by Ari Roth
Gamers rejoice! A documentary has arrived that seeks to chronicle your passion in all its forms, and you will have an opportunity to screen it in advance when Video Games: The Movie comes to the Trocadero Theatre this Wednesday. This movie might just be the definitive document on games and gaming culture as it has emerged and developed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries – and beyond!
Spearheaded by director Jeremy Snead and executive producer and Hollywood actor Zach Braff (of Garden State, Scrubs, and more), Video Games: The Movie explores the history and scope of video games. To accomplish this, the film charts the earliest sparks of game technology and culture, through its explosion as a cultural force in the 1980s, through its 3D revolution in the 1990s, into the present, while also exploring the new and exciting developments in video games moving into the future. The film interviews a wide range of the medium’s leading lights – from designers and creators of games, to pop culture and media icons involved in the world of games, to the pioneering engineers who kickstarted the video game industry. For a sneak peak at some of what the movie has in store, check out the trailer below.
I also spoke with the director, Jeremy Snead, about the film on the day of its release. Inspired by a visit to Dave and Busters with his nieces and nephews, and the realization that no existing film truly “covered the medium in a holistic way,” Snead began working on the film four years ago, and he is now prepared to share it with the world. Snead himself has been a video game fan since the days of the NES in the 80s, and he describes how playing Ikari Warriors and learning about the creation of games sparked an interest in games as a serious medium.
“I remember getting a copy of Nintendo Power magazine where they showed some of the behind-the-scenes of the making of the game, the little character sprites and the maps and how they’re drawn, and it had never occurred to me as a kid that games on a cartridge are art, that someone has to draw that and think of that. I’ve always been an artist since I was a kid, so that was a real ‘a-ha!’ moment for me.”
Despite his grounding in classic video games, Snead says that conducting interviews with visionaries such as Atari founder Nolan Bushnell (which Snead describes as a “‘pinch myself’ interview”), “as well as the new, modern game designers like Naughty Dog and Epic and Gearbox,” showed that the core of video games has remained unchanged. Bushnell’s philosophy on game design is that “games should be easy to play, but impossible to master,” and Snead says that new designers, such as Randy Pitchford, share similar values. He says that this “was probably the most exciting thing for me. After we got all of these interviews, and we were editing the film, we could see how similar the philosophies were, and how the old connects with the new.”
Although the core of gaming has remained fundamentally constant throughout the years, Snead also says that there will be quantum leaps forward for the gaming experience in the future. He tells me that “if you were to take someone from the 1920s or 1930s, and take them in a time machine to 2014, sit them on a couch, and put a controller in their hands, and turn on God of War or Call of Duty, they would have an aneurysm, they would have a heart attack. It would be total sensory overload, and I think the same thing is true if you look at 20 or 30 years in the future.” Citing such technological advancements as the Oculus Rift for virtual reality, as well as IMAX and 3D visual technology, he says that gaming will continue to grow and develop at light speed, saying that “I think it’s going to be completely amazing, and I can’t wait to see it.”
I was particularly curious about another aspect of the future of video games, one that the film itself touches on near the end. I asked whether the future would see an increase in accessibility for DIY game developers, people outside of the big industry who have unique ideas that they want to realize on their own in a video game. Snead told me that “I think it’s happening even now. Louis Castle, co-founder of Westwood Studios, said something interesting in the film, which was that there’s always an incredible amount of innovation that comes when the tools of a particular medium are put in the hands of hobbyists.”
Although he cites even this quality as being present at the inception of video games, he says that now, more than ever, with the rise of open source technology, these kinds of tools are in the hands of any person who wants to learn and create on their own. On the other hand, however, Snead says that now there is also “a lot more competition, there’s a lot more noise out there, so it really puts an emphasis on being truly unique and creative to your voice, and making sure that you’re rising above the muck and the mire of the competition.”
Gamer culture will also continue to grow and develop, changing with the times and expanding as games themselves continue to grow. Far from the rigid and singular “nerd” culture that was imposed on gaming in the past, Snead affirms that “the gamer culture and community are just like movie buffs, or music buffs. They exist in all shapes and sizes around the world, and no one game or genre defines all of them. It’s this board of connected people that will always be ever-evolving.”
Making a film about a subject as massive as video games is undoubtably a daunting task, but after seeing the film, it is clear that Jeremy Snead has succeeded in painting a broad and expansive picture of his subject. Speaking about the overarching message of the film, Snead told me, “imagine that there’s a planet that’s in our solar system, called “Games.” We’ve seen pictures of it, [. . .] and we’re fascinated by this planet, but until we get in a spaceship and fly to that planet and go into its atmosphere, and land, and get out, and walk around, and breathe the air of that planet, you’re not really going to know what Planet Games is like. . .hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, people can walk away (or fly!) away from the film saying, ‘I understand the world of games better now.’”
Video Games: The Movie will be screened for one night only at the Trocadero Theatre, located at 1003 Arch St., on Wednesday, July 16th. The doors will open at 7 PM, and the film will commence at 8 PM sharp. Unfortunately, this screening is for ages 21 and up only, but for any hardcore gamer who is of-age, this is an unmissable opportunity to check out this great documentary before the rest of the public. Tickets are still available, so grab them now!