Playing in Public: Reflections on IndieCade 2012

“Playing a game in public is a political act,” asserted games evangelist Bernie DeKoven at a keynote event of IndieCade 2012. In the particular context of his discussion with game theorist and designer Eric Zimmerman, DeKoven was referring specifically to the “New Games” movement of the 1960s and 70s, which promoted a philosophy that group play was vitally important to both adults and children.

IndieCade 2012

IndieCade 2012

Yet the statement also resonated strongly with the weekend’s festivities in general. IndieCade, the International Festival of Independent Games, held October 4–7, 2012, in Culver City, California, was not held at a typical conference venue, but rather overtook the city itself: a fire station, a recreation center, a Masonic Lodge, a parking lot, and a former-railway-substation-turned-theater. Every fall, games of every kind overtake downtown Culver City and are showcased, discussed, played, watched, and sold: video games, board games, live games, hand-made cardboard arcade games, card games, and night games. A variety of events surround this gaming revelry, including a conference for industry professionals, awards voting and galas, public panels and workshops, and a series of tutorial events for game design novices and dilettantes. Continue reading “Playing in Public: Reflections on IndieCade 2012” »

The Lay of the Land: Geography in ‘Melancholia,’ ‘The Descendants,’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’

A little while into Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Turkey’s entry for last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, the small police caravan stops at what the murderer thinks is the location of his victim’s buried body. It’s very late, maybe two o’clock in the morning. The murderer and a few of the police officers walk down the hill by the road and disappear into the night. The rest of the group stays by the cars. They talk some, then the doctor walks off to relieve himself. He wanders over a hill or two and comes to a little valley next to some rocks sticking out of the hillside. I think it’s also raining, or threatening to. He starts his business and after a few seconds of stillness there’s a flash of lightning, revealing the distinct shape of a face in the rocks next to him—a face made of the rocks. The doctor starts, or maybe I remember that because I did. In a movie built on moments of quiet resonance, this was the one that stuck with me.

Image 1. The face in the rocks, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Continue reading “The Lay of the Land: Geography in ‘Melancholia,’ ‘The Descendants,’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’” »

An Unprecedented Journey: A Format Critique of ‘The Hobbit’

When preparing for Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg made a reluctant decision to abandon the highly advanced stop-motion technology that had been developed for full-body movement shots of the dinosaurs, opting instead for a still-imperfect and experimental computer-generated effects technology. The reason for Spielberg’s decision, circulated in movie geek lore ever since, was that the stop-motion animation developed for the film had never solved the technique’s historical quandary of adding motion blur to the image. Onscreen, the dinosaurs would move differently from the live human characters, disrupting the continuity of the film’s narrative world. For the greatest verisimilitude, Spielberg backed a technology that could conform to the limitations of the celluloid medium of the time.

When watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I was struck by the resonances between Spielberg’s decision and the one made by Peter Jackson and his creative team to shoot at 48 frames per second (fps), rejecting the 24 fps standard that has held almost universally true since the earliest days of commercial sound cinema. Overall, I enjoyed the film, though I admit that the experience was not as transporting as the Lord of the Rings trilogy was for me a decade ago. The movie raised many issues in my mind, from the creative revisions that Peter Jackson and his screenwriting partners, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, made to Tolkein’s narrative, to the obvious concern of narrative stuffing (a 300-page novel turning into a projected trilogy of eight-to-nine hours in length). The challenge of expanding a slim narrative into three substantial narratives, the diametric opposite challenge that the team faced in paring down Tolkein’s hefty Rings saga 10 years ago, would provide an opportunity for another sizeable essay. The fact that I haven’t read The Hobbit in more than ten years aside, I was instead attracted to the premiere of the 48 fps format, or HFR (High Frame Rate), as it has been termed, and the host of new aesthetic possibilities and problems that it introduces. Jackson’s choice in this regard bucks a fundamental property of film production and exhibition, and I find that the issues inherent in viewing this movie provide some insights to the many possible futures for the cinematic experience. Continue reading “An Unprecedented Journey: A Format Critique of ‘The Hobbit’” »

Playing Games with the Cold War: Introducing ‘WarGames’

LUDUS is the UCLA Cinema and Media Studies program’s graduate student organization dedicated to video game theory, history, and play. LUDUS members are video game enthusiasts who have, over the past several years, sponsored lectures from industry professionals, programmed machinima screening series in conjunction with Melnitz Movies, worked closely with designers in the UCLA Games Lab, and coauthored publications and collaborated on conference presentations with one another.

The WarGames screening on November 26th was part of a continuing series that interrogates how cinema has engaged the medium of the video game. This text is an embellished version of the introduction I gave the film prior to the screening. —Harrison Gish

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Good evening and welcome to WarGames, and what will hopefully be the first of several LUDUS screenings that will, as a whole, interrogate the intersection of cinema and video games, displaying the numerous ways in which cinema has represented, adapted, and translated game play and game culture into film form.

To understand WarGames, one must understand that the early 1980s was a period of transition for both Hollywood and the growing video games industry. Both Star Wars and the contemporary blockbuster were less than a decade old, and Hollywood producers were still attempting to figure out the best way to monetize the suddenly massive genre of spectacular science-fiction. Well aware that the video games industry had made more money than Hollywood’s collective box office in 1982, film producers were eager to play upon the growing interactive medium to appeal to youth audiences. Results vary: while many of my friends’ childhoods were defined by The Last Starfighter (Nick Castle, 1984), and numerous contemporary scholars have a love/hate relationship with Tron (Steven Lisberger, 1982), no one remembers the teen sex comedy Joysticks (Greydon Clark, 1983), for good reason. In a period prior to Nintendo’s U.S. release in 1985 and the sweeping penetration of game consoles into middle-class living rooms, Hollywood attempted to draw youth audiences out of the home and into the movie theater by representing and idolizing the game culture of which many from that demographic were a part. Released in 1983, John Badham’s WarGames is emblematic of the time. Continue reading “Playing Games with the Cold War: Introducing ‘WarGames’” »