Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 7 No. 54, December 2003

 

 

Aaron Smuts

 

Film Theory Meets Video Games:

An Analysis of the Issues and Methodologies in _ScreenPlay_

 

 

_ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces_

Edited by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska

London: Wallflower Press, 2002

ISBN 1-903364-23-x

i + 229 pp.

 

_ScreenPlay_ is the first collection of essays devoted to exploring the relationship between cinema and video games. It attempts to introduce the field of video game studies while also increasing our understanding of the two artforms. Although not all of the essays are models of clear thinking on the subject, the volume will be a valuable resource for those working in film, philosophy, new media, and video game studies. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska have brought together a diverse collection of essays where the productive approaches stand out clearly. As a result, one of the most important achievements of the volume is that it allows us to compare methodologies in order to see the kinds of research programs that add the most to our understanding of moving pictures.

 

Framing a discussion of video games in reference to another artform is a controversial move, but a well warranted and defensible approach nevertheless -- especially given the current state of the field. Video game studies is in a similar position to that of classical film theory in the first third of the last century. Like Arnheim, Bazin, and Eisenstein, those that might some day be called classical video game theorists are preoccupied with the same fundamental ontological, psychological, and aesthetic questions. What are video games and how are they different from other arts? How do video games affect players? What is 'artistic excellence' in regard to video games? We already have a V. F. Perkins in Steven Poole, a classicist who adopts a position emphasizing the value of immersion and internal consistency.

 

Many of those working in the field witnessed the birth, or at least the flourishing, of this new artform within their own life times. Often, having invested significant portions of their lives playing video games, and tired of being ashamed about such guilty pleasures, theorists are compelled to defend video games as a worthy subject of study, rich in artistic merit. It currently seems that there is no uncontroversial statement about video games. Some game developers scoff at the idea that video games could be art, while some theorists argue that video games can and should explore novel narrative forms. Just as the classical film theorist focused on the relationship between cinema and photography and theatre, perhaps the best way to approach video game art is to find its differentiating features from a similar artform. In the case of _ScreenPlay_ the sister art is cinema.

 

The Introduction is actually one of the best articles in the book, and it does an excellent job of clearly stating some major problems in video game studies. One of the central questions in the field is whether video games should studied as games (the ludological approach) or as a narrative artform (the narratological approach). There are a variety of positions one might take on this question, and this volume should help to enhance the subtlety of the debate between the ludologists and the narratologists. However, _ScreenPlay_ tries to move beyond this fundamental question, and the essays in the volume purport to explore how the two artforms differ, how they have influenced each other, and how adequate our film theory tools are for understanding video games.

 

In this review, I will assume that the topic of video games is new to most readers and that they would benefit from a comprehensive overview of the volume. For each article I will offer a synopsis of the argument, provide some critical evaluation, and then, when it makes sense, assess the significance of the piece in light of other scholarship in the field. Since this is an emerging area of study, the success of the methodological approaches taken by the authors is as important as their arguments. I direct my attention accordingly.

 

In 'Technological Pleasure: The Performance and Narrative of Technology in Half-Life and other High-Tech Computer Games', Andrew Mactavish discusses some loosely related pleasures that can be had from video games, and highlights differences in degree as regards cinematic pleasures. Building on special effects film theory and Tom Gunning's work on the 'cinema of attractions', Mactavish's overall thesis is that certain kinds of high-tech video games, like 'Half-Life', are designed for players who value displays of technological wizardry more than they do a well-crafted narrative.

 

Though he does not mention Ed Tan, Mactavish's focus can be said to be on what Tan calls 'artifact pleasures' -- appreciation of the artistry of creation. Though cinema special-effect aficionados partake of similar pleasures, he argues that certain features of video games tend to encourage artifact appreciation. The central argument relies on an undeveloped concept of spectator immersion in fiction -- a notoriously difficult concept to account for with satisfying clarity. Working from a pre-theoretical concept of immersion, Mactavish argues that although cinematic spectacle, like that found in _The Matrix_ (1999), may encourage the viewer to reflect upon the excellence of the technological achievement: 1, video games are often enjoyed predominantly for their technological achievements; and 2, certain features of video games force the player to emerge from the narrative. It is not clear whether Mactavish wants to make the empirical claim that video games are enjoyed for technological feats more than cinema is, or just point out that this is an important source of pleasure obtained from game play. His discussion is motivated by the prescriptive reflections of narratologists like Janet Murray, who envision the future of video games as one of new narrative pleasures.

