Breaking News : Not all Gamers are Scott Pilgrim

27 08 2010

This was originally published on one of other websites that I spend time writing for, http://bostinnovation.com and, at the time, I was feeling agitated at the reviews of Scott Pilgrim vs the World – a film which I had been looking forward to seeing (despite the fact that Michael Cera was in the lead role and would be playing his usual nerd-chic act to the max). My agitation was actually directed to the depiction of Gamers and “video-game culture”, something which I have taken an interest in over the last 6 months. For the sake of this blog, I have amended some of the article to reflect a viewpoint rather than a time-tag.

And I have now seen the film. It is no Kick-Ass, but it’s better than Prince of Persia.

Scott Pilgrim : An exercise in unrealistic synergy

Boston is a hotbed of video gaming talent. From the big cheeses to the little fishes, established studios and the new kids on the block; all keen and eager to release product that will enrich our lives. Game design is in their blood, their visions are what make the culture of gaming so appealing.

Culture, civilization, customs, lifestyle, mores, society, stage of development, way of life, the arts. Words that can describe Gaming.

Something that the Boston Globe thought it could tap into when it used the phrase “video game culture” on its front page, and certainly words that distracted me from writing about  Lantana Games who are currently developing a “Revolutionary stealth-platformer” called Children of Liberty – a game which my contact at the studio assures me I will love, despite the position that the game takes in the War of Independence (possibly highlighting the British in a Mel Gibson-approved light). 

When the Boston Globe decides to highlight this slice of life, the gamers and game developers should be pleased. However, when the newspaper used the term “Video Game Culture”, they weren’t referring to the latest immersive lifestyle experience.

They were referring to the latest blockbuster movie release in a summer that has seen more turkeys than Thanksgiving. Scott Pilgrim Vs the World is a graphic novel that has been adapted for the big screen, and, according to Ty Burr, “rides the video game culture.”

Cleverly using the headline “High Scores for Scott Pilgrim”, the review begins as follows.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’’ may be as close as the movies will ever get to seeing the world through the eyes of an over-caffeinated 23-year-old man-boy playing retro video games on a handheld and listening to a jangle-core iPod playlist while waiting for his girlfriend in an all-night diner in a largish North American city.”

We then get numerous references to gaming; “it’s fun to watch Cera beat up super-villains a la ‘Mortal Kombat’”, director Edgar Wright “builds his film on the patchy narrative leaps of video games and their surrounding cargo culture”, “for all intents and purposes ‘Scott Pilgrim’ is a video game”, “one that keeps rebooting itself”, “he vanishes in a burst of coins”, “power-ups and extra lives are possible.

Hook them young, and they will be forever gamers

What is cargo culture? How exactly is SP a video game when the source material is so obviously a graphic novel (and one that actually draws on Manga rather than Konami)? Why is the eponymous hero a “man-boy” because he enjoys playing retro games?

Coming so soon on after online gaming was the focus of the overly violent ‘Gamer’, this sort of review does little to dispel the myth that gamers are nothing more than slackers who spend their waking hours plugged into their consoles. The fact that gaming is considered a profession in some parts of the World, and that Cyber-athletes compete all year round in well-attended tournaments that showcase their gaming ability is something that is not highlighted.

Happily though, Burr is not alone in his desire to push the movie-as-game. Peter Keogh in the Boston Phoenix writes that “the allusion to Super Mario Bros is just the start of the suffocating homage to retro video games” and complains that “a rarefied logic prevails – oneiric or maybe just the rote mechanics of a Nintendo game.”

Great Game, Iconic Character, Crap Film

Two different reviews from two different newspapers. Two attempts to tie the movie into a video game culture that presumably Mr. Wright – who has directed two of my favorite movies, Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz – thought would be the best way to turn the pages into celluloid.

The gaming industry and the talents that work in Game development, not just here in Boston,  are producing so much more than a series of meaningless beat-em-ups – with the obvious exception of Fire Hose Games who have made the violence in Slam Bolt Scrappers cartoon-like!

As annoyed as I was by the Globe article, they did manage to also focus on the more cerebral side of the industry in their business section. Irrational Games, based in Quincy, are working on their follow-up to Bioshock (2007) which introduced us to the underwater world of Rapture and which was a commercial success for the studio (Bioshock 2 was released by another developer earlier this year).

Slated to be released in 2012, Bioshock Infinite is set in a mysterious floating city at the beginning of the 20th Century which according to the Company’s Ken Levine is “not just a flying World’s Fair; its also a kind of Death Star”, was inspired (apparently) by “the history of American imperialism” and may have been influenced by the annexation of the Philippines by President McKinley towards the end of the 19th Century.

History, pop culture, an immersive experience, intelligent game mechanics. Irresistible to the gamer and developer alike, the reason why plugging yourself into another world is so attractive to millions of people.

The perception may be of the slacker but the reality is that gaming is hard work and takes time to master. Gamers may not have to fight the world every time, but movies that don’t show the true nature of gaming are detrimental to the industry’s health.

Extra lives are only useful if you have the time (and skill) to use them.

BTW, I thought I would conclude with a shameless plug for the other websites that I write for : http://bostinnovation.com, focussing on Gaming and Love Spurs, Live Spurs, which is dedicated to talking about Tottenham Hotspur FC.

But if anyone wants the view of a Limey on their website, I am now a Brit4Hire – available for all your Brit-related needs!

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