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A 2-hour long commercial for the video game industry
Calling this "The Movie" is a little ostentatious; it's actually a TV- style documentary — and I have to say I was quite disappointed. In short, it felt like a 2-hour long commercial for the video game industry.
Funded through Kickstarter and making close to double what it was asking, their pitch claimed this would be "the first ever in depth feature length documentary about the video game industry & the culture it's created," a claim which is demonstrably false... but one of the reasons they said they should be backed is because they would "tell the whole story... not just part of it." In this regard, the finished documentary completely fails. It's not hard to see why they needed to use Kickstarter to drum up funding; better and more professionally made feature length documentaries already exist, and this one apes most of their style while adding little to the subject.
One of the tricks that "Video Games: The Movie" has up its sleeves is this: it's constantly tickling your nostalgia bone through frequent fast montages of video games of yore. You'll see an obscure game you forgot you loved and think "Wow! I remember that one!" It's like the book "Ready Player One" in that regard; by merely mentioning something nostalgic, it's able to somewhat piggy-back on the feelings that memory brings... rather than inspire feelings on its own merits.
These documentaries always need talking heads, and what puts this one straight into the lower level of "television documentary" is the inability to give voice to actual industry veterans and people of importance to the gaming industry. These lesser documentaries always seem to fall back on using famous (or more attractive) people more than they use people of actual import to the topic, and that's definitely the case here. Wil Wheaton, Alison Haislip, Chris Hardwick, Chloe Dykstra... these are all fine entertainers to be sure, but you'll find little or no relationship with the games industry in any of their Wikipedia articles. Now, having famous actors talk about the influence of video games on their lives is fine — more interesting than any Joe Blow off the street, I'm sure — but these people are given way too much screen time, far more than the actual people from the industry. Much more valuable is hearing what Nolan Bushnell, Ed Fries, David Crane, Hideo Jokima, and the likes have to say about the industry. They're there, but edited down to small sound bites.
And correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not sure they actually included interviews with ANY women at all who actually work(ed) in the games industry? Early on, they inform you that 47% of gamers are women, but ironically the documentary then itself immediately pushes women aside... leaving the representation of women confined to the couple of talking- head actresses and visuals of all of the deplorable imagery of the tropes Anita Sarkeesian has been pointing out. (I daresay you'll learn more eye-opening facts about video game history from Anita's Kickstarter project than this one...) Where are Amy Hennig, Jade Raymond, Robin Hunicke, Jane McGonigal, Kim Swift, Rhianna Pratchett, and all the rest...? So much for telling "the whole story."
Another major problem with this documentary is that it clearly comes from the angle that home video game consoles are the only really important story in the history of video games. It skips pretty quickly over arcade games, and with the exception of mentioning Doom, it completely ignores the home computer revolution that changed video games in huge ways. Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Amiga... IBM PCs and the advent of dedicated 3D video cards... none of this gets so much as a mention... and yet arguably the biggest game of modern times, World of Warcraft, owes everything to the Ultima series that began on home computers, the risks Richard Garriott took with Ultima Online, and the development of PC gaming technology. Again, so much for telling "the whole story."
Other mishaps had the effect of pulling me out of the narrative; just a couple of examples: while someone speaks about the influence of the Atari 2600 version of Space Invaders, they show footage of the arcade version instead (there's a big difference). When the PS3 is introduced, it's done with the iconic music of the Halo franchise playing in the background — which was exclusive to Xbox. These inconsistencies happen throughout.
On a positive note, I have to say, one of the best things they did with their Kickstarter money was invest in the creation of an animated visual time-line. It becomes absolutely essential to the documentary, because the narrative ends up meandering all over the place. Prepare to watch the time-line fly forward, and then backward, and then forward, and then backward, making it possible to understand where you are in the disjointed story.
All that said, you're not going to watch this documentary and hate it... it's enjoyable enough... but you won't really learn anything, and you won't remember it for long. Alas, this is yet another example of a Kickstarter project that greatly overstated what it would ultimately deliver. Unfortunately, the world really could still use the documentary that they originally pitched to backers. Hopefully one day we'll get one.
In the mean time, if you're looking for more than what "Video Games: The Movie" has to offer, see if you can find "Video Game Invasion: A History of a Global Obsession" from 2004, or the Discovery Channel's 5-part "Rise of the Video Game" documentary series from 2007. Neither are perfect — the later seems a bit obsessed with a connection between video games and war, for example — but both have more to offer, I think.
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