Category: opinion

Are videogames remkes of movies?

The journal The Velvet LIght Trap recently released a call for papers for a special issue about remakes. That got me thinking about the recent trend of making videogames based on old movies. Just this year games based on, The Godfather, The Warriors, Jaws, and Scarface have been released — and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

What are these games? Since the call for papers asked for papers about remakes, the question that popped to my head was, “Are these remakes?” In some cases, they are sequels. In other cases they are side stories. Can a story taken from one medium and made in another even be a remake — that is to say, are adaptations different things than remakes? Must a remake be in the same medium as the original? Is a film of Romeo and Juliet a remake?

I’m not sure. Any thoughts?

Genre Trouble

With appologies to Judith Butler, it seems that there is some genre trouble going on in the videogame world. The October issue of Edge magazine has a short column about the fact that there are a million Grand Theft Auto III clones coming out and “GTA Clone” isn’t exactly the best name for it. I’ll go ahead and commit copyright infringement by posting the fill text of it here since it doesn’t seem to be online (Insert here a rant about how expensive Edge magazine is in the USA and how they need an electronic version because I’m poor.):

Just Cause, Scarface, Crackdown, Dead Rising, Yakuza, Saints Row, Gangs Of London – oh, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories. And that’s just in this month’s issue: there’s no question a genre has just come of age. Pity we still have no idea what to call it.
The ‘GTA-clone’ – not that it was ever an elegant phrase – just won’t cut it any more, not in the face of the extraordinary diversity listed above. And surely no one’s seriously suggesting that we wrap our tongues around ‘the free-roaming action adventure’ from here on in. Or we could take a tip from the Germans: if for them platform games are ‘run-and-jumps’, perhaps we could have the ‘drive-and-shoot’? Perhaps not.
But that last idea raises another problem. Possibly held back by the fact that we still don’t have a name for it, it’s still not really been agreed what the key components of the genre actually are. It needs to take place in a freely accessible world, but does that space need to be physically contiguous? It didn’t seem to need to be in Grand-Theft-Auto-meets-Mars-Attacks Destroy All Humans. Does it have to include combat? Surely yes, but its absence didn’t stop Grand-Theft-Auto-meets-The-Simpsons Hit’n’Run being widely claimed a clone. Does it even have to be driving and fighting?
There’s no question Dead Rising feels a little like it belongs, and yet it doesn’t really meet that requirement. Perhaps, appropriately, the only way to judge them is like suspected alcoholics. If a game can tick three of the following boxes, then it qualifies: freely accessible play area, story missions and side missions, hidden packages and/or detailed stats, a civilian population to torment, some form of combat, some form of driving. Does that about cover it?
Of course, genres have always been problematic, and they’ve always had awkward names, but perhaps the GTA-a-like issue is so acute because it’s the first true second-generation genre. The familiar roster (driving, shooting, platforming, strategy) are all built around the idea of a game focused on one type of interaction. But what we’re talking about is a genre built out of those genres: a genetic inheritance. It’s just unfortunate that it’s a child that seems to be forever stuck with a double-barelled surname.

I’ve talked about genre before, as far back as my review of Medium of the Video Game. And I recently made a post about it on a Slashdot story asking about A Definitive List of Gaming Genres. I wrote

Genres are only useful for movie stores… Ok, so that may be an exaggeration, but I think the point remains valid: there isn’t much point in coming up with genres.

Mark J. P. Wolf in Medium of the Video Game list a bunch of genres that are fairly useless such as listing demos as their own genre.

While I’m not a fan of applying film theory to videogames, I think that Rick Altman in Film/Genre makes the most interesting use of genre by syntax and semantics. (Actually, there isn’t a lot of need to read the entire book. He lays out syntax and semantics as a way of looking at genre in his article, “A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre” which is widely reprinted and is included as an index in the Film/Genre book).

Regarding the GTA-Clones, besides the obvious title of GTA-Clone, the phrase I seem to hear most is some variation on “urban action.” Which of course has problems of its own since there isn’t any reason why a GTA-Clone would have to be “urban” in nature.
In films, and other media, genres aren’t born fully formed like Athena leaping from the head of Zeus. They develope over time. We may think of The Great Train Robbery as the first Western, but it wasn’t instantly called that. Other films had to imitate it and take elements from it untill enough film were made that people could look back and retroactively determine what a “Western” was. The same thing will have to happen with GTA-Clones. In a few years, we will be able to look back and make up a name for them that is more descriptive than “GTA-Clone.”