 

Mactavish finds that aspects of some games encourage player behaviors (for instance frequently saving games) that work against immersion. Mactavish's discussion of immersion could significantly benefit from a closer examination of the concept of immersion itself. I suspect that if the concept were unpacked we would find that narrative engagement is fundamentally different from active playing. At one point Mactavish states that 'the gamer is more involved in a physically active performance' (45), but this is not explored any further. This is a topic that needs further investigation and Mactavish's discussion can serve as a useful beginning to future scholarship. The area is usefully explored in _Narrative as Virtual Reality_, wherein Marie-Laure Ryan undertakes a thorough analysis of the conflict of interactivity and immersion in narrative art. Briefly, Ryan argues that when a narrative becomes interactive its immersive potential is threatened, since when the story is up for grabs the narrative threatens to become infeasible, or poorly structured, or the experience becomes more of creating a story than following one. Ryan downplays the significance of the possibility of interactive art with mostly non-interactive narratives, such as we find in games, but Mactavish gives us good reasons (apart from those of narrative construction) to think that immersion in games may be threatened from other sources.

 

Overall, Mactavish's article is an important step in identifying the pleasures video games offer, acknowledging that non-narrative enjoyment can be experienced through video games as well as cinema. Although the article attempts to highlight essential differences between cinema and video games, all we are offered are commonalities and differences in degree. Resistance on the part of video game theorists to study games in relation to film has been a product of an overemphasis on the narrative pleasures of cinema. Mactavish's article should help improve the quality of this discussion since it highlights seldom-acknowledged similarities between the two artforms and this can help put to rest any suspicions about the book's approach.

 

Geoff King attempts to answer the unmanageable question: 'How exactly . . . do qualities such as narrative and spectacle operate in video games?' In 'Die Hard/Try Harder: Narrative, Spectacle and Beyond, from Hollywood to Videogame' he tackles the question by looking at how the video game remake of _Die Hard_ differs from the film. Although this forms a very small part of the article, it seems to be an extremely productive research strategy. I will focuses on the methodology rather than any substantive findings in the essay.

 

This article is a bit diffuse, as is to be expected from the breadth of King's question. Many important topics are mentioned but none are explored in much depth. For instance, in his discussion of suspense, King argues that: 'The experience of such qualities [suspense and tension?] is very different from that found in film, however, because of the influence active intervention by the player usually has on crucial factors such as the precise timing of movement' (55). King never explains how the differences between being a player and a viewer affects the ability of the artwork to create suspense, he just says it does. The 'why' is most important if we want to learn something about the artform. There are important differences between playing and viewing that create difficulties in the production of suspense. To pose the question 'why', one must offer a theory of suspense, and an analysis of the differences between playing and viewing.

 

King does not probe the differences between the _Die Hard_ films and the video games very acutely, but his methodology is sound. It can be extremely illuminating to look at how a remake of an artwork differs from the original and, likewise, one can learn a great deal about an artform by asking if a certain effect achieved in one artform can be achieved in another. For instance, can the ferocity of Tsui Hark's _The Blade_ (1995) be produced in a video game? A good place to start might be to ask if a video game can achieve the visceral impact of movie violence, or to ask how video games create similar effects to action films, when video game designers use different tools? How have game designers tried to overcome the limitation on editing in video games? Trying to answer questions like these would get us much further and could tell us much more about both artforms.

 

In 'Spectacle of the Deathmatch: Character and Narrative in the First-Person Shooters', Jo Bryce and Jason Rutter compare the design process and the orientation of the audience in cinema and video games. They offer a useful history of the first-person shooter before turning their attention to the narrative question, again focused on the similarities between blockbuster films and video games. They argue that there are two major differences between game players and cinema viewers: 1, in a qualified sense, if the player stops playing the game's narrative ends -- playing is essential to narrative progression; and 2, games not only require the player to make the narrative happen, they can create the spectacle through mods -- modification that customize game play parameters, such as what items appear in a certain spot and the way characters look.

