The Film Envy Problem: Three Reasons Why People Need To Stop Comparing Games To Movies

03.15.13 5 years ago 17 Comments

Game developers do it. Gamers do it. Publishers do it. Whether it’s developers complaining that nobody whines about how long a film is or some developer insisting that “Hey, you get way more pleasure out of my game than ANY MOVIE!”, video games and movies are constantly compared.

And it needs to stop.

They Are Two Entirely Different Artforms

This is the most basic problem, here. Games and films are so fundamentally different as an artform it’s like comparing apples and mechas.

Games, especially great games, are built around action. The player is the driving agent, who makes the calls, who in the best game determines the world around them. If someone important dies in a game, it’s because of your successes or failures.

Films are built around reaction. The filmmakers carefully build a world that you engage in emotionally, but don’t control.

Both are fun, both are valid, both are utterly different.

Console Gaming Is Still Relatively Niche

Gamers, and those in the gaming industry, tend to forget that console gaming is still a relatively tiny subset of electronic entertainment that the majority of the world just isn’t into, for whatever reason. Moving three to five million copies on a current platform is enough to get you into the possible all-time bestseller category. To give you an idea of how that compares to the movies, the average ticket price is $8 in 2012, so any movie that moves $40 million in tickets has more people who’ve seen it than your average video game.

Movies are more culturally present, and it’s going to take a lot more than chest-pounding and whining about being better to bring games to the same degree of cultural ubiquity. As for PC games…yeah, a niche of a niche isn’t going to do much better in this regard.

Trying To Be Like Movies Results In Bad Games

Storytelling is one thing. Video games can easily tell a compelling story. It’s the addiction to massive “cinematic” setpieces that tends to ruin games. Again, what defines games as an art form is action, and setpieces deliberately limit your choices. Compare something like Journey to any first-person shooter for the contrast.

It’s unlikely this will stop anytime soon, but realistically, it needs to. The sooner games accept that they’re not movies, but something just as wonderful, the sooner we get better and more artistic games.

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