Sunday, September 29, 2013

Honoring cinema

This post and the last one were written for the Blogs of the Round Table at Critical Distance, a monthly invitation for video game bloggers to discuss about a proposed topic. The theme this time was "What's the Story?", storytelling in video games. You can find the other entries by following the previous link.

My last article was a bit dishonest. I almost scrap the entire text a couple of times and instead write about how it would be cool to transfer André Bazin defense of impure cinema to the context of video games, but how it is not quite possible. I do think that video games are fundamentally impure, I love the idea of cinematic video games, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with linear storytelling or with cutscenes in an interactive medium. The problem I had was that as soon as I began to write about a particular game, my “defense” of cinematic video games didn’t look so much like a “defense” anymore. In truth, I am much more ambivalent about the reality of cinematic video games than what my article implied: let’s say, then, that it was an ideal defense of these games.

So, here are the nuances I lifted out last time, with some additional musings on the subject, with an ethical twist, leading to a long coda on the Last of Us.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

For Impure Video Games: In Defense of Cinematic Storytelling

With the critical and detached perspective we can now afford on the video game production of the last ten or fifteen years, one of the dominant phenomena of its evolution promptly appears to us: the resort, more and more significant, to the cinematographic heritage.

This is a video game” can we often read about older games like Super Metroid or the original X-COM, or even with more recent examples like Deus Ex or Dark Souls. Few (or no) cinematics! Expressive and/or emergent gameplay! This is what video games are about! This is their distinctive and unique quality: interactivity, choice, player agency, or something to that effect. The story must be told through gameplay, not through cutscenes! But since cinematic action games are the most prominent form of video games right now on the mainstream scene, and in the public eye, at least when it comes to home consoles, is it to say that we have to forgo the autonomy of our art form? Are video games, or what remains of them, still able to survive today without the crutch of cinema? Are they about to become a subordinate art form, depending on another, more traditional one?