 

The first point could use some further elaboration in order to differentiate between the role of viewers in comprehending a narrative and the role of players in making the narrative and spectacle happen. The second point, concerning mods, could also benefit from more discussion. What is the difference between modifying _Star Wars_ to take out the Jar Jar Binx scenes, and changing the map of image overlays in 'GTA III'? There is definitely a distinction to be made, but Bryce and Rutter do not make it because they overlook digital video modifications. The first step in defining 'interactive' will be to distinguish between configurable, modifiable, controllable, and interactive narratives.

 

Overall, this is a very strong article that tries to isolate fundamental differences between cinema and video games. They sketch forms of divergence that are ripe for further elaboration. One small complaint with this contribution to the volume is that Bryce and Rutter seem to suffer from theory frenzy, throwing in fuzzy buzz words like 'gaze' and 'objectification' in passing, with no relation to the goals of the article. Also, they repeatedly refer to video games as 'texts', as do many of the other articles, with no reflection on whether such a misleading classification makes sense.

 

Sue Morris's article on 'First-Person Shooters' includes fairly detailed discussions of various aspects of game play and provides useful charts comparing cinema, television, and video games; however, the force of her argument is blunted by an uncritical acceptance of fuzzy grand-theorizing and bad theoretical models. The article sets out to explore the various features of video games that comprise the 'apparatus', a concept so broad that it confuses causal relevance and adds little to our understanding of games or cinema. The article is further plagued by dogmatically received, vague concepts like 'subject positioning' and 'transcendental subjects'. Continuing the trend established in the previous articles, Morris works with an unrefined notion of 'immersion' that seems to amount to little more than focused attention. Although such a deflated account may be correct, some clarification of the concept is in order. She argues that:

 

'While this sense of control can be seen to lessen the dream-like qualities of the medium, and hence primary identification in the cinematic sense, other mechanisms within the FPS game increase the player's sense of immersion and identification within the game' (89).

 

It would be nice if we had a clear notion of what amounts to identification and immersion, before the two are said to increase the more ambiguous notion of the dream-like state of playing games. Offering another let down, this article includes a section titled 'The Computer Game as Text', that fails to explain why we should treat cinema or video games as texts, or even what benefit this comparison might reap.

 

In 'Vision and Virtuality: The Construction of Narrative Space in Film and Computer Games', Wee Liang Tong and Marcus Cheng Chye Tan compare the cinematographic conventions of, primarily, first-person shooters and classical continuity-edited cinema. The fundamental difference they detect is that video games lack editing in the play modes, though the article does little to explore why this difference exists. For an exploration of the reasons behind the relative lack of editing in video games, the reader is advised to look at Steven Poole's book _Trigger Happy_, where he explains how the need for consistency in directional control rules out most kinds of editing. For example, you do not want 'left' to suddenly become 'up' when you are driving a car or shooting at an enemy.

 

Tong and Tan argue that: 'Narrative space, in FPS games, can thus be said to be continuous and uninterrupted, when compared to films, whose spatial sense is rendered holistic only in the active suturing of the fragmented spaces by the viewer' (105). I will ignore the confusing notion of 'suture', but we should note that this claim is grossly overstated. Two well-known examples of what Bazin called 'lateral depth of field' should make the point. The ball sequence in Welles's _Magnificent Ambersons_ and the party episode in Renoir's _Rules of the Game_ are cinematographically similar to first-person shooters. Though the viewer does not control the camera, the sense of space is developed without much editing. On the other side of the claim, video games can involve some degree of editing. For example, in 'Grand Theft Auto III' the player can switch between third-person and aerial camera angels. In video games there is, what I am calling, the '90 degree rule', where the camera can only shift on the vertical axis up to 90 degrees.

 

Other conventions that Tong and Tan deny to video games, such as close-ups, can also be found in popular examples. When switching to a sniper mode in 'Halo' the camera zooms in. In 'Splinter Cell' the sniper mode exhibits cinematic depth of field and selective focus. Also, the pre-boss-battle cut-scenes, found frequently in early Nintendo games such as 'Megaman', serve as a form of non-controlled close-ups. The claims of this article need to be more qualified. Rather than relying on a few examples, the authors would be better off looking at the reasons behind the differences they found, and then testing their generalizations with more examples.

