Monday, March 19, 2007

The Endless Comparison

Would you
rather play Metroid Prime or watch Catwoman?

Would you rather play Resident Evil 4 or watch Leprechaun 4?

Which contributed more to world culture, Pac-Man or Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS?

Which had a better script, Knights of the Old Republic or Independence Day?

If you think about a great director - Spielberg, say - consider that he honed his craft on the back of almost a hundred years of technical, artistic and critical history. The first film camera was invented in the 1880s. By 1920 film was an art form on the rise, taking risks, learning its boundaries. By 1950 it had become the premier medium, with a voluminous body of criticism, different schools of theory and hundreds of thousands of examples from all over the world.

This means that videogames have 20-30 more years before a decent comparison can be made to films from the 1950s.

And Spielberg works in a sequential, non-interactive medium whose final output has to grab attention for, on average, 2-3 hours.

Let me be kind and assume that technology is progressing a little more rapidly each year and that our increased ability to communicate is driving innovation and criticism faster than in the early years of film. Even a conservative estimate would mean that in, oh, around 2060 games will be on par with the movies of today.

Unless you're like me and think it's all bunk and the comparison doesn't even make sense.

Which was better: X-Com or The Wild Bunch?


Anonymous said...

Good to see you active again. I'd like to balance out your argument a bit, if you don't mind.

Which was a more compelling experience: watching The City of Lost Children the movie, or playing The City of Lost Children the game?

Which would you rather experience multiple times: O Brother, Where Art Thou or Redneck Rampage?

While I agree with your central theme, it's pretty easy to slant your argument by picking the best of one genre and comparing it to the worst of another. Let's try something a little tougher:

Which is the stronger legacy: Elder Scrolls series or the Lord of the Rings movies?

Which features more compelling action: Tomb Raider (1) or Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Which plot better conveys a sense of governmental/agency betrayal: Beyond Good or Evil or The Minority Report?

Which title has had the strongest cultural impact in the last 15 years: Citizen Kane or Tetris?

Good topic!

Anonymous said...

Wait a moment. I need to stop writing responses in my head while reading through the first time, don't I?

Why doesn't the comparison make sense? Do you also feel that comparing books to movies doesn't make sense?

Johnny Pi said...

I think it's fine to compare a book to a movie if one is based upon the other. [insert smiley]

And the comparisons were just to show that the best games seem (to me, at least) far and away better than bad movies. They're probably on par as an experience with some of the best movies.*

But I still read about how games will be great when they're just as good as movies. That's the part I think is stupid - smearing games with irrelevance based on their worst while elevating movies to exalted status based on their best.

People tend to go to the blanket argument rather than make a real case, and much of the time it isn't a critical thought but an opinion piece that passes itself off as something deeper. Not an examination but merely the echoing of a commonly-held prejudice, even among gamers: that games are not yet equal to movies as a medium and maybe they will be in the future.

From a critical perspective I think they're already on par with every other medium. But people seem to get hung up on the technical - which is why I talked about the ages of each medium. Saying that a young art form is automatically inferior to one in its ascendance just sounds a little ridiculous.

I guess next time I hear that argument - that games aren't the equal of movies - I'd at least like a few examples and supporting arguments.

*Even with this in mind, the questions are ridiculous, because there's no discussion, just an assumption that there's a right answer. For example, I'd rather watch Catwoman, since I haven't seen it, versus Metroid Prime, which frustrated me at the first boss. I could write a whole post just responding to one of your questions.

I can't believe there was a The City of Lost Children videogame? Was it better than Alien: Resurrection? Cause I'd believe you if you said it was.

I need to stop writing posts before I've figured out what the hell I'm trying to say. But then I'd have to go back to not writing posts.

Anonymous said...

"I need to stop writing posts before I've figured out what the hell I'm trying to say."

That's no way to keep a blog, son! You'll suffocate it!


As for the rest, I think I'll post about it myself today.