University Of Antwerp Ken Lawrence Lights Camera Interaction
University of Antwerp
Faculty of Political and Social Sciences
Lights, Camera, Interaction: Evaluating the Cinematic
Qualities of Electronic Games
Verhandeling voorgedragen tot het bekomen Promotor:
van de graad van:
Prof. L. Pauwels
Master in de Filmstudies en Beeldcultuur
University of Antwerp
Faculty of Political and Social Sciences
Lights, Camera, Interaction: Evaluating the Cinematic
Qualities of Electronic Games
Verhandeling voorgedragen tot het bekomen Promotor:
van de graad van:
Prof. L. Pauwels
Master in de Filmstudies en Beeldcultuur
Table of contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................................ 2
Chapter 1: The relationship between games and cinema ........................................................... 4
Part 1: Playing not showing: Analogies between the ‘cinema of attractions’ and electronic
Part 2: Borrowing from film: How games incorporate cinematic conventions and
Cinematic elements in games ............................................................................................. 6
Objective and subjective viewpoints .................................................................................. 9
Sound in games................................................................................................................. 11
Chapter 2: Playful stories and playing stories.......................................................................... 14
Part 1: The narratology versus ludology debate................................................................... 14
Part 2: Integrating both approaches...................................................................................... 15
Part 3: The visual depiction of storylines............................................................................. 17
Chapter 3: Beyond the audiovisual aspect ............................................................................... 20
Part 1: Interaction and the relativity of post-culture: Playing with form and substance ...... 20
Interaction and the visual element ................................................................................... 21
Interaction and the audio component............................................................................... 21
Interaction and time ......................................................................................................... 23
Interaction and editing ..................................................................................................... 24
Part 2: Conveying meaning through other senses ................................................................ 25
Photorealism and ‘interactive movies’ ............................................................................ 25
Interaction and gameplay experiences............................................................................. 26
Softography .............................................................................................................................. 33
It is undeniable that electronic games attract more and more attention from the academic
world. There are many academic journals, seminars, symposiums and debates which are
devoted to enhancing the theoretical knowledge of what is quickly becoming the dominant
form of entertainment in today’s world.
Electronic games are a technology-driven cultural product and as such seem close to
photography and film. In fact, as time went by and the visuals of games became more
photorealistic many labelled games as ‘interactive movies’. The aim of this article is to
examine the validity of this statement by evaluating the cinematic qualities of these games.
The reader should note that during the text I will use the term ‘ games’, referring both to video
games as well as computer games. Sometimes I might stress that what I am saying only
applies to video games or computer games.
The first chapter of this article discusses the relationship between games and cinema. First of
all, a comparison will be made between early video games and primitive cinema. How well
can Tom Gunning’s theory about the ‘cinema of attractions’ be adapted to games? Were there
analogies in the early developments of the two media? In the second part I aim to give a
detailed audiovisual analysis of games. How do games borrow cinematic conventions and
techniques? Can we compare certain tendencies from the world of film with aspects of the
world of games? What is the function of sound in games and how has it evolved technically?
The second chapter deals with the storyline in games. First of all I will briefly discuss the
current narratology versus ludology debate. I will also introduce a proposal to integrate both
views in the second part of this chapter. The third part offers a short analysis of how
storylines in games are visually depicted.
The final chapter of this article aims to look beyond both the audiovisual aspect and the
storyline in order to focus on the interactive component. What is the importance of interaction
and how does it define the nature of video games? How can meanings be conveyed through
In order to make the article as accessible as possible for those who might not be familiar with
the world of games I have created a companion website: http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu
Practically all examples used in the text as illustrations have been put on-line in the form of
Macromedia Shockwave Flash films. It is sufficient to download the Flash plug-in from the
Macromedia site ( http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave ) in order to view these movies.
An audiovisual analysis of games is a daunting task. There are literally thousands of games,
many of which are only published in their home country. In choosing which games to discuss
for this article I have done my very best to include both the commercially successful, as well
as the more obscure from both the past as well as the present. Nevertheless there are certain
gaps in the analysis: in analysing the older games I have had to use the practice of emulating
these games on my PC. Not all games could be so easily traced so inevitably there are certain
interesting games missing. Moreover, concerning more recent video game consoles I have not
been able to get my hands on the Sega Saturn, the Microsoft XBox or XBox 360. In a follow-
up to this article I hope I will be able to include them.
Another difficulty was the amount of time needed to play the games. Whereas films are
commonly about two hours long, playing a game can easily take you ten times as long.
Undoubtedly this had an impact on how many games I could include in my research.
However I am sure that the examples have been well chosen and illustrate the key-elements of
Chapter 1: The relationship between games and cinema
Part 1: Playing not showing: Analogies between the ‘cinema of attractions’ and electronic
For a long time early cinema was described as nothing more than filmed theatre. Academic
debate centred around the perceived need for filmmakers to tell complex narratives which was
impossible in the early days of film. Filmmakers were bound by the shackles of theatre and
primitive technology. Only through technological progress were directors slowly but surely
able to adopt a more ‘filmic’ way of telling stories. Early cinema was therefore regarded as
nothing more than an embryonic stadium towards the multi-reel narrative film we know
Newer film theories have however repudiated this idea and have stressed the fact that early
cinema was nothing more but a ‘cinema of attractions’. This concept was first introduced by
Tom Gunning who pointed out that the narrative was of secondary importance in early
cinema. What mattered was the joy of watching movements of humans, animals and objects.
Cinema therefore didn’t have to evolve into its current form. In its very beginning, films were
all about showing, not telling.
Some very interesting analogies can be made with the history of electronic games. Often it is
thought that early games didn’t have the necessary technology to create believable worlds,
characters and storylines. Only with technological advancements could more complex games
be created. I would like to contend that with the earliest games, believing in the artificially
created world and the overarching storyline was of secondary importance. What mattered was
the joy of being able to move a certain on-screen object. The fact that a group of pixels
represented a man, a spaceship, a tennis racket or a monster wasn’t important. People were
mesmerized by the simple fact that moving the joystick or pressing a button caused that group
of pixels to transform, thereby moving along the screen or performing a certain action. I
believe that in its primitive form, games were about playing, not showing.
It is worth pointing out that the way films and games were produced in the early days of both
media also show some striking similarities. Early filmmakers such as Méliès did most of the
work themselves: they designed sets, handled the camera, acted in the films and edited the
material to produce the final product. Slowly but surely different people became responsible
for these elements. There was a trend towards specialisation: the jobs of scriptwriter, art
director, costume designer, music composer and actor among others turned production of
films into more of an industrialised process. The division between production, distribution
and exhibition – the three sectors constituting the heart of film business – came into effect. As
films started to take an important place in the cultural industry high profile productions
necessitated increasing budgets. The days of a single person making a film by himself or
herself were pretty much over, with some exceptions such as Tarnation.
