Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Video Games: The Movie

Title: Video Games: The Movie
Director: Jeremy Snead
Released: 2014

Plot: Documentary on the video game industry looking back at the history of the video games and the consoles from the early days of “Space Wars” and “Pong” through to the current domination by Playstation, Nintendo and Xbox.

Review: If I wasn’t writing about cult, foreign and obscure cinema it’s pretty safe to say that I would be writing about video games instead, as alongside books and food they have constantly been a one of the few things to rival my love of films. Needless to say I’ve been looking forward to the release of this documentary since it was first announced as a kickstarter campaign, were it smashed its original target of $60,000 with video game fans ultimately raising $107,235 for the production.

This documentary really comes at an exciting time for video games, seeing how gamers no longer face the stigma that came previously with admitting to being a fan of video games. A fear it now seems is but a distant memory especially with more people than ever getting into video games than before from console and PC gamers through to WII owners and smart game addicts, it seems that everyone is playing games these days. Needless to say this all provides a rich subject to explore yet somehow the end result ends up being a somewhat tedious affair.

Opening with a rushed history of video games it is certainly a unique approach to the material with director Snead chooses to take, as having outlined the history he then proceeds to explore a variety of subjects such as the first video games and the rise of Atari which brought video games truly in people homes as it seemingly starts this trek through video game history for a second time only this time making stop offs at key moments of video game history, such as the video game crash and the legendry ET landfill which seemingly sparked it. Elsewhere we also get the usual arguments around video games being responsible for violent behaviour, but like so many of the more interesting aspects of the film it is covered is far too brief detail to really make much of an impact.

While the film promises a nostalgic look at video games of yesteryear, this ultimately fails to materialise as the documentary seems to be more focused on the advancements in the gaming systems rather than the games themselves. Yes there is plenty of game footage included throughout, but the footage of people discussing the games is few and far between and the most I depth discussion on gaming seems to be about online gamers and the friendships they have made through video games, while there is the nostalgic story about setting up multiplayer games of “Doom” via a home made LAN setup, something I’ve also fond memories of doing. Sadly though if your looking for stories of dodgy game carts and memories of playing various games, you will be seriously disappointed as these are noticeably absent.

Despite being the debut feature from director Snead, it is an impressive list of interviews he has assembled here as heads of every major studio and company weigh in with their thoughts on the evolution of video games alongside critics and celebrity gamers like Wil Wheaton. The downside of having so many interviews though is that at times it can feel like abit of a mixed bag as Snead trades complete coverage of the subject matter over quality, while equally some of his choices like including Max Landis are simply baffling, especially when they add zero to the film, more so in the case of Landis who proved to be the source of much frustration throughout, especially when he seems to be simply requoting the hip theory of the moment such as “Facebook is a game”. Unsurprisingly Wil Wheaton frequently proves himself to be the source of much of the best interview footage, which considering how much commentary he’s proved on both geek / nerd culture over the years and here once more he proves himself ever the engaging subject as he speaks not only as a fanboy but also a student of the subject. 

Narrated by Sean Astin who in a strange twist of fate went from being another interviewee to becoming the narrator after he found out how much of an indie production the film was and really guides the film with genuine passion even if it is a narration that tends at times to get far too bogged down in figures and flashy diagrams as it feels like an expensive looking sales pitch than a documentary. This frustration is only further added to by the fact that the film never seems to be clear on who its target audience is, especially when it throws around figures resolving around the amount of people who found the parental controls useful.

The other major issue here is that the whole documentary is essentially a one sided argument, as the only counter argument to video games comes in the form of several tabloid newspaper cuttings. As a result you end up with a film were everyone just raves on about how good video games are and how wrong their detractors are for thinking that these games could possibly cause any kind of violent impulse in the people who play them compared to movies.

Ultimately ending on a positive note (no surprise there considering the tone of the rest of the documentary) aswell as the video game version of the kiss montage from "Cinema Paradiso" as it looks to the future and new gimmicks such as the immersive "Occulus" as it seems that even video game makers aren't afraid to rehash an old fad, especially if the movie industry can rehash 3D and hence we are subjected to supposed experts telling us that once again virtual reality is going to be the future of games.

Far from the film that no doubt most of us were hoping for when we saw the title and unquestionably there are more exciting documentaries on the subject that this such as Charlie Brooker's "How Video Games Changed the World" and this really at best is worth giving little more than a curious and highly cautious watch, especially when it hardly brings anything new to the table that you won't have seen in previous films and despite a spattering of interesting moments, its far too much of a trudge to bother watching more than once.

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