Why Video Games Matter
Recently I was listening to an IGN UK podcast which featured an interview with Ridley Scott. The director of such greats as Gladiator, Blade Runner and Alien (and also the super lame Prometheus...but SHH!). He was having a relaxed conversation with IGN’s Gav Murphy about his latest film, Alien: Covenant (AKA Prometheus 2...but SHHHH!).
During the conversation Gav asked a question that, to me, was a burning one: had Scott heard of Alien: Isolation and if so, what did he think about it?
Unsurprisingly, Scott’s response verged on: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
“What’s it called? [Gav says, “Alien: Isolation” again]. I think I did. But you know, I’m not a game person and to be fair. Because I’m not into it, I tend to think that games are too simple. Is that accurate?...I don’t want to sit there shooting things for four hours. I think ‘get off your ass and go do something’. I remember the feeling with MTV. I used to watch MTV because there was a lot of interesting filmmakers...then when that went away, they became just performance. But it’s nice when the actors are involved in the story.”
(IGN UK Podcast #383: Alien: Covenant Special, 2017)
This is rather rather disappointing. I wouldn’t really expect a director of Scott’s calibre to be interested in video games, nor even have the time to indulge, to be honest. However, for Scott to disregard such a faithful adaptation and the medium as a whole, is nothing short of disheartening.
Alien: Isolation is BAFTA Game Award winning and arguably a much more faithful adaptation or sequel than any of the actual Alien films since the 1979 sci-fi horror original! The game currently sits with a Metacritic score of 81 and a user score of 8.1 whilst surpassing 2.11 million sales worldwide. So, generally speaking the game is regarded both critically and commercial as a success. Not exactly genre defining or as one of the best games ever made but most definitely a good, solid game.
Moreover, as Scott himself made reference to, many of the original actors from the Alien film actually gave their seal of approval to the game by appearing in it. Including Ripley herself - Sigourney Weaver.
From a personal perspective, Alien: Isolation is a chance to finally experience the horrors of the first Alien film first-hand. The environments are faithfully and respectfully recreated and paired with the film’s iconic sound effects and music score - making it a truly immersive experience. The character and sound design are also impressive with smooth and fluid game-play to keep the horror immersive and distraction free. Plus, fleshing-out the extended Alien universe with Ripley’s daughter as the protagonist proves to be an exciting journey to take.
Crawling around air ducts and hiding under desks, clutching a flame thrower whilst hoping that the evil space bitch doesn’t successfully hunt you down! It’s pure blood-pumping space terror! My only complaint would be the rushed concluding moments of the game which feel awkward and tacked-on. Although this was probably done in an attempt to leave the story open for a sequel.
But Do Video Games Matter?
With all this in mind, it’s disappointing that Scott isn’t more aware of the potential of video games as a medium. Games like Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Telltale’s Walking Dead show the potential for video games as explorations into creative narrative and character development. Both, with their sprawling and seemingly endless narrative-threads, showcasing that a game where the player controls the character’s agency can have a deep and lasting emotional impact. Just ask any player who finished the final heart-wrenching episode of Walk Dead, season one.
In a film, the character’s agency pushes the story forward. With each action and decision having repercussions for the other characters and the direction of the over-arching story. However in a video game, the player can help to control the character’s agency and sometimes the trajectory of the story. The power for storytelling is then shared between the player and the creator. This is something which most film directors and auteurs may be slightly apprehensive about. After all, it is the job of a director to direct the story. However, when this power transfer is done well, it can be successful to a devastating effect.
In Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed game The Last of Us the player is in less control of the story than in a Telltale game. However, the main protagonist Joel makes decisions and choices that the player would either find hard to make themselves or even regard as completely abhorrent. This is even having faced Joel’s backstory and having experiencing the horrors of his past first-hand. In Joel’s present, the decisions he - and in turn the player - must make are completely devastating and leave the player with a last feeling of unease. With this in mind, in many ways the emotional journey a player faces are actually far more impactful when taking active participation as a player, rather than as a passive film viewer.
This is why video games matter! Games like The Last of Us prove the medium can showcase award winning acting, script writing and direction. They prove that they can take the player on a journey just as impactful, if not more so, than a film. Quite simply, petting giraffes in a post-apocalyptic world has never been more cathartic! Video games can be both energising and devastating. A creator can force a person to make hard choices and take perilous journeys they would never have a chance to make in real life. It’s just a shame that such well respected directors like Ridley Scott are afraid to empower their their viewers, to enable them to become players.
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(IGN UK Podcast #383: Alien: Covenant Special, 2017)
[podcast] Available at: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/05/12/ign-uk-podcast-383-alien-covenant-special [Accessed 1 Jul. 2017].