Cinematic Games Are Nonsense

Many of us have thrown around the term “cinematic” when describing certain games. Usually, this refers to cut-scene heavy games or games that use quick-time events (QTEs). But what does this term really mean? Personally, I find “cinematic” to be a meaningless term. Developers using the term are treating video games as an inferior entertainment medium to films. Creating a “cinematic” experience is often used as an excuse to offer inferior products. Video games have a unique way in which a story can be told. These developers are limiting themselves to conform to the rules of cinema. These people have a shallow understanding of what works in film and try to apply it to video games. We should completely abandon using the term from now on, or films and games will be impossible to differentiate from each other.

Developers Do Not Respect Video Games

It would seem some developers and publishers put the film industry on an undeserved pedestal. They view video games as an inferior medium to films. In their eye, they cannot tell meaningful stories without emulating cinema. If you’ve seen the current state of the film industry, you would know emulating Hollywood is not a good idea.

David Cage is especially guilty of doing this. He is known for creating such games as Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. Both games are essentially glorified interactive movies. The games are nothing more than QTEs and button mashing while a cut-scene is playing out. Cage has pushed for video games to become more like movies. In the past, he has called for developers to establish a working relationship with Hollywood? Cage believes that games should tackle real-life issues and should be “meaningful.” I find that to be a narrow view being presented as inclusive. Not all games need to have quantifiable meaning. People play games for many different reasons. Some of us (almost all of us) play games to escape reality. We just want to have fun. Video games can still tackle real life issues but not every single game needs to be a social commentary on modern life. Why are so many of these guys obsessed with emulating Hollywood. It makes me think David Cage was a failed filmmaker trying to use video games as way of getting his “movies” made.

David Cage
David Cage

Treat your own medium with respect. Video games are a legitimate entertainment medium. Our experiences from video games are not inferior to those we get from movies. Stop trying to convince us that movies are more important than games.

It’s An Excuse for Laziness

Creating a “cinematic” experience is often used as an excuse for selling inferior products. Frame rates are often the targets of such laziness. There have been several instances of developers capping frame rates at 30 fps to offer a “cinematic” experience. This is pure nonsense. Before the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity, Ubisoft announced that the game would be locked at 30 fps because 60 fps is not “cinematic” enough. They arrogantly state that if the game looks good, the fps is irrelevant. Ready at Dawn’s The Order: 1886 is also guilty of this attitude. Before release, a member of the development team stated that 60 fps would make the game look like it belongs on the Discovery Channel and that they were looking for a “filmic” look. Films usually run at 24 fps so 30 fps was a reasonable compromise. This is a terrible attitude. It’s very hypocritical of companies like Ubisoft and Ready at Dawn to tout their superior graphics but spit on the idea of games running at 60 fps. A higher framerate makes it easier to react to anything on-screen. I would take a game that runs smoothly over one that has the best graphics. It’s just an excuse to cut corners.

The Order 1886
Look at those cinematic black bars!

Video Games Can Tell Great Stories

Clearly based on the previously mentioned attitudes, some developers think a video game cannot tell a meaningful story without appearing “cinematic.” Games need to be filled with long cut-scenes and be centered around QTEs. This is not true. Video games can tell enthralling stories in ways unique to the medium. Bioshock Infinite could tell its story through gameplay. Players were encouraged to explore Columbia and interact with your surroundings. The characters converse as you play. There are no pre-rendered cut-scenes. Bioshock Infinite stays in the game’s engine. Hall-life 2 also accomplished this feat. Both games told good stories without being “cinematic.” This is not to say that all games should tell stories in this manner. My point is that games should not be so focused on being a “cinematic” experience. Video games are a visual and interactive medium. Developers shouldn’t need to tell a story that conforms to Hollywood standards.

Bioshock Infinite Elizabeth
Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite

Final Thoughts

Video games are a unique medium unlike any other. Unfortunately, many of the major publishers and developers limit themselves to appear “cinematic.” This is utter nonsense. This implies that video games are inferior to films. Hollywood is not the end all be all of entertainment. Developers will also try to pass off framerate caps as an attempt to look more like movies. A game can look great and run smoothly. It’s just laziness on the developer’s part. Video games can tell incredible stories in many unique ways. Games do not need to look exactly like films to tell these stories. Films, books, and video games are very different mediums and that’s okay. What works in one medium does not always translate into another. Therefore, we should trash the word “cinematic.” It is a buzzword that has no meaning.

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