 

In 'Watching a Game, Playing a Movie: When Media Collide', Sacha A. Howells explores the role of cinematic devices in video games. She argues that cut-scenes serve to provide character motivation and direction. Howells says that 'the action sequence allows the player to resolve the causal line introduced in the cut-scene' (113). Since causes are not resolved, a better way to put this is to say that the cut-scenes establish problems that the player must solve. Cut-scenes also reveal the effects of play. An article exploring the various types of cutscenes found in games like 'Max Payne', 'Grand Theft Auto III', 'Halo', and 'Splinter Cell' would be useful. Unfortunately, Howells forgoes such an analysis and turns to a discussion of how the player, in Metz's terms, primarily identifies with the camera. This notion of identification is too ambiguous to be useful and it describes a mysterious process that does no discernable work. Yes, in first-person shooters, in some sense, I am the camera. What's the significance of this? I do not see why I or any other film spectator 'sees an idealized version of him- or herself onscreen and becomes entangled in the 'fascination with a recognition of his like'' (116-117). I take it that this is only supposed to be more pronounced in video games, but if something like this were really going on none of us would be able to get past the first level of any game. Howells's argument is significant in that it shows how inadequate Metz's theory is for dealing with games, because of its inability to account the very possibility of game play.

 

Heavily influenced by Bolter and Grusin's concept of 'remediation', Paul Ward argues that 'computer games now remediate specific animated films' (129). In 'Videogames as Remediated Animation' the concept of 'remediation' describes where media forms adopt, primarily, representational techniques from other media forms as a way to achieve two contradictory goals: to increase 'immediacy' as well as 'hypermediacy' (or reflexive awareness of the mode of representation). Though Bolter and Grusin's writings on video games add very little to the field, the idea of 'remediation' could potentially spur some more fine-grained historical investigation that could result in some substantive claims. Ward does not achieve such a happy outcome.

 

His article is filled with scare-quoted words -- at least one per sentence, sometimes more. Words that garner scare-quotes include: 'localized', 'traditional', 'captured', 'realism', 'correspondence', 'old', 'new', 'real world', 'allure', 'ambiguity', 'commonsense', 'cartoonish', 'naturalistic', 'invention', 'appropriation', 'reality', and a few other variations on the above. If you are working specifically on the concept of realism as applied to animation and video games, then it is your scholarly duty to develop a definition of 'realism', rather than taking the effortless and ultimately analytically ineffectual route of throwing the concept in quotes and avoiding commitment to a position.

 

Introducing a fresh topic to the volume, David Bessell's article, 'What's that Funny Noise?', explores the similarities and differences between the use of music in video games as compared to cinema. Video game music shows a distinct influence from film music, using traditional underscores to emphasize changes and leitmotifs to identify characters. However, working in an interactive medium, video game designers face problems unknown to film composers. Bessell asks some excellent questions: 'How can the music be structured if the order of events are uncertain? How can music be constructed to occupy a time of uncertain duration without tedious repetition?' (141). He looks at how a few games have struggled to deal with these problems and then he proposes some alternative techniques that might provide more satisfying solutions. Bessell argues that game designers should look into the non-linear compositions of Lutoslawski and Boulez for ideas. This is a fresh article that takes up basic problems arising from fundamental differences between film and video games. In one of the best articles in the volume, Bessel goes beyond discussing merely what he finds in a few games, to talk about why the games are constructed as they are and how they might be made even better.

 

Next up is 'From Hardware to Fleshware: Plugging into David Cronenberg's _eXistenZ_' by Steve Keane, but since the methodology of Keane's article is somewhat experimental, my review format is unsuited to doing it justice. Though some important topics are covered, I am not entirely sure what point Keane is trying to make in his semi-associational discussion of _eXistenZ_. He expands on Steven Poole's excellent discussion of the virtues of non-VR control mechanisms and then briefly introduces the interesting problems facing virtual reality technology, specifically: how can VR be fully immersive when there is no physical risk? For a more detailed discussion of this issue see Marie-Laure Ryan's 'Interactive Drama: Narrativity in a Highly Interactive Environment', where she discusses VR in relation to Merleau-Ponty and Hubert Dreyfus.

