Over the last decade, video games have grown to a point where they are no longer thought of as a silly hobby for legions of 12 year-old boys, but something that has merit and can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of their age, gender, or background. But despite the many ways video games continue to push the envelope—both creatively and technologically—the gaming industry is still in its infancy. What that means is we have a lot to learn, and what better teacher is there than a similar, competing industry that's been around for much longer?
For the longest time, films have been the primary source of entertainment in the world. A film was originally seen as an event, something you planned for. Seeing a movie took time—you had to leave your house, wait in lines, and pay a premium for the entertainment you were about to enjoy. Then came the home video market, which changed things by making it easier to enjoy this event from the comfort of your own home. No more lines, no more expensive food and drinks, and no more loudmouths that don't mind ruining the experience for their fellow moviegoers.
Over the last decade or so, the once glorious box office has begun to lose its luster. As our wallets get tighter and the technology finds its way into more and more homes, less people are taking the time to actually leave their homes and pay extra to see a movie they could watch at home. The only reason this decline in viewership isn't as noticeable as it should be is inflation. Sure, last year James Cameron broke his own record for the highest grossing film of all time with Avatar, which surpassed his other movie, Titanic. But when you take into account how much it costs to see a movie today as opposed to what movies charged ten years ago and the far higher cost of seeing it in 3D (where the film made most of its money), Avatar's earnings look less impressive. Nowadays we can see movies in full HD, or even 3D, at home. We can watch them from our couches, and pants are totally optional.
My point is that as the movie theater becomes less crucial to a film's success than the DVD/Blu-ray, films and video games will be in more direct competition with each other. A decade ago, the thought of video games competing with films was more than a little ridiculous, but it's actually happening. Unfortunately, before our virtual world of pixels, bytes, and sprites can compete with an industry that's been around for such a long time, we should first take a few lessons from it.
The most obvious issue that video games need to address is the lack of focus on story, pacing, and character development. Movies more or less get this right, and that's primarily because when you watch a film you're just sitting there. In order to hold your attention, it generally has to have an engrossing, well-paced story. (In many cases, it simply has to look good, as is the main point of any Michael Bay flick.) How many games would be interesting if you couldn't play them? How many could keep your attention longer than a few minutes, much less a few hours, if you didn't have a controller in your hand? I can probably count games that fit that description on one hand, and that's just no good.
Characters also rarely satisfy in video games, and most of the the issues lie with the game's lead. I don't want to play as some mythical badass that dishes out bullets and pain instead of words, because in the end, I just don't care about the person I'm playing as. This isn't always enough to dramatically affect my experience, but sometimes it can become a serious issue, like in games where I'm pushed to care about the characters I play as or interact with. If I'm fighting to survive in a horror game and my character undergoes an excruciatingly painful death that I'm forced to witness firsthand, my first thought shouldn't be "Ugh, how much progress did I just lose?" I should care if I die or if something bad happens to the person I'm supposed to become, otherwise it's nearly impossible to immerse myself in the world that dozens—or even hundreds—of people have spent the last 2-3 years crafting.
Another thing video games desperately need to work on is their cinematic quality, or their level of polish. Usually, unless a game has a massive team and budget behind it, the parts where you aren't actually playing the game usually don't look very good. Very few games get the cinematic look and feel right because, until fairly recently, game companies were more focused on gameplay than how a game looked. Recently, game companies have started hiring Hollywood talent, bringing on professional actors for motion and face capture work, and in some cases even bringing on directors to supervise the game's cinematic quality. For example, John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) supervised the cinematics in F.3.A.R., and Jim Sonzero (Pulse) directed Resident Evil 5 and Killzone 3. This is a big step in the right direction, but there's still a lot that needs to be fixed before games no longer struggle with awkward facial animations, odd robotic characters, or boring camera work.
This isn't everything the video game industry needs to work on, but it's what the film industry can teach us. Over the last decade we've seen huge leaps in technology and the level of polish seen in many video games. Games like Uncharted are actually managing to compete neck and neck with films in terms of story, character development, and cinematic quality. But that's just one game series, and while there are more games that are reaching that point, we're still far from breaking free from the issues that continue to hold this industry back. That's why it's a good thing that the video games industry is so resilient, so easy to adapt and change to a world that's constantly shifting and evolving. Much of the time games are ahead, and soon this industry will look back at this point in time as the decade where we transformed into something better. Until then, I'm ok with gameplay over story. Just make sure the game is fun.
By Adam Dodd
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*