‘Cinematic’ Is A Fool’s Term, Jimquisition Argues


When looking at the way the third-person shooter genre has morphed over the past decade, one can’t help but notice an emphasis on making video games look a lot like movies. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves even marketed itself with a commercial that saw a player’s girlfriend blissfully unaware that the “movie” she thinks she’s watching is actually a video game. It’s not specifically these types of games that Jim Sterling takes issue with. Instead, in today’s Jimquisition, Mr. Sterling takes issue with using the word “cinematic” to describe video games and their development.

You should absolutely watch the full video, as he makes convincing and entertaining video game arguments every week, but let me sum up the problems Jim Sterling faces. He feels that “cinematic” is a term used by game developers to excuse shortcomings in video games. For example, Assassin’s Creed: Unity developers said that they didn’t aim for 60 FPS gameplay because it looked too much like The Hobbit movies that run at a higher framerate, which they claim look “really weird.” Left off of Sterling’s video is the developers’ claim that 60 FPS doesn’t work well with action-adventure games, which is mind boggling in of itself. Ultimately, Sterling calls cinematic a PR buzzword that needs to go away, as those making these claims forego things like pacing, well-written dialogue and theme in the actual creative process.

I agree, to a certain extent, with Jim Sterling over using the word cinematic, even if I tend to enjoy movie-esque action-adventure games in theory. Just like “visceral” and “intuitive,” they’re empty words used to spruce up announcements about game reveals without actually discussing the quality of the game itself. Cinematic, more so than others, can be used as a shield to ward off legitimate criticism about the value of video games and the directions made in their design. The option to remove the widescreen bars in games like The Order: 1886 and The Evil Within would be much appreciated by those who want to treat video games as such.

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On the other hand, the idea of blending video games to drive an actual cinematic motif makes sense, if done correctly. It almost never is, but there’s a diminished element of that going on in Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Decidedly bereft of action, it’s the plot-driven story of survival and the choices of what you say to others that is paramount to gameplay. In that respect, the series actually drives a cinematic feel, which is one of the rare circumstances where it makes sense to use that term. Until Dawn, effectively telling a teen horror romp through dialogue choices and choose-your-own-adventure prompts, could also stake a claim in honestly using cinematic as a descriptor.

Unfortunately, that’s not how gaming PR works, so instead we’re left with using the term as a defense mechanism. It’s good to be self-reflective when considering the usage of buzzwords like “cinematic” (I’m sure I’ve used it before, too), and to learn when to use them properly. Hopefully, through this video, more people catch on and start to second guess whether using the term is appropriate or not going forward.

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