Defining the Author – How Video Games Contest Film through Interactive Drama.

Video games have often been scrutinised as being inferior to film and literature as a form of art by critics (Stefan Hall 2008, 1). However, video games share many similarities with film in being a collaborative medium of expressive elements such as music, graphics and storytelling (Aleks Krotoski 2012), but does a story or an idea being interactive therefore make its audience the author? This essay aims to explore the authorship of storytelling through film, with an emphasis on interactive narratives in video games with the dystopian science fiction film of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982, figure 1) and the interactive drama action-adventure from game developer Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, exclusive for Playstation (2010, figure 2). It will compare and contrast how each of these mediums better immerse the viewer as an author into their story. One of the many major themes that will be drawn upon is the role of the audience with reader/viewer participation, question of authorship particularly when a players choice in the game changes the story, the pushing of visual imagery and graphics and its effect on the viewer, and finally how contemporary film and games have begun to borrow elements from each other through adaptations of certain franchises and unifying the two mediums. Overall it will argue how video games better implement their audience as the author.

The audience’s role as a viewer to a film has blatant limitations in comparison to a video game, the audience of a video game is already given a voice through the role of an actor (Frank Rose 2011, 7). Heavy Rain’s core gameplay mechanics offers audience participation by performing a series of actions displayed on the screen which correlates with the motion of the Playstation controller, also the player will have to respond to a series of quick-time events that happen during action sequences of the game. This differs to a conventional video game that requires specific objectives for story progression, Heavy Rain can be thought of more as an interactive movie (Mei Si et all. 2011, 208). Through this mode of interaction, the audience is invited to engage more deeply with characters they are controlling and the outcome of the situations they are a part of (Rose 2011, 7). This is not to say that film cannot achieve this, Ken Levine, creative director of Irrational Games mentions that film has an advantage over video games at pointing the camera into specific positions to lock the viewer in space to display a particular message (Krososki 2012).

Blade Runner evokes ideas of the relationships between androids and humans and stimulates the potential qualities of what makes something human. This is explored by juxtaposing the two ideas together in the film which the viewer can identify. Both films and video games operate within a genre (K. William Fried 2004, 313), Heavy Rain and Blade Runner both adapt the film noir genre, such as the backdrop of a constant raining city, followed by silhouetted figures and misty smoke that inhabits a scene while the plot is usually tailored to following a detective trying to catch a criminal. These classic film noir tropes are designed to engage the viewer and emote feelings of melancholy, alienation, bleakness, ambiguity, moral corruption and even guilt (Fried 2004, 2). Heavy Rain draws on these emotions a step further by enacting consequence on the player’s choices throughout the game. The audience is forced to identify moral implications within themselves instead of simply watching predetermined events unfold in a movie (Daniel Homan and Sidney Homan 2014, 1).

It could be argued that the events of choice and consequence in Heavy Rain are also predetermined as all possible outcomes of the player’s choices in the game have already been written to exist (Rose 2011, 46). There is a blur that exists between author and audience within the game, Roland Barthes states that:

“The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (1997,148).

In the context of a film, Blade Runner leaves certain elements up to interpretation by the audience such as the way the main character ‘Rick Deckard’ is implied to be a replicant, (highly advanced androids bio-engineered to look like humans) that he is tasked to hunt down. This implication is achieved through subtle hints and symbolism but it is never clarified whether Rick Deckard is, in fact, a replicant, thus leaving the interpretation into the hands of the audience (Fried 2004, 314). Heavy Rain unravels its own series of psychological events as the player becomes involved with the mystery of a serial killer who uses extended periods of rainfall to drown their victims (Si et all. 2011, 208). As stated before the game increasingly draws its focus on the player’s decisions and actions which will ultimately affect the narrative of the game. The main characters can be killed and different actions may lead to different scenes and endings. Authorship of the story in Heavy Rain belongs to the player to carve out through choice, this lets the audience own the story in ways that a film cannot match (Rose 2011, 6).

Technology increasingly keeps changing and updating within the realm of both video games and films. It has always become expected that graphics will improve, especially since the transition to more powerful processors, graphic cards, consoles and computers (Rose 2011, 45). This has encouraged both the film and games industry to focus their attention on the aesthetic and opt for dynamic realism in their work (Marcus Schulzke 2014, 316). Heavy Rain attests to this realism through the use of motion capture technology. This technology tracks and records the actions of human actors and transfers that information to a digital 3D model. This results in a more realistic representation of characters movements, facial expressions and voice work (Si et all. 2011, 208). The visual effects in Blade Runner were created years before digital effects and computer manipulation in cinema became common. Most of the scenes in Blade Runner are a combination of miniature models and matte paintings combined with various forms of film manipulation to create the set. These techniques were much more complicated than the modern digital equivalent (Fried 2004, 317).

