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Posts Tagged ‘Video Games’

Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” Is Unbearably Sad

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

As Aaron Couch wrote in The Hollywood Reporter, this teaser dropped at Comic-Con; click here.

As Couch notes, “It’s game on. Fans got a first look at Steven Spielberg’s anticipated Ready Player One in Hall H on Saturday at Comic-Con [based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline]. The footage for the ’80s-themed (but future-set) action adventure debuted during Warner Bros.’ presentation, which included DC films and Blade Runner 2049.

The footage sees star Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, teenager and gamer on a high-stakes treasure hunt in the all-encompassing video game, Oasis, designed by the nostalgic eccentric James Halliday, played by Spielberg-favorite Mark Rylance. We see the stacks of Ohio, the slum where Wade lives. Trailers are stacked one atop another, sky-high. Inside his trailer, we see Wade put on the Oasis gear, and then he’s transported into the game.

There are flashes of the different environments: a futuristic dance party, Wade hanging out with the Iron Giant (‘The Iron Giant is a real player in this story,’ Spielberg said), Wade racing around in the DeLorean from Back to the Future as he avoids wrecking balls, and fighting Freddie Kruger. We also see the forces of evil, who sit in an office and control avatars in the game, clearly trying to find the treasure before our hero . . .

[Said Spielberg of the film], “what made me want to tell the story more than anything else was the kind of world 2045 gives to people, which is so Dystopian. People are leaving the country and all of a sudden virtual reality gives you a choice, gives you another world to exist in. And you can do anything in that world — anything you can possibly imagine. . . . That interaction between real life and virtual life, by the third act of this movie, is virtually nonexistent.”

You can see for yourself how the frightening the trailer is; Watts lives in a series of stacked trailers in a spawling Hell of the future – born in 2025, but desperately wanting to live in the past. The Oasis supposedly offers him the chance to do that, but of course, it’s just an illusion. There’s no escape – he’s still stuck in a trailer wearing a VR mask.

What strikes me most about this new wave of ultra-synthetic movies is that both audiences and filmmakers seem to have given up on saving the world from ecological disaster, and are instead conditioning viewers – and by extension, society at large – to expect nothing from the future, other than providing VR as a means of escape.

VR is a prison; I wrote an article about it entitled Slaves of Vision, and that’s exactly what it is. VR is the prison of the present, and, if we let it happen, the prison of the future – a hopeless panacea in a world that needs solid answers, not another way of avoiding reality. Spielberg to the contrary, virtual reality does not gives you a choice, does not give you another world to exist in. It’s a place where no one can exist, and nothing really happens.

Again, a quick read of Charles Eric Maine’s prescient novel Escapement (written in 1956) will tell you where all of this is headed; VR as an addiction for people without hope, without prospects, without education, without a real life. There is nothing here of any value – just a fun house full of distorted mirrors, offering momentary respite from non-existence.

And this is the future we want? The future we embrace?

New Article – Slaves of Vision: The Oculus Rift

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

I have just published a new article on the advent of the VR device, the Oculus Rift.

As I note in the article, the “Oculus Rift [VR headset] is a completely immersive experience, blocking out anything but the fantasy world that it provides for the viewer. There’s no one else in this Oculus world except for the game player, and the digital characters conjured up by the game makers – the rest of the real world has been effectively shut out. Thus, it doesn’t matter where you are in a genuine physical sense with Oculus Rift – you’re no longer part of actual existence, having traded it in for a fantasy world.

While it’s a predictable step in the evolution of digital technology – indeed, even in the evolution of cinema, was has sought to be an immersive and overwhelming medium since its first inception – I view a world in which a significant portion of the population are living in an alternative universe rather than contributing to the real one with some alarm.

It may be that life in 21st century, with its endless procession of terrorism, wars, famine, and ecological collapse is too much for the human mind to handle, and escape is the only option. The damage that we have done to the planet since 1950 is more than all the previous centuries of human existence combined, and in such an uncertain world, the urge to ‘check out’ is certainly understandable.

