What can videogames learn from the history of film?
Roger Ebert’s emphatic re-declaration that games could never be art has generated quite a lot of buzz in gaming circles lately. The relatively young games industry has always compared itself to the film industry with descriptors like “cinematic” – and as Alice Bonasio argues in Issue 252 of The Escapist, perhaps we as gamers should look at the history of film to understand our own history, and where we’re headed.
“Diversity of content is the top thing, because, once you have that, the rest follows,” said prominent independent developer, Chris Hecker, as we sit down for a chat. As we talk, it becomes clear that he cares deeply about games and believes in their staggering potential. But it is equally clear that he is afraid that commercial pressures will prevent the medium from living up to that potential. “I would really like to see games have the breadth and depth of the other big art forms. You look at the bookstore, or a list of the recently released films, and there are works about space marines, pregnant middle-aged women, kids struggling with divorced parents, political thrillers, the list goes on. We basically only have the space marines. I like space marines, but, as I tell my six year old, you can’t eat only candy all the time or you’ll die,” he said.
Hecker has had plenty of experience working with industry giants such as Microsoft and collaborating with Will Wright on Spore, and he has become an increasingly outspoken critic of the way the industry operates, as well as one of game’s most energetic champions. He claims that games are lagging behind other media in reaching a mass-market audience because they still pander to a narrow set of users. For a long time, the games industry remained a closely knit club of geeky boys, which meant that most developers were making games that were fun for themselves and the likeminded people surrounding them. There have been positive steps towards diversification, such as more unconventional characters, but this insular culture did not lead to widespread content innovation.
To read more about what one medium can learn from the past of another, read “Better Than Film” in Issue 252 of The Escapist.