Nacho Vigalondo and Jonathan Blow

Everyone I spoke to after the Nacho Vigalondo and Jonathan Blow panel yesterday had a similar reaction to what they heard- that this was an intense discussion about the actual nature of games as narrative and their influence on the language of moving images that they never would have been able to witness at the overcrowded established industry gatherings. We expect to hear theory and sharp criticism out of Jonathan Blow, but the big surprise of the panel for Americans was that Nacho knows his games, and he's put a lot of thought into both what makes a good game and what makes a good film. I couldn't agree more with him on the point that it is very different qualities for either. Games need their own language to function, and when they rely on cinematic crutches like cutscenes that mimic gameplay with the freedom to play removed, or exposition to replace gameplay- or when they ape the themes, plots, and style of films already past- they are generally failing to be good games and end up as bad films. I can start and stop a movie with a remote control, that may be interactive, but it's not a game.
In Who the Devil Made It? Peter Bodanovitch's amazing look at the first wave of films ever to be made, and the trailblazers who invented cinema, he talks to directors who literally changed the way that viewers think. Things that seem so utterly basic to us now were actually at one time so bizarre to audiences that they cased vertigo and confusion. Viewers actually walked out of silent films at one time because they were confused by close-up shots of actors walking. Without seeing their whole body and feet, the audiences couldn't understand what was happening in the scene. At the sight of the first shots where the camera actually moved as well as the actors it showed, audiences became sick from the unexpected change in perspective.

Sadly, I ran out of space on my phone for additional video while Nacho related his anectode about playing the ZX Spectrum game Way of the Exploding Fist Part II as a child. He talked about how the game was poorly coded, but as a child he had no concept of the limitations of the game, so when he found a bug that dropped him into an empty level where he was walking forward for an infinitely long stretch without facing an enemy, he thought it was part of the game- a fighting game turned into a confrontational game about patience. He ammended it with a story about another early game that in trying to faithfully recreate a conflict between Zulu warriors and British troops, ended up being impossible to win- and Became a piece that explores failure, something that never would have been done in a commercial game and may only just now be acceptable as our expectations of what games are slowly changes.

Just as these additions to the language of cinema have changed the way we think, the still-forming language of games is changing the way we think, and it's informing cinema. Nacho was brave enough to utter something I had been thinking but that I figured no one would agree with- that Gaspar Noe's film Enter the Void is a film highly influenced by the language of games, and a film that might actually lend itself to being a game. Enter the Void is a brilliant experiment in perspective- something that can actually be explored in a game world as opposed to just theorized about in the narrative of a film. A real camera can only do so many things, but a 'camera' in a game world can do just about anything. The shifting perspective in Enter the Void behaves like the camera in a game. It can go anywhere, it can be anything.

The power of creating a game world is the power to play with the basic rules of the universe, or to subtract superfluous things until you are left with one concept that you want to explore. Jonathan Blow's Braid plays with variations on the rules that govern time. Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes helps us understand time as an unchanging 4th dimentional sculpture- where even attempts to manipulate time never change its shape. They are almost sister works.
-Wiley Wiggins