Games Or Movies?

“The most cinematic game ever!” “A cinematic experience!” “It’s just like a movie!”

These are just a few of the phrases I found when reading up about some of my favourite games. Games like Red Dead Redemption, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and L.A. Noire. In fact, Comic Book Movie went as far as making a list of the most cinematic games. “Games that could actually be movies.”

I don’t understand why games should be like movies.

For decades Hollywood has been the leader of the entertainment industry, with movies raking in billions of dollars all over the world. Video games, on the other hand, have always walked in its shadow. In 2008, however, combined sales of gaming software and hardware exceeded £4 billion – more than four times the takings of cinemas. The video game industry is taking the world by storm and has stepped to the forefront of entertainment.

So why are they still treated as second rate to movies?

The word ‘cinematic’ is banded around a lot when it comes to video games. As if being cinematic is something for video games to aspire to. The internet is full of lists of the most cinematic video games, talking about games which “could easily be movies themselves.” People talk about Red Dead Redemption as “delivering a movie-like experience,” and how “GTA is so often praised for feeling like you’re playing a great crime movie.”

Would you rather play this or watch it?

The issue I have with this is: why would I want my game to be like a movie? If I wanted something to be cinematic, I would watch a movie. You can’t get much more cinematic than that. I want my games to be like games. I want to play them, not watch them.

Game developers are increasingly adopting moviemaking tropes. So much of games like Modern Warfare 3 have become long scripted events, which although look impressive, do not have player participation beyond pressing X to not die, or just crossing a line to trigger an action sequence. While games are undoubtedly a visual medium, they are also a very different kind of storytelling to movies. I want my games to be immersive. I want to feel like I am guiding the story, rather than following a distinct path and letting the developers tell the story for me.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – it may look great, but do you feel like you’re actually playing a game?

This may well be the evolution of gaming, and with the latest string of modern shooters from Medal of Honor: Warfighter to Black Ops 2 it certainly seems to be the fashion. But being cinematic is not something video games should aim for, nor is it something by which the quality of a game should be judged. I believe gameplay is at the heart of a game, not visuals, and to say a game is excellent because it is just like a movie is missing the point.

It is as if people think game developers want to make films but cannot, so they have to settle for second best. This is not the case at all. Video games are a separate medium. Movies and video games may share similar characteristics, but they are ultimately two distinct art forms and should be treated accordingly.

So the next time you excitedly claim how cinematic a game is, take a step back and think about it. Sure, it’s great when games look fantastic, but how does it play? Because ultimately that is what makes a game stand the test of time.

Why the constant comparison between games and movies? Games are games. Movies are movies. I could talk for hours about the differences between them, and the sooner people realise games are a perfectly valid art form in themselves, the better.

About Thomas Winward

I make films. I write about films. I play games. I write about games. I drink tea. I don't do much else.

4 comments on “Games Or Movies?

  1. I’ve argued the merits of Video games over movies, and completely agree the two should remain distinctive. Great post!

    • Personally I disagree on this one. I don’t think games should solely aim to be cinematic but I feel that a certain cinematic flair to cutscenes can help out games greatly. Metal Gear Solid is a game series I play both for the story, but also to see what crazy cutscenes the guys at Kojima Productions have come up with. Gameplay definitely comes second in the franchise but it is still one of my personal favorites.

      • That’s interesting, a lot of people have been mentioning MGS in response to this. I’ve never had a Playstation but I think the first two games have just been released on Xbox so I’ll have to see what all the fuss is about. Cutscenes are obviously great for being cinematic, because they are basically short films in themselves. My objection is more when developers place more emphasis on visuals than on gameplay.

  2. MGS is an example that could go both ways – it could easily be argued that a 45 minute long cutscene consisting mainly of soldiers running, readying weapons, looking confused, falling over and then Snake really laboriously figuring out something that you already know is actually awful and ruins an otherwise really good stealth game.

    But then MGS is pretty much just Hideo Kojima being as extraordinarily self-indulgent and unnecessarily long-winded as possible. If you’re into that, then you’ll love every bit of the game, and it’s refreshing for someone to make the product they want to make rather than just creating something to sell that conforms to industry expectations, especially when it comes to a AAA blockbuster like MGS. I personally really enjoyed MGS2, 3 and 4, but jesus some of the cutscenes in 4 were LONG. 8 hours of cutscenes in total in that game. The install times needed to get it all in were pretty detrimental to my enjoyment of the game, because I was sitting there watching Snake smoke a fag for 20-45 minutes at a time rather than playing/watching the actual game.

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