Video Games: The Movie – Review


A little while back, I caught the repeat of the excellent Discovery documentary series ‘Rise of the Video Game/I, Video Game’ (US/Europe), and I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, my only complaint was that, because it was few years old, I spent too much time shouting at the telly because someone would say something like, “I think at some point in the future we’ll possibly see x in a video game….”, and I’d be all like “WE ALREADY HAVE, INNIT!?”. It happened so often that I was left really wanting to see an updated version of the series and, in many ways, that’s pretty much what Video Games: The Movie is; albeit a more compact, condensed version.

Funded by an Indiegogo/kickstarter campaign (isn’t everything nowadays?), the film is part documentary, part potted history, part nostalgia trip, and all held together by a whole lot of video game geekery. Right from the opening credits (which are, essentially, a bajillion classic game clips) the “slightly older gamer” will undoubtedly find themselves giggling with delight as a childhood favourite flashes briefly on screen, only to be immediately replaced by an even more beloved one – which, thinking about it, is a slightly risky strategy for the start of a film aimed at video game lovers, because I was reeaaallly tempted to turn it off and fire up a NES emulator instead. I didn’t though, and my pay-off was another 90 minutes of (what I’m going to call) nostalgia-filled-memory-joy.

BushnellWhich is probably just as well, given that the film doesn’t totally work as a documentary, and it’s very much a film by-video-game-geeks-for-video-game-geeks. I am a video game geek, obviously, so that didn’t overly bother me, but, objectively speaking, if I was a non-gamer watching the film in the hope of learning some, you know, stuff, I’d possibly be slightly disappointed. I mean, there is information in there, and there are interesting perspectives from many Industry Insiders, but sometimes it does seem like the film can’t quite decide where it’s going, or what it wants to be. In some respects, this is understandable given time and budgetary constraints (the aforementioned Discovery Series had the best part of five hours to play with, for example), but I frequently found myself going ‘Hey – wait, I want to hear more about that….!’ as the film abandoned a particular topic after only briefly touching upon it.

In a similar vein, I sometimes felt like certain topics were dealt with a bit too simplistically, almost as though it was a given that we just needed one quick perspective on it, and that was enough to close the book. This was perhaps most obvious when the film touched briefly upon the ubiquitous “Violence in/Violence because of video games” debate, and even though I mostly agreed with the film’s conclusions, even I thought they were arrived at overly glibly, and certainly wouldn’t have done enough to win over anybody who did have their doubts. A witty little explanation of the issues with correlation vs causation, for example, makes a great sound bite and that, but there’s an increasing amount of actual, bona fide research in the area, and at least some of this could have been included to much greater effect.

Tetris-NESElsewhere, the film eschews a purely linear narrative in favour of a decidedly Tarantinoesque approach to the story of games– repeatedly moving up and down a graphical representation of a timeline depending on what particular subject it’s covering. This, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing (sometimes it’s even quite a cool way of doing things), but in a weird way, it often serves to highlight what the film doesn’t cover, whilst simultaneously teasing fans of a particular console or game. Quite a few times, for example, as we approached the picture of the GameCube on said timeline, I’d be screeching ‘stop ON THAT, ya bastards!’, only for it to whizz past. Again. Likewise, as it passed GoldenEye for the millionty-billionth time without stopping on it, I’d be all like, “Seriously, how can you make a film about how awesome video games are, and not focus on GoldenEye, which was a goddam game changer….!?!?”.

Again, I appreciate there were constraints, but Jeremy Snead (Writer/Director/Producer/Everythinger) said he shot about 140 hours of footage for the film, and I couldn’t help but feel like he could have used at least some more of that in the end product. He has also said that he’s already looking at doing a follow-up/Sequel using some of it, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now at least.

All that aside, I did really enjoy Video Games: The Movie, and if you accept that it’s more of a loving paean to some things video game-y, rather than an in-depth documentary about all things video game-y, it’s really quite good. Some of the stuff it does cover isn’t a million miles away from some of the stuff we’ve covered here at TwinStick, including but not limited to, the rise/strengths of Indie Devs, the strength and diversity of gaming communities, the positive impact games can have on cognitive development, ideas of citizenship and figuring out our place in the world. At various points in the film I actually found the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, and it often did a great job of emphasising and highlighting just how much gaming has contributed to my own life, and memories, as well as its immeasurable contribution to modern culture and society in general.

wil weatonAt one point in the film, all-round geek Hero Wil Wheaton even mentions something about how video games are great because they provide you not only with great memories of playing that actual game, but also act as a kind of catalyst for remembering all the other stuff going on in your life at that particular time – a kind of memory anchor, if you like – and in many ways, the film itself provided a deluge of such memories for me. If I was being an objective film reviewer, I’d probably point out that it relied too much on video game montages – but as a gamer, I’m more inclined to say “Hell, yeah it did – but they were the best bits!” In fact, I spent a considerable chunk of the 90 minutes going ‘Holy Shit, I remember that game – how awesome was that!?’, or reliving the actual feeling of satisfaction I’d gotten when I finally beat a particular game that had just flashed up on screen for 20 seconds, and I’m not going to lie, it was a pretty enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half of my life.

And in a nutshell, that’s what this film is. Sure, it’s a bit light on, like, the factual stuff, and it’s doesn’t leave you asking profound questions about pixels, or polygons, or the meaning of life even – but, if you’re a gamer, and particularly if you’ve grown up with games, it will re-affirm your love of the medium, and confirm just how much of an impact it may have had on your life.

Video Games: The Movie is available to watch on Netflix, and if you’re in the mood for a film about games, for gamers, by gamers, it’s well worth a look. As a word of warning, though – if you watch it with a non-gamer, be prepared to explain afterwards why you kept making weird noises, why at various points your hands started involuntarily twitching as you played along to a particular game on screen, or why, as the end credits rolled (more video game clips, this time with more emotion), you “totally had something in your eye”.

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