December 13, 2005
I’m kind of a girl when it comes to emotion-driven cinematography. Filmmakers pull at our heart strings, and I soak up every ounce of it. That’s not to say I seek out shows that squeeze at my insides, nor do I break into uncontrollable fits of bawling (only one film still holds that distinction). I just allow myself to become drawn into the cinematic world. When I was a kid, I used to come out of movies with adrenaline pumping, eager to extend the film into my own pretend world and act like the characters. By and large, videogames have failed to do that. Maybe it’s because I’m already acting out the characters while I play, but I think it’s a failing of the games themselves to push the same personal buttons as films.
This post isn’t about a movie, actually, but a TV show. If you have never seen it, Fox’s 24 is one of the most powerful works ever produced for television. It’s not perfect â€“ the tech talk sometimes grates against my brain, and its cliffhanger approach to closing an episode borders on the formulaic â€“ but it does so many other things right on so many levels, I have little trouble looking the other way. On the surface, it is an exciting, suspense-filled thriller, a gritty, made-for-TV James Bond. It has some extremely talented writers, and its structure fits perfectly into its episodic format. I am continuously amazed at their ability to turn the crisis level up a notch with each new season. The second season revolves around a nuclear attack on Los Angeles! I didn’t think it went higher than that (I was wrong). What drives this show, however, is its characters and the human drama that underpins the main story line. In a movie, its creators have only a brief time to develop the characters and make the viewers care about them, but a television show has over sixteen hours in a single season. You meet the characters, learn to care about them, and watch them almost as friends going through the often traumatic events of the show. For an “action show,” there is a surprising amount of love and comraderie, and it’s the endearing elements that complete 24’s success. The onscreen relationships strike personal chords, in odd ways, in your own real life ones â€“ Jack’s relationship with his wife and daughter, Chloe’s awkward bluntness, Mason’s situation in Season 3 â€“ and for me, at least, it all works. It’s driven by characters who love each other, love their countries, love their causes (even the heinous ones).
I know another medium that often spans far longer than sixteen hours, features action, suspense, and a dose or two of drama. 24 reminds me at times of Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, and Final Fantasy, and at first blush has much in common with them. But were I stranded on an electronic desert island and could choose only one, it would be hard to sell me any one of these over something like 24. People (often ones “in the know”) like to talk about how the videogame industry is in its infancy as an art form, and insomuch as I believe developers have not even begun to scratch the surface of the medium’s potential for depth and meaning, I agree. I think it’s a topic worth pondering… how to create a meaningful videogame… and I don’t believe we really have an answer yet. Too much character development at this point is done by pretending the gamer is a moviegoer, and the emotion is too concentrated on the thrill, the zany, and melodrama without cause.
There has to be a way to take the superficiality out of the videogame and replace it with depth, without losing sight of what it means to play a game in the first place…
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