Thursday, February 25, 2010

Video Games and Cinema

In Manovich’s The Language of New Media, the parts that really interested me were his musings about video games. As an avid gamer, I could really relate to and understand his ideas and observations. When he was talking about interactive VR worlds, he says that he feels 21st century cinema will involve “a user represented as an avatar…rendered with photorealistic 3D computer graphics, interacting with virtual characters and perhaps other users, and affecting the course of narrative events” (82). That is basically the exact description of today’s MMORPGs, or massive multiplayer online role-playing games. The character you control is called your “avatar,” the graphics are 3-D and usually pretty realistic and there are virtual characters called NPCs (non-player characters) that can assist or hinder you. And of course, you interact with other players around the world and what you do with them (talk, trade, fight) affects the outcome of your story. There is some sort of over-arching story, but where you go, what happens next, how it happens, and many other narrative aspects are largely dependent on what you make your avatar do. In this way, these games are somewhat like writerly texts, because everything you do affects something else, and few things are strictly scripted; there aren’t just preset paths for you to follow (or “read”).

Since Manovich writes that video games follow in the steps of and borrow many techniques from cinema, does the fact that games are incorporating these interactive features before movies mean that games are now ahead of cinema? And now the progression of cinema-games has flipped?

He also mentions the “lavish cinematic sequences” (83) and camera controls found in games. Since 2001, when this was written, these two features have become even more important to gaming. The way the camera moves and the degree of control over it in games is something that reviewers consider when grading a game. These cinematic “cut scenes” as they are called by gamers are often the most praised and looked-forward to parts of games. The fact that movies and games have integrated so thoroughly and successfully seems to support Manovich’s ideas about the coming together of all forms media.

Here are two cut scenes, both from Final Fantasy games (a series well-known for its cut scenes) to show their movie-like qualities (music, camera angles, etc.)

The opening of Final Fantasy X (released for Playstation 2 in 2001, coincidentally when this book was published).

The ending of Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (released in 2008 for the PSP handheld).

Friday 11 AM Section

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