 

In 'Run Lara Run', Margit Grieb argues that _Run Lola Run_ is best approached as a film structured upon aspects typically found in video games, rather than as a film based on standard cinematic techniques of narration. This essay does get beyond remediation to discuss how the video game 'template' makes _Run Lola Run_ different from other movies, but unfortunately parts of the essay read as footnotes supporting the uninteresting parts of Bolter and Grusin's notion of remediation.

 

One problem is that the essay looks at _Run Lola Run_ in relation to 'Tomb Raider' for little reason other than that a pun can be derived from the two lead character's names. But when Grieb goes beyond this one game, her points carry more force. For example, she makes an insightful comparison between the effects of breaking the law in _ Run Lola Run_ and violating rules in video games -- both require a replay of the level.

 

Grieb argues that navigating through space in a video game can be usefully thought of as a situationalist 'derive', where one wanders through a landscape guided solely by what catches one's attention. The 'derive' may be something to explore in relation to games like 'Grand Theft Auto III', but it does not describe the more goal-oriented special exploration of most games.

 

Grieb uses this as a starting point to discuss the prominence of spatial navigation in video games. She argues that spatial navigation is more important than narrative devices, such as character motivation, for driving the action of some video games, but she does not adequately support this idea. Grieb claims that: '_Run Lola Run_ does not use common narrative strategies, such as character-development devices, to guide and engage its audience; rather the story develops and is driven by the navigation of space, a common diegetic tool in videogames' (163). To compare _ Run Lola Run_ with video games in this sense is a forced point of comparison, since the film uses typical plot devices such as ticking clocks, love interests, villains, and unlikely desirable outcomes to build a suspenseful narrative.

 

In 'Playing with Lara' Diane Carr attempts to provide a rich theoretical melange, ripe with interesting connections and multiple possible meanings. If one is looking for an analytic treatment of the subject, her article may seem like a prolix slur of theoretical buzzwords; however, if one enjoys theoretical mashups, the article might seem like a clever synthesis, but this requires accepting the basic theories to begin with. As such, my methodology and temperament might be unsuitable for evaluating this article on its own terms. That said, here is one of the simpler, but nonetheless incomprehensible sentences: 'Her embodiment as endangered being in a compellingly imagined universe has generated multiple readings' (172). From an analytic perspective, this essay, like all the others in the volume, suffers from a superficial treatment of the concept of immersion. With characteristic opacity, Carr argues that:

 

'Whereas cinematic immersion involves denying our containment by a frame, the options offered by Tomb Raider centralize the issue of choice. Interactivity makes a point of access, and thus the terms of access are never neutralized. We aim Lara, but her mechanized progression has the effect of emphasizing the insistent limits of our options' (173).

 

I do not know what it means to 'neutralize' 'the terms of access', nor do I see any reason to think that 'cinematic immersion involves denying our containment by a frame' or even what it would 'mean to be contained by a frame'. If all Carr is saying is that we can re-frame the image in some video games, but we do not have full control of what is in front of the camera, then how exactly is this meant to contrast with some notion of immersion in film? The thick prose of Carr's essay makes this passage so ambiguous that it cannot be examined without tremendous charitable effort on the part of the reader.

 

In his discussion of James Bond films and games Derek A. Burill attempts to provide a 'critical account of the cultural construction of a particular strain of masculinity, the theorization of 'boyhood' in relation to the Bond films and games, under the assumption that the players I am speaking about are mostly young boys' (183). Unfortunately, the article is too vague to tell us much about Bond games, movies, or masculinity. Burill moves from the uncritical acceptance of one theoretical concept to another without adequate explanations of how the concepts are relevant, what they are, or how they relate to each other. He mentions hyperreality, performance theory, ergodic narratives, ideology, the gaze, leakage, slippage, postmodern culture, social construction of masculinity, liminal space, and reflexive sadomasochism. Some of these terms are vague, others are uncommon, and others in hot dispute. For example, 'postmodern' can be defined at least 10 ways, and 'ideology' has even more possible meanings. A quote may help indicate the kind of ambiguity I'm objecting to: Burill argues that Schroeder 'designates the leakage from the game into reality as representative of postmodern culture in general . . . [and while] this may be true, it seems that with the Bond games, the slippage and leakage appears to occur in multiple directions, along multiple pathways' (189). 'Leakage' and 'slippage' are used as technical terms but they are never defined. Since the article intends to show how the leakage goes both ways, it would be nice to know what counts as leakage. What kinds of influence are leakage and what kinds are not? Is the metaphor of a leak supposed to do all the work? The fundamental concept behind the article is to too ambiguous to lead to a very successful result. Perhaps Burill wants it this way, since he intends for us readers 'to be teased into an ergodic -- or nontrivial, 'readerly' and interactive -- relationship with the concepts presented here' (183). Perhaps this would have justified the lack of rigor if Burill had given us a decent idea of just what makes something 'ergodic' or even 'interactive'.

