Video Games: The Movie Review: The past, present and future

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I consider myself a video game documentary enthusiast. While the amount of these documentaries is on the low side, they're all pretty fantastic. From the underdog story in The King of Kong, to the struggles of a few developers trying to launch their games in Indie Game: The Movie and even the uplifting story of a small studio with a gigantic game, in Minecraft: The Story of Mojang, each tells a story that gives better insight into the phenomenon of video games. Video Games: The Movie is an all-encompassing documentary which talks about the medium's history, its evolution and the key figures that helped shape it. But was it any good?

Your enjoyment will largely stem from either seeing any of the previously mentioned movies, or your overall love for the medium of video games. The movie doesn't really bring a whole lot to the table as far as new facts are concerned. In all fairness, this is tough to do, considering so many movies or even YouTube videos already went so deep into the history of video games. To the movie's credit, it does condense it all into an easily digestible chunk, clocking in at 1 hour 45 minutes.

The movie presents a lot of key figures, be it in the realm of gaming or entertainment, to give their takes on their experiences with making or playing games. I have to admit I enjoyed hearing a few of these anecdotes from people like Cliff Bleszinski talking about his first video gaming experience with Space Invaders, Zach Braff talking about his very first console, the Atari 2600 and Chris Hardwick gushing about Pitfall, to name a few. However the movie is filled with other guests like Wil Wheaton, Alison Haislip and Nolan Bushnell.

With a title like Video Games: The Movie, you might not know what you're getting yourself into, and that's understandable. Since it tries to sum up a gigantic medium in just under 2 hours, it does hop around topics quite frequently, and isn't as focused as Indie Game: The Movie was. This is the movie's biggest stumble. The topic-hopping becomes quite frequent. Just when you learned about next-generation systems and all their technological prowess, the movie jumps back to the cathode ray tube. It hops between topics like eSports, MMOs, late night talk hosts and video game violence.

esports

Considering the amount of topics discussed, it's easy to see that the movie was made with a broad audience in mind, which is fine. However, when it starts explaining the meaning behind bits, and what they stood for, it felt unnecessary. Those watching this movie will either a) already know what a bit is, or b) watching it with someone who knows what a bit is. No need to waste precious minutes explaining that.

During the history segment of the movie, there were a few 80s commercials sprinkled in, showing viewers what commercials for consoles and games looked like back in the day. They're as silly as you think they are. Personally, I loved seeing this archival footage in there.

Aside from the history of video games, you'll get an insight on events like the big video game crash of 1983, and the resurgence after the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System. You'll also get a good look at how video games have more commonly been accepted in popular entertainment, with clips showing Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft all presenting their systems on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. There's quite a bit of talk about the industry's shift to indie games and their ability to take larger risks when not tied down to a major studio or publisher. And lastly, the evolution of what it meant to release a game back in the day, to how games are developed and released now. This movie has all its bases covered when it comes to video games, and that's quite a tall order to fill. But again, they're all topics that most video game enthusiasts already know.

Some minor issues that caught my eye were a few misspellings of words. During the Nintendo 64 slide, they listed a famous game "Octarina of Time." Normally, I'd excuse slight misspellings like that, but I have two reasons for calling it out. First, this is a movie that's being released in theaters, therefore, should have had some more proofreading done. Second, it's a freaking Zelda game! You don't misspell the title of a Zelda game!

Wil Wheaton

I'm not entirely sure who the target audience of Video Games: The Movie is. The gaming enthusiasts will most likely be bored by being shown things they already know, while the common gamers might feel overwhelmed by all the information that gets thrown at them out of order. Is it for parents who want to know what all the hubbub is about? Considering the movie starts out with highly detailed stats and percentages on various video game statistics and what the ESRB is, you might think so.

While I'm relatively OK with Jeremy Snead leaving out more controversial topics that would no doubt shift the movie's tone to a more a serious one, a lot of the magic that makes gaming so great is never really touched upon, save for a few, very brief instances.

The movie does end with a fitting quote; one that describes the industry's continual evolution perfectly, so I'll leave that as my closing.

“I’m proud of my participation in this industry, but I think that what is really more remarkable is how we can take all the things we’ve learned and push it yet one step further." -Nolan Bushnell

Charmander
Mike Splechta GameZone's Editor-in-Chief, retro game enthusiast, savior of kittens. Follow me @Michael_GZ
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