Games. Culture.

Game Night May Be The Validation Games Never Asked For

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I have a very specific disdain for most any movie that features games prominently. Whether it be as an adaptation of a videogame or a movie using games as a premise, it’s almost always poorly done. Some misconstrue what gaming does for people, some take games way too far, and even fewer than both of those strike a happy(ish) median. I’m happy to report that Game Night does get it, if even in the smallest degree.

About a week and a half ago, I decided to take a trip to my local theatre in the hopes of seeing Game Night, a film I’d heard some buzz about. This isn’t a review of that good movie. What I wanted to talk about was a thing that struck a chord with others and myself: its cinematography. I’m not a film buff or student, so I’m not exactly sure what cinematography is outside of the loose definition of ensuring a shot is as close to “the vision” as possible. The cinematographer, I think frequently referred to as DP or Director of Photography, is the person in charge of coordinating shots to be as thematically sound as they can be while capturing what’s necessary to move forward. In comedy movies, this is mostly comprised of B-roll footage of the setting and standard frames for characters to speak in. It’s serviceable but nothing extraordinary. Game Night took it a step further.

The film is about a couple that comes together over their shared love of competition, which means game night is a common occurrence. While the movie makes it clear that games and the stress from playing them competitively are focal to its story, it gets caught up on the silly notion of a man who thinks of life as a game, a dangerous proposition that the series Saw has carried to both its logical and illogical extreme time and time again. The difference in that series and Game Night though is that the cinematography of the latter captures the essence of a game instead of the narrative, which lets the movie be as silly as it needs to be and still convey the sentiment of its message. In other words, it becomes a game.

An early scene of Game Night has the camera swoop over the neighborhood of the leads(played by a startlingly good coupling of Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) like typical B-roll, except the view is obfuscated to the point where it sort of resembles a screenshot from Hitman GO, a game whose style makes every element look like a tabletop game piece.

This actually looks too much like a scene from the movie.

The uncanny aspect of the shot as it blurs into reality makes clear the idea that this view is dissociative and atypical without damning games to hell.

A “one-shot” scene ina mansion shows all of the cast members bouncing around, ducking security while trying to steal a valuable item. This is only the first scene which reminded me of GTA V because a chase scene near the conclusion of the film distinctly places the camera outside the back of the car so that what you end up getting looks like a realistic rendition of a GTA sequence. It’s a disembodying sequence but it actually captures the feeling of a game more than every game movie I’ve seen, barring the classic that is Clue. The primary function of the footage is to encapsulate the competitive or gamey mentality in real life, but instead what its heavy handedness accomplished was show that there’s a way to properly pay homage to games across mediums without being corny.

Think of an angle like this, just tighter.

Games are commonly ripped apart for being childish, violent, and huge time-sinks among other things, which to some extent is true. However, this has become the primary talking points in any “nuanced” discussion surrounding gaming outside of the industry. If you dare bring up the artistry or technical prowess behind games, you’re sure to be laughed off. What gaming needs sometimes is an ally, a fact that prouder individuals in the industry would shrug off, seemingly content with the underdog feeling they might get as a representative of it. In the few shots of Game Night that resemble the ones above, there’s a tacit acknowledgement of the technical wizardry necessary to elicit the immersive mindset games have plunged us into for years. What you end up with is validation that you may not have expected or wanted, but is at the very least welcome at a time when games could probably use a break.

While Game Night fails to convey much of anything that hasn’t already been covered, it’s nonetheless a decently funny film with a vision of games much more realized than anything I’ve seen out of the film industry and look forward to the next intersection between the mediums. Oh wait, I guess next up is Ready Player One, huh? Darn, maybe next time.

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