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The hit movie "Her" and its commentary on video games

Culture Screenshot - Her

Her, directed and written by Spike Jonze, is a beautiful movie that explores the complexity of human relationships through the interactions between a man and his OS. It's a delicate love story that's gained critical acclaim, earning nominations like Best Picture from the Academy Awards. As central as futuristic technology is to the theme of the story, it's no surprise video games make an appearance in the film. What is surprising, however, is the positive and culturally significant portrayal the movie presents on the medium. Instead of using games as a prop—as is usually the case in movies—Jonze provides commentary on how videogames influence us today, and how it benefits society.

Theodore Twombly works for a letter writing company, crafting personal messages for clients that otherwise are too busy or indifferent to write the letters themselves. Despite the nature of his job, his personal life isn’t fairing so well: he’s going through a divorce that’s left him in a depressing slump. One day he decides to buy the newest operating system integrated with artificial intelligence, naming her Samantha, who at first is a devoted friend.

One of the hobbies Theodore introduces Samantha to is videogames. Since this is the future, gaming has become much more interactive. He uses hand gestures to move on a 3D-holographic screen, a high-tech but quite plausible conclusion on where the medium is headed. Considering the current attractiveness of the Oculus Rift and its virtual reality capabilities, the leaps the Kinect has made, and the work being done in holographic technology, it’s reasonable to believe screen TVs will be a thing of the past and motion control will be the way of the future.

In the third-person game Theodore wanders through, he eventually encounters an NPC: a cute and seemingly harmless creature… until he opens his mouth. The tiny alien is rude and loud, cursing every other word and badmouthing both Theodore and Samantha. This character also has artificial intelligence, but to a lesser extent than Samantha, and needs trigger words to help Theodore out of the cave he’s stuck in. Not only was it a comical moment in the film, it bore a fascinating similarity to what many characterize Call of Duty players to be. It spoke more to how gamers are perceived in society—why else would a developer design a character with such an unlikeable personality? It’s just an accepted part of the gaming culture, even if unpleasant.

Yet Theodore finds the creature endearing; so much so that he actually engages in conversations with him outside the game’s objectives. This alludes to something else inherently familiar about the game sphere; that video games are about interaction. It’s a social hobby, a trait often forgotten by the general public.

Her Movie Creature Video Game

In society’s opinion, video games are still primarily catered to children and teens, a misconception that hurts the games community and those who create them: game designers. That’s why it was so refreshing to see that Theodore’s close friend, Aimee, was not only a game designer; she was a woman in the field. That alone is significantly positive during a time when sexism in the industry is still a hot button topic.

In the same sense, while Aimee’s profession was not presented in a mocking tone, the game she was working on was: a mom simulator game, complete with “mom points.” Admittedly, I felt it was a step backward to show a female game designer working on a mom-centric game, but the film managed to largely mock the nature of ‘vicious soccer moms’ versus the designer or industry itself. It was poking fun at that particular competitive parent culture while using a video game as a vehicle.

Her deserves all the praise it’s receiving. Its story is remarkably executed predominantly through spoken word, and what it has to say intuitively about videogames is all the more appreciated. Considering that the director one day hopes to create a video game of his own, it’s easy to see why the film showcased games optimistically. Often times games are making headlines for a horrific tragedy, so it’s so refreshing to see a progressive outlook on video games in such a highly regarded and popular movie.

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Esmeralda Portillo Esmeralda Portillo is a journalist who specializes in covering entertainment news and culture, primarily the video games community and YouTube space.
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