When games started to attract attention there was a very similar industrial development. Early
games could easily be programmed by one person. In fact, this resulted in many so-called
‘clones’, games which were played exactly the same as other games yet had different
graphics. Throughout the years games became longer, with more varied level design resulting
in larger production teams. Specialisation also became a prominent aspect of the industry:
graphical artists could be working on one particular element of a game, games testers were
hired to detect bugs, internationalisation resulted in the need to adapt games to different
markets creating employment for translators and voice actors. Budgets also increased with
high profile games nowadays easily costing 8 to 15 million dollars for game development
only, excluding marketing costs which are also soaring. Even in the world of independent
game development making a game entirely by yourself seems to be impossible, with very few
exceptions such as Jeff Minter’s Neon. (Are Big Budget Console Games Sustainable?, 2006 )
Part 2: Borrowing from film: How games incorporate cinematic conventions and techniques
It is undeniable that a new medium borrows certain elements from related, established media.
Photography was first and foremost used to make family portraits, thereby basing elements of
composition mainly on portrait painting. Film on the other hand sought to replicate certain
aspects of theatre. The situation is not any different with games. From its very beginning there
were some striking similarities between the audiovisual component of games and that of
The aim of this analysis is to determine which cinematic conventions and techniques were
adapted by game designers. For the sake of the argument I am making abstraction of the
interactive component of games, but will return to it in the final chapter of this article. The
reader should also note that throughout this text I will refer to the aforementioned
accompanying website for footage of the games in action.
In my opinion it is important to make a distinction between the gameplay element of games
and the cut-scene element. When using the term ‘gameplay’ I refer to all instances in which
interaction from the player is required. ‘Cut-scenes’ on the other hand refer to the non-
interactive component of games. These are often used to further the storyline as we will see in
the next chapter. The distinction is of importance to the analysis because the use of cinematic
techniques differs greatly between the gameplay-sequences and the cut-scenes.
Cinematic elements in games
The first cinematic element I will discuss is that of the single shot with a fixed camera
position. Movement of characters and objects occurs inside the frame but the camera itself
never moves. Depth is not used, nor is there an adequate illusion of depth created within the
frame. On the visual level we could compare this with ‘primitive cinema’, though as
discussed previously it only shares the visuals of this cinema as its function is entirely
different ( playing, not showing ). On http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu we can see various
examples of this visual set-up. The reader should note that this list does not only include
games from the 80’s. At the contrary, even recent games fit this visual set-up. This is a first
and interesting finding I will return to later.
When the notion of a fixed camera position is dropped we immediately notice that the
development of the visual component of games did not follow that of film. In cinema the next
step was the pan and tilt, camera movements used to follow a character or action without
stopping the film, placing the camera in another position and resuming the recording. In
games however, as soon as designers stopped using the static camera set-up of the previous
paragraph they automatically came up with the travelling shot. In game terminology this is
called ‘scrolling’, referring to the continuous scrolling of the image as the player progresses
through the game world. I have not been able to locate a single game which switched from a
fixed camera to a panning and tilting movement without first going through the travelling
This is quite remarkable and is due to the fact that in film, a travelling – or ‘dolly’ – shot
required technically considerably advanced equipment whereas programming games with a
scrolling environment did not prove to be hard. It was therefore swiftly incorporated in the
visual language of games. On http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu the reader can view examples
of games using a travelling. Noteworthy is also the fact that the inclusion of a travelling shot
did not automatically imply the illusion of depth: even in games where there was not a hint of
depth such as Spider-Man or Defender on the Atari 2600 a travelling shot was already being
One would tend to think that after the travelling shot the panning and tilting movements
would be the next techniques to make the leap from cinema to gaming. This was not the case.
The next step was the creation of a game world with a certain illusion of depth. Characters or
objects the player would interact with would still only be limited to lateral left or right
movement, but the game world would appear to have certain depth. Examples of these types
of games can be found on http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu. Although introducing the illusion
of depth could be combined with a travelling shot, games such as Cheyenne, Klax or Fire
Spinner show that even a fixed camera position could be used! Once again we can see that the
visual history of games is not purely chronological: games such as Pandemonium and the
Klonoa series are just two examples of recent games in which there is only an illusion of
We have seen examples of how a travelling shot was adopted and how game designers sought
to create an illusion of depth in their games. On http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu there are
examples of games which go a step further by allowing the player to use the depth. The reader
should notice that it is perfectly possible to have a game in which depth is used, yet without
panning or tilting movements of the camera. This could come as a surprise as the general
feeling is that programming a game to incorporate depth is more difficult than implementing a
pan or tilt. In fact, a game such as ET on the Atari 2600 shows that depth can be used with a
static camera position.
Slowly but surely we are coming closer to the defining characteristic of the visual element in
electronic games: it is entirely subjected to the interactive component. Designers have a
particular interaction in mind and then choose the visuals which best match and support the
desired interaction. Therefore the visual history of games is not a chronological history. At
any moment in time different visual representations were used by game designers. It is not the
case that once a technological advancement took place that previously used forms of
presenting the game world were disregarded in favour of the newer option. At the end of this
part I will return to this finding.
When we look at how a pan or tilt is incorporated in games we see that it is hardly ever used
during actual gameplay. This is especially the case with a pan movement. In the examples on
http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu we could consider the pan movement at the beginning of
Earthworm Jim. This pan occurs when the cow is introduced which Jim can catapult away. It
is just a slight pan movement which causes the action to be framed nicer and makes the joke
clear to the player. It shows where Jim is standing, where the cow is and what will happen
when Jim makes the fridge drop down. During the research for this article it became clear to
me how difficult it is to determine in a game compared to a film whether a movement of the
frame sideways is caused by a travelling shot or a pan movement. In the majority of cases I
believe it is in fact a short travelling motion instead of a pan movement.
Tilts occur more frequently than pans. Sidescrolling platform games for example use the tilt
whenever a character jumps to a higher platform or drops to a lower one. We can see this for
example in the Aladdin and Donkey Kong Country games on
Another possible camera movement is rolling which does not feature elaborately in games.
On http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu I have put the example of the arcade game Afterburner 2
in which the player pilots a fighter plane. The rolling camera movement is used to increase the
realism of such a plane in the middle of a dogfight with enemies.
I believe video games have become most cinematic in their audiovisual aspect with the 32-bit
console era of the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation. We have seen that depth was already
being used in some of the earliest video games, allowing for characters and objects to move
forwards and backwards as well as laterally left and right. The 32-bit console hardware
generation however provided the opportunity for the camera to use the depth. No longer did
the camera stay at the same distance of the characters but it actively followed them around.
