The Games Industry Is Its Own Citizen Kane

Robert Rath

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The Games Industry Is Its Own Citizen Kane

With systemic hubris driving business decisions and an almost palpable condescension toward the people that buy their products, it's clear games may not have a Citizen Kane, but the game industry is Citizen Kane.

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Kinitawowi

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I feel like I really need to have seen Citizen Kane to get the most out of this comparison, but in the meantime I think this is pretty much obligatory...



Until then... I hadn't seen that old EA advert, but... damn.
 

Ipsen

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Kinitawowi said:
I feel like I really need to have seen Citizen Kane to get the most out of this comparison, but in the meantime I think this is pretty much obligatory...



Until then... I hadn't seen that old EA advert, but... damn.
I would vote for this .gif to be copypasta'd in every post...but that's a bit sleazy.

And one other problem with the focus on nostalgia, which is more in focus since Yahtzee's last Extra Punctuation, is that we already know all the good games. We know that there are bad games from our 'golden years', perhaps simply because we choose to ignore them in the attempts to bring those nostalgic feelings back today. But if nostalgia trend is the best positivity this medium has to offer, and all we focus on are the classics, what inspiration is left for the future? Probably something still better than what we have now, but I would still prefer that the industry grows from a fresh slate.

Another good one, Mr. Rath.
 

Azahul

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Funny coincidence, I finally got around to actually watching this movie last week. And... wow. That was a staggeringly well-made comparison.

Kinitawowi said:
I feel like I really need to have seen Citizen Kane to get the most out of this comparison, but in the meantime I think this is pretty much obligatory...



Until then... I hadn't seen that old EA advert, but... damn.
Given that people have been describing it as an excellent film for, what, 70 years? You probably don't need me to tell you that it's a really good movie with a cynical sense of humour that still stands up decades later. But, for what it's worth, it is and you should see it.
 

Jumwa

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Great piece, excellent analysis of Citizen Kane and an interesting comparison/contrast to the games industry.
 

Lightknight

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I just wish a better movie had been picked than Citizen Kane to be the "Citizen Kane" of movies.

Film Critic: "Oh, but it's perfectly made"
Human response: "And there's SOOO many more enjoyable movies out there too."

Is it just that it's old that people revere it so much?
 

Johnny Novgorod

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The reason Citizen Kane is lauded the way it is, is because it changed the way movies are shot, framed and composed. It's of historical significance. A game-changer. It doesn't matter if the movie's good, bad, entertaining or not by modern day standards. The fact remains there are too many ways of making a video game for there to be "a Citizen Kane of videogames", whereas movies made this side of Citizen Kane (and Birth of a Nation before it) share the same grammar.
 

Lightknight

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Johnny Novgorod said:
The reason Citizen Kane is lauded the way it is, is because it changed the way movies are shot, framed and composed. It's of historical significance. A game-changer. It doesn't matter if the movie's good, bad, entertaining or not by modern day standards. The fact remains there are too many ways of making a video game for there to be "a Citizen Kane of videogames", whereas movies made this side of Citizen Kane (and Birth of a Nation before it) share the same grammar.
From that perspective, it's more that the way Citizen Kane impacted video story mechanics already translates into games too. They really aren't that distinct and we haven't found a new media since video that makes sense. So I'd just say that video games are not inherentlly different enough from other media besides the ability of the audience to manipulate the environment according to the given rules and limitations.

The mechanics of how we manipulate that environment are then the "game changers" but any given mechanic will itself can the attention and not necessarily the game itself. For example, the gamechanger for VR will be whichever product makes it viable in the market rather than whatever game/games utilize it first.

You can also have some micro-Citizen Kanes here then as well. For example, X game is the Citizen Kane of Shooters or whatever, but drastic changes to one genre seldom translates into others. Citizen Kane showed up in a time where we had this motion picture technology but no standard way to use it to the full effect.

By the way, it's bull crap that I've spoken with so many film students and not gotten what I believe to be the correct response that you just gave me. Thanks for the free education.
 

Robert Rath

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Kinitawowi said:
I feel like I really need to have seen Citizen Kane to get the most out of this comparison, but in the meantime I think this is pretty much obligatory...



Until then... I hadn't seen that old EA advert, but... damn.
You should also watch it to get the most out of that Gif... Kane is not clapping because he's just seen a virtuoso performance! (Even so, that's probably my favorite Gif ever, so thanks for posting it.)

But yes, you should watch Citizen Kane as it's an excellent movie and a piece of art history. As an added bonus, it also still holds up in front of a modern audience and I'd argue - apart from Star Wars - it's one of the few films that deals with broad, universal themes while still remaining extremely clever and quotable. The script really, really is a gem.

Azahul said:
Funny coincidence, I finally got around to actually watching this movie last week. And... wow. That was a staggeringly well-made comparison.
Thank you. I've actually been working on this post for several weeks and re-watched the movie before writing this, but I was on an Air India flight last week and what was one of the movies they offered? Citizen Kane. Again, universally applicable themes - you're doing it right.

In fact, the movie's universal themes are what allowed me to write this article - I mean you could just as easily turn the comparison around and say that Citizen Kane mirrors the worst aspects of game journalism. ("If the headline's big enough, the news is big enough!)

