Comparing Media: Films vs. Games
If you’re back again to find out what I think about this, awesome. I’m glad there are people out there who are interested! If you haven’t read Ebert’s article, here’s the link.
Anyway, I will admit to thinking that in her talk, Kellee used some pretty weak examples of games as artistic expression. But while reading, I was less interested in the points she made than the arguments Ebert made against her.
At one point, Kellee makes a comparison to Melies and the days of early cinema. Roger dismisses her by believing that Melies is “vastly more advanced” than her three examples and has “superior artistry and imagination”. While that may have been true for the examples she gave, it’s definitely not true about all games.
Let’s first examine a movie on Ebert’s list of great films: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), a psychological horror based on the novel by Stephen King. Roger Ebert originally gave this film a poor review, but over time had to reexamine it, which is why it stands in his series on great films (and is also widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time).
This is not a horror film for its make-you-scream value. It is a great horror film for its psychological terror— Ebert states that Kubrick’s film is “not about ghosts but about madness and energies”. It examines the father’s descent into madness, the breakdown of his character and evolution into something horrible. The supernatural is only a slight undertone, giving atmosphere to the creepy hotel and some explanations to the father’s and son’s visions. It’s a brilliant and excellent film that challenges the audience to decide for themselves what is really going on, and a great example of Kubrick’s artistry.
Now, let me introduce to you a game: Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
I’ve been talking about this game a hell of a lot in the real world recently (and I’ve been meaning to write a post about it…I’ll get to that eventually) because it’s pretty much a combo breaker. This game not only makes you scream like a little girl, but also completely screws with your head in a way that makes you believe that the team at Frictional Games must be a little psychotic themselves.
The story examines the breakdown of the main character’s pre-amnesia, former self. It shows his desperation, manipulation, and descent into madness. He is then consumed by grief, disgust, and regret, and decides to purge himself of his former life. He is reborn into his player-controlled incarnation, and left to discover himself again, and what lies beneath the castle you explore. As the plot unfolds, it leaves the audience feeling as dirty, horrified and disgusted as the character did before his self-inflicted amnesia.
If you’re the type to think about what you experience afterward, it makes you realize what man is capable of under stress. It makes you think about what boundaries you have that are defined by your morals, and where they are. It makes you think about how far you can really go, before you snap. What would it take to make you, say, kill a man? Would you kill someone to save yourself? To save a stranger? To save your family?
The game also makes you want more, because it’s a stunning and incredible experience, truly a work of art by an amazing team at Frictional Games.
I could talk about the wonders of Amnesia all day. And I will. Eventually. But right now, the important question is: What makes Amnesia any different from The Shining?They both make you think. They both use artistic techniques to tell a story. They are both the collaboration of many different artists working together, yet with the vision of only a few. They both are even based on famous novels, in part. Is Amnesia inferior because it requires audience interaction? If that’s what’s got him insisting games aren’t art, then perhaps Ebert is just too old to accept the next generation of storytelling.
Before I continue (because I do have more to say on this subject), I’d love to know what people think so far. Are they different? Are they the same? Is Amnesia even a good example of a work of art? What game do you feel is a good example of the medium as an art? Why do you think video games are held back as a medium?