In the aftermath of the 2017 Game Awards, one event stands out as a defining moment of the show. It wasn’t the crazy new Death Stranding trailer, nor was it the recognition of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as Game of the Year. Rather, it was Josef Fares, director of the upcoming A Way Out, passionately screaming “F*** THE OSCARS!” as Geoff Keighley looked on in barely contained horror.
I get why Fares may have done this. Being a film director himself prior to his involvement in the games industry, he has no doubt gained a great deal of familiarity with the less-savory side of Hollywood; hell, that’s a side that the public is only now being made painfully aware of. Plus, his sentiment is one that’s begun to be echoed by many individuals who see the annual Academy Awards as little more than a congratulatory pat on the back for Hollywood’s elite.
Now, let’s ignore the fact that Fares made his proclamation at a show Keighley has billed as “The Oscars of video games”. Let’s also pretend that the show doesn’t echo many of the elitist sentiments that get attributed to The Oscars; otherwise, we’d be here all day while I ranted about Dr. Disrespect winning the “Trending Gamer” award. What I want to talk about is the fact that video games and cinema are still discussed in the same sentence.
Why are video games still being compared to movies? It’s as though films have long since been defined as some sort of “gold standard” for art and entertainment that all other mediums need to reach towards. Yet games are not only completely separate entities, but often get worse when they try to mimic movies. Remember The Order: 1886? How about all those arguments about how 30 FPS “feels better” because “it’s more cinematic”? People try to justify lengthy cutscenes and quicktime events as making games feel more film-like, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these, that justification implicitly removes the most important part: it’s a game. If I want to watch a movie, I’ll sit down with a bag of chips and watch one; not repeatedly fumble around with a controller while covering it in Dorito dust.
It baffles me as to why this comparison still happens. Is it because films have been around for longer than games and share the common attribute of involving moving pictures on screens? Well, paintings have been around for longer than movies, and they share the common attribute of involving pictures. Why can’t Spielberg measure up to the quality of Van Gogh? What about music? We treat movies and music as separate entities, because it’d be ludicrous to try and compare the latest Rihanna single to the new Marvel film. There are certainly aspects that can be contrasted; for instance, the production of a film’s score can be compared to that of a popular artist. Instrumentation and audio quality are things that allow for cross-media analysis. Just because these commonalities exist, though, doesn’t mean that the two mediums are equivalent, and certainly doesn’t mean that one is better than the other.
I’ve heard it posited that “games can’t compare to more mature art forms” (insert gagging noise here). Such “immaturity” apparently comes from a variety of factors, including the communities surrounding certain games, the subject matter they tackle, and the corporate focus on profit over artistic integrity. Don’t these things apply to movies, though? Certain films (don’t worry, I’m not throwing anyone under the bus here) have horribly rabid fan bases who will defend their prized franchises to the death, all while calling those that disagree a wide assortment of names. Does that devalue the entire film industry?
As for tackling serious subject matter, well, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, SOMA, and even Fares’ own Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are but a handful of titles that come to mind. And before you start bringing up running over prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto, I’d like to direct your attention to that corner where all the Michael Bay films are stockpiled. Yeah, I see those; you’re not fooling anyone.
When it comes to corporate greed, well, do I even need to go into this one? Disney’s higher-than-normal cut on tickets for The Last Jedi and the never-ending stream of superhero films are just two examples of an industry that is more than happy to chase money, rather than innovation.
Now, I’ve spent the last few paragraphs bashing on films in an attempt to bring Hollywood off its high horse...which is actually something that caused me to get upset with Fares’ Game Awards speech. Hooray, hypocrisy! Really, though, I’m not trying to say that games are better than films, or vice versa. I’m saying that they’re entirely separate mediums that are filled with their own shining examples of quality and their own sleazy underbellies. For every Citizen Kane, there’s a The Emoji Movie, just as for every Breath of the Wild, there’s a Star Wars Battlefront II. Why do we feel the need to constantly compare games to movies? Why do we hail games as being “cinematic”, when such a statement implicitly praises an interactive medium for being like a non-interactive one? Games should not strive to be like films, because films already exist. If a video game company wants to make a movie, they should make a movie; not slap some QTEs in just so they can sell it for $60.
Video games are not the highest form of art. Neither is film, music, painting, photography, writing, or anything else. They’re different mediums, capable of offering different experiences, and the sooner people recognize that and stop acting like one is inherently superior for some indeterminate reason, the sooner we’ll be able to appreciate each for what they can bring to the table.