Video Games


Where games do borrow from cinema, this is for reasons that are far from arbitrary. "New" media tends to borrow from older equivalents more generally, as suggested by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin's concept of "remediation." As they argue, the experience of playing computer games that offer cinematic milieu might be understood in terms of a move "inside" the world of the cinema screen. The immediate thrill produced by direct engagement in the interactive experience is often based on a sense of "hypermediacy," of awareness that the world occupied virtually is akin to that of other forms of representation. Film-based or film-related video games are sold at least partly on the basis of the attraction of an occupation of worlds the contours of which have been established in other media—most directly, in film, but often also in literature, comic books, or television. The player can, at one remove, become the central figure in a cinematic milieu, following and extending the experience offered by a film. Aliens vs. Predator 2 (2001), for example, can be played from the perspective of either marine, alien, or predator; here, the world of the game is extended in terms of player participation and variation of perspective/allegiance. A novelty offered by the game's sequel is the ability to inhabit the life cycle of the alien, something not available in the film. The cinematic dimension, in this case, is a substantial component of the specific experience offered by the game as a game, and not merely something imported externally.

An incorporation of elements of the "cinematic" can be a substantial component of some games. "Cinematic" needs to be understood in terms of both textual devices and intertextuality. Games draw on other media, including television in many cases, but cinema is the remediated form to which attention is most often drawn by the industry. The reason for this is the greater cultural prestige enjoyed by cinema (as institution) and film (as a medium of expression). Often publicists and reviewers claim that a game is very "cinematic," which is meant as a positive assessment of quality, even if such hierarchies of taste are resisted by some gamers and game theorists. Visual iconography regularly crosses the boundary between cinema and games, as do genres designed to invoke kinetic experience, such as horror and action-adventure. Audio styles associated with cinema have also been used in games, including "cinematic" orchestral music used to contribute to the "epic" quality sought by some fantasy titles (portions of the soundtrack from The Lord of the Rings films [2002–2003] are used in World of Warcraft , for example). The function of such devices is to provide additional atmosphere for action, to add resonance and meaning to the process of participation in the game-world.

Cinema and games are often produced and distributed by the same media corporations. Game spin-offs offer substantial additional revenues to the Hollywood studios. The Sony Corporation is the most obvious example, home to both Sony Pictures and PlayStation. In the year ending March 2004, sales and operating revenue accounted for $7.1 billion from pictures and $7.4 billion from games. In addition to such earnings, tie-in games are also valued by Hollywood as a way of attracting new audiences for major properties such as the James Bond franchise. The development and production process required by games has also come to take on some of the characteristics, and scale, of the film business. Very much on the model of contemporary Hollywood, the games industry has become a hit-driven business. The games industry also share with Hollywood the continued use of "author" names, in some cases to sell products within the anonymous corporate context.

A number of games, such as Tomb Raider (2001,2003) and Resident Evil (2002, 2004) have been turned into films, but these have generally not been very successful and they tend to ignore the formal characteristics of games (even if their protagonists might, on occasion, face tasks similar to those in which the game player is engaged). The same is true of films that have used games, or imagined versions of future gaming, as part of their subject matter, such as eXistenZ (1999) and Avalon (2001). Films that draw on games at a formal level are few and far between, the most cited example being Lola rennt ( Run Lola Run , 1998), which features a structure of repetition-within-difference and a climactic time-out device, both of which can be seen as a more substantial remediation of some game characteristics than anything found in the game tie-in examples cited above. Games are also cited by the director as an influence (but one among many) in Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003), the bulk of which is composed of a lengthy series of tracking shots in which the camera follows from behind the movements of characters in an overlapping narrative structure leading to a Columbine-style high school massacre (the film also includes one fleeting shot during the massacre that directly mimics the perspective of a first-person shooter game played previously by the killers). Films provide ready-made characters and narrative resonance that can carry over and play into the experience of a spin-off game, even where the dimension of character and narrative are not greatly elaborated in the game itself. This is an effect that is harder to achieve in reverse, as the case of Super Mario Bros. (1993) shows. Computer games are not a form of interactive cinema; the way games interpolate players into their own spaces and engage them in a particular range of tasks is very different from the experience of watching a film.

SEE ALSO Merchandising ; Narrative ; Technology

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Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation:Understanding New Media . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kirstin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 . New York, Columbia University Press, 1984

Juul, Jesper. "Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives." Game Studies 1, no. 1 (July 2001). Available at

King, Geoff, and Tanya Krzywinska, eds. Screenplay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces . London: Wallflower Press, 2002.

Newman, James. Videogames . New York and London: Routledge, 2004.

Rouse, Richard. Game Design: Theory and Practice . Plano, TX: Wordware Publishing, 2001.

Wolf, Mark J. P., and Bernard Person, eds. The Video Game Theory Reader . New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

Geoff King

Tanya Krzywinska

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