Several decades have passed since the birth of video games, but only recently has it risen past its infancy. It’s easy to forget that it’s still a relatively new medium, given the massive amount of quality games we have. Compare the beginnings of gaming and cinema and you’ll find several parallels between the dawning of both art forms. Video games have been mimicking film for years, but recently, video games, and the culture surrounding them, have begun to resemble film more closely than ever before.
Humble Beginnings for both Cinema and Video Games
Like film, video games had arguably crude beginnings when you look at how far technology has advanced. Comparing Pong to Red Dead Redemption 2 is like comparing the first film, which was nothing more than a series of photographs of a horse running, to the early Ben-Hur (1959). Imagine how the Pong devs would react to Red Dead Redemption 2. Likewise, what would Eadweard Muybridge, creator of The Horse in Motion, think of the coliseum scene in Ben-Hur? Their jaws would have dropped to the floor. Film has come a long way since 1878’s The Horse in Motion, and even further still since 1959’s Ben-Hur. And so too will games continue to evolve.
Paintings and photographs are the inspiration for much of (if not all) cinematography. Phenomenal painters use techniques that draw the viewer’s eyes to certain points and filmmakers utilize similar techniques to tell their stories. Video games have been imitating those styles for decades, primarily in the use of cutscenes, which are often used to stitch storytelling elements together with gameplay. Lately, however, developers have been blending the line between cutscenes and gameplay. One could argue that the first example of this were quick time events, which give players some manner of control during cutscenes. However, quick time events have proven unpopular with many gamers.
In addition to quick time events, many developers are implementing film-like cinematography in their games. Quantum Dream’s Detroit: Become Human is a recent game that includes varying camera shots. In almost every scene, players can switch between cameras at a whim. In a game that allows the player to control the story, Detroit also lets the player take a seat in the director’s chair for some moments. Conversely, the latest entry of God of War uses wide-angle shots that never break or cut, attaching the player to Kratos and Atreus for the length of their journey. The player is placed in the role of a spectator, rather than an omniscient puppet master.
Film directors like Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan are often acclaimed for the creative ways with which they tell their stories. Game directors are beginning to receive similar recognition. Compared to film, directors of video games have largely been in the shadows, working behind the scenes to craft amazing games. Sure, you have your outliers like Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima, but others such as Cory Barlog, Todd Howard, David Cage, and Ken Levine are stepping into the limelight as masters of their craft.
The Future of Cinema in Video Games
We are seeing this trend continuing in games like Death Stranding, which was celebrated by some for its movie-like pace but criticized by others for being too slow and repetitive. Balcning cinematic storytelling with gameplay elements is a fine line to walk, and not every game is going to get it right. However, the ball is already rolling. Movies and video games will continue to evolve and grow, but now they will grow together.
Do you like cinematic, story-driven video games or are you sick of games trying to be something they’re not? Let us know in the comments below!