Video Games


The use of cinematic cut scenes in computer-based games is one of the more obvious connections between cinema and games. Cut scenes are short, pre-rendered sequences in which the game player performs a role closer to that of a detached observer than is the case in more active periods of gameplay. Cut scenes tend to employ camera movement, shot-selection, framing, and editing similar to that used in cinema. Many games use cut scenes to establish the initial setting, character and background storyline. Opening cut scenes frequently employ the same expository devices as cinema, using a combination of long shots, medium shots, and close-ups to provide orientation into the game-world for the player. Cut scenes are also used at varying intervals throughout many games to forward the storyline and to entice or reward players with sequences of spectacular action, connect disparate spaces, and provide dialogue between new playing characters. They may be used to provide clues or to establish enigmas that have a bearing on the narrative trajectory of the game. Critics of the use of cinema as a reference point for games often suggest that cut scenes provide the only formal connection between the two because such scenes are freer than interactive sequences to use the particular formal devices associated with film (in sequences in which the camera is able to break its usual connection with the visual perspective of the player/character). Cut scenes have, historically, been clearly marked by higher visual qualities than interactive sequences, although this has steadily been reduced with the advent of increased graphics processing resources.

The point of view structure of games can also be examined from a perspective informed by approaches to the study of cinema: the specific ways, for example, in which particular first- and third-person perspectives operate from moment to moment or from one game to another. This is a complicated area that involves some major differences between cinema and games. Pre-rendered camera angles are used during gameplay in some third-person shooter games, including Dino Crisis (1999) and the Resident Evil (beginning in 1997) games made before Resident Evil 4 (2005). Predetermined framing of this kind departs from the point of view of the player/character and functions like that of film, to some extent, directing the attention of the player and creating visual diversity though shifts in perspective. The point of view that results is not anchored to the perspective of the character played, however, and comes at the expense of player freedom.

Pre-rendered framing is not found in first-person games or in games designed to be playable in multi-player mode (such as Quake [1996], Half-Life [1998], EverQuest [1999] and World of War craft [2004]). Framing that shifts perspective within gameplay sequences is perhaps more cinematic than that found in most other types of games, although important differences remain.

The first-person perspective used in many games is a rarity in film in other than brief sequences (the major exception is the 1947 noir film Lady in the Lake ). This point is highlighted by the limited extent to which it is used even in the combat sequences of Wing Commander (1999), a direct adaptation of the game. Third-person cinema, by comparison, usually involves a much greater and more fluid range of point of view orientations between camera, protagonist and viewer than is found in games. The intermittent fixed views offered within games such as Resident Evil and Dino Crisis have a rigidity that creates a very different, sometimes frustratingly limited, perspective on the action, although they can function to create suspense by enabling the player to see what awaits at a location not yet visible to the character. By contrast, role-playing games (RPGs) and "God" games such as The Sims (2000), Civilization (1990), Black and White (2001) or Settlers (2005)—in which the player creates a world or presides over a society—are among examples that demonstrate little cinematic association in terms of formal strategies. In the 1990s some "God" games, real-time strategy (RTS) games and RPGs, such as the early entries of the Final Fantasy series (beginning in 1990) and Baldur's Gate (1998), displayed the field of battle or action in aerial mode. This fixed view is opposed to the more varied shots found in cinema and the restrictive tracking, point of view, and eye-level shots that characterize first- and third-person games. In later incarnations and with greater graphic processing resources, players are able to "zoom" in and out of the action. This enhanced facility accords with the pragmatic value of the various viewpoints required to direct and manage gameplay, and in moving from a fixed aerial or three-quarters point of view to a more fluid and playerled arrangement, greater cinematic resonance comes into play. But the important difference is that the players make the choice of "shot" to suit their situation.

Even where there are some cinematic resonances, different devices of visual orientation operate in games because of the relationships established between players and the space-time coordinates of game-worlds. Mainstream cinema has developed well established systems of spatial orientation, especially the continuity editing system, to avoid confusing the viewer during shifts from one camera position to another. Many first- and third-person games permit the player to look and move throughout 360 degrees (as far as obstacles permit). This is possible with less disorientation than would usually be expected in a cinematic context because the player-character moves through a particular virtual space in real-time with the camera-view often anchored to a single viewpoint. Even so, the exploration of 360-degree space in games can become disorientating, especially when done under pressure or in a rush (hence the frequent inclusion of maps and compasses in games that require players to explore large spaces). Games are far less likely than films to use ellipses to eliminate "dead" time. Time in games may be spent exploring the available space or interacting with objects that do not have any significant bearing

Milla Jovovich prepares to battle zombies in Resident Evil (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002), based on the popular video game.
on the main set tasks. Most films give screen time only to what is deemed essential to the storyline or the building of character or mood. Action-adventure-type games operate mainly in something closer to real-time with ellipses occurring primarily at the end of levels or chapters. This creates a significant difference between the pace (and length) of games and that of films. Thus despite the shared use of some aspects of framing, miseen-scène , dialogue, and music, the structuring of point-of-view, time, and space are quite different.

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