The title of this post is meant as hyperbole. While there are exceptions where such comparisons are useful, I honestly believe that most comparisons between film and games are pointless. A great number of comparisons are simply people who don’t play or understand games saying little more than, “These damn kids today! Why back in my day…” or people who do play games wanting to feel as if their pastime was valid in the eyes of those who don’t play games. Personally, when it comes to entertainment, I don’t really care what people think about the things I like. I mean, I’m basing my graduate school career on videogames and the last conference paper I presented was titled, “If You Don’t Respect the Verbal Artistry of Professional Wrestling, I’ll Kick Your Ass!” so it isn’t as if I”m banging on the door of the gates of Art with a capital A begging to be let in.
However, a post on Shacknews with the title, “Steven Spielberg to Make Us Cry?” got me thinking about just how unfair such comparisons are. The article includes the Spielberg quote, “I think the real indicator [that games have become a storytelling art form] will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17. In light of the reposting of this quote and the fairly recent pontificating by Roger Ebert on how much films suck, I thought it might be fun to turn things around and see how well films come out when criticized using videogame standards…
I think that the real indicator that films have become a viceral art form is when someone feels a sense of accomplishment and pride for having finished watching a film. While it is true one may feel a sense of pride for having endured a film that is particularly bad or painful, until films can give viewers a sense of pride not from that enduring, but from the triumphant conclusion of the film, they simply will not be as good as videogames.
While films are quire successful in economic term — although people often claim that videogames are a bigger business than the Hollywood film industry, that only discusses domestic box office sales. When one takes in international box office sales, DVD sales, and revenue from cable and the various licencing deals, Hollywood dwarfs the gaming industry — films are simply not as viceral or as captivating as videogames. WHile there are films that can cause people to cry, to laugh, to be scared or other emotions, that sense of pride and accomplishment is lacking. Moreover, while there are films that people watch again and again, not even the most well loved film is watched as much or for as long a time as the most loved videogame. Online games from Counter-Strike, to Everquest were first released years ago and although they have both received subsequent upgrades, the core game remains and there are still thousands of people who play them hours a day on an almost daily basis. While devoting the equivalent of a 40+ hour workweek to a game may be a form of addiction, if one were to devote 40+ hours a week to watching the same film, it would surely be a sign of a much much deeper problem than any non-physical addiction such as gaming playing.
The fact that these games are online raises another point in which films are simply inferior entertainments to videogames. Such games, whether they are online or played via LAN or with consoles, are inherently social. The same cannot be said of films. While people often go to the theater and watch films in groups of friends or even strangers, in the vast majority of cases, the actual watching is done on an individual basis. ONe may not be alone but, at least in most western contexts, any sustantive communications with other people in the same room are minimal. In multiplayer games, communication is the key to success. These games build the kind of efficient and meaningful communication that films can only dream of. Numerous relationships in these games have resulted in marriage. It is difficult to imagine how two people that have never met before watching a film and had no contact outside of the time the film was being watched could fall in love.
Moreover, the fact that there are professional game playing teams indicates that playing these games could easily be said to develop teamwork. Again, I find it hard to imagine how watching films could be said to either require or develop teamwork if watched in the typical fashion. SImilarly, if one could imagine competitive film watching where people were paid simply on the basis of their film watching skills — and not on how well they could write about having watched films — then that person has a more creative imagination than I.
This is just a brief overview, but from this is should be clear why films are inherently inferior to videogames.
See how easy it is to totally ignore the merits of one medium when comparing it to another? I”m not attempting to say that such comparisons are entirely meritless because of this. I am attempting to say that while it is good to occasionally point out the failings or deficiencies of current videogames, it is not good to focus on those weakness to such an extent that we forget the things that current games are good at and that films are not the final word in entertainment.