Why gaming is still inferior to film (and books)


Gaming has the three vast technical superiorities of interactivity, non linearity and connectivity. Yet still people are making films and writing books, despite them being outdated media. So why do the public continue to be  prepared to put up with this? Here are a few very inter-related reasons:

  • Suspending disbelief. This is the total immersion that a good movie or a good book gives you. True belief in the events as they unfold. This is an art to achieve and sometimes the movie industry fails. For instance using great plots and acting the original StarWars trilogy (episodes 4 to 6) were believable when being watched. However the subsequent episode 1 had you laughing at the improbability and studying the CGI.
  • Multi dimensional characters. This is an immense failing of games. Virtually all game characters are very simple and one dimensional. Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid being possibly about as good as we have achieved thus far. Hollywood gives us vastly complex characters as a matter of course, so do books.
  • Emotional involvement. Many millions of people have cried or laughed out loud at the movies or watching television or reading books. Video games are miles behind. They are not crafted sufficiently well to engage powerful emotions as a matter of course. The movie industry employs masses of gag writers just to insert humour, something we would do well to learn from.
  • Handling adult themes in an adult manner. Especially sex. Books and films are full of it as a normal part of human behaviour. The video game industry is a bit like the Taliband, lots of violence but don’t involve the women in anything meaningful. Maybe too many of us are too geeky to have the life skills necessary to get it right.
  • Story lines and plots. Video games are very caught up in the skills/tasks/rewards cycle and so often fail to create a great overall context that progresses. Books and films do not have this mechanism so rely far more on the quality of the underlying plot. We can learn from this because the game mechanism combined with a good plot has already resulted in some of the best output from our industry.
  • Creative talent / technical talent. A big one this. The movie industry has masses of highly skilled and creative people at every level. Screenplay writers, sound, directors, cameramen, stunt men, special effects, lighting etc etc. The very best are still far more likely to be attracted to movies than they are to video games. This is changing with the upcoming generation but we still have a massive skills gap to cross.
  • Graphics resolution. When you watch a movie it is real people (usually) having their images caught by camera as they act. We have a lot of difficulty achieving this level of visual reality in gaming. We will one day, but not just yet.
  • Heritage. This is important. Written fiction has hundreds of years of tradition and writers stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. The movie industry is around 100 years old, so they know what they are doing. They have evolved and learned their lessons. Whilst commercial video games have been with us for about 30 years most of that time has been as a niche entertainment media. It is only recently that we have got our act together sufficiently to go mass market. So a lot of time we don’t really know what we are doing. Look at all the shovelware on the Wii or all the failed MMOs, for instance.
  • Commentators and critics. This is immensely important with creative output. It is only from critical input from experts that you can learn and progress. Books and film both have a vast and sophisticated critical industry. Just listen to how often they are mentioned on the radio as one small example. Video gaming is still in the dark ages here, we desperately need far more and far better critical journalism to help us improve what we do.

Of course the video game industry will get there eventually and non interactive media will decline into being a sideshow. It was always strange expecting humans to be passive receivers of activities imposed upon them, which is what films, books and TV are. If you work in the industry there is still massive scope to gain competitive advantage by looking at the above list and applying the lessons contained within.