Are Video Games Really Getting More Cinematic?

If there's one question I get more than any other question -- from readers, on podcasts, or when talking to people at functions -- it is this: When will Hollywood get around to finally making a good video game movie? Short answer? They probably won't. There you go. Have a great afternoon.

Wait. You're still here? Oh, you want the long answer, don't you? Alright, here goes.

Video games are actually becoming more like movies -- but only in that they are emulating movies. Is voice talent getting better? Sure. Are storylines getting better? Of course. But only insomuch as the storyline started out as "You move this line from this side of the screen to the other" to "You're a plumber and some monster has stolen a princess" up to "OMG, there's a zombie apocalypse just under that creepy house!" What most gamers fail to notice is that the stories they feel are so rich and well developed are actually flimsy narratives meant to explain why you stopped shooting things in this part of the environment and now need to shoot different things in that environment over there.

It all comes down to one simple principle: When a game developer sits down to make a video game, do they think about the best way to make a fun game, or do they think about the best way to tell a story? At some point in the process, you are forced to decide between game play and story, and if you are a good video game developer, you will chase game play every time. Good stories are for movies and television; stories that enrich a gaming experience are what make a good video game. I am always baffled by video game fans who will go on and on about excellent storytelling, only to miss how trite the story is when asked to recap it and boil it down to its base storytelling elements. Red Dead Redemption is an incredible gaming experience that drops you smack dab in the middle of a Western. But the story? I've turned off episodes of Gunsmoke with more depth than it has. Heavy Rain is a perfect example of how to create a murder mystery video game, but if and when they make it a movie? Honestly, how is it going to compare to Seven, a movie it almost shamelessly rips off? The answer: It won't.

Director after director didn't turn down making a Halo movie because they didn't understand the game or didn't want to make a big-budget science fiction film; they turned it down because they had seen everything in the script done better in other, better movies. Halo was an experience combining Starship Troopers with Alien and Dawn of the Dead.

Now, I say probably won't because there are a few startlingly original video games out there with radical stories told in inventive ways -- games like Bioshock. When Gore Verbinski was attached to that film, I was very excited and convinced it was finally going to happen. But after budget problems forced Verbinski off the project, I lost hope again. If a true cinematic genius can get behind something as original as Bioshock, then yes, it will happen. But if we keep making Resident Evil, Prince of Persia, and Doom? No. It never will.