 

Leon Hunt's article, on 'Marital Arts in the Age of Digital Reproduction', compares the presentation of martial arts in movies and in video games. He highlights the limitations of artifice in cinema and the limitations of verisimilitude in video games. Unfortunately, Hunt's exploration of this interesting idea is too hung up on Bolter and Grusin to tell us much about martial arts films or video games. In passing, Hunt argues that the kinesthetic reaction to Hong Kong action cinema that David Bordwell describes is something like the motions a player makes when playing a fighting game. It would be extremely productive to expand on which techniques in video games create such responses, and which hinder them. For instance, what Bordwell describes as the pause-burst-pause structure of Hong Kong action cinema is heavily dependent on cinematic techniques, such as rhythmic editing. We might ask how important rhythm is to this response and how can video games create it? This would certainly be more productive than asking how video games remediate film.

 

In 'Hands-On Horror' Tanya Krzywinska explores the differences between the ways horror movies and horror video games create tension and suspense. She argues that:

 

'important to my main argument, the cut-scenes wrests control away from the player and reinforces the sense that a metaphysical 'authorial' force is at work, shaping the logic of the game. This evocation of helplessness in the face of an inexorable predetermined force is crucial to maintaining horror-based suspense, in that the game world often operates outside the player's control . . . Pre-arranged camera angles . . . and other aspects of inevitability built into the programming infrastructure operate, like occulted fate, to ordain the path that must be taken' (211 and 209-210).

 

This is a clever analogy between helplessness and occulted fate, but it does not tell us anything about suspense in horror video games. Ignoring Noel Carroll's foundational work on suspense, Kryzwinska never says anything about what suspense is or how it is typically created in film, nor does she say just how 'horror suspense' is different from regular suspense. Since the devices she describes -- embedded cut-scenes, limited camera control, dangerous landscapes -- are not unique to horror video games, are we to think that occulted fate has something to do with video games in general? The link she draws between player helplessness and occulted fate is not supported in this article. Although we learn little about horror video games in particular, there are the seeds of an important idea about the creation of suspense in video games.

 

Kryzwinska is on to something in pointing out how player helplessness is crucial to the creation of suspense in video games; however, she overlooks the unique ways in which games create helplessness. Frantic activity seems to be anathema to emotional responses such as suspense, which involves an assessment of something at stake and an uncertain outcome. The cinematic cut-scenes help to reduce the player to a helpless spectator, allowing the necessary interplay of fear and hope. Video game designers have also created other devices unique to the artform that effectively remove control from the player for a temporary amount of time. Non-horror games such as 'Splinter Cell' excel at the creation of suspense. In 'Splinter Cell' the player must regularly wait to see if they will be discovered by enemies. During these periods, the player's previous movements will determine the outcome, and there is nothing that a player can currently do to improve her chances of success.

 

Another such device is found in the control of the character in 'Splinter Cell'. The player must execute a series of elaborate jumping moves in many of the later levels. At one point, you must jump from ledge to ledge hundreds of feet above the ground. Though you have partial control over the characters movements during a jump, you cannot fully control the movements of his arms. You can instruct the character to grab, but the movement is executed automatically with an unnatural speed. It usually looks as if the character will fail to grab on to the edge of a ledge, and there is nothing you, as a player, can do at that point to increase your chances. These are only two such techniques of reducing the player to helpless spectator that video games employ for the production of suspense. Similar techniques can be found in horror games, and we need not posit a special link between these strategies and 'occulted fate' to explain their effectiveness. For a more detailed discussion of the role of player helplessness in the production of video game suspense, see the article by myself and Jonathan Frome in the upcoming volume of _Text Technology_ devoted to video games and cinema.

