81: The Sincerest Form of Imitation

"The following list is our best attempt to collate those who have been pillaged so often by games, it's almost reached the point where we've forgot where the component elements came from. In terms of series, we're taking the film which was taken from most.
If any of these films had never happened, the game industry would be so screwed they'd even have to - ladies, hold your man, gentlemen, pour a stiffening brandy - try being original for a change."
Kieron Gillen looks at six movies without which many modern games would simply not exist.

The Sincerest Form of Imitation

While I don't think anyone can dispute games being derivative works, it seems like Kieron painted with some pretty broad strokes claiming that almost all games are Hollywood gone interactive. We all know that fantasy games are inspired by D&D/Tolkien and sports games are based on, well, sports, but claiming that all the others are beholden to movies for inspiration doesn't seem fair to some of the extremely creative games we've seen over the years.

It's hard to attribute simulation games like SimCity or Black & White to any particular genre of film (thankfully! "Urban Planning: The Movie" doesn't sound like a blockbuster). And while the genre is nearly dead, graphical adventures often demonstrated narratives and storytelling that outstrip that vast majority of box office offerings. There are few films that have been as resonant or personal as the story of April Ryan in The Longest Journey. The aesthetic, art direction and sheer creativity of the Lucasarts graphic adventures, especially Grim Fandango, is at a level most Hollywood films can't even aspire to. Does Super Mario Sunshine have a cinematic analog? Psychonauts? (probably one of the most underrated games of the last 2 or 3 years) Pikmin? Amplitude? There are a host of titles who take creativity to levels that most films can't even imagine. I suppose the real tragedy is that there are so many more than don't.

If Kieron's claims are that most action-based games, especially those of the FPS and RTS milieu, are more or less lockstep with cinema, I'm perfectly inclined to agree. His classification was dead-on and the list (especially Aliens) was excellent. But saying that all games, except for fantasy RPGs and sports, are derived from film seems to be selling short the creativity of Sid Meyer, Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto and countless others. I think they deserve more credit than that.

Well-written article with some good points (ie. the shakey-cam in Gears of War), but overall a flawed premise.

Nelsormensch, you make a good point about FPS and RTS games taking the heaviest influence from movies. I would like to further expound on the notion that this limited influence on games is primarily visual. Kieron says it himself at the very beginning of the article: "Their best visual motifs and scenarios are taken directly from some movie or other." Despite having read this article, I fail to see how this is a bad thing. Films have become our shared cultural visual icons. What better way to connect to a broad audience of gamers than to use that shared visual language? Books don't work as a source of inspiration for visual design unless you have a particularly good imagination, and despite what you may believe about the creative process, artists have always relied on past art for inspiration.

How about all those Giger-inspired aliens in videogames. Is it possible that the game artists and modellers were inspired by his sculptures and paintings, as well as (or even rather than) the Alien movies? I'm sure that someone well-versed in visual art could spend all day pointing out influences present in modern games; we're simply incapable of seeing it, because we gamers spend more time watching movies than viewing art. How are we to fault game artists and designers for trying to speak to us in the visual language we know? Is it any wonder that the most unique and creative games go unnoticed and unappreciated, just as the majority of indie films go unwatched? If we really want to industry to be more "creative", then we need to start showing our appreciation for creativity.

If we really want to industry to be more "creative", then we need to start showing our appreciation for creativity.

Hammer, nail, head. Very well-put.

I dont remember any movies where there are portal guns, or commanders that can use a planet's natural resources, and matter replicators to create an army on site, or summer camps for psychics.

Every year, there's more unique ideas in games, just look at Portal, or Supreme Commander, or Psychonauts. Give it time. In the beginning, did cinema all of a sudden have this plethora of new and interesting ideas, or were many of them ripped from popular novels, and stories of the day? Hell, even today, movies rip off other movies just as much as games rip off movies. Look at Terminator, and iRobot. Or The Matrix, and The One. Hell, how many blockbusters are direct adaptations of novels, or comics? Enemy at the Gates, Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, 300, just to name an extreme few.

Besides how many things can you say have NEVER been done before? Certain laws of probability would suggest that the farther you look back, you can find that any idea today is similar to another that came before it, in some way.


If we really want to industry to be more "creative", then we need to start showing our appreciation for creativity.

Hammer, nail, head. Very well-put.

You win.

Still a decent article though.


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