Last month, Later Levels was nominated for a Sunshine Blogger Award by Red Metal from Extra Life. Several of the questions this blogger posed to their nominees were on the subject of films, and this gives me the perfect opportunity to finally write a post I’ve been thinking about for some time now.
You see, I very rarely watch films myself. The last one I saw at home was Escape Room on Netflix (which was entertaining enough but ultimately unfulfilling); and the only reason that happened was because I was feeling too ill to play a video game one weekend last month. The length of time it’s been since I visited a cinema is even longer. The last time I can recall was in February 2017 as my stepson wanted to watch The Lego Batman Movie, so I had to go with him in order to fill the role of responsible parent.
This isn’t because I don’t enjoy stories. It’s obvious to any regular Later Levels visitor that adventure is my favourite game genre, and that’s because of something noted by Charles Cecil at a developer session back in September 2016: I love the way it magically entwines fantastic tales within its gameplay. As mentioned in a post at the end of last year about the reasons why I’d play a video game, right up there at the top are ‘if it’s a point-and-click’ and ‘if it’s narrative-heavy’.
So if I enjoy stories as much as I do, then why don’t I watch films more often? I just can’t seem to focus for the entire duration of a movie and eventually grow bored. Unless it’s something I’ve wanted to see for a long time or its plot is entirely gripping from the outset, I start getting twitchy legs and just have to get up to move about – something which may be mildly annoying for the other-half if we’re at home on the sofa, but is more frustrating for anyone who’s bought cinema tickets for the same showing as me.
I don’t seem to have the same issue when it comes to video games though. As proven by our test streams in the run-up to GameBlast19 last month, I can manage to play the same title for 12 hours straight without too much effort; I might flag a little when tiredness sets in but I don’t lose concentration in the same way I do with a film. Completing a 24-hour stream may have been challenging both mentally and physically but it’s so much fun and I wouldn’t hesitate to do another (roll on GameBlast20 next February).
Storytelling in gaming has come an awfully long way since the days of rescuing princess from various castles. We now have access to a wide range of protagonists which aren’t always the stereotypical white male hero, and it’s far easier to find one we can relate to and even admire. Each character is fully developed with their own backstories, intentions, strengths and weaknesses, and the conflict they encounter drives the narrative forward in a way which causes the player to care about their journey.
In The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker wrote that there are only several storylines which are recycled again and again. Films present one of these plots and it can’t be changed (right now). With video games though, there’s always that feeling of being able to affect its outcome even if it’s just an illusion of choice. We may ultimately arrive at set end-points determined by the developer but those choices we’re presented with along the way change into something more than a simple story: it’s transformed into our story.
So does that mean I think that video games are better than movies? Not necessarily but I do believe they offer something different, or possibly something more special. Stepping into the role of a protagonist you can relate to or having the opportunity to play as a character you’ve created is an experience that films are unable to provide at present. With advances in technology and innovation, there’s nothing to say that won’t change in the future – but right now, gaming gives me a level of immersion that movies are unable to.
Developers have learnt to use storytelling tools to their advantage, just as film directors do. Just look at titles such as The Last of Us or Hellblade; releases nowadays suck us in by incorporating cinematography principles including shot composition, lighting and camera focus. As written by Jon Fusco in an article for No Film School in August 2017: “All of these elements come together to produce an immersive experience that you simply can’t get from any other medium of entertainment. It’s more than a movie – it’s a playable movie.”