Movies With Video Games

Movies With Video Games

We’ve got plenty of “video game movies.” Movies, like the much-maligned Super Mario Bros. or objectively the best movie, ever made Mortal Kombat have a special place in the heart of nearly every gamer. Whether it was the lovingly-created CGI, the meticulously crafted worlds, or the ever-changing score by composer Jon Brion, movies shaped our childhoods. When reviewers talk about what makes a game “great”, movies are often the first thing mentioned. So why can’t they also understand how movies are made?


Video games were a fashionable genre in the ’80s. Only sci-fi was its dominant preoccupation. PlayStation launched the Mindcraft series with 1987’s The Game Masters. It followed the adventures of a young boy and his robot sidekick. Most of these games were relatively forgettable, but their modest size showed designers still had plenty of juice left in the tank to innovate.

Famicom, Nintendo’s most successful console, came out the same year. To broaden its appeal, it launched the Video Games section of its shoddy hulking mass-market unit, with hit titles like Gunstar Heroes and Darkwing Duck. But Nintendo stuck to its guns.

Arguably the biggest name in gaming overall, the Japanese giant focused its resources on creating an all-encompassing, legendarily enduring universe. Famicom games were divided into nation-states, allowing players to play the ballerina amiibo as a member of Josef Stalin’s Russian or Hungary squad.

Shigeru Miyamoto spent four years creating the mythological Mario universe. Inspired by myths and legends he’d heard about from his family, the award-winning creator created over 700 different characters and stories. Miyamoto was always self-conscious about his creation’s flaws. He was constantly thinking of ways to improve upon Mario, turning the guy from the neighborhood into a somewhat more relatable figure.


Movies With Video Games

The straight-laced Miyamoto also insisted that everything had a purpose. Even ghosts jump when they see light. This philosophy would turn him into a global industry titan.

Nintendo’s creation was their production playbook, and the lessons were designed to change minds and affect behavior. Miyamoto did his best to design his creation so that it could be experienced in an endless variety of ways. Gameplay was never the sole priority; as players found themselves endlessly moving from one end of the map to another or exploring a consistently changing world, they forgot that it was all a game. Miyamoto cared only about the experience, the thrill of solving a seemingly endless puzzle, and the impossible leap of pure unadulterated joy.

When Miyamoto spoke about Super Mario Bros., it was in 1998, and for the first time, he allowed himself to be introspective.

But you don’t have to risk a ban for giving a kid the power to zap a bad guy with a katana. Steam, for instance, offers millions of emotionally engaging games (and games that make you want to play). You know the type, the ones that feel like watching a Pixar short as an adult. Orange County, a game developed in Irvine, Calif., is one of the best—and that’s saying something since we’re partial to Mega Man the Game and Beat Em All.

This feature is very personal, very literal in its approach to player choice, and emotionally resonant in ways big and small. For every enjoyable game you can play with hockey stick Mario, there are dozens of offshoots—some of which include an enterprise-level community that fervently plays over 100 games per month. Many of the most popular games, in other words, got it right on the design front.

Cowula, a co-production between Finnish game development studio POWGI Games and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, is an excellent example. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic Finland near the end of the 19th century, and the player takes control of either the farmer or the wild boar that has gotten loose in the wilderness. They must scavenge for food, build defenses against the many dangers that can stalk the land, and keep an eye on the other players as they try to complete or fail in their objectives.

While not too difficult, Cowula succeeds because it lets the players achieve victory in ways that might be miles apart from traditional game mechanics: You’d be hard-pressed to micro-manage your way to victory in a competitive game of Mafia or Catan. What this approach offers is control. You can build systems to control precisely the resources you need to win. This approach has the added benefit of immersing the gamers in a specific delayed-reaction community, where details aren’t husbanded except for the most substantive parts of the game. It also lets them (and us) associate emotion with a word that might otherwise have the whiff of slapstick: success.


Movies With Video Games

Perhaps most significantly, though, is the personal nature of the communication in these games. Angry Birds’ famous “angry bird” emoticon is a nod to our overall communication style: We talk to each other, we’re social creatures, and we’re generally pretty tone-deaf. Angry Birds presents the player with a choice between two players. Should you be helpful and kind toward the other bird? Or do you ruthlessly murder him, leaving what should have been a clean kill-screen as a crude hint to the other birds?

The approach for everyone is the same., tend to have a relatively wide release window with a wide viewership (predominantly males). The genre as a whole also tends to turn a decent percentage of its takers into lifelong devotees, ranking somewhere between forgotten Nintendo and misunderstood Weird World due to the nature of cartoon violence and celebrity cameos in seemingly innocuous contexts. Think of GTA or Totoro or Jak and Daxter vs. Donkey Kong and you’ll get the idea.

What does this have to do with video game movies? Well, not much that I can remotely speak to without going into spoiler territory. I should warn you now that any of this list could easily be cut down to 20 or 50 in favor of some completely different option. So enjoy as much of the normally-thrifty Internet community talk about (or complain about) the games that were released the week of August 3rd.

Jurassic Park 3? Check. Liquidation sales on 9/11? Check. Killer Rapture get-togethers with the Lone Ranger at the Galapagos? Check. A Rapture-themed Disneyland? It might have been pulled off because someone wanted to test the waters with Epic Mickey 2, but it looks cool, right? BioShock gets the nod over the multiplayer-focused downloadable game BioShock 2 as a film because it wasn't marketed as a single-player experience. Face to face with Andrew 

Ryan and the One Lives Unit? Check. Lisa Leeds (played by Scarlett Johansson) getting shot down in a plane? Check. Eight hours of gameplay and a DVD release led to an estimated rental tally of over 1.2 million copies and $1.7 million in worldwide grosses, making it a stunning success at both box office (it grossed $157 million) and critical (positive reception garnered a 96% Rotten Tomatoes rating). For an academic bent, the game series has inspired an academic analysis of the advertising and design industries due to conceptualizing the imagined life-span of the Average Joe as far as 5 years (admittedly an ambitious supposition, but still, hey, why not?).

The Guangzhou International Film Festival made the game freely available online for everyone to view without any prior purchase or subscriptions--everybody had to pay a subscription to see it, and the movie was just an enormous commercial failure at the box office.. Video game movies suck for at least one other reason: they are culturally devalued and thus lower in demand than other media typically associated with content creation (video games, music, film, and literature). Here’s the television critic Maureen Ryan fretting about the overall cultural desirability of the medium:

Few alternatives for self-expression, mobility, and personal development can compare to the drama, intellect, and interiority found in the great video game medium.