Storytelling in Movies and Video Games

I’ve always found it a bit strange when video games are made into movies. The whole essence of games is that you get to control the character. You have a certain amount of freedom to explore the environment and do what you want. Films are in many ways the antithesis of that. You have no control. You are a passive observer. Perhaps the games industry sees it in a way that a movie can be one big advertisement for their game and help them sell more units, in the same way that the He-Man cartoon was an advertisement to sell more Masters of the Universe toys. The fact remains that the games industry is bigger than the movie industry. That’s been known for a while. But which medium is better at telling stories?

Movies are very well controlled. They are linear and the director can carefully construct all the various elements at their disposal (lighting, music, pacing etc) to take you down a path and feel certain emotions. But there is no freedom. You are a passive observer who has to watch the characters in the movie and empathise with them. You are strapped in for the ride.

Games let the viewer have control. You are free to move around and interact with people and objects. You have immediate cause and effect in relation to your actions. You experience the story with yourself as the main character. But this freedom can also let the player stray off the path and get in the way of the experience of the story.

J.J. Abrams and Gabe Newell from Valve recently discussed this at the DICE Summit keynote in Las Vegas. They explained how there are many obvious differences between the two forms of media, but that there are also many similarities. The illusion of freedom in games can often have a complicated hierarchical structure, similar to story arcs in movie screenplays, which will always bring you back to the same ordered key points of drama in order to move the story forward. They both use misdirection to focus your attention on particular elements. They use setup and payoff to make you feel more involved in the storyline and to connect more with the characters. In both there has to be a balance between immersion and storytelling, and they play to their own strengths. But in both there is always a storyline spine throughout. Without a story there is no connection with the audience.

They finished their talk with the news that these behemoths of entertainment would be collaborating on movie and game ventures. Personally I hope they don’t just make a movie of Portal or Half-Life or a game of one of Abrams’ movies. I’m hoping they somehow try to bridge the two mediums in a way that hasn’t been done before. Perhaps some kind of interactive YouTube movie or get Abrams directing elements of a game to a level not seen before.

But for me it’s just great to see the video games industry all grown up and teaching Hollywood a thing or two about how to entertain people. That’s a good story in itself.

View the keynote

Image source - Variety YouTube video

Documentaries to watch


The new documentary about The Pirate Bay is now available to watch online (or torrent of course) totally free and legitimately. I guess they kind of had to make it free. It would be have been majorly ironic if they had tried to make money out of it and then people torrented it illegally.

Documentaries are big business right now. Perhaps due to the public’s fascination with reality on TV now shifting to the big screen. Or perhaps it is because it is a lot easier to fund your own film via Kickstarter. Either way there seem to be more and more interesting documentaries being made with bigger and bigger budgets these days. Here are a few ones that might interest you if you’re into pop culture, film, sports or anything geeky. Some have been around for a few years and some are due to be released within the next year. About a quarter of these have been funded via Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

TPB – AFK – The story of The Pirate Bay
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – Fascinating documentary following the rivalry between the Donkey Kong high score contenders
Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade – Similar documentary but this time for Pac Man
Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope – Morgan Spurlock’s review of Comic Con
The Dream Team – NBA TV’s film all about the Dream Team
Doin’ It In The Park – All about street basketball
Calling Automan – Documentary about classic 80’s tv show Automan
I Am Bruce Lee – A Bruce Lee documentary
The Art of Rap – Ice-T’s take on the Rap industry
Raiding the Lost Ark – Jamie Benning’s outstanding filmumentary of the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark
Star Wars Begins – Jamie Benning’s take on Star Wars
Building Empire – Jamie Benning again on The Empire Strikes Back
Returning to Jedi – Jamie Benning. Jedi
Mansome – Morgan Spurlock all about facial hair
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story – Documentary about Stan the Man
The People vs. George Lucas – All about the Star Wars phenomenon
BBS: The Documentary –  Jason Scott, telling the story of the Bulletin Board System
Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary – Jason Scott’s history of the gaming text adventure genre
Indie Game: The Movie – All about the independent video game industry
Beyond the Mat – 1999 film about professional wrestlers outside the ring
Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows – 1998 lowdown on professional wrestler Bret the Hitman Hart
Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters – The story of Tetris
Forks over Knives – Advocating vegetarianism
Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 – The history of James Bond
Collectable Spectable – Documentary series about Mark Bellomo, toy collector extraordinaire
Frazetta: Painting with Fire – All about legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta
Drew: The Man Behind the Poster – All about legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan
Get A Life – William Shatner’s take on Star Trek fandom
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan – Charting the life and work of the legendary stop motion animator
Downloaded – A film about Napster. Due out in 2013
From Bedrooms to Billions – The story of the UK computer games industry. Due out in 2013
Beyond Neon – A documentary about the revitalisation and resurgence of downtown Las Vegas. Due out in 2013
Toy Masters – The story of the Masters of the Universe toy range. Due out in 2013
Dear Mr. Watterson – A Calvin & Hobbes Documentary. Due out in 2013
Cassette – A documentary about the humble cassette tape. Due out in 2013
Arcade: The Last Night at Chinatown Fair – Documentary about the famous Chinatown Fair arcade in New York. Due out in 2013
Room 237 – The story of The Shining. Due out in 2013
DEFCON: The Documentary – Jason Scott’s film about the DEFCON conference for hackers. Due out in 2013
The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time – All about the classic video game. Due out in 2013
The Video Craze: “Where Were You In ’82?” – Documentary examining the impact of the video arcade. Due out in 2013
Inside Jaws – Another filmumentary from Jamie Benning. This time on Jaws. Due out in 2013
Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary – The history of the classic board game. Due out in 2014
Turn to 400: The Story of Fighting Fantasy – A proposed documentary about the Fighting Fantasy game book series which failed its first attempt on Kickstarter but which may resurface