One could argue that the so-called ‘Mode 7’ of games on the Super Nintendo, a hardware
generation earlier than that of the Saturn and Playstation, already featured such a camera. In
my opinion however it is clear that in games as Pilotwings or Indiana Jones’ Greatest
Adventures the camera does not by far make as much use of depth as many of the games of
the 32-bit generation.
For the first time it became possible to have travelling shots in the depth of the frame instead
of continuously from left to right. In many 3D-adventure titles such as the Tomb Raider series
the camera continuously chased the main character. This was called a ‘trailing camera’. Crane
shots became an option too and in general the amount of intricate camera movements grew
exponentially. Many games benefited from these innovations although it also gave rise to the
concept of ‘camera issues’: making a camera move through a detailed three-dimensional
environment while keeping the visibility and most importantly the playability central proved
to be a daunting task. As with all other hardware generations we can observe how developers
often prefer less cinematic images if they feel that by using them they would compromise the
enjoyment of the gameplay experience.
Recent console hardware innovations have mostly been concerned with enhancing the
graphical quality of games. It is obvious that for example crane shots are being used far more
effectively as demonstrated in Ico. Nevertheless the question arises if there is still room for
improvement. Can games adapt more cinematic conventions and techniques? Will it make
games more filmic? I will return to this question in the third chapter of this article.
Objective and subjective viewpoints
Another cinematic convention which has received considerable attention from academic
theory is the use of objective and subjective viewpoints. In film a viewpoint is said to be
objective when it is not seen through the eyes of a character. If on the other hand the image is
intrinsically linked with the observation from a certain character then we have a subjective
viewpoint. An example will make this clear immediately: during a sequence the viewer might
see a dinner table conversation. The first shot shows all the characters at the table. The second
shot is a close-up of one of the characters who looks to the right and bats her eyelids, showing
disdain for what she has seen. The third shot shows us what she was looking at: an elderly
relative slurping his soup and spilling some on his clothes. In analysing this sequence we
would say that the first two shots are shown from an objective viewpoint whereas the third
shot clearly has a subjective viewpoint.
It is not easy to adapt the distinction between objective and subjective viewpoints to the world
of games. In order to increase the playability of the game a designer might give the player the
option of switching between camera positions. During a certain level the player might prefer
to place the camera behind the character at a considerable distance in order to see his or her
environment. A few minutes later it could be better to switch to a first person view. Is the first
camera position therefore objective and the second subjective? Not necessarily, because even
during the first sequence the player could have chosen the first person perspective and during
the second part could have selected the third person view. The visual aspect is therefore
entirely pragmatic; it does not convey meaning but merely echoes a production choice
destined to increase the playability of the game.
It is possible to argue that everything a player sees in the game world should be categorized as
an objective view. However, it is equally possible to propose the exact opposite, namely that
everything a player experiences in the game world belongs to a subjective viewpoint. In the
first interpretation one could give the example of a character walking into a forest. This forest
would exist and would look exactly the same even if the character was absent. The forest is
programmed in a certain way and it is therefore irrelevant whether or not a character enters
the forest for it to look the way it does. The counterargument would be that if the character
never walks into the forest the player never sees this particular location. It is only there
because the player has steered the character into it. Therefore everything one sees in a game is
subjective as it all depends on the player’s way of choosing how he or she plays.
These are of course the extremes of seeing the objective versus subjective argument in the
light of games. In my opinion it is more interesting to judge each game individually. Often,
the way the story is told can provide helpful hints as to whether we are dealing with one or the
other viewpoint. Let us shortly consider two recent games which provide interesting
discussion material, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time ( PoP ) and Fahrenheit.
In PoP the game world is viewed through a camera which trails behind the lead character. It
automatically adapts itself to accommodate the player while he or she attempts to overcome
the various obstacles in the game. Nevertheless, the player can switch to a first person view
which makes it possible for the player to get a better bearing of his or her surroundings.
Moving the character is impossible in this view. One might be tempted to label the standard
camera position as an objective viewpoint and the first person view as a subjective viewpoint.
The narrative of the game however proves differently: the entire game is a flashback, told by
the Prince. Therefore everything could be seen as a subjective viewpoint.
In Fahrenheit the player assumes the role of three different characters throughout the game: a
suspected murderer and the two police officers attempting to solve the case. These characters
meet each other frequently. Although the camera, during the game, is practically always
behind the character there are no objective viewpoints in the game. The player assumes the
role of a certain character and views the environment and the events through the eyes of this
character. It is irrelevant that this view is from a third person perspective. Even when the
different characters meet it would be wrong to assume that this should be seen from an
objective viewpoint: the player identifies with the character under his or her control and the
events depicted are therefore always seen in the subjective light of this particular character’s
motivations and actions.
Sound in games
For the final part of this chapter I will briefly discuss the use, evolution and function of sound
in games. Contrary to film there has never been a silent period in the history of games. There
are many great films from the silent era and in reviewing these films nowadays their power
and beauty as well as the craftsmanship of their makers still shines through. Imagining
electronic games without sound, however, proves to be a very troublesome experience. From
the very beginning programmers used the limited technological means at their disposal to
create crude sound effects and a variety of – nowadays infuriating – electronic beeps. A silent
game appears to be a cardinal sin and somehow looses its appeal entirely to the player.
In analysing various games for this article I have settled on five categories for how the audio
component has evolved throughout gaming’s history. Games in the first category only have
very primitive sound effects. Examples of these games such as Space Invaders, Pitfall,
Donkey Kong or Rampage can be found on http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu. These all share
the same characteristic: during gameplay certain actions from the player – jumping, shooting,
falling – are marked by a particular sound. In film this is labelled ‘mickey mousing’ as it
tends to create the same effect as the early Walt Disney cartoons.
In the second category a simple, monotonous ‘song’ is played at the beginning of the game, in
addition to the primitive sound effects discussed above. This intro also consists of a set of
very basic electronic bleeps and can be found in games as Frogger, Ms. Pacman and the ill-
fated ET ( see http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu ).
The 8 bit-era of gaming seems to mark the rise of ‘music’ during gameplay. Not only are
actions from the player enhanced with the ‘mickey mouse’-style sound effects, but a certain
catchy – read: nerve racking - song is played while the game progresses.
The fourth category I have distinguished features games in which the audio component
gradually starts to sound more like real music. Moreover, digitised voices become possible.
Most examples on http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu suggest that it was the 16 bit-era ( SNES,
Megadrive ) which marked the beginning of these games.
The final category features the most recent audio developments: starting from the 32 bit-era (
Saturn, Playstation ) and continuing into the present music in games now sounds
indistinguishable from real music, sound effects are as elaborate as those of Hollywood
blockbusters and the newest technologies such as surround sound are being implemented.
