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Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

Games are not movies, and vice versa.

These are further thoughts inspired by Richard Dansky's blog entry (mentioned earlier). I responded to him, saying:

"No further proof of the fundamental artistic gap between movie and game is needed than that of the games that are made as tie-ins with movies."

For those of you who don't know, they have a history of being awful, or at best, acceptable.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that there are more fundamental differences between these art forms than there are similarities. We seem to be hooked on the idea that because they are both viewed on screens, or because they both depend heavily on dialogue, they must be similar.

It is true that there is a great deal of cross-pollination between them. Games strive to have the setting and atmosphere of great movies. Movies, it seems, with the surge in the use of hand-held cameras, seem to be going for the POV visuals and visceral feel of games. Blockbusters in both of these media share a preference for epic plots, large explosions, and larger-than-life heroes and villains.

But on the subject of storytelling, the two arts have little in common. Movies from a storytelling point of view are merely books with moving pictures, animated graphic novels, or theater plays with big budgets. Telling a story via a movie, play, or book is fundamentally similar:

  1. The observer is passive; there is no influence over the advancement of the plot.
  2. There is by necessity a single story line, all characters are immutable, and all actions pre-ordained.
  3. The consumer is absorbing, watching, listening; in the case of books they are using their imagination.

Games, however, are fundamentally different:
  1. The consumer is active, choosing (within the limits of the game design) what will happen next.
  2. As there are multiple possibilities, there should be multiple outcomes. Characters in the game are expected to react differently to the player depending on the player's previous actions. Choice is limited (or else the game project becomes infinitely large), but within this the player is free to act as they wish.
  3. The consumer is reacting, thinking, and involved as a participant.

    And these are just the macro issues. From the purpose of the dialogues to the character that says them to the intended effect on the audience, the building blocks of games and movies serve different purposes.

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Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

December 2011

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