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Home » Culture and Criticism

1/31: Video Games: The Movie

Submitted by on January 1, 2015 – 9:00 AM2 Comments
Screen: Mediajuice

Screen: Mediajuice

Video Games: The Movie doesn't pretend it isn't enthusiastic about and spirited in defense of its titular medium, and it's quite effective at shilling for video games; I renewed my GameFly subscription shortly after watching the movie.

But "shilling" is a not-unfair description of what's going on here. The net (…as it were) effect is an attractively composed but often tedious and disingenuous-seeming marketing video, studded with montages that feature on-the-nose music selections. Narrated by Sean Astin, larded with talking-head interviews with the likes of Wil Wheaton and Chloe Dykstra, VG:TM is a bit calculated, a bit bootstrappy. For those of us who don't care much about TNG or LOTR (weirdly, a freelance detail involving Heroes of Cosplay means that, of these, it's Dykstra's work I'm most familiar with) and might then be less automatically in the bag filmmaker Jeremy Snead carefully sews together using all the various stereotypical nerd-signifier fabrics, VG:TM is by turns defensive and strident, as with a spirited but overlong defense of the gaming medium against charges that first-person shooter games correlate with real-life spree killings. We all know that Doom did not "cause" Columbine — but pretending there is not a relationship, murky though it may be and failing though it might to meet the standard for liability, is not a good look. A film this far in the tank for the industry it's describing is not the film to unpack that issue.

Later, video game historian John Sharp talks about video games letting kids learn that it's okay to try things and fail as part of a sequence arguing that, actually, gaming is social! It ups hand-eye coordination! It lets indoorsy kids feel like a part of something bigger! It's less passive than reading a stupid old book! I meeeeean…you know? I don't disagree, at all. In the '80s I played Wizardry, and played it and played it, and made maps and calculated hit points, and I learned more from that game about applied geometry and probability than I did at school. I've worked on the internet since God was in short pants, so I see firsthand the wonderful connections it makes, every day, over and over; I've also seen strangers do the "cool, serious, or worthwhile" arithmetic when they find out where I write, and until, like, 2009, the light went on over "D none of the above" every single time. But it's not 2009 anymore, and nobody outside of Oldcranksville thinks gaming isn't a creative medium worthy of serious critique and review, so that sequence too felt like a fed-up overreach. Like, not for nothing because I know Kirk Hamilton IRL, but why aren't you trying to make the point that the genre's legit with him instead of Zach Braff? (Braff is an executive producer on the movie, is why, but my point stands. Hamilton? Omar Gallaga? Is this thing on?)

VG:TM may not know who it's for. Snead got some outstanding vintage footage, the retro ads for Pong and the ET miscarriage of a game that was the Heaven's Gate of gaming back in the day; this is not uninteresting material. But it's preaching to the choir, is one problem, and it bites off too much, so I wonder if it might have worked better as the story of the birth and build of a single game, with flashbacks to some key junctures branching off that single story. It's more interesting for both veteran gamers a more analog type like me whose main "gaming" consists of Letterpressing my SIL across six boards while we're sitting next to each other, and it probably squeezes out some of the more blatant proselytizing.

It's not a bad movie; it's an okay sit. But I kept having flashbacks to big drafty halls at Comdex.

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2 Comments »

  • Sister Surprise says:

    Freaky coincidence! Just watched this on New Year's Eve. I enjoyed the occasional flashes of nostalgia (had forgotten all about those Pong screen overlays), but it was definitely a starry-eyed fanboy justification exercise.

    And the fact that it was recently enough filmed to have pre-release footage of Destiny, yet still didn't address the serious gender issues of the industry (that statistic at the opening isn't sufficient), was an egregious omission.

    But it was a mostly pleasant 90 minutes, in it's own way.

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