This Friday we went to one night of the Noir City film series at the Castro Theatre in town. I love old film, especially stuff immediately pre- or post-war, including pre-code American pictures, Alfred Hitchcock, and pulp noirs. Friday was definitely about pulp, but it was also a tribute to cinematographer John Alton, so it was all beautifully shot and the imagery was just stunning.

The movies were definitely grade B as far as their star power and scriptwriting went, which is the draw of half the films shown at the Castro. It's also part of what made the evening interesting to me, as a viewer. The audience was definitely not taking the films overly seriously, and there ended up being a lot of "laugh lines" throughout both films that I wondered if I would've noticed or enjoyed if I'd been watching them at home on DVD. Seeing film in a theatre, especially with a big crowd of fellow movie lovers, is a truly communal experience.

It's something that, I guess, video games will never have, which may be to their benefit or detriment as a cultural medium. Games are integrally focused on the individual, the player, even when that player is participating in a multiplayer game; the player's experience is entirely self-centered, whereas the moveigoer's experience is entirely... hmm, the opposite of that. "Self-sublimating"? Maybe "introverted" versus "extroverted?" The film experience is entirely focused on the actions of others onscreen and in the movie theatre, is what I mean to say. In other words, much of the enjoyment of these films came from vicariously sharing the exact same experience with hundreds of others simultaneously, and my reactions to the events onscreen resonating through them.

I'm not sure what the implication is. I feel that games have a harder road to hoe than movies since, at their inception as a mass medium, anyone with a nickel could walk into a theatre and see a movie, enjoy it with others, discuss it with others, share it with others, and walk out with no baggage. All games (except arcade games, which were simple and have fallen out of favor) require a significant hardware buy-in, and can only be shared with a limited audience (usually at most the players involved in the game and a few onlookers, barring public tournament situations.) Games as an experience are more intimate-- based on the player's actions themselves and limited in being shared with a living room of others-- which is powerful, but also precludes the accessibility and appeal to the collective unconcscious that moviegoing provides.

Something like World of Warcraft probably appeals better to the strengths of both games and movies (a player-driven experience that is nonethless unchanging in its nature and shared simultaneously by tens of thousands of others on your server, as well as requiring only the bare minimum computer that most people already have for e-mail.) I hope someday this genre of game will be able to develop more engaging and meaningful play to go along with its appealing base architecture.


Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, you've made some interesting points and in honesty they are observations I've also made as a film-goer and a gamer. However one slight (arguably cliched) gripe:

"All games (except arcade games, which were simple and have fallen out of favor)"

Once again, this is a very Western view point. The arcade scene is not only alive in many Asian territories (not just Japan as most people presume) but vibrant and varied. That's not to say your assertion is incorrect in regards to America, it's correct of course... but yeah, just wanted to point that out because when one considers the communal aspects of a medium and how that informs the participants experience of it, in many ways the arcade gamers' experience (particularly those who actually watch on the sidelines) is similar to that of cinema viewer (by this I am referring to the 'reactionary' aspect of it). Perhaps then, one possible future avenue for gaming (and I am referring to the arcade scene here) is to continue offering such an experience (and in the case of the West doing more to encourage this scene). How, or even if, that could be applied to the home user experience is obviously a much more difficult issue to tackle (assuming it's something that needs to be tackled at all). Regardless we need not as designers be limited by the existing frame work that pre-supposes the need to provide for such a singular and self-centred game play experience.

Anyway, interesting post. See you at GDC dude! :)

Steve gaynor said...

Hey Ben, you make a good point as well. I wrote of arcade games without giving them much thought as, even though they're not a dominant platform here anymore, they really do relate strongly to the playership vs. viewership thing. I see where you're coming from, but I'd posit that classically spectator-focused arcade games share more in common with live theatre or live music than film. The difference I see is that the spectators are still enjoying the live performance of a limited number of actors whose inputs are dynamic and directly dictate the spectators' experience; beside sharing a viewed experience with the rest of the audience, the viewer is also cheering on or otherwise reacting to/providing sensory input for the players of the game. I'd say watching something like DDR or a Street Fighter match is more akin to watching live dance, or seeing a live band play, or a sparring match, improv, fencing, one-on-one basketball, etc. than passively watching a film. Furthermore, in a film, there's no chance you'd be able to jump up on the screen once the current actor finishes his scene :-)

Good points though, and it's interesting to note that the specific types of arcade games that are still successful in public arcades (mostly fighting games and rhythm games) are the ones most conducive to engaging a crowd of spectators.