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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 07.18.14] documentary

Like everything else in geek/nerd culture, the last decade has seen a meteoric rise of video game culture. No longer something that kids do at home after school, video games are a multi billion dollar market that is often at the center of cultural discussions. Jeremy Snead's documentary Video Games: The Movie isn't interested in any deep discussions of why video games are popular or how this means of entertainment fits into society but it does offer up a fairly interesting, if pedestrian, history of the rise of video games from the early days of Atari to the console wars of 2013.

Narrated by Sean Astin and featuring interviews with industry innovators and heavyweights, Video Games: The Movie was in a prime spot to provide the quintessential documentary on gaming and truth is, you can't knock it for trying. Snead brings together not only an impressive list of industry luminaries but he asks many of the right questions. The problem is that the movie lacks focus. At one moment we're travelling through a timeline exploring the early days of gaming, consoles and people that changed the industry and the next we're jumping forward and focusing on storytelling or the advancements in technology.

That's not to say the interviews themselves aren't interesting. Atari creator Nolan Bushnell shares some insights into the early days of gaming and muses on the current and future of the entertainment while Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey jumps the discussion into the future and where gaming is headed. There's even a passing discussion about the re-emergence of virtual reality and how this time around, VR might actually catch on. On the technology side, the most interesting side note is a venture into the process of video game creation providing an inside look into what goes into the making of a game.

Aside from the technology, Video Games: The Movie also covers some of the social aspects of gaming, lightly exploring what gaming means and does for individuals and how it has changed from a solitary vacuum to a social interaction that leads to life-long, meaningful relationships.

The shortfall with Video Games: The Movie is that Snead has too many differing ideas of what to cover. It's as if there's a virtual checklist somewhere and each item was automatically placed in an arbitrary order with little concern for where it fits in the narrative. The result is a fractured documentary that touches on many interesting factors without really focusing on a single one. The set-up is actually a fantastic roadmap for a miniseries with a full episode for each snippet but as they are presented here, each segment is too short to really delve into anything besides surface ideas.

It's not without merit and I wasn't completely bored by it but Video Games: The Movie, though it covers all the basis and offers a basic introduction to video game history, is a messy documentary that touches on a lot of great points and ideas but doesn't really explore any of them. It's well produced and includes a who-is-who list of interview subjects but the quintessential video game documentary it is not.

Video Games: The Movie is available on iTunes and VOD now and opens theatrically on Friday, July 18.

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Ridley Wright (8 years ago) Reply

I have yet to watch this. It just looks so very bad. I can't believe how well its being reviewed, to be honest with you. Ugh, I might have to watch it just because of all these reviews...

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