I believe this short overview has shown the need to make a distinction between the visual and
the audio aspect of a game. On the level of the music, speech and sound effects the analysis
has shown that they have evolved in a chronological order, starting from nothing more than a
few electronic bleeps and through technological advances slowly evolving into the fully
fledged cinematic scores with human voices and complex sound effects. This chronological
evolution holds much more for the audio component than for the visual aspect of games. I do
not deny that successive hardware generations have brought about massive changes in the
visuals of games. My argument is focussed on the prevalence of cinematic conventions and
techniques and I would like to contend that on this particular domain the visual evolution of
games is not at all chronological.
There can be huge differences on the visual level between the various consoles. Games on the
current generation of hardware look far more filmic than those of the 16 bit-generation. This
difference is equally obvious when comparing current consoles such as the XBox with the
Nintendo DS. However, when we look at the games on a particular console we see that there
are also large differences with respect to the cinematic aspect of the games themselves. On
Playstation 2 for example we can find games in which depth is not used, games in which
panning or tilting movements of the camera are few and far between or games which employ
a fixed camera position.
Therefore I would like to conclude the following: on the level of sound and music there are
large differences between games appearing on different hardware, but less within the games of
a particular console. On the visual level however, there are both large differences between the
games on different hardware as well as between games on a particular console.
Chapter 2: Playful stories and playing stories
Throughout the years two different approaches in analysing games have become dominant in
academic circles. These are narratology and ludology. In this chapter I will first of all give an
overview of these theoretical frameworks. A proposal to find a way of integrating both in the
analysis of particular games will be formed in the second part of this chapter. Finally I will
return to the visual aspect of games by giving a general overview of the visual representation
of storylines in games.
Part 1: The narratology versus ludology debate
Narratology approaches video games as yet another way in which humans tell stories. Games
are regarded as texts which can be read, similarly to books, poems and films. Many games
have aspects such as a plot, characters, settings and events and therefore in the narrativist
view they are fundamentally a continuation of the human desire to tell stories.
( Ludology, 2006 )
Brenda Laurel, an American dramaturgist and computer theorist, was one of the first to
implement the narrativist idea in the world of video games. Her starting point was the
classical work Poetics by Aristotle. According to her the computer program is the author in a
system where actions which the player takes are reflected in the system. Eventually this leads
to “an interactive, fictitious world that is co-created by the computer and the player”. Another
approach is that of Espen Aarseth who compared games to ergodic texts. These are non-linear
texts in which the reader must make certain decisions which influence the story.
( Dillon, T., 2005 )
By emphasizing a narrative explanation of video games many people felt that the essential
aspect, the playing of a game, was overlooked. An alternative was formulated by Gonzalo
Frasca in his text Ludology Meets Narratology: Similitude and differences between
(video)games and narrative ( 1999 ). In his text he argues that video and computer games may
have certain characteristics of narratives, but essentially differ from for example television
and film because “they are not just based on representation but on an alternative semiotic
structure – simulation”. The ludologists therefore concentrate on the kind of simulation the
game provides as well as what its mechanics of gameplay are. They stress the game-specific
elements of rules, strategies, interface, models and typologies. ( Dillon, T., 2005; Frasca, G.,
Part 2: Integrating both approaches
It seems that theoretical debate surrounding the nature of games has lost sight of the games
themselves. Narratologists advocate that all games are about telling stories; ludologists on the
other hand are convinced that in all games the main attraction is interactivity using specific
rules, interfaces and strategies. This monolithical view does games injustice which is why I
propose to judge each game separately. Some games have a greater reliance on a storyline,
others are more centred on interaction.
My proposal is a way to find a compromise in the debate by judging games on the basis of
two elements: the level of interaction they offer to the player and the significance of the
narrative. I wish to discern four categories in both elements. The level of interaction can be
minimal, moderate, high or near constant. The significance of the narrative on the other hand
can be minimal, a backdrop, general or central to the game experience. I will now discuss the
different categories and give concrete examples of how my proposal could be used to
distinguish games from each other without relying solely on the storyline or the interactive
A minimal level of interaction means those games in which only occasionally input from the
player is expected. Moreover, the rules of the game are straightforward and there are only a
minimal amount of strategies the player could adopt. Events often unfold through non-
interactive scripted scenes, dialogue, and so forth. Examples of these games are The Seventh
Guest and Myst.
In games with a moderate level of interaction the player needs to interact regularly. However,
this interaction often implies no more than a few button presses. Moreover there are many
cut-scenes and in-game movies. The rules become more extensive and the player has a clear
choice between different strategies to successfully complete the game. I see many RPG’s such
as the Final Fantasy series and tactical/strategy games such as Command and Conquer or
Advance Wars as examples of this category.
I speak of a high level of interaction when the game experience largely depends on
interactivity, has a significant amount of rules and where there are various strategies the
player could use. There are still certain cut-scenes which interrupt the flow of the interaction,
but less than in the category above. Many contemporary commercial games fit this level of
interaction. Examples are the Metal Gear Solid and the Grand Theft Auto series, Black and
In the final category there is a near constant level of interaction. Only during loading times or
other very infrequent interruptions is no interaction required from the player. Tetris, Pacman,
the Ridge Racer and Tekken series are excellent examples. It is interesting to note that the
amount of rules and strategies in this category is usually less than in the category above, but
the amount of interaction is higher which is why I put it as the final category.
The second element of my proposal is the significance of the storyline. In games with a
narrative of minimal importance the storyline is entirely or almost entirely absent. Pacman
and Tetris serve as perfect illustrations for this category. Sometimes a story is used to offer a
simple explanation for certain events. Knowing how the story ends forms only a very small
incentive to play the game. I have called this type of narrative the backdrop. We can find it in
the numerous games offering an ‘end-of-the-world-alien-invasion’ type of storyline such as
Contra III or in games as Final Fight or Double Dragon. The third category I have
distinguished harbours those games with a general narrative. These games have an intricate
storyline, but at the same time offer the player multiple, non-compulsory side quests and extra
game elements which the player can pursue. The player is free to choose whether or not he or
she attempts to accomplish the extra tasks. They have no direct consequence on the general
storyline. Examples of these games are the Final Fantasy series ( indeed, most RPG’s fall
within this category ) as well as typical ‘sandbox’ games as the Grand Theft Auto series. In
the final category of games the storyline is central to the experience. The game confronts the
player with a single overarching storyline. All levels and events lead up to the resolution of
the narrative. This category includes both games with a single as well as multiple endings.
What counts is the fact that the storyline is what drives the player in his thirst for completing
the game. Fahrenheit and the Resident Evil series serve as illustrations of this category.
We can now bring these elements together in a coordinate system. The X-axis is the level of
interaction; the Y-axis points to the significance of the narrative. I have provided an example
below with the games used above to illustrate the categories.
