Would you really shoot an old friend, Nate?

Be honest. Does it ever happen that you sit through a supposedly good horror or zombie movie and enjoy the suspense without actually caring about the main characters? That you watch the attractive young B-actress open a door that basically has “imminent death” written all over it with blood splatters and instead you feel a sort of relief at the thought that Darwin’s principles still apply?

Or that you watch an action flick that ticks all the mandatory boxes (heroic character, damsel in distress, massive explosions and toppling buildings/crashing aircrafts, evil villain with grotesque plans, etc.) and you yawn the evening away hoping for a hint of an emotional connection to what the protagonists are fighting for? And then the credits roll.

I predict a painful death in your near future. And I'm trying hard to care, but it's not working
I predict a painful death in your near future. And I’m trying hard to care, but it’s not working

I used to be a huge movie buff, with interests ranging from French art house to pulp/grindhouse to Hollywood blockbusters, but lately I can’t seem to care enough about even the biggest record-breaking productions to extend my attention span to an hour beyond the (usually catchy) opening scene.

I don’t know whether to blame the state of the movie-going audience or the lack of storytelling qualities of today’s directors but as far as I’m concerned, cinema as a platform for storytelling has lost its momentum. 3D gimmickry and bluescreen rendered effects are mistaken for innovation, outside-the-box thinking is often drowned in pretentiousness, vampires are misused to disguise horrible emo fluff for awkward teenagers.

I came to this realisation when I wondered how it is possible that I can still spend 5 hours of non-stop peering at a small Vita screen to play through Uncharted:Golden Abyss and actually identify with Nathan Drake and care about his motives and friends…

My bold hypothesis is that cinematic gaming has come to a level of maturity where it is beginning to surpass movies as a narrative medium.

You, too, were wondering what had driven them apart. Admit it!
You, too, were wondering what had driven them apart. Admit it!

“Interactive movies”, that’s the derogative term coined by oldschool gamers who believe that any genre invented after the platformer was a step backwards from gaming perfection. I say cinematic gaming is the logical evolution in video games, finally made possible by the maturity of both technology and production studios. When Mario tumbles off a candy-coloured slab of pixels the last thing you worry about is Princess Peach’s fate. However, when Joel is badly injured in The Last of Us you really do care about Ellie, whose safety you invested so much energy into.

That’s the magic of story telling in gaming. You’re more than immersed in the story; you have an investment in it and in return you’re getting something that goes beyond just curiosity of what will happen next.

Usually the game mechanics are nothing new, it’s the narrative techniques where the real innovation happens. As far as gameplay goes all Prince of Persia games are more or less the same, but the one from 2008 stands out. The one where you team up with Elika and the game takes the time to give both characters more depth and personality than usual. After a few hours you’re starting to need Elika’s company; not just in terms of gameplay, but especially on an emotional level. Coupled with a haunting soundtrack and a dramatic fatalistic storyline the game makes you understand and respect its ending. It’s the cinematic things that make the experience so compelling.

More so than when I was watching Lord of the Rings and concluded that I wouldn’t care if an orc had whacked Frodo and Sam was to continue the quest – as long as I could take in more of that beautiful scenery from New Zealand. Probably not what Peter Jackson had in mind.

Sorry to hurt your feelings guys, but it had to be said.
Sorry to hurt your feelings guys, but it had to be said.

It seems that video gaming has finally achieved something that Hollywood rarely has: turn even hardened action heroes into three-dimensional characters that are worth caring about. It asks the gamer to dedicate time and energy and it offers drive, persistence and an emotional connection in return.

Would Uncharted 2 – one of this generation’s most brilliant video games – have made an equally brilliant movie? Doubtful, because it would lack that something extra that being a video game adds to the mix (for a moment ignoring that Hollywood would probably also cast some annoying douche for the role of Drake, such as Ryan Reynolds or Chris Pine).

Would you really shoot an old friend, Nate?
Would you really shoot an old friend, Nate?

So will video games replace movies? Not any time soon. You wouldn’t plan a gaming session on the couch as a first date. The movie theatre is still an attractive place to go as a social activity. However, with the declining quality of what Hollywood churns out for those who come to the cinema to be taken on a narrative ride there is definitely a bright future for video games as a medium for telling stories that pull you in and not let go until you the credits roll.

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Buramu is a 37 year old gaming enthusiast with experience that goes back a quarter of a century, back when all onscreen enemies looked like green squares - as did heroes, spaceships and snakes. Beside being an occasional guest writer for the Vita Lounge he is also moderator for PSVitaforum and a known quantity on various other gaming forums.
  • I’m all for good stories and experiences, but I don’t agree Uncharted brought any. It felt very much like a typical B-movie and did not feel quite as refined in terms of cinematics and storytelling as the better movies out there. I do not see why the experience that Uncharted brings can’t be compressed into a movie because the gameplay is pretty terrible (boring and challengeless ‘platforming’ and not enough of the decent shooting action). But that is just my critique of Uncharted and not cinematic games in general. I look forward to playing the Last of Us since it looks to bring both good gameplay and cinematics, which leads me to my next point.

    In a game, I do not only want a good story/cinematic experience but also a good gameplay experience (I generally prefer solid gameplay over emotional weight because the latter is provided to me by books, but I can see why others don’t). This is why I like Metal Gear Solid so much, because it delivers on both gameplay and movie aspects. Interactive movies like the Walking Dead are cool, too, because they do not even try to offer the play gameplay and focus completely on narrative instead of trying to mingle gameplay and a cinematic experience. They use the interactivity provided by the word ‘game’ entirely for cinematic and storytelling means, which is different from most cinematic games out there.

    You state that ‘Doubtful, because it would lack that something extra that being a video game adds to the mix’ but you do not state what exactly this is. I’m guessing it is interactivity? I do agree that it can add extra emotional weight to a story because the player can actually BE the protagonist of the story. But in order for cinematic games to truly shine in places where movies can’t, I think they need a bit more than just vague ‘interactivity’. I’m thinking in terms of choices which can affect the outcome of the plot or choose the player to shape the character as they wish (to a certain extent). RPGs have dabbled in this before but the lack of a budget for the truly creative developers and the tired ‘blockbusterization’ has stood in the way of a culmination of this kind of interactivity.

    I understand why you’d feel that ‘cinema is dead’ but I do not feel quite that way. The Nolan Batman trilogy has done an excellent job of mixing ‘big budget’ film with emotional attachment to the characters (not to say it was flawless, though). It seems you go to the wrong movies or expect something out of fantasy movies such as the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings that they are not meant to bring. 😛

    • Fakename Dudeman

      That was actually very nicely put, Jasper. Well done.

  • Kyle Wakeling

    Great article. I definitely agree that cinematic gaming is the next big thing, and that it can touch the audience much more than something you aren’t invested in. My personal prime example is that of Heavy Rain, which when played with PSMove seemed more like an interactive movie than the QTE-fest that some were complaining about (and continue to).

    To keep this short and sweet; personally, I believe that the leap from story-telling to “story-living” (so to speak) has brought us much closer to the original idea behind movies; engaging the audience, and entertaining. If I had to compare Heavy Rain or even older titles like Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in NA) to many of my favourite movies, I honestly believe they’d fit in my top ten – and I’ve seen a LOT of movies.

  • Undrey

    Awesome article.

  • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

    I agree the film industry is in decline, and games has made leaped forward in bridging the gap with cinematic experience. Great article and you’re right, there are less and less films that really have enotional ties and engaging characters. CGI is way over used these days in the film industry, but I still feel the video game industry still isn’t quite there when it comes to the cinematic experience. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, for me Metal Gear Solid and the PSOne Final Fantady titles marked the start of the change but I still think the gaming industry has some way to go. For example I didn’t feel connected particularly in Assassin’s Creed Liberation. However despite the light hearted tone I did in Gravity Rush! I knoe gaming industry as a whole is going through change at the moment and it will be interesting to see how games in the next few years improve on making the emotional connection. I personally feel it will only get better and better.

    • Lights

      I loved the world of Gravity Rush and the character Kat, but I personally thought the story was one of the weakest parts of the game, it just wasn’t very compelling, especially when you consider the derivative story and side missions.

  • JoeCool

    Typical Buramu!

  • PSJamesMysterio

    bahhahahahahahahahaha!

    That was funny.

  • NuclearKommando

    I like money.

  • Patrick Sayet

    I could concur, but some genres like Survival horror (The Last of us) is so insanely difficult if you haven’t played this genre for years you won’t have fun for 2 minutes. And Uncharted? As much as I loved the old Tomb raider (not the new one that is an Uncharted clone) there is way too much combat, and the swarms of enemies is impossible to overcome if you’re not playing shooters all the time.
    So give me a movie, I’ll watch it until the end but gameplay has become so specific that if you’re not a fan of the genre you won’t have any fun.

  • I’m sure I banned you.

  • Yuuki

    uncharted isnt a good example in my opinion but you are right^^

  • Yannick Decorte

    *cringes*

    • Please elaborate :D.

      • Yannick Decorte

        Not enough time and not enough energy in my fingers. Let’s just say I have a degree in screenwriting and the author of the article thinks John Carter is just another mindless Hollywood blockbuster but praises the story and characters in Uncharted Golden Abyss.