Thought Experiment: Movies, Video Games, and Symbiotic Entanglement
Imagine Hollywood announces that henceforth all blockbusters will be based on video games. Video games have emerged as a mature art form that can convey depth, nuance, and sincerity. The smash success of the HBO show The Last of Us is proof of what video games can be. There is also a great overlap in the audience.
If this were to occur, what would happen next?
1) There are a lot of movies that wouldn’t get made.
Both Hollywood and the video game industry value narrative arcs. The hero’s journey is central to both worlds. But they mean different things within each industry. Video games are an orchestration story, action, and optionality. So the kinds of stories are necessarily constrained. It is hard to imagine Succession as a video game, let alone Richard III.
2) There are a lot of video games that wouldn’t get made.
Video games are often cherished because of their novelty. Prince of Persia is a good early example of a novel approach to painting the character that made the character feel real. Portal is another example that turned the landscape into a kind of character. Within the industry, this kind of legerdemain is called Game mechanics.
If video game producers knew that any of their games could be turned into blockbuster movies, that knowledge would have an invidious effect on the creators’ minds. Game mechanics would be considered from the aspect of a cinematic experience. It would ultimately whittle down the kinds of games that get made.
Paradoxically, such an arrangement between movies and video games would prevent video games from becoming a mature art form.
I don’t know what to call this mutually procrustean arrangement, but I see it everywhere. From music to politics to enterprise SaaS. But probably first noticed it in comics. Comic books bent the knee to Hollywood decades ago. There was a time before Understanding Comics when comic art didn’t need to be sequential or tell a story. Saul Steinberg (or George Grosz) made art that contained a kind of game mechanics, an internally consistent logic. They should’ve been thought of comics but instead got entangled with art.