Video Games: The Movie is so ambitious and disjointed that anyone who’s been following video games for years will find it trivial and confusing.
For years, there have been documentaries that focused on different parts of the video game industry, but none of them have focused on the medium at large. Video Games: The Movie tries to tell the history of the medium, as well as try to explain what makes video games so special and appealing to so many people, but the documentary is so ambitious and disjointed that anyone who’s been following video games for years will find it pointless and confusing.
At its core, Video Games: The Movie is a history lesson on video games, but it tries to be all things to all people and that’s why it fails. It doesn’t feel focused and consistent in any way, so anyone who isn’t familiar with the dozens of interviewees, events and games shown in the film will have a hard time trying to make heads or tails of what’s going on. People who know about those events referenced in the documentary, on the other hand, will find this film too disjointed and derivative. Luckily, the Jeremy Snead (director, producer and writer of this documentary) has an undeniable love for games and even when it has some problems, the message comes across loud and clear: games are part of the cultural mainstream and some of them might even have artistic merit.
The documentary’s structure is weird and hard to understand when you first start watching. It’s basically divided into three parts: an introduction, the story of video games and a conclusion that also works as a window into the future. During the introduction a couple of studies are shown to try to explain who plays video games, how often, where, for how long and other metrics. Then we dive into the story of video games which shows everything from the humble beginnings of the medium with the creation of the first prototypes/games to the cultural phenomenon that took games to late night shows such as Conan and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The worst part about these story bits is that although they are shown in the form of short vignettes, the structure is so loose that it’s hard to follow. In the documentary these are some of the things that are explained in a quick succession: the most important video game consoles ever made, video games as art, the cloud, the video game crash of 1983, the rise of Nintendo, video game tournaments and violence in video games being some of them.
As you’d expect this is a lot to take in at the same time and even as someone who’s intimately familiar with most of the topics discussed, I found myself confused with the film’s peculiar structure. The worst part about it is that there are some great ideas here, but they are so poorly presented and so disconnected from each other that I find Video Games: The Movie really hard to watch. In fact, some of the topics introduced don’t make a lot of sense in context. For instance, right after the segment that discussed “video games as art” we’re explained what The Cloud is and how it’s going to change video games. Right after that, there’s a segment about the video game crash of the 1980s and the decline of Atari. I feel like the creators bit more than they could chew, since each one of those segments could have been a fully fledged documentary on their own.
To a certain extent, I wish Video Games: The Movie focused on one topic and one topic only because trying to tell the entire story of the medium in an hour and a half and make that inviting, focused and organized is almost impossible. People who have been following video games for years won’t find anything new in this documentary and everyone else be prepared for a disorganized mess of random events.