the artistry and psychology of gaming


Movies vs. the Video Games Part 2

Movies vs. the Video Games Part 2

This is the second part of an article. To read the first part, click here.

In the last article I talked about 5 reasons that make the movies and video games very different as mediums of art, and I’ve mentioned that these differences are fundamental. Today we are going to talk about reasons 6 and 7, which are more important than the previous ones.

6: The moral approach of video games is impossible in a movie.

Now, we need to be careful here, as this topic tends to delve into gross generalizations. There’s no doubt that there are many similarities between all mediums of art when it comes to morality. All genres (books, movies, video games, music, etc) are enriched with works of art which enjoy complex morality, all of them include works of art which tackle the most complex issues and therefore, it would be crude to suggest either movies or video games have any sort of monopoly over complex moral subject matter. However, there is one important point; video games are capable of a method of dealing with morality which is completely inaccessible to all other mediums, and that is interactivity. They can make the moral issues complex by making it your choice, creating different paths and different results and therefore making your choice vital and important, making it personal, more understandable, and deeper. As I’ve said before, everything is different when you observe things and when you experience things first hand.

Now, a large portion of games include black and white simple morality, and therefore do not fulfill the massive artistic potential of the genre. A game like InFamous comes to mind, where you choices are quite polar and they won’t have any real consequences except changing your appearance and special abilities. Or in the game Dante’s Inferno you’re decided to be “good” or “evil” only by selecting to forgive or damn the souls of the sinners. In such games the morality system is superficial and boring, and doesn’t engage you on a personal level, and therefore teaches you nothing about yourself and the world at large.

Hmmm….. is blowing up a bus full of innocent people good or evil? That’s a tough choice. For a person who’s considering joining Al Qaeda that is.

 But there are also many games which tackle the issue and really create a complex moral system where the subject matter is dealt with in a way exclusive to video games. The morality of these games might be black or white or grey, but it’s not superficial or simplistic. To name a few, one can think of Fallout series, The Witcher series, Black and White, and Heavy Rain.

So let us ask, will the systems in this game translate into a movie? They won’t. An example will illuminate this point.

During the Witcher, there’s a tough choice at the end of chapter one. (I’m warning you of spoilers now, so no nagging please). There’s a witch called Abigail, who’s being prosecuted by the townsfolk. She has helped them to commit some crimes, at the very least. She has been viewed  as a source of trouble by the people and she’s blamed for many things. Now you should decide to help the town people to prosecute and lynch her or to defend her against the people. Now, what makes this complex is that there’s no definite clue to show you if she’s innocent or guilty. There are many facts pointing her innocence, she taking care of an orphan child, helping Geralt with his mission, and the evil nature of the townsfolk themselves. There are also many factors which charge her as guilty. She provides poison, offers Geralt to sleep with him in order to clear herself up (in other words, bribing him with sex) and therefore the game doesn’t lead you to any definite answer. Drop in some forums and take a look at discussions. While some gamers definitely believe she’s innocent, others believe she’s guilty. There’s no right or wrong answers here.

Now, you’re at this point: the fate of a woman is delivered to your hand, and you’re not sure what’s the true answer. You’ll feel the anxiety of choosing; and the whole complexity of human choices is presented to you in a very simple choice. You’ll struggle, and therefore understand better, the complexity of judging and punishing people, you’ll know how tricky and vital that is. Now if this was a movie, your suspense would be completely different, and you’ll have another experience. You will ask yourself “will he make the correct choice?” You’re a distant observer, a spectator who will ask the hero to take the correct step, but in the game, you’re in the field. In a movie, you’re the person following the court news, in the game, you’re the jury, all twelve of them.

At least she’s hot.

 7: You can never experience your “own” story in a movie.

Well, it’s true that there has been no game to really let you write your own story while playing it, however, there are many games which let you choose different paths in the game and make the entire experience unique. This is what makes many games so intriguing and fun, and at times, artistic. This enforces the self-identification I mentioned above, it gives you a sense of involvement in the story, and truly makes you some kind of author as you play the game. What is postmodern and avant-garde in this aspect in movies and books it’s a normal characteristic of a video game. This makes them truly the medium of the 21st century, the era of interactivity. I have no doubt that it will be in the future that video games will conquer the untrodden lands of interactivity, but so far many video games have begun experimenting and setting new grounds.

One of the best examples is Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. When this game is being loaded; you see this:

And that’s true to a large extent. The game will change a lot and you will really have the feeling that your experiencing a unique story. I’ve chosen this game precisely because the story doesn’t change at all, the changes are small, minute and yet very significant and deeply affect the experience. A movie can never capture that. Never. A movie might have multiple endings, or multiple narrations (Rashomon for example) or it might leave blanks in the story forcing you to fill them with your own imagination. But it will never look at you, get to know you, ask you what would you like, and change itself just for you, to please you.

This sort of special relationship is only between you; and your favorite game, your own private game.

I am not still done! We will continue this topic in two other articles, published as a part of the Controller and the Lamp. Next week, I’m going to ask and answer this question: “Will Heavy Rain make a good movie?” and the weak after that “Will Metal Gear Solid series make a good movie?” Because these are two great games which are frequently labeled “cinematic”. I’m going to prove that they are great games, and nothing else!

Stay tuned!

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