The integrated approach Metal Gear Solid
PoP: Sands of Time
Seventh Guest Fahrenheit Resident Evil
Significance of the narrative
Final Fantasy Contra III
Grand Theft Auto
Command & Conquer Final Fight
2 Double Dragon
0 1 2 3 4
Level of interaction
Part 3: The visual depiction of storylines
In this final part of the second chapter I will examine how games visually depict the storyline.
I have distinguished five ways in which game designers show the progress of the narrative to
the player. The story can unfold through in-game events, through intertitles and comic book
style speech bubbles, through the use of animated cut-scenes, through cut-scenes using the in-
game graphic engine and finally through the use of real video footage. Throughout the
analysis of these five possibilities I will refer to my website where the reader can see footage
of the games in action.
The most basic way of visually depicting the narrative is by letting the events of the game tell
their own story. At the start of Double Dragon for example we see what we assume to be the
hero’s girlfriend being kidnapped. Then, the player immediately commences the level. The
story is not expanded through elaborate cut-scenes or in-game movies. The player’s actions
simply push the game further and further into its story. Other examples can be found on
The narrative can also unfold through the use of intertitles and elements of comic books such
as speech bubbles. There is still a limited amount of interaction required from the player as he
or she has the option of speeding up the dialogue which appears in the speech bubbles by
pressing a button. This allows people who can read faster to progress more swiftly. As with
the previous category, many thousands of examples could be given. I therefore refer to
http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu for a few games in which the storyline follows this visual
The third category I have discerned contains those games which use animated cut-scenes to
expand the storyline. These cut-scenes are often in the FMV ( ‘Full Motion Video’ ) format.
This type of cut-scenes was very popular in the 32-bit era when games such as Final Fantasy
7 to 9 included many hours of FMV footage. The success of these scenes was one of the main
reasons for games publisher Squaresoft – now SquareEnix – to bring the Final Fantasy
franchise to the big screen with a movie adaptation. Technically superior to the FMV used in
their games the film nevertheless failed to grab the audience’s attention as the plotline was
below par for a Final Fantasy-branded product. Although wonderfully animated, this type of
cut-scene often broke up the flow of the game considerably. This was mainly due to the huge
graphical difference between the animated sequences and the in-game engine. When the
transition was done skilfully – such as at the beginning of Final Fantasy 7 – it did not draw
attention to itself. All too often though it caused a very abrupt change in both the pace as well
as the visual style of the game experience. According to me this is one of the main reasons
why, even with technological advances which push the in-game graphics close to the FMV
cut-scenes, games designers have opted for another type of cut-scenes.
I hereby refer to the games in which cut-scenes are generated with the in-game graphic
engine. Examples can be found on http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu and include Ico, Metal
Gear Solid 3 and the Grand Theft Auto series. These type of cut-scenes have the advantage of
being graphically closer to the gameplay than is the case with animated cut-scenes. One can
not say that they are graphically exactly alike as the cut-scenes feature far more elaborate
camera movements and cinematic elements such as shot-reverse shots which would entirely
disorientate the player if used in the interactive component of the game.
The final category of visual representation of the storyline is the use of real video footage.
This is for example used in the introduction of Metal Gear Solid 3 where Cold War footage is
intertwined with scenes using the in-game engine. The narrative in Black is also told through
real video footage, more precisely footage of an interrogation sequence. Moreover, real video
footage is edited as Black’s intro. These examples can be viewed on my website on
Just as we have seen with the analysis of the cinematic conventions and techniques which
games have adopted throughout their evolution it would be a mistake to believe that the
categories discussed above follow each other chronologically and that therefore no games are
produced these days which solely depict the storyline through in-game events. My site
http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu lists dozens of contemporary games which have avoided the
use of cut-scenes of any type. The choice to use a certain type of visual representation of the
narrative depends entirely on the way the game designer wants the storyline to blend with the
interaction. Using cut-scenes of any sort allows designers to use more cinematic techniques,
yet has the side effect of lifting the player momentarily out of the flow of the gameplay.
Chapter 3: Beyond the audiovisual aspect
Part 1: Interaction and the relativity of post-culture: Playing with form and substance
Film directors can convey certain meanings through the form of their film. The way a certain
scene is filmed can comment on the characters’ ideas, aspirations, psychological state and so
forth. In games the audiovisual component may not always be the best way of conveying
meanings. This is due to the very nature of the product.
Once the postproduction on a film is finished and the end product is shipped to movie lovers
throughout the world the meanings which are conveyed through the form of the product rest
unchanged. Naturally, certain cultural differences among the audience may lead to some
scenes being ‘read’ in different ways, but the original intention of the filmmakers remains
unchanged. How different the situation is with games where the audiovisual component is but
one of many elements which constantly shifts. How can, for example, subtle lighting and a
certain camera angle convey the deepest emotions of a character if the player can swing the
camera about with the flick of the dumb, never achieving the specific angle a film director
might have chosen?
The interactive element in games causes dozens of variables to constantly shift. In this final
chapter of the paper I will first of all examine the impact of interaction on different
audiovisual components. Moreover I will discuss other aspects such as temporality and
editing. The aim is to examine how the interactive nature of games makes it difficult to
convey meanings through the form of the product. First of all the impact of interaction on the
visual side of games will be examined. Afterwards we will see how music and sound effects
can be influenced by aspects of the gameplay. Finally some special topics such as ‘time’ will
be analysed in the context of games. Throughout the text I will refer to the game sequences I
have recorded and made available on my site in order to illustrate certain points. The second
part of this chapter will offer some solutions for the conundrum with which game designers
are faced: how can other senses be used to convey meanings with regard to the contents of the
Interaction and the visual element
First of all interaction has a large impact on the visual aspect of games. Games can offer the
player the chance to position the camera however he or she prefers or they can utilize a
‘smart’ camera which automatically adapts itself to the play situation. In both cases
interaction influences the visuals. In a game with a ‘smart’ camera such as Viewtiful Joe the
player can activate a zoom-option, enlarging the action and allowing for other moves to be
used by Joe. Another example of games without a variable camera yet where interaction also
influences the visual aspect are spy games such as Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell. Both
games have a ‘smart’ camera, but the player has access to a wide variety of spy-attributes
such as binoculars, night-vision goggles and heat-sensitive scanners. Using these spy-toys
drastically affects the visuals of the game.
As the player progresses through games, many of the choices made change the composition of
the image, the contrasts between light and dark, the angle of the shot, the proportion of
objects, the way light illuminates the scene and so forth. Let us assume that during the course
of a game the player needs to steer a character through a forest with a waterfall and a river on
a beautiful sunny day. Every choice the player makes influences the visual representation of
this particular sequence. The character could run over a path causing sand particles to be
swept into the air. Approaching the riverbank it could be possible to see the character’s
reflection in the water. Looking up to the sky could cause a lens flare as the player aims the
camera directly to the sun. As the player runs past the waterfall, splashes of water could be
seen. Running through the forest a set of trees might momentarily block the view. My short
stream of consciousness shows how far-reaching the consequences of interaction are on the
visual element of games. Let us now direct our attention to music and sound effects.
