Now that we’ve decided that no one knows what cinematic means…

I got a couple interesting comments on my last post about “cinematic” and I’ve tried read a couple things that might relate, but nothing to change my opinion that cinematic is really a vague and nearly meaningless term. I think that a lot of it has to do with perception. I often read people writing that a game is “just like being in a movie” and I really don’t know what that means. I am much more likely to feel like I am actually THERE rather than in a movie. Is that a different way of experiencing the world or is that just a difference of word choice???

Moving on from that issue, I’ve been thinking about another term that gets thrown around. This time I’ve been thinking about “medium.” I’m not sure that this term actually means anything. Even if it does, is it a useful term? Are videogames a medium??? My thing is that I always like to think of videogames as kinds of games. So are cards a medium? Are board games? I don’t think they are. If they aren’t, then why are videogames? Is this a useful distinction to make???? Any thoughts? Should we ban “medium” from our thoughts and vocabulary from our hearts and minds????

6 Comments Showing 50 most recent
  1. Paul Herzberg

    I’ll have to think some more about this, but it occured to me that when people say a game is cinematic they’re usually thinking of a fairly narrow form of cinema. Essentially the “operatic” forms of it: Leone-esque westerns, big budget sf, Bruckheimer movies, that sort of thing.

    The idea, I think, being that if you put what was happening on to a huge cinema screen, and could stomach that repetition and the bad voice acting, you’d be blown away by the spectacle of it.

    And yet, over at they are having a discussion about favourite scenes in movies and I can’t think of many of them that have been translated into game scenes (outside of adventure games, anyway).

  2. Mr. Falcon

    I always felt that games were more like acting in a movie – every time you do something wrong, someone yells “cut” and you have to do it over again 🙂

    As for medium, I’ve never really had a problem with that. A “medium” is a vehicle for “content”, which is an equally maligned word. Yes, both words can be uselessly vauge if you analyze them enough. You could probably make an argument for how anything in existence is either a “medium” or “content” (Marshall McLughan even famously said that “the medium is the message”, but most people, including me, don’t fully understand what he meant). That might even be an interesting worldview. But we can also use common sense to figure out what we mean by these “content”, and I would then say that a “medium” is any platform for delivering that content.

    And yes, I would definitely say that cards and boardsgames are a medium. At the very least, they are part of the medium called “print”.

  3. Walter

    I do agree that calling videogames or just games a medium seems problematic (I think Espen has been raising this issue as well). I’m not sure the problem is with ‘medium’ so much as it is with thinking of games as a medium. Iirc, Jesper says in his dissertation that games, like narratives, are transmedial, forms that can exist on/in a variety of mediums. That seems pretty indisputable to me, but I’m no scholarly media theorist, so who knows?

  4. Meredith

    One of the things I’ve been trying to do lately is pull down the (false?) barriers between different types of media, and instead discover the similarities between media. Taking off from what Debord said in “Society of the Spectacle,” most visual media specialize in spectacle. Visual tricks are used between media (see Sin City), and a lot of the same themes and stories are also used.
    At the same time, a lot of people are very invested in keeping the specificities of each media intact as much as possible. As you’ve said before, videogames are not movies.
    So, I think (in my own muddled way) that we need to retain the word medium, but use it carefully. You can use it as I have, to just say that you’re going to purposefully blur the lines between media for the purposes of a particular study. Or, you can insist upon defining media because you think people have been too sloppy about it in the past.

  5. Nollind Whachell

    If you’ve ever read a really great book or watched an incredible movie, ask yourself what made you enjoy it so much? For me it is not just the vividness of the environment that is being relayed but more importantly it is the emotional connections that are created between myself and the medium. It is these emotional connections that put me in the shoes of my hero because emotionally I’ve been in the same situation he or she may be put in. The only difference is usually the scope of the conflict. I may face dissention from a group of co-workers and have to win back their support, whereas he may face dissention among the crew of his pirate ship and have to win back their support. Different scope, same emotions.

    When you talk about mediums, well of course it means something as it’s a defined word but I guess what you are saying is “Does it mean something in this instance?” I think it does because I believe that games are becoming a new medium. That’s right, “are becoming” because I don’t think they are there yet. If you wanted to compare it to print, then think of games as caveman drawings. They may look pretty impressive but we haven’t fully understood their complexity and nuances to effectively use them yet as a true medium. Once we do fully understand the medium then I think you’ll start seeing games evolving to the point of becoming artwork. In addition, you’ll start seeing games becoming almost like movies or books in that they will start to create very dramatic and emotional responses and connections within us. As I said though, we have a ways to go.

    “Oh no! They killed my Elf Hunter! Those bastards! They’ll pay!” 🙂

  6. Jonas Heide Smith

    Coming out of media studies I have a whole history of using “medium” to refer to all sorts of strange things.
    Which word to use is a question of analytical purpose and about just defining what you mean in your particular context. Want to consider how games communicate messages? Fine, you’re free to apply that perspective.

    I tend, myself, to use the term in relation to games when I take a cultural view. Games have so much in common with other(?) media in terms of cultural reactions and game designers so often use the exact same strategies as other(?) media producers when seeking cultural legitimacy. Games may not _be_ media, but people sure act is if they were.

    – Jonas