Friday, February 02, 2007

Games and Movies, more dreadful truth

Clearly inspired by my startled shrieking response to Chris Avelone's piece on researching game design from (amongst other things) movies, Kieron Gillen, author of the definitive screed on games journalism (no, not that, this) delivers yet again with this heady salad. Every single wordleaf a metaphoric glittery jewel of literal Truth.

Although no further evidence for the prosecution is required, let me admit this. A teacher chum in Chicago sometimes forwards me those of her student charges requiring equine-oral quotes for their papers. One of 'em asked me about the games I'd worked on thusly:“Did some of these ideas come from movies that you had seen in the past or from another form of media, and is there some connection in the games to movies?

My reply condemns me still:

I can’t stress this highly enough: the point of reference is almost always a movie. Even if we can come up with a better idea, we’ll tend to dress it up in a way we’ve seen in movies. Movie production design is a common point of reference for all our players, with lots of implicit ideas and emotional baggage. If we make our soldiers look a bit like the Marines from Aliens, players will be reminded of the brutal cool of that movie, the gruff talk, the sense of imminent violence. We’re trying to suspend the player’s disbelief. If a player feels like they’re looking at a screen, squidging buttons and massaging a mouse, we’ve failed. If they feel that they’re into the game world, running around and shooting things, we’ve got ‘em.

For many if not most video games, the main influence on their visual design is Cinema. In some game genres, such as Action and First Person Shooter, overwhelmingly so. Do not be distracted by the mere handful of movies that have been based on games: the traffic is almost entirely the other way. Movies have bigger budgets and better facilities for coming up with cool-looking stuff: if something has been made to look and sound cool in a movie, it’ll end up in a game, simple as that. That’s why games lean so heavily on movies – they supply pre-existing norms and a ready-made common visual vocabulary. If your game character is a glowing pink amoeba, it’s not clear what you have to do. If he looks like the chap out of Terminator, you’ve got a pretty good idea.

Although some games have created their own unique visual aesthetics (particularly Japanese ones, although a lot of them lean on Manga and Anime conventions), the biggest influences – almost always uncredited and unacknowledged – are movie production designers. It’s production designers who create the look and feel of what we expect in movies, they’re the ones who establish the visual vocabulary we all draw on.

Perhaps movies are uniquely usefully to game designers, but it’s not like it’s only game designers who are influenced by movie production designers. The great Ken Adam created all those great Bond villain bases, as well as the President’s War Room in Doctor Strangelove. Adam was told that when Ronald Reagan was elected President, the first thing he asked on moving into the White House was “Where’s the War Room?”, only to be met with polite frowns. I don’t know for sure that the story is 100% true, but it’s undeniable that movies influence everyone – not just games or game designers.

There. I am now reduced to quoting myself. Dispensing blowjobs for chump change in bus stations can surelynot follow far behind.