I completely agree with Steve that this generation will be the first one that won’t be able to rely on something strictly technical or tangible in order to define itself. While I don’t necessarily know exactly what that defining thing is actually going to be, I can speak to what I would LIKE it to be: Games that are truly BETTER than movies.
While games still have some ways to go before they reach the same level of quality as movies in terms of storytelling and character development, I think the framework is definitely there to deliver Oscar-worthy movies that just happen to be interactive video games. A lot of people feel that this is the future of gaming, and that one day you’ll barely be able to tell movies and games apart. That is not quite what I’m talking about or hoping for. Jerry Bruckheimer said while promoting the 2010 film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, on which he served as executive producer, “I really believe in the next 10 years you won’t be able to tell the difference between movies and games”. An admirable goal, and one I feel games aren’t that far away from reaching, but I don’t think we should settle for that.
Not to get too off track, especially on a topic I’ve ranted about previously, but it is a pet peeve of mine that becoming true interactive movies is the ultimate goal of so many developers and dream of so many gamers. Why do games have to be movies? Movies already are movies. When you want a movie, watch a movie. When you want a game, play a game. Now, I’m not saying the two mediums can’t ever converge. I happen to really enjoy games like Heavy Rain exactly because they are very much an interactive movie. Hell, I still get a kick out of playing Dragon’s Lair from time to time. I just think that video games are capable of offering a different type of experience and entertainment than movies, and I’d rather see developers pushing for ways to exploit that instead of simply trying to copy movies. What if animated movies only did everything that live action movies did, only they just happened to be animated? What would be the point? Instead, the best ones do something different than traditional live action, utilizing the unique advantages that animation offers. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, they’re just different.
Fine, so a lot of gamers feel they have outgrown Mario or anything even remotely cutesy or cartoony (in other words, haters of smiling and fun). There is still a lot of middle ground between video games full of floating platforms and 1-ups and talking animals, and games that are just movies where you control the action sequences. The Assassin’s Creed games are an excellent example of this middle ground. They have all the trappings of a “movie-like” game – realistic visuals, extensive dialogue, dramatic camera angles, a fleshed-out story with a full cast of characters, Hollywood-caliber voice talent – but they still wear their video game-ness proudly and don’t shy away from on-screen button icons, targeting reticules, mini-maps, and other visual indicators that don’t let you forget you’re still playing a game.
To me, that’s the ideal “best of both worlds”, taking what Hollywood does well – story, characters, cinematography – and combining it with the interactive elements of a great game: Action, exploration, and puzzle solving. Being the type of gamer who likes almost anything, I’ll always play a combination of different types of games, whether they are pure, unadulterated “video games” or a true Hollywood production with subtle interactive elements guiding you through the story. I do hope that we eventually get a point where there are games that you could play for someone who loves movies (but is indifferent towards games) and have them come away thoroughly impressed as if they just watched a great film. What I hope for even more, however, is to have video games that surpass movies – and not by beating them at their own game, but by doing something unique, something different, something only possible with a video game. At THAT point, I feel video games will have reached their next true landmark, and I believe that landmark is achievable during this gaming generation.