Often times when games journalists are discussing video games there’s a large mystery about how they are developed. I think there might of been some Horizon controversy a couple weeks back that Rob and Danielle discussed on their Idle Weekend podcast. So, in a climate where even video game enthusiasts do not completely understand game development other than the staple rule that its hard, what does the rest of the world think?
Well for me, there are two examples of what most people kind of assume or accept as what a video game developer does. Those examples are the 101 Dalmatians live action remake where instead of being a music composer, Roger is a game designer. The other is the movie Elle directed by Paul Verhoeven, where the main character is the lead designed and owner of a french video game studio trying to get a published by Activison.
I know the childrens movie about dogs shouldnt be taken seriously but the implications it makes about video game designers are very interesting despite how wrong they are. The tale is ‘modern’, a retelling of a classic story to fit the children of the new millennium. These 90s kids were probably well accustomed to video games as many of the major news stories, both commercial and controversial, were about video games and children. What this film says about video game developers is that they are the new musicians, not rockstars but composers. A complex process that not many understand but many enjoy. In those terms yes that probably does sound like a reduction of what game design is like. The thing is, music composers existed during the 90s their craft has direct lineage to the craft of the music composers of the 60s. Instead of basing the main character on someone who might be composing the hit songs of the 90s which many people can think examples of, the creators chose game design because it involves a computer which to them might of been the most accurate example of a ‘modern workaholic’ which might of been their aim for updating the Roger character.
Okay so what does this implication mean? Well Roger isnt Kirkhope or Wise, which might of been a more accurate representation of the modern Roger Radcliffe (if the creators wanted to put a lot of thought in the video game aspect of songwriting). Instead they chose to model after someone who isn’t really based in reality but many audiences might of guessed “well yeah I can see people who make video games doing that”. “That” being the form of a QA test that is conducted by a single child and getting this child’s acceptance is the greenlight to publishing your game and therefore, success.
At the end of the day its a kids film I get it but lets look at the most serious adult drama that is full of edgy nonsense. Elle the game designer has one objective when it comes to her career and that is getting her game published. Elle believes the only way to do this is to make sure the violent cutscene is gruesome enough so the player feels how monstrous their actions truly are. Elle puts so much emphasis on this one cutscene whenever she is interacting with her employees. Of course, this plot point has to go with characterization and foreshadowing or whatever but still this whole game looks like a 3d platformer? maybe an open world game? The movie never specifies, but one might imagine it is a big budget game. Many people are in Elle’s studio working on the game and they want Activision to publish it. Again today’s audiences might accept this as part of the gamemaking process. To those who pay more attention, it might look like this movie is trying to suggest that video game development is a lot like movie development since this kind of focus on one scene or one performance might make sense in making a great movie.
Elle comes at a very different time than 101 Dalmatians. The video games are bad for children debate is over. Society recognizes that more adults play video games than children. A large amount of video gaming adults have consumed mature and critically acclaimed stories in video games such as The Last of Us. This didn’t exist in 1996 when 101 Dalmatians came out yet the depiction of video game development on screen is more or less the same. Elle of course has more accurate jargen and definitely knows what a game studio LOOKS like but is its representation any different than the live action disney movie? When boiling both depictions down they are saying the same thing, that video game development is just the modern day version of (insert art career).
I feel like many people understand that tech development is very different than movie or music making. Yet because sometimes tech is really good, entertaining, and critically artistic, there’s this kneejerk reaction to label it as modern show-business. Filmmakers especially have struggled to dramatize game development. Even Paul Verhoeven, who’s sci-fi movies such as Robocop and Total Recall seem to be cherished and inspiring to a lot of game devs, cannot make an accurate dramatization of game development and that’s kinda sad.
What representations of game development have you seen executed poorly or perhaps admirably in movies or other media? what do audiences need to understand before AMC or HBO try to make Mad Men or Silicon Valley for video games?
Also why did Elle want to get published by Activision and not Ubisoft? That part never made sent to me…
tl;dr Elle (2016) is a remake of 101 Dalmatians (1996)