The obsession with realistic representation in film and video games are designed to make the viewer feel present in the fictional world, therefore interpreting the story at an immersive level (Rose 2011, 45). In comparison to both these mediums, video games are viewed on a television and need rendering by a game console, which means they generally are not intended to match the sensory perception an audience may experience with a motion picture intended for cinema (Rose 2011, 49). Although video games can entice the viewer’s senses in terms of motion, by controlling a character on screen, it is this authorial control and the realistic implementation of graphics that gives the viewer a simulated experience of how they would act in the given situation (Hall 2008, 2). This realistic representation encourages the audience to participate and carefully make decisions to tailor the story uniquely to themselves. (Joan Llobera, Kristopher J. Blom, Mel Slater 2013, 471).

Adaptations of franchises have become popular by companies translating them to film and video games, these have been argued to be cynical attempts at exploiting a franchise for financial gain (Rose 2011, 47). There is an adventure video game adaptation of Blade Runner developed by Westwood Studios, but rather than a retelling of the 1982 movie, the game offers a side story set in the same universe (Patrick Crogan 2002, 639). The movie industry tends to utilise the games industry in either retelling the same story or offering an alternative narrative set inside the same world. This is generally intended to flesh out the lore of that particular universe in the game that a movie may not be able to achieve due to time constraints (Betty Kaldamanidou and Maria Katsaridou 2013, 266). These time frames are usually around 120 minutes, where else a game can range from 10 hours to 50 hours, this allows a video game to take the viewer deeper than a two-hour movie (Rose 2011, 74). The unity of film and video games are apparent in other forms such as in Heavy Rain, which manages to borrow elements from both movies and video games with its level of interactivity and film noir dramatisation, it has proposed to achieve a blending of the mediums (Rose 2011, 50). The combination of the two mediums within Heavy Rain allows the audience to better construct their story especially when the game itself does not give the viewer much time to make important decisions. This is designed to mimic the fluidity of film and keep the audience progressing forward to the outcome of their choices (Rose 2011, 85).

In conclusion, this essay has emphasised a number of characteristics that prove how video games better implement their audience as the true author with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain (2010). The interactivity and immersive nature experienced within a video game has the ability to take the viewer deeper, sometimes sharing trivial and controversial ideas beyond the capabilities of a film (Rose 2011, 74). Video games have the power to hold the viewer responsible for their actions through consequence and rewards, these decisions are weighted solely on the viewer’s shoulders. It is apparent that video games demand a lot from their audience, firstly as a player but ultimately it places the viewer in the role of the author.

 

Appendix of Images

BladeRunner_065Pyxurz
Figure 1 Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (United States: Warner Brothers,1982), Blu-Ray.

HR_zlomowiskoFigure 2 Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain (Paris: Sony Computer Entertainment, 2010), Playstation 3.

 

References

Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image, Music, Text. London: Hill and Wang.

Crogan, Patrick. 2002. “Blade runners: Speculations on Narrative and Interactivity” The South Atlantic Quarterly  101(3): 639-657, accessed 7 October 2014 http://muse.jhu.edu.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/journals/south_atlantic_quarterly/v101/101.3crogan.html.nals/south_atlantic_quarterly/v101/101.3crogan.html.

Fried, K. William. 2004. “Blade Runner: An Interpretation” Psychoanalytic Psychology 21(2): 312-318. doi:10.1037/0736-9735.21.2.312.

Hall, Stefan. 2008. “Video Games as Collaborative Art” Phi Kappa Phi Forum 88(1): 19, accessed 22 September 2014
http://search.pro  quest.com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/docview/235190125?Accoun- tid=14543.

Homan, Daniel, and Sidney Homan. 2014. “The Interactive Theater of Video Games: The Gamer as Playwright, Director, and Actor” Comparative Drama 48(1): 169-186. doi:10.1353/cdr.2014.0000.

Katsaridou, Maria, and Betty Kaldamanidou. 2013. “Silent hill: Adapting a Video Game” Literature-Film Quarterly 41(4): 266, accessed 22 September 2014 http://search.pro            quest.com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/docview/1466012312?Accountid=14543.

Krotoski, Aleks. 2012. The Culture of Gaming. podcast. Washington, DC: BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00wq5md.

Llobera, Joan, Kristopher J. Blom, and Mel Slater. 2013. “Telling Stories Within Immersive Virtual Environments” Leonardo 46(5): 471-476, accessed 16 September 2014 http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/len/   summary/v046/46.5.llobera.html.

Rose, Frank. 2011. The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Shulzke, Marcus. 2014. “The Critical Power of Virtual Dystopias” Games and Culture 5(9):315-334. doi:10.1177/1555412014541694.

Si, Mei, David Thue, Elisabeth André, James C. Lester, Joshua Tanenbaum, Veronica Zammitto, 2011. “Interactive storytelling” Fourth International Conference on Interactive Digital storytelling 7069:207-218. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-25289-1.

 

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