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Alfred Hitchcock Would Make Great Games

Walter Garrett Mitchell | 13 Jul 2012 21:00
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But this line of thinking quickly curves towards disaster. Leigh Alexander asks the question begged by this perspective: "Does honoring game developers as creative personalities confer some legitimacy upon them that didn't exist before?"

"Some games," she writes, "are objectively meaningful to many in spite of being 'stupid.'"

Over time, an application of technique will form a sort of trademark style, but that's just a side effect.

So why does auteur theory matter at all? The Cahier critics shifted the popular conception of cinema from that of a soulless, self-serving media machine to a nuanced, progressive form of expression, but was it merely by throwing a few big names on a pedestal (as Clark did) and praising them at the expense of the medium at large?

The short answer is, of course not. Thankfully, auteur theory has much more to offer.

Advocates of auteur theory did not just pick favorites, they rewrote the book on film criticism from a practical perspective-the filmmaker's perspective-and saved their praise for film-specific visual eloquence. These critics, like those of us who have grown up with games, understood exactly what made their favorite medium great, precisely what it was capable of that older media were not.

For that reason they elevated films not for their traditional appeal- a well-written script, for example- but for inventive visual themes, precise editing, unconventional camera angles, what have you. In the end it was the establishment of a new metric of quality that defined auteur theory and dictated its influence, not the hero-worship and brand-pushing.

To summarize, here's British writer, professor and film producer Colin MacCabe's "Revenge of the Author":

They [Cahier du Cinéma] saw the weakness of French cinema in terms of its over-valuation of the written element in film. And this over-valuation failed to take into account the mise-en-scène, the whole composition of the film, in which design, lighting, shot sequences, acting, were articulated together to provide the very specific reality and pleasure of the cinema. [emphasis mine]

From the auteur theory perceptive, the most prized talent was that of gathering and combing disparate creative elements, ultimately capturing the medium's "very specific reality and pleasure." Leigh Alexander touches on this later in her article, saying a game worth playing is an "unflinchingly honest interaction in the way that only games can offer."

Over time, an application of technique will form a sort of trademark style, but that's just a side effect. More vital is that the auteur commands his chosen medium with an authority that can, against all odds, wrangle the colossal beast of industry into the service of his imagination.

And we don't even need to go that far. You might not think a game could ever be the product of just one mind. That's totally fair. More important to a hypothetical "gaming auteur theory" is the recognition of studios and developers- or even just individual games- that are willing and able to engage with the medium on its own terms.

Hitchcock embodied that idea: He rejected the cinema's "over-valuation of the written element," embracing instead film's unique methods of visual mediation.

"Dialogue," he told Truffaut, "should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms."

By the same token, a gaming auteur theory would prize the titles that express themselves, first and foremost, in gaming-specific terms: choice, cooperation, competition, challenge, reward, repetition, modification. Within this ideological framework, one could even argue that narrative in games should "simply be a sound among other sounds," a side dish to the real meat of the interactive elements and gaming's answer to the mise-en-scène. It goes without saying that story-less romps like Rayman Origins, not to mention Tetris and every other abstract puzzle game, prove the appeal of the narrative-free experience.

Crucially, happily, the games-as-art "question" is irrelevant to auteur theory- whatever "art," like, even means, man- because at its heart, auteur theory is about technique, and that's something that can be talked about with something resembling objectivity.

In 1983, three years after Hitchcock's death, Truffaut re-released the seminal interview with a new conclusion.

"When cinema was invented," he wrote, "it was initially used to record life, like an extension of photography. It became an art when it moved away from the documentary."

"Hitchock ... did not merely practice an art, but undertook to delve into its potential, and to work out its rules."

Walter Garrett Mitchell expresses himself exclusively in cyborg-specific terms - mostly on Twitter and Blogspot.

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