Darren: I still don’t think it’s fair to leave out foreign films and indie movies just because they’re essentially not stupid enough. Here’s something to consider: Super Mario Galaxy 2 has currently sold about 3.2 million copies in North America., which translates into a money bin full of cash, since each game costs $60. But if you multiply that number by the average US movie ticket price — about $8 — you’d get $25.6 million. Midnight in Paris has currently grossed $48.7 million domestically. So there you have it: Salvador Dali’s mustache remains a bigger draw than Mario’s.
But I’ll accept your terms for this duel, Adam! As much as I loved the overall experience of Mass Effect 2 — which was probably about 33 hours of my life — there are a thousand nitpicky things I could argue over. The action gameplay is okay, but not great. The level design can feel repetitive. Perhaps a couple dozen of the literally hundreds of sub-stories are hamfisted, or underwritten, or just boring. This is to be expected in a game of such size and scope. And, as you say, it’s attempting to do something different.
So let’s compare it to Mr. Nolan’s Inception, another fascinating, exciting, flawed sci-fi project that tried to do something different. I love Inception, even if I have to admit that the whole snow-heist scene is kind of a bust, and also accept the fact that, according to the movie, everyone’s dreams look like Michael Mann movies. But here are things I don’t have to accept in order to enjoy Inception: Invisible walls, glitchy character animation, load times, freezing, or the nagging part of my brain that refuses to cross the Uncanny Valley.
Adam: Games shouldn’t freeze, and load times are the devil’s work. But before photo-real CG and HD Blu-ray digital transfers made us demand to see the individual pores on the six-hoofed horses of Pandora, audiences were perfectly content to forgive wonky visual effects so long as the movie itself was riveting and the characters compelling. Which is to say, if Nathan Drake’s ankle slips through a solid wall now and again, or if the eyes on some grizzled bandito in Red Dead Redemption aren’t exactly convincing, I don’t really mind so much. I’m having way too much fun to care.
Look, I admit, I am making a silly argument. Of course videogames have yet to deliver anything within the same (Super Mario) galaxy as There Will Be Blood or Borat or Toy Story 3. It’s just when I stand back and really think about which medium has captured my imagination more consistently in the last few years — and which has the potential to head down even more fascinating avenues of storytelling possibility in the next few decades — I have to tip my hat to the progeny of Pong.
Darren: You might be right, and I can only imagine I’ll look like a pagan in 2037, the year that some hotshot young developer creates a thrilling existential space-marine videogame inspired by the work of Ingmar Bergman, while meanwhile all ten nominees for the Best Picture Oscar are prequels, sequels, remakes, and reboots of The Fast and the Furious. Certainly, any medium that encourages experimentation at the absolute top level is clearly on track to greatness — let’s not forget, the big videogame western of 2010 was Red Dead Redemption, and the big movie western of 2011 was Cowboys & Aliens.
But film is a sensual medium, composed of delicate humanity and emotions rendered physical. The best special effect in the Iron Man series is Robert Downey Jr. The best moment in TRON: Legacy, a movie positively drenched in videogameness, is when Olivia Wilde naively asks Garrett Hedlund if he knows Jules Verne: “What’s he like?” Videogames are by nature a more clinical art form — designed by hundreds of engineers, played mostly in solitary silence — but they are starting to discover the soul in the machine. You can see it in the wrenching last level of Braid, the quiet prairie of Red Dead, and the witty horror of the villainous machine in Portal. But if we’re talking about beautifully silly entertainment, would you rather be playing Assassins Creed: Brotherhood by yourself or cheering on with a packed crowd while Captain America tackles Nazis on a big screen?
Adam: The answer to that question is easy: I would rather be tackling Nazis as Captain America in my own personal holodeck.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamBVary
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich