Mark Kermode’s Unstoppable Yang-Style Open-Palm Ludology

Often describing what something is not, can be more eloquent than a description of what it is.

Be still like the reed before the storm, young one, while Kermode crys tears of cineaste wisdom that form the dew of truth on the hot, gleaming back of gaming.

At a key moment in Silent Hill, the latest good-looking, badly written schlockbuster to be based on a video game, our heroine is told to memorise a map showing directions to a room which she must reach for reasons that are frankly unmemorable. As actress Radha Mitchell quietly recites her instructions (‘right, left, left, right’) one can briefly imagine an enthusiastic gamer, console in hand, navigating their way through the labyrinthine matrix of the film’s highly acclaimed, computer-generated source. The crucial difference, of course, is that the gamer is in control of the story, deciding which way the wanderer should turn, writing each new chapter as it progresses. ‘The video game is extraordinarily popular,’ enthuses Silent Hill movie producer Samuel Hadida, ‘because each gamer experiences something unique when they play it.’ Not so the poor old movie-goer who is left experiencing the same dreary tosh as every other disgruntled audience member. Without the luxury of a joystick in our hands, the viewer has no chance to make the incoherent on-screen antics any better – or worse. We just sit … and stare.


Why? Because, unlike cinema, computer gaming is a medium which requires the player to make things up for themselves. An individual game may be laden with ‘plot points’ but its narrative is always up for grabs. It is a format of scenarios rather than stories, elements which can be bolted together in differing orders with varying outcomes. Cinema, on the other hand, is designed for people who like to watch and listen, and who expect the film-maker to get their story straight before the movie reaches the theatres. Viewing a film based on a computer game is like hanging around in an amusement arcade, peering over the shoulders of other people playing video games. It has less to do with story-telling than conceptual shelf-stacking. And it is symptomatic of the painful death of the art of narrative cinema.

Time to join the NGJNUJ, Mark…

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