Johnny Novgorod said:
The reason Citizen Kane is lauded the way it is, is because it changed the way movies are shot, framed and composed. It's of historical significance. A game-changer. It doesn't matter if the movie's good, bad, entertaining or not by modern day standards. The fact remains there are too many ways of making a video game for there to be "a Citizen Kane of videogames", whereas movies made this side of Citizen Kane (and Birth of a Nation before it) share the same grammar.
Except the magic of it is that the movie really does still work for a modern audience due to incredible writing and powerful performances, though there are some things about the melodrama acting style that modern viewers won't totally "get" - though they should if they've ever seen a Tarantino movie, since his actors tend to go to that same I'm-an-icon-not-a-person territory. But yeah, what you're saying is exactly right, Kane innovated in so many corners it's hard to separate it from that legacy. It even breaks boundaries most viewers wouldn't notice - for example, I have sound designer friends that could go on for an hour about all the cool things Welles (who'd worked primarily in radio dramas) did that had never been part of filmmaking before.

And yes, I agree that the entire "Kane of Videogames" thing is silly.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Lightknight said:
You can also have some micro-Citizen Kanes here then as well. For example, X game is the Citizen Kane of Shooters or whatever, but drastic changes to one genre seldom translates into others. Citizen Kane showed up in a time where we had this motion picture technology but no standard way to use it to the full effect.
If anything this would be the right way of going about it. I think Mario is the "Citizen Kane of 2D platforming" same as Sands of Time is the "Citizen Kane of 3D platforming" or time manipulation considering that's a stylistically distinct mechanic. But then why not have a Citizen Kane of X whenever a particular piece of work single-handedly equipped an industry with the proper tools for developing? I'm sure I can even think of "the Citizen Kane of underwater levels".

It's merely a question of scale: how big a change in the history of (select art form) has a single piece of work made?

By the way, it's bull crap that I've spoken with so many film students and not gotten what I believe to be the correct response that you just gave me. Thanks for the free education.
I think film school baggage is particularly prone to be filtered in weird and strange ways according to each person's ego.

Robert Rath said:
Johnny Novgorod said:
The reason Citizen Kane is lauded the way it is, is because it changed the way movies are shot, framed and composed. It's of historical significance. A game-changer. It doesn't matter if the movie's good, bad, entertaining or not by modern day standards. The fact remains there are too many ways of making a video game for there to be "a Citizen Kane of videogames", whereas movies made this side of Citizen Kane (and Birth of a Nation before it) share the same grammar.
Except the magic of it is that the movie really does still work for a modern audience due to incredible writing and powerful performances, though there are some things about the melodrama acting style that modern viewers won't totally "get" - though they should if they've ever seen a Tarantino movie, since his actors tend to go to that same I'm-an-icon-not-a-person territory. But yeah, what you're saying is exactly right, Kane innovated in so many corners it's hard to separate it from that legacy. It even breaks boundaries most viewers wouldn't notice - for example, I have sound designer friends that could go on for an hour about all the cool things Welles (who'd worked primarily in radio dramas) did that had never been part of filmmaking before.

And yes, I agree that the entire "Kane of Videogames" thing is silly.
I like the movie myself, I just rationalize the academic hype behind it. Even if I didn't like it I recognize its impact in subsequent filmmaking.
 

moosemaimer

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You can blame developers for all the dreck they spit out, but at the end of the day, they're going to keep making what sells: if they make money on dreck, dreck it is. The best example of it I can think of:



Gamers shouted, they demanded, they threatened, they said "OOO NEW THING!" and voted with their wallets.
 

SecondPrize

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You seem to be stating that EA owns Valve, but isn't giving them the ol' EA treatment. Did I miss something?
 

UNHchabo

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SecondPrize said:
You seem to be stating that EA owns Valve, but isn't giving them the ol' EA treatment. Did I miss something?
"and puts greater emphasis on preserving subsidiary and partner studios"

Valve isn't a subsidiary, but they are a partner studio. To my knowledge, EA has handled all physical-copy distribution for Valve starting with HL2:Ep 1.
 

Atmos Duality

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Good article, though I don't share nearly the same level of optimism for some companies as you.

Robert Rath said:
Unlike Kane, the game industry can admit when it's wrong. EA is no longer the corporate raider it's been in the past, and puts greater emphasis on preserving subsidiary and partner studios - they have a very good relationship with Valve, for example.
Well, until EA built Origin specifically to get away from Steam.

And though EA is more "domesticated" than before, their corporate raider habits are still alive and kicking.
Instead of buying out developers only to gut them for their IP, they gut the IP directly (Syndicate and Dungeon Keeper spring to mind, along with the ending to the Mass Effect trilogy).

The end-result is similar for the customer: A shitty half-hearted game that nobody wanted.

Microsoft, for all its posturing at E3, did back down on controversial Xbox One features, something that Kane would never have done.
A change they only made after weeks of concerted outrage followed by total embarrassment at E3.
Let us not forget the parable of Adam Orth, and his curiously defensive remarks for online DRM just a month prior to the horrifying and confusing Xbone reveal. I bring him up, because corporate scumbags like him are ruining trust between producers and gamers more and more each year, and they're doing so GLADLY, WILLINGLY, and even more OPENLY than they ever have before.
 

Kieve

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moosemaimer said:
You can blame developers for all the dreck they spit out, but at the end of the day, they're going to keep making what sells: if they make money on dreck, dreck it is. The best example of it I can think of:



Gamers shouted, they demanded, they threatened, they said "OOO NEW THING!" and voted with their wallets.
You can't sign a petition and think that you'll win
When you vote with your wallet to pay for their sins.


And this from a guy who can't stomach poetry on just about any level.

Good article, Rath. One of these days I will have to sit down and actually watch that film, but the message translates well enough even without.
 

Zontar

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Why us the Nintendo Seal of Quality still being brought up in complains against the company? Despite what some people might of thought as kids, it never at any point meant anything other then "the publisher of this game is paying us the standard fee for releases on our console".
 

gamegod25

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It really is a combination of hubris, greed, and unrealistic goals that will force the industry to change its ways or go out of business.

Time will tell what they choose.