Are Video Games the New B-Movies?

A few years back, Chris Orr wrote a column lamenting the disappearance of the B+ movie. It’s still lost in TNR‘s archives, but if it ever shows up again recently been unearthed from TNR‘s archives, and I’d urge everyone who hasn’t already read it to do so. I’m pretty sure Orr is right that, these days, there are far fewer better-than-average B films than there used to be. But I also think that part of the problem is that there are simply a lot few B movies — good, bad, or mediocre — than there used to be. Absurd, mega-budget summer blockbusters like Transformers and G.I. Joe have siphoned off a lot of the energy that used to go into making moderately priced genre flicks, but recently, it’s struck me that another part of the equation is probably the emergence of scripted, action-movie style video games — everything from the Halo games to Assassin’s Creed and Half-Life.

I’ve been playing a lot of Killzone 2 this week — which, by the way, I highly recommend — and, in many ways, it’s really just an interactive B-movie. The scripted bits that carry along the in-game action consist almost exclusively of tough-guy cliches pieced together from the last forty years of action movies, comic books, and war films. It’s silly, outrageous, over-the-top, and incredibly entertaining — just like a good B-movie should be.

Metal Gear Solid 4 makes the case even more. Like previous MGS games, it’s highly cinematic, with long, relatively complex cut scenes driving the action — in many stretches, there’s more movie than interactivity. And, like so many classic sci-fi B-movies, its story, about a near future in which war, conducted by a web of private mercenary firms, has become humanity’s dominant economic activity, is driven by a simplistic contemporary allegory. MGS4 is less to my liking than Killzone 2 — despite the more complex gameplay, the scripted bits are just too long and too ridiculous for my taste — but it makes the link between games and a certain type of overblown genre movie even more clear.

Now, I suspect that even the best games won’t really replace B-movies for a guy like Chris Orr, and in truth, I’d often rather be watching a movie about a disgruntled space marine than playing one on my PS3. But I half suspect that in twenty years or so, people (by which I mean men, mostly) roughly my age and a little younger will look back at today’s crude but effective action games with the same fondness that people a decade or two older than me look back at the crude but effective genre films of the late 70s and early 80s.