you say that the genre is trying too hard to be a book?

Much as film is trying to recreate scenes of literature, art, or even video games, we should be applying the strengths of Hollywood into our games."

The Silent Protagonist
"I dislike that kind of strict adherence to cinematic presentation. Why so serious? Mario doesn't question the nature of Question Blocks, Naked Snake belives eating glowing mushrooms restores battery power and, for him, it actually does no matter how much that doesn't makes sense.

Be grown up enough to admit that gaming as an interactive medium breaks up some seriousness with some silliness. Its actually a beautiful thing to see a game just present itself as a game without flinching at how silly it makes the narrative look and sometimes giving a wink and a nod to the player."

"With today's tech, there shouldn't be any moments of "watching it unfold" on the screen... every moment should allow for some form of interactivity.

While falsenipple raised some excellent points about learning from movies, I would rather that games learn from themselves and just forget movies altogether. I think that there MUST be new ways of telling stories, not reliant on movie narrative."

Fame Designer
"What I am suggesting is that video games should absolutely NOT try and be like movies, when their function is to be interactive much like a living world. (Yes, I'm including games like Tetris in that - why not?). The more interactivity you have, the more you get transported to that world. With more interactivity - you actually start 'living' there doing amazing things. With less interactivity we do significantly less amazing things."

"In the end, I have decided to side with falsenipple for this reason; there was a time when videogames overstepped the mark when 'trying' to be like movies, and that was in the laserdisc era. You remember, when the Sega Mega CD and Panasonic 3DO came out? Quite a few games just involved pushing a direction or button to see the next bit of animation/FMV. Sure, it looked nice, but at the end of the day, interaction was at a minimum, and for a gamer like myself, I wanted a game with more than that.

The thing is, developers have learnt from this era. Games may have tried too hard to be like movies in the past but certainly not now. The only game that has ever concerned me with the laserdisc era of interaction since was when I heard the premise of Heavy Rain.

When I played it, I enjoyed it, and learnt about the differences in events in my friend's playthrough. Technology has allowed us to have television-style images in a game now, without taking away too much control of what we want to do that interests us."

"There are some games, Heavy Rain is an example, which try way too hard to be as much of a movie as possible while still technically being a video game. L.A. Noire is coming out soon, and while it looks interesting, I fear that it might fall into this same category. It just looks likes it's trying way to hard to look like a movie.

For the majority of video games, however, I don't feel that this is a problem. It's perfectly fine to take elements of film-making, or any other form of media for that matter, and utilize them when making a video game. You just have to keep in mind that your final product should focus primarily on the video game aspect, rather than the film aspect.

We all watch movies, read books, listen to music, play video games, and whatever else. These things influence our lives, so it makes perfect sense to consider these influences when you're making something of your own. Cutscenes and interesting camera angles can and do work in video games, just as long as they're used appropriately and the gameplay isn't completely sacrificed."

Corduroy Turtle
"As much as I want to point an accusing finger at Metal Gear Solid and Heavy Rain, those games are rare cases of cutscene misuse.

Games I've played recently that walk the line between film and game with grace were Crysis 2 and Dead Space 2. They both had, what I would consider "action movie moments" but they were complimented by great gameplay as well. The Mass Effect series and Red Dead Redemption are some other wonderful examples. There's a delicate balance that, if achieved, is incredibly evoking.

Basically, are games trying too hard to be like movies? No. Are there a few glaring exceptions to this? Of course.

The jury is still out on L.A. Noire. I'm cautiously excited for it but I'll find out in May if that excitement is justified or just blurred optimism."

"I think it's a healthy thing for industries to share ideas with one another. It keeps things fresh and exciting. "

"As amazing as interactivity is, it's powers seem limited. Interactivity is used where it's always belonged, in gameplay, because it's fun. That's way all the best games, including video games, are interactive. This medium is so complex and rich however that it has managed to find a way have both at the same time. Good stories and fun, storytelling and games.

Movies and video games may be apples and oranges, but these days we've become lucky enough to have both at the same time. So why the fuck are some refusing this?