Interaction and the audio component
In chapter 1 I discussed the function of sound in games as well as its technical evolution. In
this part sound and interaction are linked. It is useful to make a distinction between music and
sound effects. In all games sound is a factor under the player’s influence, but some games
take this distinguishing feature further than others.
The choice whether or not to perform a certain action leading to a certain sound – braking,
shooting, jumping, pulling a lever, kicking a ball, swimming and so forth – is always the
player’s choice. Therefore sound effects in games are entirely dependent on the interactive
Music on the other hand can remain more in the hands of the designers. Orchestral scores and
other accompanying music often form an aural backdrop for the game. Some games however
not only put the sound effects in people’s hands, but also the musical score. I will discuss
three of these games, each leading to an entirely different gaming experience. The first is Vib
Ribbon, a Playstation game from 1999. The second is Mad Maestro, a Playstation 2 game
from 2002. Finally, the third game examined is Rez, a Dreamcast/Playstation 2 game from
2002. On http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu you will find footage from these games.
In Vib Ribbon the main character needs to progress through levels which are built from the
audio tracks on a music cd. Getting through the levels is a matter of pushing the correct button
or combination of buttons to the rhythm of the music. The player loads the Vib Ribbon game,
then inserts a cd and chooses a track. The game builds a unique level based on certain aspects
of the music. It is then up to the player to navigate the game. By inserting different cd’s the
player can make the game more easy or more difficult.
In the first recorded sequence on http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu I played a level to ‘Mad
About You’ by the Belgian group Hooverphonic. The level starts off easy, but becomes quite
difficult once the track becomes more complex. I fared better to the tune of Miles Davis’
‘Oleo’. The patterns on this level required quite simple button presses. The situation was
entirely different with my last effort, an electro song by Stijn, ‘Ziek’. The complex nature of
the music caused Vib Ribbon to create a nearly unplayable level.
Another game in which the music can be moulded by the player is Mad Maestro. In this game
the player assumes the role of a conductor. Contrary to Vib Ribbon the game comes with a
built-in soundtrack consisting of a dozen pieces of well-known classical music. The aim of the
game is not only to press certain buttons to the rhythm of the music but to do this with the
correct force applied to the buttons. The Playstation 2 controller has pressure-sensitive
buttons. Therefore during certain passages in the music the player will need to press very
gently; at the crescendo parts the full force is required. The better the player is at the game the
more the song sounds like the original composition. Moreover, the background environment
shown during the level mimics the success or failure of the player. This can be seen in the
sequence on http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu.
The final game I want to discuss is Rez which has a basic techno-soundtrack with more
musical layers added as the player progresses through the level. The video footage on
http://interaction.kenlawrence.eu makes things clearer. Every level has a certain basic
soundtrack. When the player shoots down enemies during the game each enemy releases a
musical fragment which is matched to the rhythm of the song. Once again the premise is the
same: if the player succeeds at the game the soundtrack will be aurally richer.
Interaction and time
One of the striking elements of games is the way in which they can treat time. The common
assumption is that time moves forward continuously. We are unable to go back to previous
events, nor are we capable of speeding certain processes up. Games however can offer the
player the ability of interacting with time. There is a huge difference here with the ‘time
functions’ associated with for example video and DVD players. The user of these devices can
rewind and fast forward the film but this does not influence the source material. After seeing
the shower sequence of Psycho, rewinding the film will not allow us to prevent Janet Leigh
from being murdered. Fast forwarding the film does not enable Ziyi Zhang carrying the
antidote to reach the poisoned Yun-Fat Chow in time at the end of Crouching Tiger Hidden
Dragon. How many films do not feature a specific deadline which characters need to abide by
and which determines the success or failure of what they are undertaking?
Though there are countless games which have time limits it is interesting to take a look at the
games in which time is not regarded as a limiting factor. In these games time is often an
integral part of the gameplay. Take for example the Playstation 2 game Prince of Persia:
Sands of Time. After approximately an hour of playing the main character acquires a dagger
which allows him to rewind time for a few seconds. As soon as the player makes a mistake
such as misjudging a leap, being struck by an enemy or falling victim to a trap, a quick button
press allows the last few seconds of gameplay to be rewound. The player then needs to rewind
until just before the mistake before attempting the same hazardous assignment.
Time can fulfil other important functions in games. In the Nintendo 64 game Legend of Zelda:
Ocarina of Time the main character is able to switch between a younger and an older version
of himself. Some tasks can only be performed by one of the two. In the Playstation 2 game
Soul Reaver 2: Legacy of Kain time can be frozen. The player can for example throw an
object into the air, freeze time and use the object hanging in the air as a stepping-stone.
Two recent games in which time can be manipulated in complex ways are Blinx: The Time
Sweeper and Viewtiful Joe. Blinx takes advantage of the built-in hard disc in the XBox to
allow for a more complex use of time than was the case in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
While playing Blinx the hard disc can record all player activity. The player can at any time
use the following commands: rewind, fast forward, slow-motion, pause, record. Rewinding
reverses everything which happened in the frame. If for example a crate fell of a roof, Blinx
could jump on the crate, rewind and ride the crate to the roof. Fast forward and slow-motion
are mainly used to dispatch of enemies. Pausing the game allows Blinx to sneak past deadly
traps. Finally, recording allows the player to record up to ten seconds of Blinx’ actions. This
recording then becomes a ‘weapon’ with which a double of Blinx can fight alongside him. (
Goldstein, H., 2002 )
The GameCube game Viewtiful Joe gives the player the control over other time-related
elements, slow-motion and fast-forward. Both are used throughout the game in many varied
ways. Certain puzzles can only be solved by using a combination of these elements. The most
obvious use of the slow-motion and fast-forward options is the way in which Joe can dispose
of enemies. A helicopter attacking with a machine gun is a formidable opponent, but once the
player switches on the slow-motion function it is easy to distinguish – and evade – the single
bullets being fired.
The examples above have shown that time is often a relative factor in games: players can
influence time and use it to achieve the game’s goals. After temporality we now turn our
attention to editing in games.
Interaction and editing
One of the most important aspects of film is editing. It brings the different shots and
sequences together in a meaningful way in order for the viewer to make sense of the story. Is
the order of the levels in a video game equally important? In my opinion this is not the case
for the majority of games.
