Video Games: The Movie (2014) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some depictions of video game violebce
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Sean Astin (narrator), Zach Braff, Wil Wheaton, Donald Faison, Max Landis, Chris Hardwick, Alison Haislip, Chloe Dykstra, Nolan Bushnell, Cliff Bleszinski
Director: Jeremy Snead
Screenplay: Jeremy Snead

Review published July 21, 2014

Although the music and movie industries grab all of the mainstream headlines as far as traditional consumer releases go, video games have really been the platform that has made a killing over the last decade-plus in terms of overall sales figures.  Video Games: The Movie is an inoffensive, surface-scratcher documentary chronicling the history of the video game, from its quaint and primitive inception, to the supremely sophisticated game play of today's massive opuses.  Though it is a well-made Kickstarter project that came to fruition, it's part nostalgia trip and part an infomercial to show your parents when they're shaking their heads that you're wasting too much of your time in front of the TV.

Written and directed by feature newcomer Jeremy Snead, Video Games often comes across more like a promotional fan video selling us on the idea that video games are cool and worth our time than as a honest, forthright historical document of the industry.  After a litany of statistics illustrating just how massive the video game industry has become, and how wide the demographic reach across age and gender that many will find surprising, we begin with a question that largely lies unanswered as to who the father of the industry was (Atari founder Nolan Bushnell seems to get the most love), and what game is acknowledged as the first.  From there, we study the evolution of games from the early days of the mainframes of the 1960s all the way up to the current generation of consoles that includes X-Box One and PS4, with a few stops along the way to spotlight the Atari 2600, NES, Playstation, and others.

Other subjects touched upon include the importance of our relating to playing as an avatar (Mario, Pac-Man, etc. to identify and immerse, how video games can be social and cultural, why it could be considered art, and how advances in the realm of virtual reality and sophisticated peripherals are ushering in a new kind of gaming for the future.  Darker times are also showcased, including the glut of terrible games in the early 1980s that led the industry to a huge bust with consumers and retailers alike, pinning most of the blame on the fiasco that was E.T. the Video Game.  Even violence in video games is remarked upon, though we are never shown the worst of it in actual graphic detail; it's more a suggestion that the industry does a pretty good job of policing itself, and is no more violent than movies kids can watch any night of the week.

Snead does a pretty good job in incorporating a wide variety of interview subjects, from industry pioneers, to those involved in designing them, to those who cover the industry, to fans.  Celebrities like Zach Braff (who serves as one of the film's exec producers) and his TV partner Donald Faison don't add much except to give casual viewers a face to recognize.  Sean Astin (Justice League: War, Stan Lee's The Mighty 7) narrates well, even though he really doesn't have much to do with the game industry itself to make sense as the host, other than to lend a celebrity voice.  There's a lot of editing and effort that certainly went into making this film, especially in the montages that all seem to connect each clip to the next in terms of matching a theme.  There's a lot more breadth than depth in this film, which seems to be more of a mindset that video games are a fun phenomenon that everyone can enjoy, perhaps a bit too sugarcoated for those looking for a meaty and insightful snapshot of the gaming world as a whole.

While those with a passing interest in video games will likely find enough nostalgia in seeing old consoles, watch the classic TV spots, and relate to the fandom on display who discuss how much each one meant to them, there's definitely nothing here that will be news to someone well versed in the subject matter.  There's just not enough time in 100 minutes to do but the most cursory of examinations of a long and very complex evolution of a medium.  This love letter to a burgeoning industry is entertaining in that is is watchable for those who enjoy video games and the culture surrounding them, but it does make the viewer kinda itchy to go play the games shown on the screen rather than continue to watch a plethora of music-video style montages about them. 

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo