When you hear a lot of game developers and publishers talk about their games one word often pops up, "cinematic". They often use the word "cinematic" in a very nebulous and vague way that doesn't really reference a certain quality or aspect found within film. However, when you look at these games they all share mostly one aspect of film that is a staple of blockbuster films, scale. These games try to be as big and bombastic as the largest Hollywood blockbuster, but is this the lesson they should take from film?
When games often say they are trying to emulate film they often mean that they are either trying to emulate the large scale action and spectacle of blockbuster films or the powerful storytelling of dialog filled dramas, and games have been more successful with the former than the latter. Games like Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed use the massive budgets they are given to create action heavy thrill rides, however I often come out of these experiences not remembering much about the plot or characters. These games (like many if I'm being honest) lack a lot of the narrative weight and character depth.
On the other hand, many games that try to emulate the story and tone of serious dramas are often not written well enough to meet the standards of the films they are copying, which makes them come across as pretentious. Games like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls think that they are these deep explorations of depression or the human condition, but they have surprisingly shlocky moments and characters that think always sounding serious is the same thing as having a deep personality. This often leads to a lot of supposedly emotional scenes falling flat.
These are just a handful of examples, but they all emphasize the core problem. Video games trying to emulate cinema know what great films look and sound like, but they have a very surface level understanding as to why. I know it's only a matter of time and, in many respects, video game writing has improved since the early days, but I believe games can do better. More emphasis should be put on things like memorable characters, with rich and engaging personalities. Some of the most memorable characters in film, such as Luke Skywalker, have distinct identities but also carry a hidden depth beneath them. Luke is a whiny farm boy, but he matures over the course of the films and confronts dark aspects of himself, such as his lineage.
As I said before, games have been improving over the last few years, but they still have a long ways to go. They have a grasp on what good films look like, but they still need to go deeper when it comes to how good stories feel. Modern games need more unique and defined characters that carry a plot with themes that reflect our world in an honest way. Games can learn a lot from film, but it has to be the right lesson.
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