Film is Dead [Gamer by Design] for Book Week

If you read my column on the regular, you probably know that it’s a video game industry look at games. So with that being said, it was an interesting challenge to keep it game related during book week.

So I decided to talk about a topic that, in this day and age of kindles and nooks and iPads, I think about a lot. And that topic is the idea that [whatever new hot technology] is killing [whatever established art]. When movies came out, everyone said theatre is dead. Now with video games making billions of dollars, people theorize that they will kill film or that they will merge to form a sort of interactive film.

My opinion on that stuff is: no.

In order to find some decent research on it, I polled a number of friends who work in relevant fields. I’ll use first names only to prevent them from being spammed, but they are:

Pedro, guitarist

Marta, actress

John, Theatre director and educator

Deborah, Theatre director and author

What Can’t be faked?

There’s this weird question I think about sometimes. It’s more of a hypothetical, as I don’t really believe it. But interesting, nonetheless. Why do people still play guitar? Since we have the ability to emulate the sounds, at least for studio work, why not just fake it. Even though we can’t copy the exact nuances of a musician, we will be able to within 5 years, right?

I was quickly corrected by Pedro: “the premise of the sound being faked in five years is actually ridiculous. It’s like saying human emotion will be perfectly faked in five years.”

I made the connection (since I have a theatre background I needed to find an analogy in my field), that faking a guitar is about as complicated as mimicking a human actor with a computer generated character; it just gets uncanny and weird really fast, especially where emotion is concerned. So my next question was, assuming we CAN eventually fake the nuances…will we  stop playing guitars?

An old guitar with a hole in it has more soul than your hard drive.

A couple of my interviewees had similar responses. The tactile feel of the guitar, the presence of another person at a live performance, is just impossible to copy. And this really resonated with me. I’ve always found in theatre, that a live performance is never the same twice…that the audiences reaction affects the actor’s performance, which affects the audience, and around and around. This phenomenon is just impossible unless the art is created live.

And even with recorded guitar, people don’t want it to be faked. Aside from the pop music crowd, it seems that, at least from the people I talked to, that the skill of a human is as important to people as the sound. In addition to the skill, it’s the glimpse into who the human is by the style of their play. So it goes beyond a simple sound into an expression of a personality.

So I finally GOT the guitar thing. Maybe I should learn to play…


Whenever I hear this word, I think of the amazing ride in Epcot (that has since changed because it probably became outdated) of the same name, with the little dragon singing “one little spark of imagination.” Anyways, I digress.

This little guy just wants you to use your dang 'Magination!

One really unexpected gem of my short questionnaire was this concept of imagination that came up over and over again. I’ve always felt that one of the many inaccurate misconceptions in the video game industry is that a great game designer needs to play games all the time. That’s like saying that all film directors should just watch movies, rather than experiencing life. So if I make a game about karate, yeah I should play other karate games to gauge the competition, investigate interface tricks and controls, etc. But more than anything, I should go learn karate. This is because non-game activities inform you of the nuances of what makes the thing fun or emotional. For example, body positioning is really important in karate, just as much as punches and kicks, but most games will have you just mash buttons to do attacks. A person who actually does karate would design a game that involves a lot more tactical body movements like leans, side steps, and lunging steps.

The reason for that aside is that, I’ve had some of my favorite game ideas while doing totally unrelated things that stimulate my mind. I’ve had ideas for space flight games while reading a book about hurricane Katrina. Totally unrelated. And I notice I don’t have those kind of thoughts when I surf Facebook or play games. Why?

I think that those frenetic, interactive activities stifle your imagination. Reading a book is the type of thing that exercises my mind enough that it starts going in all sorts of random directions. But a video game kind of puts the mind on rails.

That’s totally opinion-based, but there was a study recently that fast-paced TV shows affect the ability of kids to concentrate. So shows like Spongebob that have a lot of quick cuts tend to make the brain get a sort of temporary attention deficit. I personally think that our brains are designed for the pace of actual life, so anything faster puts it in an unnatural state. The point is, not only do video games put your mind on rails, but they also put it in overdrive. It’s good advice for someone making a game that is intended to be calm, mysterious, or elegant. Making less crazy cuts and frenetic moves can really affect how someone feels about the product.

And people who just play games make games that are similar to what they play. I think that’s why we have countless derivative games, and so many space marines (yeah i know I just ranted about that here). I really believe that the best art is made by adventurous people who are curious. Wanna make an original game?  My advice is to read a book or see a play. In the world of Matt, these are the activities that give me the most ideas, in this order:

  • Reading
  • Seeing plays
  • Running
  • Talking to people
  • Music
  • Travel
  • Wikipedia wormhole of curiousity
  • Movies
  • Playing video games

So hey, just my opinion, but I’m one of those people weird enough to keep track of that stuff. And yes, I like to play video games, but my point is that, especially if you’re talking about big budget first person shooters, they just don’t give you a lot of ideas. When I make those types of games, I go for inspiration elsewhere. Then maybe I can throw in some original twist that isn’t part of the genre.

It’s always “This is this, and that is that.”

Ok I just quoted the Little Mermaid. But hey, I’m not ashamed.

After looking into the subject and talking to a few really smart people, I’ve come to this conclusion. Art forms aren’t replaced by technology or other art forms. They are replaced by better versions of themselves. So for example, the majority of movies aren’t silent films nowadays. Maybe here and there as an artistic choice they are, but I think it’s safe to say that the talkie has replaced the silent film. So that’s an example of an evolving art form.

Or, that perhaps the book will go away, but replacing it with a kindle device is not killing books, it’s just changing the delivery method.

Or maybe 3d  network-enabled TV will replace television. (Yeah, that 3d thing is a whole different rant.)

But the point is, that all the arts have something that makes them unique. Live theatre is totally un-fakeable, if you think of it as a sort of subtle communication between everyone in the room. Live musicianship is also un-fakeable. Even if we do eventually get the ability to fake guitar playing perfectly, most of my expert panel expressed that they don’t want that. Music and performance is something that people want to experience with the performer, and that’s why they buy in.

As Shakespeare said "Here could I breathe my soul into the air." If someone does that, don't you wanna be part of it?

The other conclusion I made is that modern art forms such as games and interactive media are best inspired by the most low-tech art forms you can find. Because books, theatre, and music turn your brain into the thing it was created to be; a crazy, random though generator of amazingness.

So is the latest technology killing the traditional arts?  So far, I’d say in the personal sense for me, no. I believe they work together to create new ideas.

Anyways, I usually rant a little in these articles, but this one leaves me uplifted. It was good to hear some people rant at me for even daring to ask these questions.

As my friend Marta said, “People still play guitars because they are in a relationship with them. Being an artist who has that talent, who learns to play, never gives up on that. It is like being with a woman or man. That commitment, that evolution or the relationship.”

I wish I could take the credit for that one. It kind of sums of this whole idea.

Special thanks: my expert panel, mentioned above!

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Image Credits: Loren Javier, ms tea, Minette Layne