Darn those violent videogames!!!

With the mid-term elections coming up, local television has been inundated with political ads. One of the local candidtates, Mike Sodrel and his political party have been running ads against Baron Hill (Of course Baron Hill’s people have been running negative ads as well. They just aren’t as noteworthy.). The funny thing is, these ads seem like they are actually asking me to vote for Hill and not against him. In the first one, Sodrel says that Hill voted against “protecting traditonal marriage” (how banning gay marriage protects marriage is beyond me) and voted against “protecting our flag” (which would be ever so effective…). Who knew those were bad things? And not, the latestest ads bring out the big guns: videogames!

Nice to know that in Indiana the biggest issues are videogames. Good thing there isn’t a war going on or anything…
What will the next ad be? Baron Hill supports blogger? Baron Hill supports left-handed people? I for one can’t wait!

So are there any good pc games coming out before Christmas?

I just finished playing FEAR and found it fairly entertaining. I don’t expect to get the expansion pack though. At least not until it gets really cheap.

Which brings up an interesting point. I don’t really have any games to play right now and I can’t find anything good coming out in the next couple months. I would love to play Dead Rising, but I’m poor and can’t afford a 360. I’m also not really a console gamer so I have no plan on getting a Wii or PS3 — and since I’m no fan of Sony someone would have to give me one before I owned a PS3.

So is the PC gaming market taking the year off and wiating for the consoles to come out before they release anything interesting for PCs?

I am looking forward to Bio-SHock, but it isn’t coming out untill next year. There is also Half-Life 2 Episode 2 (still a confusing name) which is also pushed back untill next year. Even the They Hunger game is eerilly silent on its release date.

While there are some WWII games coming out, man, I am sick of WWII. Even if they are the Greatest Generation, WWII ain’t the greatest setting for gaming. Give it up already! Let’s not even talk about Battlefield 2142…

So it seems like this Holiday season I will be catching up on my reading…

…unless of course someone wants to buy me one of those Playstation 3s…

Again I ask, “What does ‘Cinematic’ mean???”

With Valve’s supercargo announcement of Teem Fortress 2 not only still existing but coming out fairly soon, and with the rebirth and release of Prey, it seems that all we need to bring on the End Times is the release of Duke Nukem Forever.
One other thing was mentioned along with the Valve announcement that confused me. As is usually, Valve bragged about graphic upgrades for Episode 2, something I’ve previously speculated about. One of those features was “cinematic physics.” So what is so “cinematic” about explosions? People always say such and such is a very cinematic game and I have yet to know what they are talking about except when they are talking about a cut scene or lens flare. Especially since Half-life never breaks from the First-Person I don’t know what “cinematic explosions” could mean unless they are just talking about, “over the top.”
I’ve discussed my confusion over “cinematic” before and I”m still not clear on what people mean when they say that. THe only thing I’ve seen is this very interesting article about some of the explicitly cinematic effects in the Source engine which use things such as motion blur, film grain, and color correction. But I don’t think that is what people are thinking about when they normally say something is “cinematic” is it? Just like the answer to that eternal question, “Just how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” the answer to “What does ‘Cinematic’ mean?” may very well be, “The world may never know.”

Silent Hill is for yuppies…

I’ve been busy lately with end of semester stuff. Then the last couple days when I’ve had more time to post my internet has been down.

Using my free time, I took one for the team and went to see Silent Hill. Despite the lukewarm reviews and videogame expert Roger Ebert’s review, I have to offer my own thoughts:

The Silent Hill movie sucks. It is, however, a fairly accurate recreation of the experience of videogames. Not that the film is in any way like the game. I wouldn’t know because I’ve not played any of the games. However, while watching the movie I found myself lapsing between being interested and terribly bored. Of course, the parts that I found interesting were when all the weird stuff was going on. The parts that I was bored with were when there was lots of talking. That’s when I realized why the Silent Hill movie is like a videogame. The dull parts where we learn about the stupid story are the cut scenes while the parts where things actually happen are the game itself. Think about it, while people may talk about the weird and confusing stuff in the storyline of the game, the selling point of the game is really the weird creepy stuff, not the storyline. The same thing applies for the movie. I don’t’ really care why this weird shit is going on, I just want to see the weird shit!

