Filmic Connections, the Dead & the Needing-to-be-Shot
Responding to this post by my man LB Jeffries; re-posting here so I’ll remember it.
Only two arguments with this. First: “And yet in a video game it is ourselves we care about. It is our own character or the person we are playing with whom we connect first.”
That isn’t a distinguishing characteristic, and it isn’t necessarily true, either. Ebert is wrong to say it’s “the people” that are important in film. Most films ask you to identify with a single protagonist and stick with them despite their actions. The body count metaphor for success you use is echoed exactly in Falling Down with Michael Douglas, and any number of spaghetti westerns. The unique thing isn’t that these same systems aren’t represented, but that you can force the player to confront their own actions (physically, as they hold the controller) rather than the actions of somebody else who they’ve only identified with mentally/emotionally. My thinking here probably has something to do with the fact that my favorite games and films are the ones that attempt to manipulate your identification with the protagonist.
Second: it never struck me until today that Steve Gaynor’s description of the immersion model is basically the summary of how to create travelogue cinema verite documentary films. I suppose this isn’t so much an argument with either you or him, but perhaps something we should study if we hope to achieve this wonderful Promised Land where AI doesn’t totally suck and do and say the same stupid things with every playthrough. Certainly the illusion of spontaneity is there if you’re willing to bite, but game AI still usually follows the rules of “if the player can’t tell it’s stupid, make it stupid to save cycle counts.” We need to get to a stage where we’re willing to give up narrative continuity and a few really great textures to waste processing power on AI that’s disruptive and therefore enlightening.
Also, Celia Pearce and Henry Jenkins came up with the idea of game design as narrative architecture a really, really long time ago. It’s a shame to attribute it to anyone else.
Finally, this article is a really great summary of the pieces you’re covering, but I don’t think any of these pieces are attacking the questions we need to answer (with the exception of positing procedural rhetoric as our analogue for editing, which I think is an important connection). For instance, how are all the psychoanalytic connections we’ve made in film over the past 40 years altered by games? We could write for a lifetime just analyzing these differences (there are quite a number of feminist game theorists doing just that, but these ideas have yet to enter popular writing).
You mention Mirror’s Edge, right? So the other day this incoming 1st year is talking to me about the male gaze in Mirror’s Edge and Portal. And I ask, but the game camera and the cameras watching the female protagonists are different. How do you address the fact that Glados is female? How is the first-person camera acting different following the fact that we are identifying explicitly as female? Do we necessarily sexualize/objectify a female protagonist if she’s in third-person camera, or only when the creators want us to (ie Lara Croft’s muddy bottom in Underworld)? So here’s a short conversation in which Laura Mulvey’s idea of visual pleasure in the cinema is completely destroyed by the examples of two games. These are the filmic connections that are important to distinguish between and analyze.
Cut scenes and linearity in games have been dying for awhile. Time to put some bullets into the kneecaps of other cinematic tropes we’ve carried over.
EDIT: I’m actually working on killing one cinematic trope next semester: the idea of a continuity of space established by Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lev Kuleshov in early Soviet Montage film and then carried over directly into the shifting frames of Adventure and Zelda. Not going to tell you how I’m going to do it; gotta figure out how to program it first, then I’ll show you!