The USS Quad Damage

The real impact of video games

I find it really difficult to understand Michael Atkinson. He seems to not care one iota about understanding something he wishes to control.

One of Michael Atkinson’s recurrent arguments is that games make a larger impact on a person than movies because they are interactive. I think that games can either make a larger impact or a smaller impact because they are interactive. Interactivity gives a greater “onus of proof” shall we say, to the developer, whereas in a movie the lies are far easier to pull off.

In short, if you found out how a movie is made (and Film Riot is an excellent and hilarious resource) you’d find out about the tricks of the trade — that almost everything you see is a fiction. I don’t mean the CG and the special effects, but even things as simple as the voice of an actor, or the sounds made by mundane items. Lighting and composition are explicitly and tightly controlled to send a message which can be very focused.

Let me say this again but differently: Movies can be straight up propaganda, and they can be very convincing. To give a simple example, imagine a movie where a guy shoots another guy, and the other guy flies back. Note that this doesn’t obey the laws of physics (unless the shooter also flies back to the same degree). In a movie people will just accept this as the truth, but in a game the situation is different.

In a game, you could use repeatedly shoot someone with a trajectory such that you could effectively push them up a wall, or onto a ceiling with your bullets. This is clearly ridiculous, and the impact of the scene is destroyed. Me and my brother have ruined many “cinematic moments” in games simply by walking around in a non-cinematic manner. It’s something all gamers have no doubt experienced — an NPC is talking about something very serious and your avatar is trying to shove their balls into the NPCs face. It may be immature, but it shows just how “impactful” this extra “interactivity” can be (which is “not very impactful”, in case that wasn’t clear).

In fact, games often have to remove interactivity to have a dramatic impact. In Bioshock, during the “A man chooses, a slave obeys” portion, control is taken away from you as you repeatedly bludgeon Andrew Ryan to death. Whether this is explained away by the story is beside the point, the dramatic impact of the moment would be lessened if you didn’t actually have to kill the guy.

A movie can lie to you and still deliver an effective message. A game cannot lie to you without looking (at least a little) contrived. If a game delivers an impactful message, it is probably imparting something which might actually be true, whether it’s politically correct or not. Otherwise, it might just feel like... well... like just a game.