Friday, March 1, 2013

Gabe Newell and JJ Abrams talk films vs. games

The keynote presentation at D.I.C.E. Summit 2013 was given by Star Trek (and now Star Wars) director JJ Abrams (arguably the greatest  filmmaker of his generation) and Valve's Gabe Newell (the greatest game developer of all time. Non-arguably. That one's not up for debate). In this video, two of the world's top storytellers have an entertaining back and forth about storytelling techniques in their respective mediums.

Let's set aside the awesome reveal at the end for just a second and talk about videogames vs. film (one of my favorite subjects as I'm sure everyone knows by now).

In a great documentary from 2012 called Indie Game: The Movie, I heard videogames described as... "The prime combination of all the forms of artistic expression, made interactive." (I can't remember or find the exact quote, but something like that.) And the interactivity is exactly what makes videogames so enthralling. However, it has always bothered me a bit when videogames don't use cutscenes and let the player have control throughout the entire game. This allows for ridiculous scenarios like JJ's first Half Life 2 example, where the player just messes around with a small device while one of the main characters is attempting to relay important plot points. But I know many gamers who groan every time a cutscene interferes with their play time, or who mash the A button throughout every text-based conversation. I suppose that's the risk any time you try to let someone control their own story - most of them are inevitably going to make an imperfect narrative and miss a bunch of stuff. And at the other end of the scale, you can take the control away completely (as in films) and present them with a perfectly crafted story - but then they may not be as invested as they are when THEY control the character. There isn't an obvious middle ground, to me.

I think both videogames and films are great ways to tell stories. And after watching this video, it seems to me that, no matter what format, the best scenes do two jobs at once, such as setup & character exploration - moving the plot forward while simultaneously informing the viewer about something important to the narrative.

And finally, I love that these two men are planning to collaborate on something, whether it be a game, a film, or somehow, both. Whatever it is, I can't wait to see it.

(By the way, D.I.C.E. stands for Design, Innovate, Communicate and Entertain, and it's an annual video game conference. I had to look that up.)

© Gina Florio 2013

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