Dispatches from the Tribeca Games Festival
I know what you guys are thinking, how long is she gonna ride out this Tribeca thing? But hear me out, this weekend marked the first ever Tribeca Games Festival and despite being incredibly tempted by the closing gala event - namely an all-day marathon of The Godfather, The Godfather II and a 45th anniversary retrospective panel with the cast - I decided to attend Tribeca Games instead. Part of me was lured by the chance to hear Ken Levine (creator of my favorite video game series everrrrr BioShock) speak but another part of me was curious to see what the Gaming festival might bring to the table apart from talent like Hideo Kojima.
Because it was set within the parameters of the film festival, the Tribeca Games Festival didn’t just celebrate video games, but it also explored the cross sections between games and film. There’s no question that video games have become incredibly cinematic over the years, evolving from arcade games designed to eat quarters to fully realized stories that have taken us on heart wrenching journeys through dazzling worlds and landscapes brought to life with increasingly advanced and realistic graphics. Cinema has woven its way into gaming but have video games also begun to influence cinema?
This was one of the many questions pondered during the three keynote speeches I was able to attend on Saturday and which are worth summing up for those interested in the ever growing relationship between film and games. The first panel was a talk between Neil Burger, director of Limitless and Divergent, who spoke with Sam Lake, creative director of Remedy Entertainment and the force behind Max Payne and Alan Wake. The two acknowledged that while cinema will always have an influence on games - for example, Lake said that film noir and Hong Kong cinema influenced the Max Payne series - cinema was in many ways a very concrete form of storytelling, while in gaming there is a natural fluidity that can shape the story, obstacles or bugs in the game development or advances in technology can shape and change the story in ways that are somewhat impossible in filmmaking. To Lake, there is layered richness in games that would likely be edited out of films and Burger did agree that editing films comes down to being economical. But in the end, Burger spoke to the importance of film, declaring that no matter how much change it undergoes, it ultimately adds up to the story of us. Which is also a nice rally cry for more inclusive films, don’t you think?
While Burger and Lake weren’t sure if there was room for a mutual relationship between the two mediums, the following panel, featuring the legend himself, Hideo Kojima, highlighted a new possibility for both mediums: VR. As Kojima explained, all media in the past has been held within a set frame, restricting storytelling capabilities and limiting mediums in some way. But VR and AR have no frame - there aren’t boundaries placed by the aspect ratio or computer screen, it is open and liberating and this, to Kojima, is not only exciting but presents a lot of opportunity to break new boundaries in storytelling. Kojima, whose love of cinema is widely known, spoke about the influence of film on his career in gaming - Snake from Metal Gears Solid was inspired by DeNiro in The Deer Hunter, the first film he saw on his own was Rollerball and he would watch Taxi Driver on VHS daily when it came out. Kojima differed from Burger and Lake in that he initially believed that there was a great divide between gaming and film when film was still analog but that this gap had been closed by the digital filmmaking process. With the introduction of VR, it seems possible both mediums can begin to break new ground and carry us into the next wave of storytelling.
The final keynote panel of the day was paired up Ken Levine with Doug Liman, director of The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Edge of Tomorrow. In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s character dies and is sent back to replay the battle in question in an attempt to get it right. It’s a familiar aspect to gamers but a newer concept for an action film and Liman admits he struggled with the script because it almost seemed like they were poised to just have limitless deaths and reboots. But Levine mused that games have really changed our relationship with death, something that has likely bled over into films, particularly in the superhero realm. In the early days, death was about finality. Die and you must start all over, no second tries. Now rebooting from a save point in a game allows for multiple lives, a chance to see things from a different perspective and try again. Likewise, seeing a film a second or third time can change our perception of things and Liman believed that creating strong characters was a way to ensure viewers would return to films the way they return to great games.
Overall, aside from the possibilities offered by VR and AR, it seems that there is still a clear divide between filmmaking and video games and that they are two mediums that will be influenced by each other, especially as a younger generation of filmmakers step behind the camera having grown up on video games. But it seemed to me that our interaction with film has changed due to video games, we consume differently and demand different stories as a direct result of games. But as games have grown sharper over the years due to the influence of film, I do wonder if films might merit from paying closer attention to games - particularly where adaptations of video game properties are concerned. Can we ever have a BioShock film that gives the same thrill of playing the game for the first or fifth time? (I won’t even dream of seeing Infinite done correctly) I’m not sure, but it might benefit us as an audience for there to be a two-way street of collaboration and inspiration.
Regardless of how the relationship between cinema and games evolves in the future, the Tribeca Games Festival made for a fascinating day of discussion that made me glad I chose to attend the event and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next year.
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