As the BBC’s new Sherlock series makes wide ranging use of Heavy Rain as a reference point, it shows just how far videogames have come in the common consciousness.
Apart from being a rather good show, (coming soon to PBS) with excellent performances from Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson, its general ascent to the visual style of Heavy Rain soon feels more like a homage as the similarities mount up. Matrix style close-ups, emotive on-screen text, an origami killer, and of course the general suspense thriller theme, combine to make the similarities unmissable.
The first thing I noticed was the visual style. Like Heavy Rain, Sherlock uses a short focal depth to create an eerie location. Buildings blur into the distance and create a claustrophobic feel that reminded me of Sherlock’s original smog shrouded location.
The camera work mimics Heavy Rain’s trigger controlled close-ups as we are flown in to examine the intricate details of our subject with Holmes’ magical powers of deduction. As he runs through the different clues there is an undeniable videogame aesthetic with the camera flying around the room.
Then, as Holmes ponders each crime mystery his thoughts are projected as words on the screen in a style that is undeniably influenced by David Cage’s game. The director uses this technique to let us into the mind of Holmes in just the same way that Cage opens a door on his character’s inner psyche in Heavy Rain. It works well in both settings and by no means feels out of place on TV.
As if to underline these similarities, early on in episode one when this words-on-the-screen technique is used to communicate information about a murder victim to the viewer, Holmes comments about the victim “she’s been in heavy rain in the last few hours… where has there been heavy rain and strong wind in that time?”
Surely this is more than just a coincidence, and the director is letting us in on the joke. Or perhaps the game got into their psyche so much they included the title in the dialogue without even realizing it. The similarities continue through episode two (I’ve yet to catch the finale) with the series making use of the origami killer theme that was the main feature of the videogame, even down to the killer leaving a folder paper call sign with each victim.
Whether these are signposts to some of the show’s influences or just circumstantial I’ll leave for you to decide. But either way – intentionally or unintentionally – Sherlock has benefited from techniques that Heavy Rain brought to the table.
Although this feels like an exciting and significant discovery at first, once the novelty wears off, what are you left with? For me it’s great to see games becoming part of our cultural tapestry, but the point isn’t that they are seeding original ideas, or bringing some unheard of perspective to the table, it’s that they are accepted as part of the tools we use to tell our stories.
Videogames are significant, not because of any higher claim to being art, but because they are a part of how our culture collectively expresses itself. They are a part of the air we breathe when making sense of the world.
Sure, they are a more recent addition to the cultural conversation than theatre, books and films – and they have long been on the margins, but they are undeniably here to stay, and becoming an ever more significant part of that discussion every day.
As they eclipse film revenues and offer experiences that are popular and compelling, it feels like we are at a watershed. But this isn’t, as some suppose, because of their financial standing, it’s more from their cultural impact.
Game ideas have got to the point of spilling into everyday life. Whether it’s the interfaces of our computers, the way information is presented in television or just how we communicate through mobile devices, our world is colored by gaming.
We’ve seen this above in Sherlock’s, possibly unknowing, adoption of Heavy Rain as a reference for its production. Sure, those that pinned their hopes on Heavy Rain to finally deliver an experience as robust and grownup as modern cinema – for it to be art – were disappointed. But as the game has become part of wider culture it has joined other reference points for suspense driven thriller stories. And on those grounds I think it’s an interesting success.
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