Intertextuality between video games and cinema

Although it may not at first be apparent, there are many intertextual links between films and video games – and what’s more, it goes both ways. Although many films that use intertextual links between them and video games tend to be strictly relegated to adaptions, so the link between them is obvious and used to garner more fan attention, there are intertextual links that video games take directly from films.

In the late 90s many video games began to create more games geared towards an adult audience, and with it they also began to shift towards a more adult way of presentation, and as such many games began nodding towards cinema, novelists, and other such materials. This was both to simulate the maturity that video games now wished to present – to get many of these references pre-internet; one would have to have consumed these texts in the first place. They were also a way for many game designers to nod towards their influences, inspirations, and truly, a form of flattery for those concerned. There are numerous examples of intertextuality within video games.

Many aspects of Silent Hill, for example, are direct nods towards Steven King novels – there are posters for The Shining, and one of the more obvious nods would be the ever-present mist, an obvious nod to a King work. A more obvious link towards film within Silent Hill would be the presence of Valtiel, who’s shaking head, is an obvious nod to the infamous Jacob’s Ladder scene.  There are also many other examples present within the film, many linking to popular horror culture. This would have the double whammy of also creating a sense of inclusion for the audience as many of these aspects were present directly as nods towards horror-culture, and obviously the main target audience of these films would be those who enjoy horror.

Of other PSX-era games, there are many other intertextual links. Resident Evil, whilst not directly linking towards any other texts – except, perhaps, the works of Romero in the obvious presence of zombies – used many cinematic camera angles. This was done both to emulate cinema, and to heighten dramatic effect as before the game was released, very few games used cinematic-styled cutscenes or angles. Although the fixed angle may have presented several gameplay issues, it in itself was widely praised and the games set the benchmark for years to come, especially in terms of the use of cinematic stylings for video games.  
The use of cinematic framing in Resident Evil heighten atmosphere, suspense, and deliberate inclusion as a nod to the genres that the game was alluding to. Resident Evil was in itself a tribute to American action films, and used camp dialogue, over-the-top-action and horror by the way of a tribute towards the genre. It was archetypal, but also mocked the archetypes and featured many quotable lines such as “You were almost a Jill sandwich” (although this was down to poor translation). Here are several examples of aforementioned angles, in use within the game.

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Here, in a shot from the original Resident Evil we have an example of a mid-shot being used for dramatic effect – the zombie is shambling towards the player character, and the use of a mid-shot not only aids the player who can see how close they are to becoming a zombie take-out, but directly mimics cinematic shots. It was a fixed angle, so would not move for the entirety of the scene. This angle would then zoom into the hallway from an over-the-shoulder perspective to heighten audience empathy with the character, and include them directly in the narrative.

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In this screenshot from Resident Evil 4 the angle, is again, an over-the shoulder shot although this time the camera has panned out to reveal both main characters and uses a tilt to create a sense of imposing fear, and danger, in relation to the church. This would increase suspense, alludes to the threatening state of the church and creates the sense that the church is looming over Leon – he is dwarfed by it. This creates fear and tension, and more actively makes it easier for the player to shoot any Ganados (the monster within the game) they encounter.

A cutscene within Resident Evil 4 also directly links in with Jaws. In it, you are being pursued by Del Lago, a giant newt.  The use of a chaotic camera, and shots including the infamous Dutch Angle creates a sense of confusion, and many of the scenes themselves are direct tributes to Jaws, which obviously features another giant monster in a body of water. Initially the shot uses a point-of-view shot to show that Leon is being hunted by something, a device used here to emulate fear and to portray the perspective of the monster you will soon be hunting. It is also a dramatic example of using a POV shot to create tension, suspense, and fear and this angle is in itself a direct link to Horror films; film such as Predator have previously included similar shots.

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Yet again, another obvious link between film and gaming would be present in the form of Lara Croft, who is a female hero – one of the first to grace player screens – and an obvious nod towards Indiana Jones, another hands-on treasure hunter with attitude. Other games within the PSX era that seek to emulate cinema, and cinematic styled angles include Final Fantasy VII (and VIII), Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and Metal Gear Solid, which deliberately alluded to films within its text. MGS was perhaps the most obvious allusion, with its main character being Solid Snake, an obvious allusion to Snake Plissken.  He even [in later games] dons an eyepatch.

Within the PS2 era, with improved graphics and the ability to include fully animated cutscenes came more improvements to the intertextuality present, and video games widened their links to cinema. The most humorous, perhaps, was the penultimate scene of Jak 3; an obvious nod to the Wizard of Oz. Other inclusions to the Jak series also had not only cinematic allusions but dynamic camera angles which followed the player character as they walked, and mimicked tracking shots. This has the effect of drawing the player into the action and keeping the flow of the game steady and paced.

A lesser known game, Forbidden Siren 2, deliberately emulated B-Movies and horror films in particular and as such included a grainy filter upon the majority of its cutscenes. (I apologise for the god-awful dub in this video, there was no Japanese-language/English sub walkthrough available on YouTube). Much in the way that Tarantino included “pixel burn” and grainy filters in his Grindhouse films, these games included similar aspects to create a specific feel.  Although not directly intertextual with any film specifically, as many b-movies only had poor production values because of budget concerns and available equipment at the time, the grainy filters evoke a certain feel and fit in with the “found footage” aspect of this genre. Indeed, Forbidden Siren is one of the only video games to directly emulate found footage for a horrific aspect – although you do have the choice to swap between first and third person perspective within, so this in itself is a tenuous link.

Much in the vein of Resident Evil, Final Fantasy X included many fixed camera angles to focus upon character reactions, background scenery or specific events.

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In this case the camera shot is a close-up to show the reactions of the two main characters – Tidus and Yuna within a suitably emotional cutscene, intended to heighten audience empathy with the scene, as well as increasing the emotional connection between the audience and the player characters.

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In this FMV (full motion video) the shot is a mid-shot, close enough to show the reactions of the characters but also far enough zoomed out for the company to not only show off their superior graphics engine (which has always been a major selling point of the game) but heightens both setting and atmosphere of the film.

Many other examples of intertextuality are present within video games, both directly in the form of tributes to genre/inspiration, and indirectly through the use of cinematic camera angles and filters.