Movie/Gamer: When Can Games Be Movies?

Movie/Gamer: When Can Games Be Movies?

May 27, 2011

There's a certain cachet to calling yourself a geek, dork, or nerd these days, which is, in a way, refreshing. It's cool to embrace your obsessions and weird collections, and because of the Internet, there's an excellent chance you will find an entire subculture of people who also enjoy collecting glass eyeballs from the Victorian era. On the other hand, it's as if you have to prove your bona fides. Who'd have thought we'd ever argue who's the bigger fanboy or fangirl of the X-Men or brag about an eBay-worthy collection of Sega Genesis games?

The video gamer, as well as the comic book fan, was once looked upon as an antisocial creature, worthy of wedgies and empty cafeteria tables; kind of like how us film geeks are treated when we spend multiple sunny afternoons inside the cozy bellies of our local art house theaters soaking up obscure films or scouring eBay for out-of-print laserdiscs? Now they/we are looked upon as loyal audiences and cash cows, especially when it comes to the multiplex. Our combined obsession and passion means something to someone else, and as long as that's the case we'll be seeing major companies going after both audiences with the same product.

Although there's considerable crossover between gamers and film fans, there's also a deep animosity. That's part of why it's such a rich topic to explore. After all, fan is short for fanatic.

I'm what you'd call a casual gamer; I have an Xbox and play a few games obsessively until I have to go cold turkey. That said, I have a history of writing about video games that neatly dovetails with writing about movies. Case in point: LA Noire, a new game from Rockstar that is so heavily drenched in '40s noir imagery and references, it's a hair away from starring Mickey Spillane. Not only that, you get extra points for finding film reels that contain classic noir flicks like Gilda and The Big Sleep. LA Noire even had its own preview screening and panel at the Tribeca Film Festival, a first for video games.

Rockstar used MotionScan technology extensively to bring its real actors' performances to the game. Any gamer knows that facial animation has always been a sticking point, but in LA Noire, figuring out if a suspect is lying or not is crucial to investigating your cases. Writer/director Brendan McNamara of Team Bondi talked to Fast Company at length about MotionScan, which pushes video games to the next level.

"Our MotionScan rig utilizes 32 HD cameras that are placed around the floor, ceiling and eye-level of an actor, positioned at various distances around an actor's head to create a 360-degree image. In a way, it's similar to the 'panorama stitch' feature on digital cameras where individual pictures are combined to create one massive image. For MotionScan, the rig composes a 3-D mesh around the face so every angle and movement can be captured. With so many different angles and details found on the human head, we needed 32 cameras to produce a true-to-life capture that doesn't miss a single detail in every performance."

McNamara that he hoped this type of technology will attract a different sort of audience, in addition to gamers. "Even as the film industry continues to advance new technologies, they are delivering content to a passive audience that cannot change what they see on the screen. With L.A. Noire, we're combining interactivity into an experience that is also very believable and immersive."

While I am a huge advocate for the increasingly immersive, beautiful, and well-written video games in the world, I still don't think that it can replicate the experience of watching a film. And I wouldn't want it to. Many reviewers commented that, among its other faults, Sucker Punch felt like watching a video game you couldn't play, which is frustrating. Especially for a gamer! Pass me that controller, dammit.

I also don't agree that watching a movie is passive. The act of watching, in this case, is not passive; it's receptive. Even the most mindless dreck requires some level of engagement. The best films offer the viewer catharsis, insight, stimulation -- they make us somehow bigger than ourselves, or aware of just how small we are in the universe. They put us in touch with the collective unconscious, even if we're just watching them on a laptop in a darkened bedroom all by ourselves.

So, this column will explore where video games and movies (and their fans) collide -- sometimes neatly, and sometimes rather messily. I'll be chatting with you about the video games and movies we love or hate, which games would make good movies and vice versa, upcoming games that are tie-ins to movies (and whether or not they suck -- probably yes!), and cool new technologies that are being used in both games and movies. And, yes, I will spend some of my time talking about ladies who play video games and contemplate why awesome heroines are so few and far between in both worlds.

Categories: Features
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