Could Celine and Julie Go Boating — a semi-obscure masterpiece of French cinema — contain the secrets of proper video game storytelling?
Video games need to stop trying to be movies. You’ve heard it here and elsewhere; the tight, thematically coherent structure that reins in your typical two hour film will just never fit the wily, interactive nature of a game that can be fifty times that long. Games are typically better at moment-to-moment plotting and visceral release, waves of emotional catharsis cresting on the backs of set pieces and trial-and-error player accomplishments. These scenarios can move us; at best, they can insert us into an entire world ripe with someone else’s personality. But for any number of reasons — the audience as an active participant; the variations of player experience; the sheer time investment; the, um, general awfulness of most video game narratives — the common consensus is that games can’t do what movies do, and we are hurting our medium and ourselves by still imploring them to. It’s gotten to the point that cutscenes and nakedly cinematic opening credits sequences are greeted with cringes and eyerolls by most discerning gamers. It’s like we want to tell developers, “Stop trying to invite yourselves to the movies’ Grown-Ups’ Table. Just relax. There’s nothing wrong with the Kids’ Table; we can start food fights here!”
For the most part, I agree with this sentiment. Didn’t Wreck-It Ralph just heartwarmingly teach all of us gamers that fostering community is easier when you actually like yourself? (Um, spoilers?) But as someone with no great love of big-budget genre films — from which video games borrow approximately 99.8% of their cinematic ideals — I sometimes wonder if gaming’s supposed inferiority to movie storytelling is more about misguided inspiration than the true differences between the mediums. Why would games — rambling and easily distracted by nature, or at least since the leap to inhabitable, three-dimensional worlds — try to emulate action and adventure films, easily one of the most tightly scripted and traditionally “plot-driven” movie genres? (The answer, unfortunately, is because man-children like guns and aliens, and usually can’t draw a line between “form” and “content.”) What if there were films out there that could teach us how to deepen and strengthen video game narratives without violating the tenets of the medium? What if we’ve just been watching the wrong movies? Continue reading