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Video Games: The Movie
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Video Games: The Movie is a documentary about the history of the gaming industry throughout the decades. Produced by actor-director Zach Braff, the movie features interviews with industry pioneers, game designers, enthusiasts, and even celebs like Wil Wheaton, Braff, and his best friend, Donald Faison. There's occasional strong language ("s--t," "damn") and -- naturally -- tons of references to video game consoles and iconic games like Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., and Doom -- some of which are fairly violent (but only a few seconds of each game are shown at a time). Young fans of video games who don't know about the clever pioneers who made gaming part of popular culture will learn from this documentary. The film is clearly pro-gaming and interviews only industry leaders who make no apologies for violent games.
What's the story?
VIDEO GAMES: THE MOVIE -- the debut documentary by director Jeremy Snead -- focuses on the history of video games as an industry and a form of popular entertainment. Interviews with gaming pioneers, game company CEOs, game designers, and famous game enthusiasts like Wil Wheaton, Zach Braff (one of the film's producers), and Donald Faison are mixed with various montages of clips from popular games. The documentary discusses some of the industry's failings (like the legendary terrible game E.T.) and challenges (the controversy over video game violence and the creation of ratings), but it mostly waxes poetic about the cultural importance of video games.
Is it any good?
The movie may be interesting to some, though its length and one-sidedness make it come off as a long commercial for unrestricted video game use. Most diehard gamers probably already know everything in Video Games: The Movie, but even those familiar with he names of the early game creators may still get a kick out of the A-list gaming visionaries Snead interviews, like Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, Pong designer Allan Alcorn, and British designer Peter Molyneaux. And those who aren't in the know will learn a good bit about how video games became essential household devices -- not just for kids, but also for adults who grew up playing them. Some of the many (and seemingly never-ending) interviews trace the industry's growth from an innovation and economic standpoint (several interviews are with corporate types, like Nintendo COO Reggie Fils-Aime), while others focus solely on the ways that games have influenced pop culture since the early '80s.
Unfortunately, it's pretty boring to see a bunch of somewhat famous actors wax poetic about how much Nintendo changed their lives. Does it really matter that a sitcom actor remembers the first time he played a particular game? Snead spends way too much time on these less-than-insightful musings and not enough time trying to portray a balanced view of the industry. Instead of just showing various game creators and entrepreneurs make fun of the media for claiming that video games are violent, the director missed an opportunity to provide an opposing perspective explaining why games are (or aren't) different than movies. It also feels a bit pedantic for interviewees to claim that video games are the ultimate art form -- just as or even more important than novels -- without addressing the more mainstream use of games by those who don't consider themselves serious gamers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Video Games: The Movie's message about video games. Do you agree that games should be considered like movies, which are allowed to be mature, violent, and sexual without (as much) controversy?
Everyone interviewed in the documentary is a maker or avid consumer of video games. Do you think the content is balanced about the creation and popularity of games? Do documentaries need to be objective?
If video games are like movies, which games are most appropriate for kids? Which are clearly meant for adults? Check out our favorite games.