‘Video Games: The Movie’ is a documentary that sets out to do something ambitious. It tries to narrow down all the meaningful qualities found in the world of video games and outline them in a way that can allow audiences to recognize the long spanning narrative that has brought the medium where it is today.
The documentary certainly does pull this off to a certain extent in its ability to be informative about the different facets of video games, such as its history, its creative process, its potential as an art, and its community. However, it panders around senselessly preaching to the choir as opposed to teaching or enlightening its proposed audiences with anything new or below the surface level. The movie often feels rushed and disorganized in its efforts. While it offers some strength in being informative, what it mostly comes across as is a glorification of video games that fails to touch upon anything that hasn’t already crossed the minds of thousands of gamers in the concepts it dabbles upon.
Right off the bat, one of the most obvious weaknesses of ‘Video Games: The Movie’ comes from how rushed it feels in its organization because of its rather disjointed pacing running sporadically from topic to topic. This is exemplified during its earlier parts when the documentary rushes through the history of the industry and starts glorifying every single established gaming platform, then proceeds to briefly discuss video games as art, only to transition into the Video Game Crash in 1985, which then jumps straight into concept of immersion in video games. Throughout this muddled series of events, there are brief snippets of occasionally insightful commentary from a variety of industry veterans, critics, and actors. But as the documentary pushes itself forward to its eventual end, there is a constant sense of disorientation that keeps it from retaining any kind of tight organizational focus. If anything, the documentary puts more effort in briefly covering sign posts of the history of video games and its various concepts rather than focusing on how the roads lining it all were paved by the veterans of the industry. It’s unfortunate seeing as some of the history and concepts it does devote time to are quite fascinating.
Speaking of the history and concepts it covers, ‘Video Games: The Movie’ talks about a variety of topics that most non-gamers and even gamers might not have thought much about. In one instance, it covers an old video game called ‘Spacewar’ on the PDP-1, an early computer with a CRT display. In others, the documentary makes interesting mentions of the importance of authorship among video game creators, as well as the concept of how video games can be seen as a safe way for people to experience failure. While these moments and concepts are interesting in and of themselves, the documentary never goes beyond their surface levels and rarely gives itself enough time to establish that much of a take away from them. As a result, the documentary only ends up glorifying specific facets of videogames but never reaches the point of articulating anything truly thought provoking or enlightening about them. Rather, it teases you with fascinating significant historical moments and concepts only to cut you off just before you are able to really dig your teeth into anything of substance behind their background or their meaning.
Things are not entirely disappointing in ‘Video Games: The Movie’. A core strength of the documentary does come from its ability to be informative towards a variety of topics in video games even if only at the surface level. Through this, the documentary manages to grab at relevant pieces of information that are not as widely considered to mainstream and hardcore viewers alike. For example, the documentary does a decent job at looking the gaming community and its closely connected relationships. It even dabbles in the world of eSports, as well as new gaming technology like the Oculus Rift, a VR headset capable of providing more immersive gameplay. Informative tidbits like this paint an exciting picture that shines light on to a side of video games that the non-gaming audience may have not ever realized. In spite of this, the documentary’s continued sense that these concepts are never really expanded upon all too deeply still serves as a hindrance to its gaming viewers. Inevitably, for gamers there will be moments as you watch where you can’t help but think “what exactly did I get here that I didn’t know already?”
Like the many gamers who find themselves misunderstood by the world at large, ‘Video Games: The Movie’ is a documentary that yearns for a sense of validation. Much to its fault, it desperately wants to convince non-gamers and reassure gamers how great the medium is and how far it has come throughout its long lineage. While its informative nature make it an okay watch for both audiences, its lack of depth only makes it a questionable watch for those who yearn to learn more. It’s a shame. ‘Video Games: The Movie’ could have been so much more because of the ambition and passion it has in tackling its subject. It could have offered a thorough insightful lens into the world of gaming, but what it ends up being is a documentary that only fails to live up to the potential of its subject matter.