If you want fun, interactivity is the way, but for storytelling it just doesn't really work. If games borrow from other medium that have already found superb ways of stoty telling it's not wrong at all. Only very few games have attempted to cross this line and gone too far. The vast mojority haven't.

We're only seeing this "borrowing" trend not because video games are trying to be like movies, but because they're just trying to tell better stories. I'm sure we all definitely want that."

"Frankly, I wish most video games would strive to be more movie-like - not in the loss of control, but in the amount of time and effort paid to the plotting, pacing, dialogue, and resonance with the viewer. Not every movie does this well, and neither does every game, but I certainly look forward to a time when narrative and gameplay are both given as much polish as possible in games."

"Film and games will and always should be separate entities and ImMatureTony nailed it. The greatest part about the genre of video games is interactivity. The idea that the presentation is malleable enough to make the player a part of it, but solid enough to drive them along with pre-constructed wonder.

Movies are all solid, because it's the entire, unaltered image of an artist. But that's why games are such a unique thing. We get to be part of the presentation. A big part."

Thanks to everyone for a very heated, yet incredibly fun, Debatoid!

Now, enough banging on, I can't be screwing around because I want to pump out the next Debatoid by the end of the week. I hope you've all boned up on your debating skills, because I don't want anyone to feel shagged before it comes your way.

I think everyone's going to nail what this week's Debatoid's about...

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About MassDebateone of us since 1:12 AM on 03.14.2011

New header kindly contributed by falsenipple

Brought about as a result of a CaptainBus/Sean Daisy fever dream, Debatoid offers one proposal with two sides; two users give the case for and against the proposal and you vote for the outcome.

Debatoid changed its name to MassDebate, but don't fret; the principle of controversial topics, smart candidate and avid discussion remains at the forefront! Vive la même chose et la difference!

If anyone wants to volunteer a topic or submit their interest in being a contender then please PM MassDebate, email captainbus AT gmail DOT com or message _SeanDaisy on Twitter.

Debatoid Debates:

Do FPS games prevent videogames' cultural relevancy?
The proposition: As long as FPS games are our most popular genre, videogames will not be taken culturally seriously.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

Will Mario still be New and Super in 2036?
The proposition: Super Mario platformers will still be released to critical acclaim and commercial success in 25 years time.
Debatoid accepts the proposition!

JT Murphy
Corduroy Turtle
Are scores necessary in video game reviews?
The proposition: Scores are necessary in video game reviews.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

Andrew Kauz
Are zombies an overused gaming concept?
The proposition: Zombies are an overused gaming concept.
Debatoid accepts the proposition!

Ali D
Game In A Box: Endangered in the next 10 Years?
The proposition: In 10 years time physical media will become marginalised.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

Are video games trying too hard to be like movies?
The proposition: Video games are trying too hard to be like movies.
Debatoid accepts the proposition!

Can sex have a positive role to play in video games?
The proposition: Sex has no positive role to play in video games.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

Does portable gaming represent the dominant future of video games?
The proposition: Portable gaming represents the dominant future of the video game industry.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

mrandydixon (PC)
Sexualchocolate (PS3)
rexwolf2 (Wii)
Nihil (XBox 360)
Debatoid Special: Which platform is best for home gaming this generation?
The proposition: The PC / PS3 / Wii / XBox 360 represents the best that this generation's home gaming has to offer.
Debatoid selects the PC!

In 25 years, will controllers with sticks/buttons be rare in gaming?
The proposition: In 25 years, controllers with sticks/buttons will be rare in gaming.
Debatoid changes into MassDebate and rejects the proposition!

MassDebate Debates:

Byronic Man
Is XBOX Live a dangerous precedent for basic online service?
The proposition: XBOX LIVE sets a damaging precedent by charging a premium for rudimentary online service.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Has rhythm action gaming had its heyday?
The proposition: Rhythm action gaming has had its heyday.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Sean Daisy
Are videogames too focused on destruction?
The proposition: Videogames are too focused on destruction.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Is there eough racial diversity in videogames?
The proposition: There is enough racial diversity in videogames.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Are videogames addictive?
The proposition: Videogames are addictive.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Has genre distinction lost its relevance?
The proposition: Genre distinction has lost its relevance.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!