Years and years of technological advancements at a rate previously unknown in modern civilisation has landed us (amongst other places – some less desirable!!) at the epicentre of a gaming revolution that has produced games consoles, PC’s and Mac’s that are capable of transporting the user into worlds way beyond anything previously capable. We are all aware of the technological breakthroughs that have contributed to the current gaming experiences HD, Blu-ray, LED TV’s, broadband, Fibre Optic internet, Quad Core processors, HDMI cables, Wireless controllers, Turtle Heads (!!!!!!) and above all else, opposable thumbs can all count themselves lucky to be involved in a games evolution that at times feels more like revolution.
Undoubtedly this technology has given us the chance to build virtual worlds and scenarios like never before. This revolution has given us the tools and gadgets to create, but, without the creators, tools are useless. The imaginations of those that envisage an entire universe of alien races, create detailed medieval landscapes or dream up colourful worlds that grace our screens and those that write the stories and scripts that fill hours and hours worth of gaming that keep us going back for more should be heralded and celebrate every bit as much as the technology itself.
Has this technology changed the face of storytelling forever? Has the cultural landscape and the media we use to create and watch other peoples “visions” changed forever in the wake of the gaming technology boom?
It’s probably true to say that the film industry is going through a period of technological change, just as the gaming industry has, but is it now playing second fiddle to the gaming world?
The major change in recent times in the film industry has centred on the development of 3D technology, arguably designed to “pull” the viewer into the word and feel a more inclusive experience. In this respect, cinema may only just be catching up to something that games are intrinsically designed to do. But it seems that every time cinema just starts catching up, gaming pulls further away again.
Games like Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, and GTA are now so vast that you can lose yourself in them for hours at a time just wondering round. That’s something that cinema can never re-create. Games like Metal Gear Solid are basically interactive films with cut scenes longer than some T.V shows.
My recent love affair with the “space Opera” (I hate that term!!) that is the Mass Effect series made me realise that these days, I would much rather play a game with a great story than watch a film. It also got me thinking. What if George Lucas had created the Star Wars universe today? Would it have been a game rather than a film? Come to think of it what if any of the great sci-fi films or even novels had been conceived today, would they have become games instead?
Imaginative and visually brilliant books and films such as Blade Runner were made at a time when the gaming world was not ready to handle such complex scenes. But in hindsight, was the film world really ready? If it had been a new idea conceived today would the films creators, writers, directors, producers and designers been able to produce something far more creative and absorbing in a computer game and would they have chose to do so?
The advantages of games over films are numerous. Games are more immersive, more inclusive, they give the creator more scope to develop more characters, create more elaborate backdrops, more storylines with twists and turns, can be much, much longer than a film, can be more easily put to one side and revisited at a later date, and gratuitous violence is often more accepted in gaming culture.
Even though games production budgets are spiralling upwards the disparity between production costs are huge. The combined total production cost of the top 5 most expensive games as of February 2010 was $370 million (supplied by Digitalbattle.com) whereas the top 5 film production costs were a staggering $1,148 million combined (supplied by Total Film).
So why choose cinema? Well as far as I see it, cinema has the edge in three major aspects. Gaming is largely limited to a few type of genres, you couldn’t imagine playing a RomCom on a PC or console, whereas cinema can be used to portray any type (just not very well most of the time) of genre. Secondly, films are generally more affordable and accessible to the general public and there is still a perception problem of the archetypal gamer which wrongfully puts people, especially women, off gaming. Lastly, trying to fake yawn and put your arms round a girl in the back row of a dimly lit living room whilst playing Borderlands is quite a challenge!!!!
Even some of the world’s most renowned film directors have realised the potential of the video games market. John Woo, Steven Spielberg, Clive Barker and Peter Jackson have all had a hand in production of computer games in recent years, each with varying degrees of success. It’s not just directors getting in on the act either. Established film actors like Martin Sheen, Stephen Fry, Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, Sean Bean and Patrick Stewart have all had starring roles in games and the cast list of the GTA series reads like that of a Hollywood blockbuster film.
Although film is still the artists choice of media, sales figures suggest that there may be a demographic shift towards games. Recent figures released by Entertainment Retailers Association show that for the first time sales of computer games (£1.9 bn) in the UK have surpassed that of Video (£1.8bn) and Music (£1bn) and the recent commercial success of games like Black Ops (over $1.5bn worldwide gross) which made a reported 400% profit against its production costs show that film could be becoming a redundant commercial viability.
However, with all the pros that games bring to the story telling arena, current film releases suggests that for the time being cinema is still winning the battle for the story telling media of choice. The recent release of John Carter, a 2012 Sci-Fi film that was originally a book written 100 years ago supports the theory that for now, directors still want to use cinema to tell stories even though the technology is there to do otherwise, but for how much longer?
I wonder if, in 100 years time we are going to be talking about the great games of era rather than the great films and books. Will we be old men and women telling our grandchildren about the time we first played Mass Effect 2 & 3, Deus Ex or bragging about the time we sank into Knights of the Old Republic? As more and more people become enveloped by this gaming movement and as games become more like interactive films, if games technology keeps progressing at its current rate, as Universities produce ever increasing amounts of programmers and games designers and the commercial / financial success of games keeps production companies happy, will we ever read works by the likes of great sci-fi writers such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick again or marvel at the talents of the great sci-fi directors such as Kubrick, Gilliam, or Fritz Lang again?
Will the new breed of talented visionaries choose to ply their trade in the gaming world rather than on the big screen or on paper? What does the gaming world hold next for these people to use?
I don’t know if game has killed the film star, but I’d sure like to stick around for a few more years to find out.
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