Let us take the example of the Crash Bandicoot platform games. The player is able to choose
himself or herself in which order he or she wants to play through the various levels. This
might appear strange: even though there is a narrative, the order in which the different
sequences are played does not have an impact on the comprehension of the storyline.
One could argue that even in games in which the narrative is central, there are many instances
in which the game sequences could be put in any order and still make sense. I feel that this
resembles what Sergei Eisenstein called ‘montage of attractions’, a theory which in fact could
be very interesting to adapt to the domain of games. In all of the Zelda games it is not
unreasonable to suggest that replacing the first dungeon level with the last dungeon level
would not cause a drastic change in the gameplay experience.
Part 2: Conveying meaning through other senses
As we have seen in the previous part, game designers are faced with a situation in which it is
incredibly difficult to convey meanings in an audiovisual way. The player’s interaction, the
very freedom he or she seeks when playing the game, undermines any effort to inject ideas
into the form of the product. If game designers want games to have more substance, they need
to surpass the mere cloning of successful gaming formulas and need to actively investigate
how their games can be something more than entertainment which is taken at face value.
In this final part of the article I will attempt to show ways in which meanings can be conveyed
through other senses. Games as media have very unique characteristics and it is up to the
industry to realise exactly where the strength of its product lies.
Photorealism and ‘interactive movies’
I strongly believe that photorealism is not the answer to the question at hand. The games
industry has a fixation on achieving a photorealistic image quality yet seems unwilling to
come to terms with the fact that games will not become ‘interactive movies’ even if the
graphical quality of a screenshot may suggest otherwise. Let us take the example of the iconic
character Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series and assume that with another hardware
generation or two she will fully resemble her movie counterpart Angelina Jolie. Will it truly
revolutionize the way in which we play the newest instalment of the game? Will the
experience be so hyper-realistic that we feel as if we are in the process of shaping a film?
There is not a doubt on my mind that this will not be the case: for all the playability reasons
discussed throughout this article the camera will still be behind Lara as she clambers around
the lost remains of ancient civilizations.
It is an illusion to believe that achieving photorealism will make games more cinematic. At
the contrary: the heightened realism of the visual aspect might entice certain developers to use
lengthy cut-scenes and non-interactive sequences to show off these graphics. This inevitably
breaks up the action for the player who is abruptly forced to become a spectator instead of an
active participant. For decades classic Hollywood syntaxis has underlined the need for
continuity editing which never attracts attention to itself and always keeps the viewer
immersed in the story. Breaking continuity might be interesting for self-reflexion on the
nature of the medium, but I strongly believe that games too would benefit by focussing on
their interactive component instead of breaking the flow of gameplay by inserting needless
cut-scenes to inject the game with a more filmic set of visuals.
Interaction and gameplay experiences
The strength of games lies in the interaction they offer. According to me the key to conveying
meanings in games also lies in this domain. Games have the ability to produce stimuli which
are not entirely directed towards vision or hearing but include a third sense, the sense of
touch. There are already quite a few examples in which games tend to reach out to the player
in original ways which keep the gameplay experience fresh and exciting. The following
paragraphs contain a few examples of this approach.
The Dual Shock controller for the Playstation and similar devices such as the vibration pack
for the Nintendo 64 make it possible for designers to underline certain events in their games
by making the player feel particular sensations. In Metal Gear Solid this is used very
inventively, for example by making the player feel the incredible power of a helicopter lifting
off. In Fahrenheit’s intro, short vibrations mark each strike of the knife during the murder
which sets the story in motion.
Another way of immersing the player by going beyond the audiovisual element is through the
use of peripherals. The last few years there has been an incredible growth in innovative
peripherals. What started with simple steering wheels and guns now includes fishing rods,
bongos, microphones, guitars, turntables, maracas, dance mats and many more. I believe that
what was originally seen as niche products may become much more important as the déjà-vu
feeling in usual games increases. As the age of the average gamer tends to be above thirty it is
not unreasonable to assume that he or she has already played quite a few games on various
hardware platforms. When new games appear they are immediately compared to genre-
classics or games of the same generation offering more or less the same type of experience.
For developers it is becoming harder to stand out in the crowded market. As development
costs rise, studios start playing safe and prefer to fine-tune existing successful franchises
instead of actively seeking new intellectual property. ( Top 10 Industry Facts, 2006 )
One way of creating new gameplay experiences which go beyond those that the majority of
players are familiar with is precisely through the use of non-traditional input devices. Let us
take the example of Sony’s Eye Toy, a small camera resembling a webcam which connects to
the Playstation 2 and which can be used in particular games. The Eye Toy senses the
movements of the player and translates these into onscreen actions. Not only has the Eye Toy
significantly lowered the barrier for people to play a game by removing the often complex
control schemes of the traditional gamepad, it has also given developers a chance to think
beyond classic game design. I am aware that not all types of games might be equally suited to
adapting what has all too often been labelled ‘novelty controllers’ but I am convinced that
with some effort more can be done than is currently being tried.
The main purpose of this article has been to give a detailed analysis of the audiovisual
component of games without glorifying the search for the holy grail of photorealism or
becoming a pamphlet denouncing the decline of the gaming industry because of its fixation on
‘eye candy’. I wanted to go beyond these discussions in order to evaluate the claim that games
are becoming interactive movies. Assessing how cinematic conventions and techniques are
being used by game designers is intriguing. By also paying enough attention to the impact of
interaction on the audiovisual aspect I hope to have raised the question as to whether or not
the aforementioned claim is correct.
Throughout the discussion of the influence of cinematic elements on the audiovisual
component of games two things have become clear. First of all non-interactive introductory
sequences and in-game movies (cut-scenes) implement traditional filmic devices such as
combinations of objective and subjective viewpoints, shot-reverse shots, crosscutting and
cutting on movement, as well as camera movement such as panning, tilting, rolling and
travelling. During the interactive elements of the game – which I have called ‘gameplay’ – the
use of filmic techniques is more limited. The many examples have shown that games often
use modern cinematic techniques in cut-scenes and short movies which describe the narrative,
but go back to very ‘simple’ film aesthetics once interaction is required. There is an obvious
reason for this: an elaborate use of filmic devices such as those described above would
entirely disorientate a player. He or she would be unable to accurately position himself or
herself in the game world and would become confused about the direction in which to
The analysis has also shed light on how the medium of games differs drastically from films.
The examples throughout the analysis as well as those on this article’s companion website
have shown that audiovisually ‘primitive’ games are not a thing of the past and can be
extremely popular. There are countless examples of successful games using a single shot set-
up with hardly any depth. If a game has a very limited soundtrack it can still be embraced by
gamers. The situation is entirely different with film. It is quite unthinkable that a black and
white film, a film with a fixed camera position and no or minimal use of depth or a film where
a soundtrack and sound effects are almost absent could be popular these days.