The film is like a videogame in another way as well, but not the actual game it was based on. No, the Silent Hill movie is actually Super Smash Brothers. In SUper Smash Brothers, Nintendo takes all their characters and throws them together into a fighting games. In the Silent Hill movie, the creators took a bunch of elements from other horror movies and threw them together. Call it collage, call it bricolage, I call it Super Smash Brothers. Take one part mom and creepy girl from the Ring, one part stereotypical rural people, one part star of Lord of the Rings, one part Wicker Man, one part Children of the Corn and one part the Village. Stir and bake until golden brown.

The most irritating thing for me was, as the title of my post suggests, is that the main couple in the movie are apparently some super rich yuppies complete with all white living room with fancy all white furniture. Great, another film about the plight of the rich and beautiful and how evil and inbred rural people are. Don’t even get me started on the fact that the people that made the movie apparently have never set foot outside of a city in the first place…

Unfortunately, the creepiest part of the film was not the scary monsters, but the weird objectification of the mom. I can’t decide if I’m a prude or a pervert but I found it quite unsettling that this woman who spends the entire film being so motherly (and let’s not forget that the mom goes from lying on the floor shaking and screaming for anyone to help her to a little Linda Hamilton who will stop at nothing to save her child…) and yet we have lots of shots of her leaning over to reveal her cleavage and millions of shots of her running toward the camera without wearing a sports bra.

To wrap up, another review haiku:
I saw Silent Hill
I didn’t like it too much
It was blandtastic.

To wrap up this epic length post, our friend Roger Ebert pontificates about videogames lack of merit one again in his April 30, 2006 answerman column:

Q. I was surprised by “Silent Hill” director Christophe Gans’ incendiary comments about you in this month’s issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, especially considering your positive review of his earlier work, “Brotherhood of the Wolf.” Gans phrased his comments to indicate he wanted you to read them.

David Seelig, Philadelphia

A. In the article, Gans praises video games as a form of art and says “The Legend of Zelda” was “a beautiful, poetic moment for me.” Asked about my opinion that video games are not art, he said “F— him. I will say to this guy that he only has to read the critiques against cinema at the beginning of the 20th century. It was seen as a degenerate version of live stage musicals. And this was a time when visionary directors like Griffith were working. That means that Ebert is wrong. It’s simple. Most people who despise a new medium are simply afraid to die, so they express their arrogance and fear like this. He will realize that he is wrong on his deathbed. Human beings are stupid, and we often become a–holes when we get old. Each time a new medium appears, I feel that it’s important to respect it, even if it appears primitive or naive at first, simply because some people are finding value in it. If you have one guy in the world who thinks that ‘Silent Hill’ or ‘Zelda’ is a beautiful, poetic work, then that game means something.”

Ebert again. I am willing to agree that a video game could also be a serious work of art. It would become so by avoiding most of the things that make it a game, such as scoring, pointing and shooting, winning and losing, shallow characterizations, and action that is valued above motivation and ethical considerations. Oddly enough, when video games evolve far enough in that direction, they will not only be an art form, they will be the cinema.

A tip on the early cinema: No wonder it was seen as “a degenerate version of live stage musicals,” since the talkies hadn’t been invented yet, and there is nothing more degenerate than a musical without sound.

Your comments on age and the fear of death are thought-provoking. You know, Christophe, the older I get, the more prudent I become in how I spend my time. As David Bordwell has pointed out, it can take at least 100 hours to complete a video game. Do you really feel you have mastered the mature arts to such an extent that you have that kind of time to burn on a medium you think is primitive and naive?

On my deathbed, I doubt that I will spend any time realizing that I was wrong about video games. Your theory reminds me of my friend Gene Siskel, who observed that nobody on his deathbed ever thinks: “I’m glad I always flew tourist.”

So the moral of the story is be an elitist asshole. Well, at least not everyone in the mainstream media is a hypocrite… So his justification for not giving videogames a fair chance is that he’s old??? That’s just ponderous man,

Battlefield 2142 — Africa is for Europeans???

I’ve never really played the Battlefield games. I’ve got the original Battlefield 1942 around soemwhere and I played Desert Combat at an IU Lanwar a couple years ago, but that is about it.
The new issue of PC Gamer has a cover story about the new Battlefield 2142. It looks fun and all with mechs and stuff. However, I noticed one thing in the article that I found kind of disturbing. The article states:

War will take place over who gets the best of what’s left after a new ice age. While most of the fighting will take place in northern Africa (as only a quarter of the Earth’s surface is still livable under these dire circumstances, mostly centered around the equator), it’s certainly possible that Far East countries might join in the fun in future expansions. The two factions involved are “the American-European Alliance, made up of the American continents and most of Europe,” and the “Pan Asian Coalition, a combination of Russia, the Middle East, and India.”

