A very interesting letter written to Roger Ebert and published on his website. You can read it here. I have to say, I’m in complete agreement with what the letter’s author has to say.
“It absolutely pains me, as a lifelong lover of both cinema and video games, to constantly see people so in the know when it comes to one thing act so completely and utterly ignorant about the other. Whenever a film is a soulless piece of garbage obviously out to beat people across the knees to see if there’s a jerk reaction and not much more, it doesn’t simply annoy me to see writers refer to the spectacle as video game-like, but it is beginning to offend me. It’s lazy and ignorant, and simple to avoid by not making the comparison in the first place, or at the very least, to refer to MINDLESS video games, because yes they do exist. They are however not necessarily in the majority.
It’s not even a case of this expression being right 10 years ago and simply being a dated expression not yet run out of style. It was only right at the very genesis of video games. I’ll point, for instance, to A Mind Forever Voyaging, a game that asked the player to do nothing more than to observe and detail the lives of human beings in a theoretical future America “for science”. Or games such as Braid, which tells the story of a man working through a broken relationship and coming to terms with his past through the mechanic of always being able to reverse time and correct mistakes, sometimes playing off those mistakes to reach new conclusions.
Video games are more than bleeps and flashing lights; Hollywood hasn’t understood it yet, to the collective groans of every audience member that has ever played a video game in recent times whenever a character on screen grabs a joystick and the sounds of the Atari 2600 blares out at us dumb folk to illustrate what he’s doing. That doesn’t excuse Pulitzer prize-winning writers from at least a perfunctory attempt at educating themselves about something before spurning it so readily.”
I, too, am a lifelong lover of video games. Admittedly, I don’t have the money to stay up-to-date in the current world of gaming (much as I would like to), and though I never really thought much about it before, this person makes a great point. Some video games are truly astounding experiences. Not all games are mindless. Not all games are pointless and trashy. Even games that include extremely graphic violent and sexual situations, like Grand Theft Auto, are, in my opinion, much more sophisticated than a great number of movies out there.
And it’s true: Hollywood is way behind the times in that sense. Always have been. It’s quite frustrating for me to watch a movie and see someone play a video game console, and hear nothing but random bleeps and bloops like the kind you would hear on an Atari 2600. We’ve come a long way since Pong and Space Invaders.
I’m not going to start a debate about whether video games are art. That’s a debate for another time and place. But the overall point is a very clear one: why should we compare certain movies to “mindless video games”, when we can so clearly see that so many movies are more mindless than the majority of video games? Freddy Got Fingered is a great example. I would much rather spend an hour or two of my time fighting monsters and leveling my characters on the newest Final Fantasy than I would wasting them watching Tom Green make a jackass of himself.