the artistry and psychology of gaming


Could Heavy Rain Make a Good Movie?

Could Heavy Rain Make a Good Movie?

This article is related to two previous installments on the Controller and the Lamp. Read the the other articles here and here.

An interactive movie- this is the rather derogatory label frequently attached to this game. Never before a game has been so misunderstood. Heavy Rain is indeed a video game- not only a video game, but a great example of what’s unique about video games in comparison with other mediums. One could look at it as an example of how video games fundamentally differ from movies. This game could be analyzed from different points of view, but here I take a look at one particular point; is this game an interactive movie, or similar to movie, and how good it would be if it wasn’t a game?

Heavy Rain is a PS3 game created by Quantic Dream  is written and directed by  David Cage. Heavy Rain‘s story is a thriller modeled after film noire, telling the story of four main characters involved with the case of the Origami Killer, a serial killer who uses rainfall and a pit to drown his victims. Ethan Mars is a father who is trying to save his son who has been kidnapped by the murderer, Madison Paige is a journalist writing a report on the case, Norman Jayden is an FBI agent on the case, and Scott Shelby is a private eye. The game also makes it clear that one of them is the actual killer. The gameplay consists of performing actions in-game using motions on the controller and QTEs. The gamer’s decisions and actions during the game will affect the narrative; the main characters can be killed, and certain actions may lead to different scenes and endings.

The four protagonists.

I’ve got to admit- when you finally beat Heavy Rain and look back at it, knowing the identity of the Origami Killer and the real motives behind what people do, (don’t worry, I won’t spoil them for you), actually when you start to sort things out in your head- you’ll find many faults with Heavy Rain, and not small ones. The most important flaw of the Heavy Rain is related to what is also undoubtedly its strongest merit: the story. There are many major plot holes. For example, clues leading to the identity of the killer are obvious, and it’s really unacceptable that the police couldn’t find the killer for such a long time. The killer is playing a too dangerous game and it’s really strange that he hasn’t been caught long before the events of the game. Furthermore, there are some important clues that the families of the victims leave to Scott Shelby, the private eye of the game, and the game doesn’t even address the question “Why they didn’t give these clues to the police?” There might be some convincing answers to these logical errors, but what is important, they’re not given in the game. Maybe the second important flaw of Heavy Rain is the fact that it’s not really replayable; the first time that you beat the game the goose is killed and the golden eggs are laid down. Thirdly, the first time that you play the game you have the illusion that the plot of the game really changes because of your actions; but actually the game moves on a linear line and your actions really make a change very late in the game; maybe from the “Fish Tank” level onwards.

However, and this is the main point I’d like to make, none of these flaws prevent Heavy Rain from being one of the greatest games ever made. All of these occur to you on your second play-through, and the 10-15 hours you spend the first time you beat the game are going to be an unforgettable, haunting, addictive, and deep, experience. They will be 10-15 hours that you’ll never regret. Few other games have so deeply cut their way to the very bones of your emotions. You’ll feel shocked, depressed, happy, you’ll fall in love. The main merit of Heavy Rain is the same as all great works of art- and Heavy Rain certainly is a work of art- it’s human, deeply human, with human characters, human questions, human themes.

How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love? This is the moral question that the game asks, and this question is not simply a cheap theme to serve as a vehicle for violent, exciting, and erotic scenes to follow, or a story to add spice to a great gameplay. This question is the core of the game, and it poses it upon you, as the gamer. The game’s full of violent, exciting and erotic scenes, but they’re at the service of the question. Heavy Rain is possibly the most moral game ever made, it’s deeply, deeply moral. As the gamer, you are forced to answer the question, and I believe that’s what makes it great as a game.

And what makes this question so compelling and important? The fact that it is experienced. The nature of the story is such that it should be experienced, not watched. For example, while you control Ethan Mars the game puts some tough choices in your path. Will you kill a person who has never harmed you and has a son just like you to save your own son? Likewise, when you’re controlling other characters, the game forces you to go through hard trials. The nature of these trials is that you have to choose, or endure them yourself.

I disagree with some gamers that lament of the lack of gameplay. Heavy Rain is not an interactive movie, it’s a game. If it was a movie, it would lose this moral touch, it would be a well-made thriller full of plot holes at best, and a cheap slasher at worst.  And I think that the QTE based gameplay of the game suits it best. As you play the game you’re so involved that this amount of gameplay is more than enough for you. (On a trivial note, although I dislike Wii I think this game would work perfect on it).

Therefore, for this very game, I think you can’t separate “gameplay” section from the “story” section. These two criteria are completely intertwined in this game, and they support each other.

When the game gets too tough this is your relief.

 What’s unique about this game is that it’s about you. Many may argue that the game is not an non-linear or open-ended as it claims to be, and they’re right, but Heavy Rain achieves this ultimate greatness, while you play this game; you’re not playing a game about four characters but a game about you. The game teaches you many things about yourself. It teaches you about love, family, guilt and sin; and all from the personal experience. This is what distinguishes the game and makes it important.

Now imagine it was a movie. First the story would be too shallow and predictable, and full of cliches. Second, the characters wouldn’t be as deep, as the movie doesn’t have time for their peculiarities and trivialities. It would be the story of a father trying to save his son, that’s all. The faults of the game (its plot holes) would be much more important. The movie would be mediocre, as it would never have the sense of urgency of the game.

And it would never be interpreted as the game. You can’t say “dear viewer; this movie is actually about you” as it’s not; viewer’s actions and decisions play no role, it’s not his/her personal journey.

Therefore, please stop calling this game an interactive movie. Thanks in advance.

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