Rockstar Games: Tribeca Film Festival selects L.A. Noire, or, Film Artists Declare Video Games to be of Artistic Value

Rockstar Games announced today that upcoming release “L.A. Noire” will be an official selection of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

“We’re thrilled that L.A. Noire is being recognized by the
Tribeca Film Festival in this way,” Rockstar Games founder Sam Houser, said in a press release. “It’s a real honor, and another step forward for interactive
entertainment.”

The obvious big deal contained in that announcement is that L.A. Noire is a video game, not a movie. But it’s no secret that many video games, especially Rockstar titles like the Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Redemption, have incorporated many cinematic aspects into their games.

Games are now cinematic enough for filmmakers to take them seriously, or at least wonder if they should do so. As Tribeca reports on its website, the film festival will on April 30 show a demo of L.A. Noire, to be followed “by a special discussion exploring the
cinematic elements of filmmaking that have crossed over into the gaming
industry.”

In years past, cinematic would mean cut scenes. L.A. Noire, however, has been getting a lot of press for the face capture technology game developers are using to give characters lifelike facial expressions. In terms of gameplay, the idea is that the player controlled detective will be able to tell if game characters are lying or telling the truth.

But in terms of cinematic arts, this kind of technology means L.A. Noire and future games may put honest-to-goodness acting in video games. Last year’s Red Dead Redemption, in this writer’s opinion, featured some of the best voice acting in video game history, but even though many well-known actors have given their voices to games, games are not really considered to be an actors’ medium.

L.A. Noire may change that. Players may not always agree if it’s a good thing that many games are becoming “interactive movies,” but this game’s selection for the Tribeca Film Festival represents a new step for games’ fascinating evolution. Aside from CGI and an overabundance of superheroes, the films of the 1980s were not so different from the films of today. Video games are almost an entirely different medium.

Is that medium art? Gamers have perhaps unfairly singled out film critic Roger Ebert for asserting that games are not art, if only because he is surely not the only person to hold that view. But this writer agrees with the many gamers who say games are art, or at least they can be.

Many movies are terrible, and do not deserve to be called art, or even entertainment. Many games deserve equal criticism, yet as is the case in cinema, many games are the products of outstanding craftsmanship and artistic vision. If film score can be called art, so can game music. If painting is art, so can be the work of graphics experts who develop beautiful vistas or cityscapes from ones and zeroes. If screenwriting is art, so can video game writing. Yes, really.

The argument against games as art seems to be that games do not have a singular story. In writing “Network,” for example, Paddy Chayefsky was able to tell the world exactly what he thought about the media and American society, and every character behaved according to his  vision. Games, especially RPGs, challenge the player to make their own choices. Some may say when the audience can determine if a story’s protagonist is good or evil, aggressive or diplomatic, suave or a clown, the writer’s vision is lost. I disagree.

Even when the audience is playing what may be essentially a high-tech “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, the writer(s) still determines the outcome of the players’ choices. In deciding what choices lead a character down a good or evil path, the writer is able to express a personal view on morality. I don’t know if humanity has ever really agreed on what “art” is, let alone good art, but if games provide a means for creative people to express ideas and emotions to an audience, they deserve to be considered in that discussion.

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