Ian Bogost, author of the books Persuasive Games and Unit Operations writes for the Persuasive Games feature on Gamasutra. I highly recommend you check out some of his past articles if you haven’t already. Ian Bogost is one of the leading voices in the field of game studies at the moment, and it will definitely behoove anyone who’s interested in the field to take the time to read some of his work.
His most recent article over on Gamasutra is title “The Picnic Spoils the Rain,” and is a critique of the cinematic qualities (or lack thereof) of the dramatized game, Heavy Rain. Bogost’s argument is that while Heavy Rain is billed as an “interactive film,” that it doesn’t really have much in common with cinema outside of a few minor similarities.
His basis for this argument is the assumption that editing is the defining characteristic of cinema–being able to control what the view sees when, and thus control their reaction to it. Games, he says, fundamentally cannot be this way because of the interactivity–the editing factor is severely limited. He notes a few exceptions to this blanket statement, with the survival-horror genre with titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The locked camera he admits can act as a form of editing, but doesn’t think it ventures very far into the realm of the true cinema and the editing process.
He continues by saying that in one key way, Heavy Rain goes against the defining characteristic of editing in cinema:
Instead, the most important feature of Heavy Rain, the design choice that makes it more important than any other game in separating from rather than drawing games toward film, is its rejection of editing in favor of prolonging. (Pg 1).
He goes on to cite how the game’s use of drawing out scenes instead of truncating them (editing) down into abstract flashes that imply the emotion. The prolonged exposure to the uncomfortable situation is what makes the game emotionally compelling.
I don’t want to re-write what Bogost has already written so well, so I’ll just point you there to read the rest of the article. It’s a good read, and fairly well-timed considering the recent drama between Ebert and the gaming community (round 2).
He makes a sound argument, but I’m not sure if the defining characteristic of cinema is the editing process. That piece of his argument seems to be the weak link to me–I’m not convinced that editing is the sole defining characteristic of cinema from other media. The argument that editing happens in games could easily be made that writers edit the story, thereby controlling what we see and experience, designers edit what we experience. The editing process might be slightly more in the background for games, but it’s just as influential in games as it is in movies in my opinion. While he provides some justification, I feel like he should have spent more time on it, as it is the basis of the rest of his argument for further abstracting games from cinema.