Before I start, let’s clear one thing up: movies–as we know them–aren’t going anywhere, but they are evolving.
Close to the past 100 years, movies have gone through many different trends ranging from westerns to sci-fi and all the way to the recent superhero/nostalgia obsession. These ‘eras,’ if you will, while being very distinct in their own right, pretty much share one defining trait: each was jump started by a single, monumental experience.
For example, Star Wars led way to all of the classic sci-fi films of the ’80s. X-Men brought a whole new meaning to the superhero genre. While every one of these eras start off strong, they always seem to fizzle out in the end.
Right now, nostalgic movies are all the rave. Every week it seems like there’s a new thing trying to appeal to the audience by evoking those nostalgic feelings.
You don’t have to look any further than the Disney ‘remake renaissance’, Jurassic Park sequels, Stranger Things, Ready Player One, and even Star Wars (the list could go on and on) to see just how much nostalgia has flooded the industry. While these films may not all be bad (the majority are pretty great!), almost nobody would deny that the constant fan service has become tiring. After all, nostalgia only works for so long.
There is a slim chance we will begin to witness the decline of superhero movies moving forward after the overwhelmingly epic conclusion of the “Infinity Saga” in Avengers Endgame. We are not only long overdue for that next era, but it is very much on the horizon.
The Future Lies in Video Games
Yes, the convergence of video games and film making could very well be the next big thing to revolutionize entertainment as we know it. While that one game-changing experience hasn’t hit us quite yet, the groundwork for it to happen is already being laid by both parties.
Netflix has already gotten their feet wet by introducing “choose your own adventure” movies and shows with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and You vs. the Wild. These experiences are similar to that of a Telltale video game, where the film constantly gives you options that will impact the rest of the story. Neither of these releases were necessarily groundbreaking; however they generated a lot of buzz and are just the start of many “choose your own adventure” films to come.
On the gaming side, there is an increasing shift of focus from multiplayer onto story-lead, single player experiences. In 2018 alone, PlayStation released massive hits with titles like Spider-Man, God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and that’s not even mentioning the masterpiece of Red Dead Redemption 2 (released across multiple platforms). Go back even further and you’ll find other masterpieces like The Last of Us, or adventure games like Uncharted, and Tomb Raider.
Despite what EA might say, single-player games have never been bigger.
These games are 10+ hours (minimum) longer than feature length films, yet they still offer a similar experience to that of a movie with the key difference being that you aren’t watching the story–you are in the story. That’s why having the best of both worlds would be so dang intriguing.
Interactivity is the Key
Lord of the Rings Extended Editions. Blade Runner 2049. Avengers Endgame: These are all very different films, but there’s one thing they all have in common. Each was a massively successful (critically and/or financially) film with what many consider “very lengthy run times.”
Fans aren’t scared away from long movies anymore. Lord of the Rings has fans flocking to the theater every time they play the extended editions. Avengers Endgame did the impossible and utterly shattered the all-time opening weekend box-office record at a run time of just over three hours.
The draw of these long films is their length allows for a more depth to the story, fleshed out characters and motivations, and fully immerses the audience inside both the story and the world it is set in. The only way to become more immersed is to pick up a controller and play a video game.
However, there’s a big gap between playing a game and watching a movie. All the work is being done for you while the other requires you to do all of the work. A happy medium in the middle of this gap is something that hasn’t been explored in depth yet, but is something that would yield an experience like no other. Telltale Games were the closest we’ve ever gotten to this middle ground, though it was still very much a story-focused video game.
“Choose Your Own Adventure” films are a big step in the right direction. Hopefully in the future we’ll see them implement more gaming elements, such as allowing the audience to pick a lock, like Skyrim, and their success determines where the story goes. Another element they could adapt could be allowing the audience to choose and craft the food and equipment needed for a journey, sort of like Minecraft.
The films don’t have to lean so heavily into these elements that they become games, but they need to add just enough of them so that the audience is at least doing something other than choosing between A and B.
What Does a Future in Gaming Look like?
The next big thing is just around the corner. As the superhero and nostalgia era inevitably winds down, it seems as if “choose your own adventure” games could be rising up to take their place.
What these films will look like 10 years from now, we have no idea. However, if they are going to survive and grow, they need to get these two things right every time:
Immersion – The whole point of this genre is to immerse the audience further into the story so that they become a part of it. Giving them a choice for where the story goes is a good start, but they need to have an active role in the story.
Player Agency – Probably the most important thing in a video game, player agency is the amount of control the player has over the story and the world. Players want to feel like their actions have an impact, therefore it is vital that these films implement choices that drastically affect the outcome of the story.
Whether they come out to look more like films or video games is besides the point. They would become their own thing entirely. The perfect blend of film making and game design to create an experience like no other.
In a world where studios would rather play it extremely safe than to take a small, simple risk, this genre could tear down that wall completely and spawn original films for years to come!
This isn’t just a gimmick anymore; this is the start of something huge.