Can a documentary on the history and evolution of video games appeal to those without a care or connection to the industry? It’s a reasonable question and one that was swirling around in my head as I sat down to watch Jeremy Snead’s Kickstarter-funded new film. The blandly titled “Video Games: The Movie” seeks to tell a CliffsNotes history of video games while also promoting them as an art form and showing how far they have come since their early incarnations. For gamers this is cool stuff, but what about for others?
Let me start by admitting an important bit of information. I am a die-hard gamer and have been since Santa Claus surprised me with an Atari 2600 on Christmas of 1980. Since that time all the way to today I’ve had 16 different consoles. I was also a huge fan of the arcade culture during its lucrative heyday. I tell you all of this because, without a doubt, my personal history with gaming influenced my experience with this documentary. I have a connection with the history, the evolution, and the artistry of games as well as the pioneers and current developers who play a prominent part in the film. Therefore I have to admit that my viewpoint may be a bit influenced by nostalgia and my unflinching gamer geek status.
That’s an important consideration because in many ways “Video Games: The Movie” is a celebration. It has its target set on the gaming community who should really enjoy this film. But as I scoured through a host of harsh reviews I noticed that many critics viewed this as a film only intended to “preach to the choir” and some go as far as calling Snead a “salesman”. In one sense I do see what they are saying because there is a lot of pro-gaming passion and exuberance throughout the film. But I also think some of these critics are the same people who the film seeks to disprove. People who perceive the video game industry as inconsequential and who dismiss it on an assortment of flimsy grounds. Yes the film promotes video games, but it also seeks to prove their creativity and importance within the entertainment space.
Sean Astin narrates the documentary which features a wide assortment of interviews. Snead talks to several video game luminaries such as Nolan Bushnell, current accomplished game developers like Cliff Bleszinski and Hideo Kojima, and even television celebs such as Wil Wheaton and Zach Braff. Some give a fascinating look into the origins of video games. Some give keen insight into where games are now. Others give personal testimonies of how games have effected their lives. But the movie doesn’t shy away from some of gaming’s hot button issues. It talks about the video game crash of 1983 and the self-inflicted causes behind the industry’s near demise. It talks about the scrutiny over increased violence in games and the measures the industry was rightly forced to take. It’s compelling stuff.
I really liked “Video Games:The Movie”, but as a documentary the film does have flaws. The biggest problems lie with its structure and storytelling technique. To be honest it’s pretty messy at times. There is no single established time line and the film is constantly jumping back and forth with no real sense of direction. I remember at one point being dumfounded by the material that was being skipped only to be pulled back to it later in the film. Snead seems more interested in talking about topics which is great, but it’s at the expense of a needed fluidity. Then there are moments where the film suddenly transitions to topics which seem out of sync with the more interesting elements of the picture. A brief but clunky explanation of pixels. A sudden divergence into modern game technologies. These things slow the film down and take the focus off of what I was really enjoying.
“Video Games: The Movie” is scattered and unfocused and at times it can be a bit frustrating. But I think it’s also a passion-fueled examination of an entertainment form that has passed both movies and television in terms of worldwide revenue and popularity. Video games have been dismissed in many regards but their evolution is astounding. This film seeks to show them as far more than the simple run-jump-shoot children’s experience that many think of. They have become legitimate escapist entertainment featuring intelligent storytelling and amazing artistry (when done right of course). This film promotes that thought and shows the history behind it.
So I return to my original question. Is this a documentary that can appeal to those without any care or connection to video games? Personally I think it can. It offers a ton of facts and insight about the industry that many folks may not know or realize. At the same time it offers loads of fun and entertainment for the community of which I happily proclaim being a part of. But who knows, maybe that is why the film worked so well for me.
Heard about this documentary and your rating makes me want to watch this. Have also grown up with videogames from Pong machine, Atari 2600 through to the 360
My Aunt had a Pong machine and I loved visiting and playing it for hours. And when the Atari 2600 hit I was hooked. This film touches on these and so much other great game related stuff that I remember. It goes all the way up to our current generation of games.
Cool. I still have both of those and even though I know I will probably never play on them anymore I just can’t get rid of them for nostalgia’s sake….
Good stuff man. I’m a big gamer myself so I definitely want to give this one a go. I don’t quite remember the Atari though 😉
Ok that Atari comment was below the belt! 😉
I’ve been a gamer practically all of my life and it has been amazing watching the evolution of the industry. So many of the things in the video were real too me because I remember them so well. Really enjoyed it.
So what do you play? Sports games, shooters, RPGs? Do you lean towards a certain system?
Haha sorry man!
I’ve got a PS4 (and a 3DS for my Nintendo fix) and play a bit of everything. Just finished Watch Dogs and loved Child of Light before that. How about you?
