Summing Up An Industry – Discussing Video Games: The Movie

by Ben Reeves on Jul 10, 2014 at 06:45 AM

There are already a few documentaries about video games, but professional documentarian Jeremy Snead has never seen one that he felt truly encapsulated the art form. He sent off to change that. Over the course of 2.5 years, Snead utilized his own personal connections and resources to film thousands of hours of interview footage before turning to Kickstarter to help finish the project. The finished film details the history of the industry as well as gaming culture, the game-creation process, and the future of the industry. Video Games: The Movie sounds like several documentaries rolled into one, so we approached Snead and talked with him about the creation of this ambitious project, which launches July 15.

What got you into gaming?
We always had video games in my house. Like so many dads, mine had an Atari 2600. I remember spending hours playing Tank, Barnstorming, and Pitfall!, but I never really loved the 2600, not the way that I loved my NES. We got the NES for Christmas in 1985, and that changed everything. My time playing with my Transformers and G.I. Joe’s was significantly reduced once my bedroom TV had a Nintendo hooked up to it.What fascinated me as a kid was reading the behind-the-scenes making of the games in Nintendo Power magazine. I realized at an early age that games were an art form and a lot of tireless effort went into their creation. I’ve been an artist since I was young.

There have already been a few video game documentaries. What sets this film apart?
There have been a few docs and TV specials that touch on gaming history and its cultural impact, but I’ve never seen a documentary on games that I was really satisfied with. So many people mention King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters as the seminal gaming documentary, but I disagree. That is an excellent documentary about two men playing Donkey Kong – not a documentary about gaming.

Video games is a pretty broad topic; was there ever a desire to narrow the focus of the film to a specific time period, genre, or cultural emphasis?
I feel the games industry has always been given a one-note treatment in TV specials and film, and in my mind there wasn’t a truly immersive and entertaining film that painted a holistic picture of the video game industry. Fans of video games will spend a lot of time watching videos on YouTube and reading up on their favorite games. The non-gamer will not. They tend to dismiss our industry. That was my goal when I set out to make the film: to provide everyone, from gamers to non-gamers with a lot of information about the video game industry in an entertaining style.

The film seems like a respectful treatment of games as an art form; what do you think about that classic argument that games aren’t art?
It’s funny because when I asked Mark Cerny this question he smiled, paused and said, “I think the question of are games an art form is a question we should un-ask for awhile because its so obvious that they are.” I was surprised at first by his response, but I have had time to think about his response and I now agree with him completely. Games can now focus on story and provide emotional storylines on par with any novel or screenplay. I think it was more of an arguable point in the 8-bit and 16-bit era, but even then I think some of the Mario and Mega Man games are as beautiful in those forms, as are many of the games from this era.

Japan has had a huge impact on the history of the industry; how many Japanese developers did you approach for the film?
Yeah this was a tough one. Obviously we pursued Miyamoto early on and although we did end up getting several high-level Nintendo people in the film, if I’m being honest with myself, I would say not getting an interview with Miyamoto was one of the biggest disappointments. He is in the film in archival footage, but not an original interview. One of the biggest pinch-myself moments was when we sat down to interview Hideo Kojima, who was an excellent and deeply interesting interview. His take on game development and game theory is truly fascinating. He is truly an artist working at the highest levels.

For the film, Snead interview video game luminaries such as Warren Spector, Nolan Bushnell, and Cliff Bleszinski as well as other celebrities and gaming enthusiasts such as  Wil Wheaton, Chris Hardwick, and Zach Braff

One of your goals with the film was to show how gamers are sometime misunderstood. How have you found this to be true?
I think society’s view of games is slowly changing. Sony and Microsoft are now creating marketing campaigns that are sexy, cutting edge, and in many cases cooler than movie marketing. It’s impossible to ignore video games. With that said, people are smart and they know when they are being marketed to, which doesn’t change deep-seated opinions.

Did you discover anything surprising about the industry after you started filming?
I noticed the interconnectivity in this industry. Everyone seems to know everyone else, or is a degree of separation apart. I don’t think it’s that way in a lot of other industries, which is sad because the interconnectivity found in the video game industry is one of the things that make it so special and unique. I would meet people at CGE (classic gaming expo) and then bump into them at E3 and Comic Con. This industry has such a great community of people – all of them fans.


Video Games: The Movie releases on July 15 on video, but you can pre-order the film through its official site.