Although this conclusion clearly shows what I already argued in the first chapter – the fact
that from its very beginning games were about playing, not showing – I feel the need to point
out that there is also a technological reason for the abundance of audiovisually diverse games.
In the film industry there is a clear trend towards technological standardisation: films are shot
on celluloid or digitally, are then projected in cinemas and finally reach households in formats
such as VHS or DVD. What people see on their television sets or even on a portable
videoplayer is not drastically different from what they saw in cinemas a few months before.
Moreover, technological advances have made low-budget films look and sound more like
their big budget counterparts on the audiovisual level.
In the games industry however there is no single dominant audiovisual platform. Different
generations of hardware exist side by side. In the video games market there are the countless
consoles which connect to a television set, as well as the portable consoles. Some offer more
or less the same audiovisual experience, but none are truly equal. Looking at computer games
the question at hand is even clearer. There are millions of various hardware configurations in
that market which all have an impact on the audiovisual experience of the game. The
difference between playing a game on a computer which corresponds to the minimal
specifications required to run the game is entirely different from playing that same game on a
high-end, fully equipped computer system.
When discussing the different viewpoints of a game I have said that whether or not a
particular sequence is seen through an objective or a subjective viewpoint depends entirely on
the narration. It is not because the game uses a third person perspective that it has an objective
viewpoint. The events in games are usually seen through the eyes of the main character, but
the designers merely chose to implement a third person perspective because this increases the
playability of the game. Therefore: seeing something ‘through the eyes of a character’ in films
compared to games is drastically different.
The first chapter also showed why I believe that sound effects and music in games have
evolved more chronologically than the visuals. On the visual level there are large differences
between the games on different hardware as well as between games on a particular console.
When it comes to sound and music however the biggest differences are those between
In the second chapter I gave a modest proposal for integrating the narratologist and ludologist
theories into one overarching way of viewing games. This would imply evaluating games on
two aspects: the level of interaction and the significance of the storyline. I divided both into
four categories and then used a simple graph to show how different games could be judged on
the specific gameplay experience they offer. The chapter ended with a short overview of the
visual depiction of storylines in games. Once again I have stressed that these categories do not
follow each other chronologically yet are continuously prevalent throughout gaming’s history.
The way a storyline needs to blend with the interaction is decisive for the type of visual
representation of the narrative that will be adopted.
In the first chapter I deliberately left the element of interaction out of the analysis in order to
fully concentrate on the filmic conventions and techniques. In the third chapter it was time to
take interaction into account by focusing entirely on its impact. The analysis in this chapter
has shown the striking relativity of the components of games. The images, music and sound
effects can often be influenced by the player. Moreover there are countless games in which
time is variable and can be kneaded. Finally, not even the order in which the various
sequences are offered to the player is fixed. The consequences are far-reaching: it is very
difficult for games to express views, statements, beliefs and meanings through formal aspects.
By recording a scene in a particular way a film director can embed meaning in the form of his
creation. The continuously changing nature of the form of games on the other hand make this
almost entirely impossible. Designers seem aware of this and attempt to put meanings in the
various non-interactive sequences in games, the cut scenes. These adapt a very filmic
language when judged separately, yet interrupt the flow of the gameplay experience. The
second part of the chapter sought to find the answer to the question if games cannot convey
meanings through other senses. With stoical self-restraint I managed to avoid making a
passing joke about the days when virtual reality headsets were going to be the future and
directed my attention to the current crop of non-traditional input devices. I strongly believe
that they are the best way for the industry to ensure continued success in the future as they can
both attract new players currently put off by the complexity of the matter as well as offer new
experiences to players who get the impression that they have ‘seen it all’.
It is often seen as a sign of maturity of a certain medium when it starts to question its own
merits and deficiencies. Otto e Mezzo by Federico Fellini is a good example with regard to the
world of film. Does the world of games offer something similar? I would suggest that the
WarioWare series of games comes very close to fulfilling this role. While referencing
established gaming concepts it offers fresh and original twists on them, thereby revealing the
limits and worn-out formulas of much of the traditional gaming genres. Only recently this
series has appeared on the Nintendo DS where the stylus input clearly fits my description of a
non-traditional input device.
In a closing comment I would like to come back to the audiovisual element. I get the
impression that cut-scenes are often used to impress non-gamers and are seen as a way of
adding certain credibility to games by referring to another popular yet critically established
audiovisual medium. Just as film began to show its real genius by abandoning the quest of
emulating theatre, games should also rely on their own strengths. Games can offer a unique
experience which no other type of media can offer: active and perpetual manipulation of its
content. Games therefore really are all about playing, not showing.
Are Big Budget Console Games Sustainable?, 10th March 2006, Available on-line:
Dillon, T., Computer game theory: narrative versus ludology, August 2005, Available on-line:
Frasca, G., LUDOLOGY MEETS NARRATOLOGY: Similitude and differences between
(video)games and narrative, 1999, Available on-line:
Goldstein, H., Blinx – The Time Sweeper – Review, 27th September 2002, Available on-line:
Ludology, 14th May 2006, Available on-line:
Top 10 Industry Facts – Entertainment Software Association, 2006, Available on-line:
Advance Wars ( Intelligent Systems, 2001 )
Afterburner 2 ( Sega, 1987 )
Aladdin ( Capcom, 1993 )
Black ( Criterion Games, 2006 )
Blinx: The Time Sweeper ( Artoon, 2002 )
Cheyenne ( Exidy, 1984 )
Command and Conquer ( Westwood Studios, 1995 )
Contra III ( Konami, 1992 )
Crash Bandicoot ( Naughty Dog, 1996 )
Defender ( Atari, 1981 )
Donkey Kong ( Nintendo, 1981 )
Donkey Kong Country ( Rareware, 1994 )
Double Dragon ( Technos, 1987 )
Driver ( Reflections Interactive, 1999 )
Earthworm Jim ( Shiny Entertainment, 1994 )
ET ( Atari 1982 )
Fahrenheit ( Quantic Dream, 2005 )
Final Fantasy 7 ( Square Co., 1997 )
Final Fantasy 8 ( Square Co., 1999 )
Final Fantasy 9 ( Square Co. 2000 )
Final Fight ( Capcom, 1989 )
Frogger ( Konami, 1981 )
Grand Theft Auto ( DMA Design, 1998 )
Ico ( Sony Computer Entertainment, 2001 )
Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures ( Victor Interactive, 1985 )
Klax ( Atari Games, 1990 )
Klonoa ( Namco, 1997 )
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time ( Nintendo, 1998 )
Mad Maestro ( Desert Productions, 2002 )
Metal Gear Solid ( Konami, 1998 )
Metal Gear Solid 3 ( Konami, 2004 )
Ms. Pacman ( Midway, 1981 )