So the equator is the only place habitable because of the ice age and the Western countries and the Far Eastern countries are fighting it out over the remaining land. Well, that sounds cool and all but last time I looked at a map the equator ran through South American and Africa. Isn’t it odd that there isn’t any mention of THE PEOPLE THAT ALREADY LIVE THERE???? One would think that a game set in Africa would feature, you know, Africans.

Of course this is just a preview and there is very little actual information out about the game, so who knows, maybe EA will suprise me and there actually might be some people from the place where the game actually takes place. Yeah, right. And maybe hell will freeze over too…

TY Pennington’s Asteroids Jacket Found!

Last week I blogged about this cool Asteroids jacket Ty Pennington was wearing. Well, thanks to my friend, Meredith managed to track down a picture someone posted on Flickr of a guy wearing one on a subway, In the comments, someone found out where to buy the jacket.

It is unbelievably expensive.

So unless you buy me one, dear reader, I don’t think I”ll ever be able to buy it. Won’t you help this young man’s dreams come true?????

Indiana Violent Videogame Law is Down, But Not Out

While it seems that , for now, Vi Simpson’s Videogame Violence Bill is dead in the water, according to the IU newspaper, Simpson hasn’t given up hope of getting the bill passed into law. According to the article, Simpson said, “I’m hoping we’ll have an opportunity to re-introduce the bills in November, and generate some additional interest in them.”

Of course, let’s not forget that most anti-videogame crusaders are basing their claims on misinformation. For example, take Simpson, who issues a press release about her videogame bill that stated:

“Right now kids can walk into just about any store and get their hands on a video game in which they can shoot police officers, use drugs, steal cars, rape women or even assassinate a president. That’s frightening to say the least,” said Simpson.

It would be frightening — if it were true. But it isn’t.

As Game Politics points out:the notorious JFK Reloaded is not – has never been – available in any retail store. So, unless there is some other game about assassinating a president, she is wrong and her bill wouldn’t do anything (not to mention that there’s no law against a child buying JFK or the Manchurian Candidate, so why should videogames be any different?).

Of course, also in that statement, is that other straw man: rape. In this, SImpson isn’t alone. Our other good buddy Joe Lieberman also seems to think that Rape Master 3000 is a best seller because Lieberman has also said that there are videogames featuring rape. On that webpage there is a videoclip and about 35 seconds into is, Lieberman says, “It’s a crime to sexually abuse or rape a woman. Yet repeatedly in these video games the players are being rewarded for doing exactly that.”

No. No they aren’t. I first said that there are no American videogames that feature rape in them back in January of 2004 — more than TWO years ago! You would think that such a stupid misconception would die by now. Unless someone is still out there selling Custer’s Revenge, then people who say that there are videogames on store shelves that feature rape, they are just plain wrong. I know it, you know it, isn’t it time our elected officials knew it? Even Grand Theft Auto’s Hot Coffee features consensual sex. If you don’t want your kids playing games that feature sex, then fine, but don’t make up things to make is sound worse than you think they are!

So it seems as if we have two options here: Either our elected officials are misinformed and ignorant or they are lying. Isn’t either alternative unacceptable?

The real reason THompson doesn’t like videogames…

I just ran across an interview with Jack Thompson that Spong did back in October. In the interview, Thompson states:

No, I am not in any sense a ‘gamer’. I’ve been too busy to do that. If that response is taken to be a criticism of how gamers spend their time, it is because it is intended to be. The “do violent games spawn violence?” debate is one thing people disagree on, even though all the evidence is on my side. But I’m not sure how any human being with a life and a conscience can justify spending any considerable time playing games in what amounts to useless mental masturbation that helps absolutely no-one. Seriously, my generation had left still the residue of the notion that your life (the substance of which is time) doing something for others. How does playing GTA 20 hours a week help anyone other than Take-Two CEO and sociopath Paul Eibeler? Games are largely a waste of time, in other words. People need to be ‘stewards’ of their time – again, a concept (stewardship) that is largely foreign to the gaming community and to the younger generations generally.

Funny how this is very similar to Roger Ebert’s dismissal of videogames. Perhaps we should stop spending our time trying to get people to think that videogames are art and just trying to get some respect for them first. Without respect, how can we convince anyone that they are art in the first place???