Friday, May 8, 2015

The Toy Story Moment

Note: While looking for something I found this unpublished blog of mine from July 5th, 2011. While some of it is dated and the question at the end seems silly in the day of DOTA and LoL, some of the thoughts timeless, so I thought I'd share it!

The Toy Story Moment
Much has been written of video games needing a Citizen Kane moment. Something that makes transcend to another level. I've never really agreed or disagreed with that premise, other than to suggest that if we are trying to get that point, better blood splattering physics isn't ever going to get us there. Regardless, beyond having a Citizen Kane moment I've wondered recently if video games needs a Toy Story moment. Furthermore, I've wondered if perhaps we're having it right now.

Yesterday I was watching Rio with my kids and I was struck by the audience. The movie was at the dollar theater, where you will find movies that are beyond their "big" theater run. However, the fact that the film is "old" didn't make the audience any less enthusiastic. The theater was packed from front to back and was involved in the show, laughing at the funny bits and holding their collective breaths when things got tense.

Before the movie began I watched the audience trickle in. We'd gotten there 15 minutes before the show began as I had a feeling there may be a larger audience on a holiday, and sitting my large family of 8 together often proves challenging. Watching the audience take their seats left me somewhat surprised. There were many parents with their kids, but there were also lots of adults who seemingly had no kids with them at all. I took notice of them and watched as the theater cleared after the movie to be sure I was correct in my evaluation. As I watched the theater empty I'd guess that maybe as much as one third of the audience was adults who were not there with children.

That shouldn't be too shocking, after all adults should be able to enjoy a movie like Rio if they want to. It has some wonderful animation in a beautiful backdrop, as well as a pretty solid story with a message about the exotic bird pet trade that would more likely be a heated adult conversation topic than something kids would discuss on the playground. However, that said, the movie was clearly made with younger audiences in mind.

Disney Digression
I can never write about something that is aimed for adults or kids without wondering exactly what that term really means or who decides what is for adults and what is for kids. I love Walt Disney on the topic:
"in planning a new picture, we don't think of grown-ups, and we don't think of children, but just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us that maybe the world has made us forget and that maybe our pictures can help recall."
I really love that thought and approach. I think that some of the best and most memorable games ever made, have the same heart beating in them. One more Walt Disney quote:
"I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty. Call the child "innocence". The worst of us is not without innocence, although buried deeply it might be. In my work I try to reach and speak to that innocence, showing it the fun and joy of living; showing it that laughter is healthy; showing it that the human species, although happily ridiculous at times, is still reaching for the stars."
I really think Walt hits perfectly on the joy and wonder that I long for in all mediums, and often find in games.

Back on Topic
I pondered for awhile as I saw all the kid-free adults in the theater. Would they have all come to this movie if it were a cartoon?

I didn't ponder too long on the thought because I was sure the answer was 'no.' There may have been a time when they would have (1930s-50s?), but that time is long past. Hand-drawn animated movies are rarely seen in the cinemas anymore. Even when they were in the theaters, they rarely appealed to all audiences. Parents may have gone to see The Little Mermaid, but they felt it was for their kids, no matter what Walt said.

Something changed with computer animation. I think maybe we can call it the Toy Story moment. The movies were still the same family fun affair, but the barrier of adult acceptance crumbled somewhat. There are many adults who love computer animated movies and can't wait for the next Pixar or Dreamworks feature. While they may have felt that hand-drawn animation was for kids, they can't help themselves when it comes to computer animation in the theater.

The result is a wider audience for computer animated films than for hand-drawn ones. This is very apparent in the theaters where there are many more computer animated features being released today than there were hand-drawn films being released when cartoons were at height of their success. In fact, a quick look at movie releases over the last 40 years indicates that over the last 10 years the average number of computer animated films released per year has been much higher than the average number of hand-drawn films ever was.

Looking at the audience that was in attendance for Rio yesterday, it's easy to see why.

What does it mean to games?
I've wondered if gaming might need a Toy Story moment. A moment that erodes the barrier between the medium and the audience. Something that grabs the people who aren't interested in games and makes them feel like gaming is something that is for them. Just like the audiences that would not consider going to a hand-drawn animated feature, but are interested in computer animated films, I was pondering what could be done in gaming to open it up to more people.

And then I realized I shouldn't be straining my head thinking about what could be and I should instead look at what already was right in front of me.

While waiting for the movie to begin, I pulled out my phone. Fittingly, on my desktop was an icon that said Rio. It was the icon for the game Angry Birds Rio.

Though I'm not a fan of Angry Birds myself, there are a few people who are. Ok, there are millions of people who are. Something interesting about those fans is that they are less likely to have played other games than the average game fan. They are more likely to have little knowledge of gaming, but no less passionate about their love for that game. Angry Birds is a game that makes video games inviting to people who don't play them. (notably it is on a device that also does the same thing)

There are more examples of this of course, Facebook games and the Wii both do similar things, much to the chagrin of "core gamers." Zumba Fitness and Just Dance have been stellar in the stores, being purchased by people who don't normally purchase games, and who likely, are buying the only game they'll purchase this year.

So what does it all mean to so-called core gaming?

Is core gaming becoming the 'old school?' Does it represent hand-drawn animated films in the gaming industry?

That's something that is worth thinking over, so I'll leave it for thought. I can see a lot of reasons why the answer is absolutely not! I can also see things that make me worry I'm totally wrong. One last interesting fact. In 1994, the year before Toy Story was released, Disney released The Lion King. The Lion King is the top grossing hand-drawn animated feature of all time.

After The Lion King's release, Disney continued releasing one, and sometimes 2, hand-drawn films each year until the year 2004, at which point it began focusing its internal studios on computer animation instead of hand-drawn animation.

Again I don't know what it all means or how comparable it is, but as I sat there in the theater yesterday, I thought the parallels were interesting and worth thinking about if nothing else.


Ogreatgames said...

I found your analysis of Toy Story and Disney quite interesting. Also, I do not think that "Rio" is that "old". I think the vast majority of online video games can have the moment you referenced in this post, Russell. Because, in my opinion, as the player plays with people it creates a stronger bond amongst them.

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Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

i want to talk about When I did first baught my atari ST (got bought for christmas should i say) ill hazard a year of 1990 which should be pretty close, nearly all the shops selling compute rgames used to have platforms setup for testing games. For a good many years this was pretty much standard. this has however pretty much disappeared as an expectation/aspect of service which is disappointing. I remember the first CD burners coming out and lots of people talking about a refusal to refund if youd removed the shrink wrapping. I also remember computer magazines of the time (1990) saying "try before you buy". العاب سباق السيارات , العاب اكشن وقتال جديدة , العاب كرة القدم ضربات الجزاء

lukas76 said...
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