Video Games: The Movie

JoDee and I just finished watching Video Games: The Movie. Sadly I'm a bit disappointed in the movie. It's pretty clear in this movie that video game history was written by the winners because it would appear from their telling that the following was true:

  • The 3DO never existed (the first 32 bit console they mentioned was the Sony Playstation).
  • Atari caused the video game crash with the release of E.T. (The video game was a joint effort by a lot of inept efforts by many software companies and a glut of differing and incompatible gaming and computer systems of varying quality).
  • The Nintendo 64 was a console worthy of several minutes of footage. (It was a relative flop compared to the Sony Playstation and the notably absent Sega Dreamcast)
  • The Intellivision, Atari 5200 were barely mentioned, and Colecovision was notably absent. Arcade quality home ports didn't arrive until the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Worse, you'd think that the only innovations for video games are both tied to improved technology (virtual reality) and movie-like wish-fulfillment and story-telling. It was rather depressing to see video games shown as soulless graphical masterpieces or quirky indie-games. It left me not with a sense of wonder for the industry and what it could achieve but wondering when the next game crash is going to happen and who it was going to take with it. The movie touched on a gaming culture that both feels familiar and yet alien to me at the same time. And that's the rub: I both lived and knew some of this history both first-hand and through reading and research. The movie didn't seem to do nearly as much justice to the subject and instead centered on showing lots of pretty pictures and game footage. It was like seeing a movie about a culture I knew intimately being ineptly recounted by someone who could have told a more compelling story.

Overall I was disappointed with the movie. What story-telling and plot it had was lost much in the same way that modern video games have lost the plot; through technical wizardry and pretty pictures while forgetting the soul of the game. About the only positive thing I can say about the movie were most of the interviews were decent (Nolan Bushnell, Al Alcorn, and David Crane are charming as always) but rather than make me feel excited for the limitless potential of video games it made me think that the MBAs were fully in control, and the only way for anything revolutionary to happen in video games will happen despite the major studios and indie game developers. It made me wake up to why I've not played a lot of video games recently, even though I continue to purchase them. It made me realize why I find more enjoyment reading about game design from authors outside of the video game industry than those who are currently working inside it.

it made me realize that while you can never go back to the past of video gaming you can still appreciate the innovative spirit that birthed the industry, and hope that some day whatever comes along to sweep away the video game industry of today can tap into that same innovative spirit. It took the video game crash of the 1980s to sweep away most of the misguided notions of forced game design, and it'll take another video game crash to clean up the current state of the industry and set it on a path where it can truly grow. Video Games: The Movie tried to celebrate the glorious history of video games but instead punctuated that it's overdue for another crash. It also illustrates another maxim: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. With the shoddy re-telling of video game history presented in this movie we're more doomed than ever.