Clash of the literacies: Making a “ludocinematic future”

Recently, a top Hollywood special effects company — Digital Domain announced that they will be investing 25 million into making “creating a video game that matches the quality of a feature film”. Well, as you can imagine, the gaming community found this claim pretty insulting. Well respected game designer Clint Hocking rants at his blog. He is understandably miffed by the implication that games are not up to the quality of feature films and then tries to unpack the often quoted claim that the line between games and movies is blurring:

[W]hat the hell does it mean ‘the line between videogames and movies in blurring’?

Do they think that 10 years from now I won’t be sure whether I just watched a movie or played a game? Again, I have to make some assumptions about what they mean to have this kind of crap make any sense at all… I can only assume they mean ‘the production methodologies and business models are increasingly similar and it is becoming more and more practical to look at doing feature film development and game development simultaneously as part of a multi-media production that increases efficiency’. In other words, they mean convergence in the purest business sense.

Beyond the battle of the rhetoric, there is also the question of whether filmmakers are actually able to create videogames. This is touched on in the original LATimes article:

“It’s going to be very difficult” for Digital Domain, said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities. “The skill set of a game maker is very different from the skill set of a graphic artist.”

Nonetheless, company executives say they have a competitive advantage: a network of A-list directors that includes David Fincher (“Fight Club”), Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) and, of course, Bay, whose latest movie, “Transformers,” is one of the summer’s most anticipated releases.

Most film-based games are developed through third parties, and filmmakers often have little or no creative control. By contrast, Digital would let filmmakers direct their own games.

Now what we see here is an example of the difference between tie-ins of the past and a writing transliteracy . In the past, ‘worlds’ or ‘brands’ were extended across media platforms by third-parties. They were not creatively controlled by the original creator and they were not intended to be part of the primary narrative experience. Now creators are wanting to have creative control (either by doing it themselves or specially commissioning people) and they are making each extension and important part of the primary narrative.

I can completely understand, therefore, this drive towards wanting to be involved in the game making process. Hey, I try and learn as much as I can about lots of different artforms. But what I don’t like is an attitude that filmmakers will learn what they need pretty quickly without any game designers help. By gosh, there are some absolutely brilliant game designers out there. I would be really impressed if I saw top game designers working with top film makers (and there have been). But the catch is: they would both have to be interested in learning a bit about the other artform. If someone wipes off an entire genre saying that there is no skill in it, it is sure a sign that they have only a superficial knowledge of the form. The truth is, what I’m really looking forward to is not seeing more top mono-media, mono-artform practitioners reskilling, but seeing those naturally transliterate creating transmedia/multi-platfor/cross-media/… artforms. They are the ones we should be pumping the big bucks to.

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