Title: Video Games: The Movie
Director(s): Jeremy Snead
Release Year: 2014
I have played plenty of video games. I might even go so far as to say that I love video games. A bold claim, for sure, but not an uncommon one by any stretch of the imagination. Video games are huge, and constantly getting bigger and bigger, so the idea of a documentary that looks back on the history of the medium and examines the struggles that the medium has had since the days of Pong and the arcade cabinet, is both tantalizing and informative. There is a lot of information to be unearthed when it comes to what went wrong at certain times in the industry and how some companies fell to the sidelines simply because the industry was in a constant state of flux. Unfortunately, Video Games: The Movie is a celebration of gaming, with very little recognition of the struggles the industry has had to overcome and is still overcoming.
There was a moment when the most beloved of video game companies, Nintendo, was being discussed as the saviour of the gaming industry and developers and publishers talked about the influence Nintendo had on the industry as a whole, as well as their lives. That segment is exactly what is wrong with Video Games: The Movie. It never acknowledges the missteps of Nintendo, and even goes so far as to feature employees of Nintendo esteeming the company in both what it’s done in the past as well as the present. It is a moment that plays out as a very unappealing advertisement, where you can tell the filmmakers were not concerned with telling two sides of a story, but merely wanted to get more people into video games.
There is nothing inherently wrong in a film celebrating an industry that really does deserve celebrating. However, it celebrates it for reasons that hold no bearing to the average viewer. Technical achievements mean nothing to someone who can go and see a film that outdoes any graphical fidelity a video game may contain. Showing how much people are interested in video games is not a way to sell them on the idea of playing them. If I was watching the film as a casual gamer, I would be turned off by the sight of people uncontrollably obsessing over one game and the massive impact it has had on their lives – even if those people are Zach Braff and Wil Wheaton.
However, how many times can Wil Wheaton show up in a film about “nerd” culture before people realize he is simply an echo of common sentiment? Nothing he says is ground-breaking, and by having celebrities show up and say “Hey, I really like video games” only demonstrates how much broad appeal means more than a good film. Not that these two films deserve any sort of comparison, but West of Memphis was capable of including celebrities without making it feel that all of them simply appear to lure in their respective fans to a film they otherwise would not see. Video Games: The Movie is more concerned about talking to those who are pro-video games than it is in showing both sides of a coin. That’s not how a good documentary operates.
There are some moments when I felt the film was doing something interesting, or could have at least gone in a more entertaining direction. For example, a look at the fandom that video games creates was touched upon but hardly explored in any meaningful way. Even simply taking a look at the obsessiveness of fans of certain consoles, why there is such a thing as a “console war”, and how fans feel about certain hot topic issues within the industry would have made the documentary all the more compelling. Placing a statistic that basically says women play more video games than you previously thought, is not interesting. Exploring that statistic and explaining why the stigma is there in the first place, as well as why it is so rare for a woman to be caught gaming, makes that statistic have weight to it.
Another complaint that I have with the film is in how it is laid out. It does this weird thing where it constantly goes through a timeline from the beginning of video games to the current time, focusing purely on one subject. Then it rinses and repeats but with a different subject. And then does it again. It is extremely irritating to retread the same ground and to constantly have history lessons thrown at you without any real explanation as to why the history matters. As I said, there is no critical edge to what the film is doing: it exists because people like video games. It never has any element to it besides conveying how exciting it is to play video games when you love video games.
Instead, Video Games: The Movie is a series of statistics and old video game commercials, interlaced with interviews of people who you may or may not know. Unless you already play video games intensely, in which this documentary is simply not for you. You already understand the appeal of the medium, and probably more so than the director and producers of this feature. The idea of introducing video games to an audience is not a laughable one, because truthfully, though mobile gaming has risen in popularity, there are plenty of people who do not grasp why people play video games and the cultural reverence that a game can have. Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey introduced metal music to an audience that might not have ever learned the nuances of the genre. It gave a history lesson, and showed off several different styles, personalities, and fans. It was an expertly handled documentary that understood the target audience and why it should exist. Video Games: The Movie never learns this, and the reason it exists is to tell people how great video games have always been and always will be. Even if that’s not completely true.