I lean more towards the Xbox side although I’ve had every Sony system except the PS4 and Vita. I loved Child of Light. It completely surprised me. I put a lot of hours into Watchdogs and had a lot of fun with it. It has some problems but I enjoyed it for the most part.
I haven’t heard of this one but will definitely be checking it out now!
I had a ton of fun with it. It’s got a load of good information and then there is the whole nostalgic element. Do you play games at all?
Yeah I do, although not regularly.
I can go months without playing but then when i pick up Bioshock or one of the Fallout games I will get totally immersed in them.
Bioshock is tremendous. I wasn’t crazy about Bioshock 2, but I’m not sure if I have ever been more deeply immersed in a game, its story, or its environment that the first Bioshock. “Would you kindly…”
Isn’t it just! I know it is so immersive and distinct.
Bioshock 2 is weaker in pretty much every way but I’ve still had fun with it. Have you played Infinite?
Oh yes. I really enjoyed Infinite. It’s a game I’ve wanted to play through again but I’m so sidetracked with other titles.
I want to play it again in order to see how its story holds up on a repeat play-through. Should be interesting know having the whole puzzle in my head!
Also, which games would you rank amongst your favourites?
Wow, what a great (and tough) question. As far as favorites (of all-time) I always lean towards these: anything Half-Life, Halo: Combat Evolved, the old classic Rush’n Attack, I’m really fond of a couple of the Resident Evil games as well. I mean so many are popping into my head.
I really need to play the Resident Evil games at some point or other!
How long have you been playing them then?
Since the very first one on the first Playstation system. I remember getting the original Resident Evil and thinking it was the greatest game in the world! LOL.
I’m also a big fan of the Dead Rising series. Humor, horror, and zombie killing – great mix.
These are a side of gaming that I haven’t really explored… I might just have to try out the Dead Rising series and RE then. Do you recommend just starting at the beginning of each series?
Definitely tart at the beginning of Dead Rising as the stories, while different, build on each other. Still if you chose to hop into part 2 or 3 it would be fine. In fact, the gameplay is better in the later two. I just still really love the first.
RE is one you can hope in and enjoy. It has a lot of history so you may want to go back and enjoy the older ones later. Not ever RE game is great though. In fact I wasn’t that impressed with RE6 which was disappointing because 4 and 5 are fabulous.
Right so I’ll be getting DR 1 and perhaps RE 4 then 🙂
Thanks for that!
Absolutely. And tell me what you think. They are both very…unique. 🙂
Sounds intriguing… I will do!
Some great choices. Also really liked Half-Life as well although I never was able to finish the attack of the spiderthings with the car…I guess I’m just crap at aiming at that bit. Also loved the first Bioshock game. Have had Infinite for ages but still have not started it. Personal favorites for me are the Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row games and various racing games (although I dont play the Need for Speed games)
Oh you definitely need to give Infinite a go. It’s well worth it. I play racing games every now and then. I’m definitely not a die-hard racing game fan but every now and then I get an itch for one.
Really meaning to, but I have way to many games I still have not touched. Currently trying to finally finish up Gears of War 3 which I have been playing for little bits for a couple of months I think 🙂 Movies have been getting more priority than games for a while…
I understand that. I liked Gears 3. Been a while since I played it. It was another that I said I wanted to play through again but I got sidetracked. Interesting story turns in it.
Nice review Keith. I quite fancy seeing this one. I was raised on the Commodore 64 – Paperboy, Yogi Bear etc – and there’s still something really special and nostalgic about those old games.
Oh yes, the 64. I never had one but I had several friends who did. I’ll never forget their endless swapping of floppies. And Paperboy…what a classic.
Great review Keith! Maybe I will give this a purchase on demand, but it does sort of sound like more of a celebration than groundbreaking stuff as you described. Still, it’s nice to see video games get some feature length credit.
I too am a gamer, but it’s harder to call myself hardcore as I’ve gotten older with a career and more expansion into movies than ever before. I still like to try and find some time to play though; recently I’m going through a hard run of Uncharted 2. I see myself getting a PS4 in a year or so.
Thanks for reading. I’ve played so long and I guess I’m still pretty hardcore. I am such a night owl so after playing with the kiddos I usually get a couple of hours of games in at least. I just love them. Definitely getting my money’s worth out of my Xbox One. It’s been amazing watching games evolve over the decades.
Thanks for the heads up on this, Keith. I’m a sucker for anything video games, so I’ll have to check this out. Have you seen Indie Game: The Movie? I was really impressed with that documentary.
Hmmm, no I’m not. When did it come out?
Two years ago, I think. It chronicles the development of a few indie hits: Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid. Not only is it enlightening about the hard work that goes into creating video games, it makes for a really great underdog story as well. Highly recommended. Last I checked it was still on Netflix, too.