 

Overall, this collection could benefit from a further clarification of how video games might necessarily diverge from cinema. Tendencies in film and video games are often highlighted with little discussion of whether the differences were, a, necessary given some essential aspects of the medium, or b, just necessitated by different goals. Unfortunately, the clear style and quality of the Introduction is not representative of the rest of the volume. Remediation plays far too prominent a role in this volume and is perhaps an editorial failure -- failure to see the redundancy in topic or bias towards a particular critical approach. Also, some prominent players are missing. Henry Jenkins, for example, only appears on the back cover, though his work would add a refreshing dose of clarity to the collection. Perhaps the biggest problem with the essayists is that very few show any awareness of the contributions and criticisms of analytic film theorists.

 

I commend all the contributors for venturing into unexplored territory. Several of the essays contain valuable, original ideas that will improve our understanding of new media. As can be expected when starting out into terra incognito, some will successfully forge ahead and others will inevitably become lost. There were many failures; nevertheless, the disappointments may be more important than the successes for guiding future research. The problems of _ScreenPlay_ show that the next stage of productive research on video games will require more detailed analyses of the concept of 'interactivity' and especially 'immersion'. The volume shows that further work should be devoted to figuring out the virtues and limitations of video games in creating emotional responses and telling stories. The comparative approach promises to be the most productive research method developed in this book. King and Krzywinska rightly picked an important emerging field and their collection should help jump start the discussion of the relationship between cinema and video games.

 

New York, USA

 

 

References

 

Bordwell, David, _Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment_ (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).

--- 'Aesthetics in Action: Kungfu, Gunplay, and Cinematic Expressivity', in Esther C. M. Yau, ed., _At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World_ (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).

 

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin, _Remediation: Understanding New Media_ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000).

 

Carroll, Noel, _The Philosophical Problems of Classical Film Theory_ (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988).

--- 'Towards a Theory of Film Suspense', in _Theorizing the Moving Image_ (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

--- 'The Paradox of Suspense', in _Beyond Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays_ (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

 

Crawford, Chris, _The Art of Computer Game Design_ (Osbourne McGraw-Hill, 1984). Also available online: <http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/fac/peabody/game-book/Coverpage.html>.

 

Darley, Andrew, _Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genre_ (London: Routledge, 2000).

 

Frasca, Gonzalo, 'Ludology Meets Narratology: Similitude and Differences Between (Video) Games and Narrative' <http://jacaranda.org/frasca/ludology.htm>.

 

Jenkins, Henry, 'Game Design as Narrative Architecture', in Pat Harrington and Noah Frup-Waldrop, eds, _First Person_ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002).

 

Juul, Jesper, 'Games Telling Stories?: A Brief Note on Games and Narratives', _Game Studies_, vol. 1 no. 1, July 2001.

 

Kent, Steven L., _The Ultimate History of Videogames: From Pong to Pokemon and Beyond -- The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World_ (New York: Prima Publishing, 2001).

 

Murray, Janet H., _Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace_ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).

 

Newman, John, 'The Myth of the Ergodic Videogame: Some Thoughts on Player-Character Relationships in Videogames', _Game Studies_, vol. 2 no. 1, July 2002.

 

Poole, Steven, _Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution_ (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000).

 

Ryan, Marie-Laure, 'Interactive Drama: Narrativity in a Highly Interactive Environment', _Modern Fiction Studies_, vol. 43 no. 3, Fall 1997.

--- _Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media_ (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

 

Smuts, Aaron, and Jonathan Frome, 'Helpless Spectators: Generating Suspense in Videogames and Film', _Text Technology_, forthcoming.

 

Tan, Ed S., _Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as Emotion Machine_, trans. Barbara Fasting (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996).

 

Wolf, Mark J. P., ed., _The Medium of the Videogame_ (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001).

 

 

Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2003

 

 

Aaron Smuts, 'Film Theory Meets Video Games: An Analysis of the Issues and Methodologies in _ScreenPlay_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 54, December 2003 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n54smuts>.

 

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