Thursday, 4 March 2010

Are games deeper than films?

Are games better than films in terms of depth and narrative? (I started to ask myself this question recently upon completing Mass Effect 2.) It is a known fact that games financially have overtaken the movie industry, however many still believe them to be incapable of creating the same depth and immersion as films; that they are incapable of evoking any kind of emotion or keeping a good narrative – a statement I strongly disagree with.

I have found myself leaving the cinema numerous times repeating the statement, “it was alright, but nothing I haven’t seen before.” One of the most recent notable films I’ve seen has been Avatar, which in terms of depth and emotion was good, but the story itself wasn’t exactly original. I also saw a film with a unique plot, and yet it felt stale and bland.

In comparison, on completion of Mass Effect 2, I was left feeling very excited and giddy; I had been emotionally immersed all the way, the plot was different and interesting, the humour kept me laughing and the end had put me on the edge of my seat; I have felt similar while playing other titles. Admittedly, the depth of a game is hugely based on its genre and style; some are just built for the sheer enjoyment of the game-play, but storytelling in games is still a large part of the medium and deserves acknowledgement.

How many times have you watched a film and thought, “why does the bad guy never win?” (Of course we wouldn’t want them to, but films are somewhat predictable in that sense.) In a game however, who’s to say they can’t, or maybe you are the bad guy, or maybe you made a bad decision that resulted in an entire civilization of people to be wiped out? – Who knows; Games have always seemed a lot more open to me in that sense. In a lot of titles you can often choose your alignment, good, bad or evil, which adds an extra layer to the possibilities in the narrative.

I have also found, at times, a game has evoked more emotion in me, especially in relation to another character. In a film, I don’t know that person; I’m not there; I am simply an observer. When I play a game I talk to those characters, I learn about their lives and sometimes offer them help. In return they will watch my back in battle. In some games they even have an opinion of me; some like me; others are snotty and will avoid me because they didn’t agree when I sacrificed that ancient artefact to save our skins. There is also the fact that games are generally a lot longer than films, so I am to be dealing with these people for much longer lengths of time. I end up feeling, overall, generally more attached to these characters, which then makes it all the more harder when they abandon me and leave my party based on something I did, or if they were to die – it would be a very emotional experience.

It’s not just role-playing games either that are capable of provoking emotions. First-person games make you feel involved by placing you behind the eyes of that character, as if you’re there in person. I found myself feeling particularly involved with Half life 2 –Alyx Vance was a character I felt particularly attached to as she was cool and down to earth. Half life was one of the first games to not use cut scenes, which added to the immersion of the game; it’s a rather satisfying experience to see the plot going on around you while still being in control. The main character, Gordon Freeman, was also fairly quiet and not particularly emphasized to any great lengths, allowing all different types of people to project their own personalities into the blank spot, so that everyone could feel more involved with the plot.

Don’t forgot the survival horrors either, which manage to evoke fear into the player, who must then react instead of relaxing back into their soft padded chairs. (You may not die in games but there is still more risk involved than what you would get from watching a film. For example, you may have to go way back and defeat that annoying boss again who occurred after the save point.)

There is no reason for why films and games cannot co-exist peacefully. Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses they must play to when attempting to tell a good emotional story. Films have more control over the camera and so can use atmospheric shots to their advantage, but games take you personally into the story. I find it short-sighted and shallow when people claim that games have no merit in such feats, as there are numerous books and theories about the art of creating emotion in games – a subject I find fascinating myself. In the end, people who are incapable of accepting games because they think they lack emotion and plot are missing out. It’s their loss if they don’t want to partake in the enjoyment of games.

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