Video games have certainly come a long way for the past four decades or so. Before, people were satisfied with playing as a line bouncing a square dot across the screen and hoping that other person controlling another line misses it. There wasn’t any story to be made told here. We could make up our own tale in our head where the other line is a alien wall hellbent on taking over the universe and it’s up to you, controlling a movable wall to stop the evil square from destroying the planet. Okay, that’s an incredibly silly story I just told. But there’s no one saying that wasn’t the story since, as I said earlier, we’re just making the whole thing up.
Gaming developers decided that they wanted to tell their own stories and not have the player make one up. It started out simple, with RPGs and early adventure games telling you the overarching story via text boxes and by talking to townsfolks. But, as technology advanced, things became a little more elaborate. Soon, we got fully voice acted conversations, realistic looking characters talking to each other and, to the chagrin of a lot of gamers, multiple and long cutscenes.
From my perspective, I don’t hate them. In fact, I positively love them, which is why I’m going to spend the rest of this post defending them!
The biggest complaint I hear against cutscenes is they detract from the very thing that makes video games unique from other forms of entertainment: interactivity. These cinematic moments wrestle the controls out of your hands and you’re expected to sit back, watch and not do anything on the controller as the scene plays out. For a lot of gamers, this defeats the purpose of playing video games. If they wanted to watch a movie, they would’ve just booted up Netflix and watched one.
I kind of get their point but, at the same time, I don’t. Just because video games are an interactive medium, that doesn’t necessarily mean it all has to be interactive. The same thing can be said about movies but in the reverse way. Take cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room. The Rocky Horror Picture Show got a lot of bad reviews as its really bizarre and out there film and The Room was lambasted by critics as well. Yet, both of these films have endured and are now beloved. But the popularity of these films really grew when fans started to get into the act and participate in weird acts. I can’t imagine another movie where it would be acceptable to throw plastic dinnerware at the screen like in The Room!
Obviously, this isn’t the way you’re supposed to act during a “regular” movie as watching a movie is supposed to be a passive experience. You’re expected to sit in your chair in utter silence and just watch and listen to the movie. In fact, I’ll bet you’d be thrown out of the theater if you do any acts that would be celebrated in a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room. But this is probably the reason why those two films are still being in theaters today. They’re allowed to interact with the film in silly ways and, in a way, the same can be said for video games but in a vise versa type manner. Simply put, just because something is interactive, that doesn’t mean it you have to interact with it 100% of the time. Things would just get monotonous and sometimes, that cutscene may just be the thing to break that monotony of repeating the same thing over and over again.
Also, I’ve always think of cutscenes as little breaks after a strenuous set of gameplay. Most of the time, games insert cutscenes after some long stretches of playing and usually after going through a difficult stage or after beating a boss. It’s usually around this time when you do need a welcome breather. It’s like after going through a hard workout regiment. You just need a break after it to rest up so your can continue exercising because, if you don’t, you’d just collapse from exhaustion! It’s a welcome respite after going through something really grueling.
But probably the best thing about cutscenes in video games is they flesh out the story. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but video games nowadays have some of the most complex and best stories, sometimes much better than movies or television shows. That’s because they’re not limited to the normal time limitations of other passive media. With movies, they can only tell a self-contained story in 2-3 hours. With television shows, one season will net a viewer, at most, 24 hours of content. Most video games have movies beat by more than a couple of hours. And some of the more epic video games like Final Fantasy has hours and hours of content, beating out television seasons by a mile!
It’s this extensive length of time in video games that allows for some really great storytelling. Would Final Fantasy VII be the massive hit and cultural phenomenon it was if Square didn’t move to the PlayStation so they can use the extra space CDs provided and add those cutscenes? Would Metal Gear Solid have been one of the most iconic video games even if they didn’t tell the stories through those little cinematics? These games owed a lot to cutscenes to make them the some of the best games ever.
I get that there are games that do overuse cutscenes, such as Metal Gear Solid 2, and they make cutscenes seem like a colossal waste of time when you just want to not get interrupted by those pointless clips. Some may even lament that games don’t need stories at all and developers are just wasting time and money writing complex storylines when they should be concentrating on making a great game. But video games have evolved so much since the days of bouncing a ball around the screen. We don’t want to just play endlessly until the computer eventually beats us. We want to feel the satisfaction of beating it and getting a good story while at it.
I believe that games have become so much better because they do tell stories and the cutscenes definitely make the experience of going through a game better. Games have evolved to something better than just batting a ball around the screen. Games now tell extensive stories with full fledged scripts and great stories that movies and TV can only look at with envy. Without these “unnecessary” cutscenes, this wouldn’t be the case.
What’s your opinion on video game cutscenes? Let me know in the comments section below!
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