But, of course, it’s one more step in the direction of total human compartmentalization, something that started, arguably, with radio – so people didn’t have to go out to see performances of plays, operas, or symphonies or jazz bands – but reached its early apotheosis with the invention of television, which significantly cut down on human interaction on a local scale, as people could sit at home at and watch images that moved in their living room rather than trekking out to the local theater.

The web has only intensified this, as we spend more and more hours transfixed in front of our computer screens, whether through necessity as part of employment, or paradoxically, seeking escape from the everyday world. For the 21st century, it’s total immersion – and thus total escape from the real world – that really draws the spectator. Yes, VR is absolutely going to be addictive, and the proof is already right in front of us. What will happen when a large portion of society, increasing exponentially daily, is ‘tuned out’ from reality? We’ll have to wait and see – but I don’t think we’ll have to wait that long.”

Charles Eric Maine’s novel Escapement is my jumping off point here – required reading for the VR era.

Video Games: The Romantic Apocalypse

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

There’s a new video game out that deals with the end of the world – in a very different fashion.

As Keith Stuart notes in The Guardian, “It’s been three years since The Chinese Room, a tiny studio currently working out of a modest office building in Brighton, started work on . Back then, co-founder Dan Pinchbeck had the idea of creating a game about the end of the world, but from a very different perspective than titles like Fallout and Last of Us, with their grand visions of ruined American cities. Influenced by science fiction writers John Wyndham and John Christopher, he and his team became interested in the idea of what Brian Aldiss once called the ‘cosy catastrophe’ – a resolutely British idea of the apocalypse, containing very little violence or explosive trauma, experienced by small communities rather than mass populations.

‘We talked about it, and we said, well, what is the important thing about the end of the world?’ says Pinchbeck. ‘It’s not about cities being consumed in fire. Take the movie 2012 – the whole of California vanishes and you don’t feel a thing, it’s just ridiculous. The apocalypse is about people, and the connections between them. What’s really touching is parents waiting for their kids to come home – and what they’re worried about is that the buses aren’t running, not that the world is ending. It’s the little moments that get you.’

The game presents a fictitious Shropshire village named Yaughton which is rendered in quite staggering physical detail, using Crytek’s Cryengine technology. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, then, takes place in a small valley in Shropshire in the summer of 1984. Viewed from the first-person perspective, the player is simply dropped at the outskirts of the village, with no instructions and no idea about what’s happened. From here, you are free to explore the environment, investigating empty houses, shops and barns, looking for clues. There are notes to read, radio recordings to listen to and computer screens to study. The first thing you interact with is a Commodore 64, its flickering monitor showing weird footage and repeating some sort of code, like a numbers station.

It is, in some ways, a natural evolution of the sub-genre that Chinese Room helped found with its debut game Dear Esther, a hugely atmospheric mystery set on a remote Hebridean island. The style came to prominence in 2013 with the title Gone Home, about a woman returning to her family home and finding it deserted. Often termed ‘notgames’ or ‘walking simulators’, these narrative adventures eschew familiar ludic elements like fighting and level progression, instead providing a single location and a set of environmental clues with which to uncover the story.

The genre has proved weirdly controversial, prompting angry dismissals from some gamers, who even question whether titles like Gone Home and Dear Esther are games at all. The Chinese Room team aren’t worried. ‘There’s a long tradition in games, of sections where not much happens. I think the best part of the whole Dead Space trilogy is the return to the Ishimura where you spend 45 minutes just thinking: “OK, when’s it going to happen?” That’s the scariest part.'”

You can read much more on the end of the world – and the end of people – in Gwendolyn Audrey Foster‘s recent book Hoarders, Doomsday Preppers and The Culture of the Apocalypse; a fascinating look at the whole concept of de-peopled spaces, and how it’s so hard for us to imagine a world without us – something that will someday surely happen. Foster’s book, and this game, both share a common concept; the visualization of a world in which human agency no longer exists.

Sounds like a refreshing change from the usual video mayhem; read the whole article here.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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