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Should Some Games Just Be Movies Instead?

Posted on Tuesday, July 2 @ 10:10:00 PST by Alex_Osborn


After playing The Last of Us (and absolutely loving it, mind you) I was struck with a question that I can't seem to get out of my mind: Would Naughty Dog's latest tale have been better off as a film? I've wrestled with this query for several days now and have come to the conclusion that yes, it may very well have been a movie instead.

In an effort to keep this spoiler-free, I'm going to dance around the plot at bit, so don't worry if you haven't yet played or finished the game. I'm sure you are all aware that The Last of Us is a highly cinematic game with a deep story filled with complex and fully realized characters. This is hands down the reason why the game has been getting so many glowing reviews from critics and gamers alike, and all of these aspects could easily have been conveyed in a movie.



Now I know what you are thinking: What about the interactive elements, Alex? Surely they play a major role in creating tension and engrossing the player on an emotional level. To that I say: Yes they do to a degree, but the bulk of that emotional engagement comes from either well-crafted cutscenes, or bits of dialog that are injected into the background when you are exploring, scavenging, or fighting—both of which would naturally fit within a film.

That said, fending off a group of hostile foes with limited ammo or sneaking past a handful of clickers had my palms sweating, so there is a case to be made for the interactive element. But couldn't that all be achieved with solid direction and acting in a movie? After all, the player is merely a spectator in the game's plot, watching it all unfold. There is very little player agency in the narrative itself, as Naughty Dog's approach to linear storytelling doesn't leave room for such a thing.



But enough about The Last of Us. Let's take a look at another recently released game, BioShock Infinite. When we all finished that game, were we talking about the gameplay or our own personal experiences within the game world? No. We were discussing the plot, the crazy ending, and how to make sense of it all. Again, the narrative is the main draw of the experience, with the action segments serving a mere filler between plot points. When I think back on my time with either game, the choices/actions I made don't immediately come to mind, but rather the story that the developers presented to me. As such, I have a tough time calling these experiences "games" in the traditional sense.

Now I don't want to go off on a tangent on semantics, so I'll throw out one final example. One that I think makes an excellent case for game-based narratives. Thatgamecompany's Journey tells a story that simply wouldn't translate to a feature film. However, that doesn't mean it was any less emotional or relevant as a narrative. In many ways it is the epitome of storytelling in a way that only a game can do. It's not about deciding between a handful of predetermined paths like Telltale's The Walking Dead or BioWare's Mass Effect series, it's about the sheer experience you have as you push forward to your final goal. It's linear, but the abstract nature and seamless integration of multiplayer in Journey makes it one of the most emotionally engaging stories of all time.

There are loads of other games I'd love to discuss and dissect (Shadow of the Colossus, Movie Metal Gear Solid, etc.), but I'm afraid I'd be here all day writing this. What are your thoughts on storytelling within games? Are some better off being movies instead?
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