Video Games: The Movie attempts to be the definitive documentary on this history of video games. With mountains of information and insight from fans, video game designers, and notable figures in the industry it goes deep into what video games where and what they are now. The issue is the topic is treated with such a light approach it comes off as a campaign ad for video games—one absent of criticism or captivating exploration. Video Games: The Movies certainly knows how to sell its product. The issue is the only people it’s selling to are already buying.
Showing it stance right from the start, director Jeremy Snead displays some gumption by opening with a quote from Gandhi. ““A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” Being cliche aside, it is clear Video Games: The Movies shows no qualms placing video games among the highest art forms. Snead certainty gives enough information to make that case as he dives right in to fully explore the timeline of video games ride to dominance.
The issue becomes how the information is presented. Some rather sophomoric editing lead it to be frustratingly repetitive. It was as if Snead took a multitude of separate vignettes and haphazardly threw them together. You will have a fifteen minute segment that discusses how the technology aspect of games has improved throughout time, and after that complete history it will move onto another subject like socialization or public perception. Each section is highlighted by the same timeline graphic as we go from the earliest stages until now. Never are the subjects distinctive enough to indicate they needed to be separated. Instead it was like watching a different version of the same movie over and over again.
Suddenly there will be an over five minute montage of video game footage and voice over from Sean Astin summing up everything that happened prior. What feels like the conclusions is actually a random deviation as we rapidly shift to another subject entirely. It’s like being at a speech you desperately want to get out of when you suddenly hear those glorious words, “In conclusion”. Except those words are spoken way too soon as there is still another forty-five mind numbing minutes left.
Where Video Games: The Movie fails and other documentaries like King of Kong’s: A Fistful of Quarters, Chasing Ghosts, or Special When Lit succeed is giving a human story to identify with. There are plenty of talking heads that add the expected remarks about their enjoyment of the medium, but those comments do very little to put video games in a context outside its own established fandom.
There was opportunity to do that, but it was never explored. People talk about how video games have changed socialization. How those with anxiety issues have used video games to overcome the impossible. How people have gained friendships and in some cases even marriages through gaming. All those stories are told to us, and never by the actual people. Simply second hand accounts that have very little impact.
When you have a documentary that feels so ‘inside baseball’ your perspective becomes lost. When more controversial topics are tackled, like how violence in video games has impacted violence in real life, it is hard to trust what you are hearing even when you agree with what is being said. When you lose that credibility the point of discussing debatable topics becomes moot.
The major purpose of Video Games: The Movie appears to be proving that video games should be respected as art as much as movies, television, or literature. In some cases they argue the storytelling in video games has actually surpassed all other mediums. A convincing case is made for sure, but it is a case that has been well made by this point.
More importantly it is one of the least compelling cases to make. There is no drama there. There are no stakes. You might as well be making a film arguing blue is best color ever created. For a documentary that so routinely points out the importance of a good story, it disappointingly does not provide its own.