Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Games in movies -- A New Hope.

Update: This very funny blog entry via boingboing points out a related subject -- the use of computers in general as plot devices within movies. As a proud geek I happily admit that I enjoy a movie much more if their treatment of computers is at least semi-realistic (Trinity in Matrix: Revelations comes to mind).

I've been meaning to blog about this since I read about it two weeks ago, but I had a hard time finding my 'angle' - what exactly did I have to say about it?

Executive Summary: In the recently released 'Reign Over Me' the excellent 'Shadow Of The Colossus' features heavily. Not as a product placement or promotional device, and not as a 'cheap' way to give credibility to a youth character (look, this guy must be a young geeky outcast, he plays videogames) but as a key plot device that serves as a metaphor for the core message behind the movie -- a survivor's attempts to deal with his life post 9/11:
Refusing to accept the death of loved ones. Seeking out an escape from that truth. Giants falling in slow motion. "You could see where someone who was dealing with 9/11 would be engrossed by a giant that keeps collapsing over and over again," he says. Charlie's therapy was Shadow of the Colossus. - Kotaku
The article finishes with this line: 'Reign Over Me' must be one of the first Hollywood films, if not the first, to deal with games thematically and intelligently.

The movie, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have done very well at the box office (yet to break even) so it is debatable how much positive impact it will have on sales of Shadow. However I think the real value here is the evidence of growing recognition from Hollywood that some games can touch people in important ways, carrying layers of meaning and eliciting emotions in consumers (particularly those who have played said game) rather then simply fill time. If you are a Hollywood director making a movie and wanting your audience to feel nostalgia for idyllic carefree summer days of their youth, you might license 'Brown Eyed Girl' (depending, of course, on your target demographic). The fact that directors who grew up with videogames might start to treat the placement of games within their movies in a mature and thought-provoking fashion is very exciting to me.

This isn't to say, though, that I think we ought to be pushing TV and Movies to over-intellectualize games and look for meaning and messages where they weren't meant to be found. Ideally movies would give screen time to a game to reinforce a sense of fun, adrenaline and accomplishment - all key motivating factors for many people who play games.

I shudder to think that the future of game placement in other forms of mass media will all look like this:


What do you think? If a movie gave significant screen time to a character defeating Sephiroth in FFVII, chances are you would be able to identify with their sense of elation, but would a non-gamer?

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3 Comments:

Blogger The Zombie said...

Enjoying the blog very much, Ben.
I found this on another blog. Exciting news, no?
http://pariahs-guild.blogspot.com/2007/04/news-ubisoft-obtains-naruto-rights.html

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Steve Chiavelli said...

Its certainly exciting that they have found a way to gracefully handle this sort of thing.

I don't really see this becoming a normal thing though. I certainly have no knowledge of how to make films, but it seems like it is significantly easier for a movie to utilize licensed music to flesh out a scene. You can still watch the actors while listening to the music.

Game footage is much harder to utilize in a meaningful way without being obnoxious.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I think the disparity between SotC and tHS comes from the thematic depth of each. When you've got a straight content fest, the most a writer can work with is "being good = unemployed". With Shadow, you don't so much read themes into it as allow associations to self-organize by context. The best thing we can do is make games with more meaningful subtexts, and when I say "we" I mean me as an independent having the freedom to try things, and you as a corporate producer having influence on a much larger reserve of resources. Hire more narrative designers, make the business case, you seem to have the ingredients available.

12:03 PM  

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