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The rising medium of video games

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Roger Ebert once scoffed at video games, declaring they are not a valid art form. More toys than anything else, they could not compare to the intricate art found within films or painting.

Recent history is proving him wrong. Video games are increasingly permeating our society down to its very nuances. From the big screen to the small ones on cell phones, video games are making their digital presence known. When people can go watch Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong,” then play the digital monkey as soon as they exit the theater on their cell phones, the video game’s cultural impact becomes slightly more evident.

Fans of video games have long declared their passion an art, giving legitimacy to their favorite pastime. While the art wasn’t as clear in the days of “Robotron” and “Pong,” it has been made increasingly apparent in recent years. Titles such as the contemporary “Shadow of the Colossus” exhibit a clear sense of style and art, featuring dramatic vistas that typically flourish in examples of high-class art.

Hollywood has long recognized the value of video games, but only recently have they been treated with a degree of respect. For those who have seen the “Super Mario Bros.” movie or “Double Dragon,” Hollywood’s intentions towards video games was obvious – they were an easy way to cash in on an established fan base. People who played video games weren’t the brightest bulbs in the drawer, so they didn’t deserve a thoughtful picture.

This mentality has changed significantly, especially within the past couple of months. “Doom” represented a solid effort on Hollywood’s part to create a strong adaptation of the video game classic. Starring Karl Urban and the Rock, it was a science fiction action film that mimicked the art direction of the games, especially the “Doom III,” incredibly well. While the result fell a little flat as – ironically – it tried to be more thoughtful than it’s video game parent, it still represented one of Hollywood’s first attempts at treating video games seriously.

Another interesting recent example was the teen horror film “Stay Alive.” Starring a cast of relative no-names and that kid from “Malcolm in the Middle,” it centered on a video game that killed the people who played it. While the idea isn’t exactly original – being a mere mental leap from “The Matrix” – it still directly addressed video games and proved them a legitimate medium for entertainment, despite the fact that only gamers will killed during the unfortunate duration of the film.

Once again, the actual results were less than stellar. “Stay Alive” was fairly universally panned, but if it had succeeded, it would have spawned a video game based on the movie. While video games based off of movies aren’t original either, a video game based off a game that played a central role within a movie would have set a new precedent.

The most successful film to this date would be the recently released “Silent Hill.” Featuring sights and sounds directly lifted from the game, it stands as a tribute to just how powerful gaming has become as a medium. While it can be argued that “Silent Hill” itself was based off of excellent movies, such as “Jacob’s Ladder,” just watching the movie adaptation is a visual treat and shows how far video games have come from their inception. The mature themes and symbolic imagery reflect this evolution.

Upcoming movies also hold a great deal of promise. For example, the “Halo” movie projected to be released in 2007 has big Hollywood names like Peter Jackson attached. Studios are looking at video games and realizing that they can make money if treated properly in film format.

The simple truth is that gamers have matured. The same gamers who played “Super Mario Bros.” nearly 20 years ago have grown up and are now creating their own games. With this comes a new sophistication to the medium, lending itself more credence as art. There are now schools that exist to teach how to craft video games.

Films arguably became accepted as legitimate once schools were developed that taught the craft, with Spielberg and Scorsese being famous examples of pioneers of film schools.

Games have developed, especially in the latter part of the past decade. If current trends continue, their value as a medium representing current society and art will be undeniable.

Contact Mark Bemenderfer at

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