Will cinema ever match the emotional power and intellectual engagement of gaming?
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I love film and I have great hope for its future as a medium. I feel that for it to truly reach its potential film makers must be willing to take inspiration from other successful media, such as computer games. In this post I will examine the difference between film and games in terms of their emotional and intellectual impact on the user using my personal experiences as a guide.
Being moved to move
Playing games can produce very intense emotions such as joy, anger, fear, frustration, general excitement and a sense of wonder. After finally completing an extremely difficult level after many tries I often punch the air and want to scream "YES!". When my friend and I survived the hospital rooftop standoff in Left 4 Dead after about 30 attempts, we jumped to our feet whooping and gave each other a high five. A few times after a particularly frustrating streak of deaths in Counter-strike I threw my mouse at the wall in anger. The fact that these emotions manifested themselves in such a physical manner shows how intense they were. I could not contain them. They consumed me.
When films create emotions they are less intense. I have never jumped out of my seat to punch the air when the hero of the movie saves the day. None of the other emotions from films create any physical movement in me except for laughter sometimes. This is due to the lack of interactivity in film and therefore a lower level of engagement. There is no bad outcome that is avoidable by the user. There is no "FILM OVER" screen and so watching them can be a very pedestrian affair.
When I play most games I am usually thinking "What should I do next?". Strategies are created on the fly for dealing with my current problems and guarding against future problems. Even the most simple of action oriented games usually require the player to come up with some strategy to reach the end of the game or achieve a higher score. Many small browser games will quickly have me weighing up the pros and cons of spending my money on an item right now or saving it for a better value but more expensive item later. Some titles will have me obsessed with learning labrynthian dungeon layouts and solving puzzles, often coming up with solutions at unexpected times like when lying in bed at night. A few will even get me making notes in order to spot connections or solve logic puzzles.
Films on the other hand can usually be taken without much thought. Most involve passively observing events and having your conciousness painfully guided to a story's conclusion. Some will have you trying to work out what will happen next, though you can be betrayed by an outcome that makes no sense. A few will have you working out what just happened but the vast majority will just explain it to you at the end so you needn't expend any mental effort. A film must try to cater to all of its viewers and it since it has no input the film makers cannot be sure that everyone understood the last scene. Therefore they must make it simple.
Where do we go from here? You decide.
As we have seen, the disadvantages of film compared to games usually stem from a lack of interactivity. Therefore, to progress the medium film makers should start to introduce interactive elements to films. The viewer should get to choose which way the story forks, or choose which of two scenes they get to see to fit together the mystery. Perhaps they could mash buttons during a chase scene so that they have an active role in the outcome.
I believe that such innovations will be the future of cinema and allow viewers to engage in films like never before, becoming so excited at the happy ending that they will jump out of their seat and cheer and so upset at the alternate sad ending they will hold their heads and weep.