Documentaries are something of a mixed bag when it comes to film making. While some seek to expose a long-standing conflict or inequality in hopes of drawing enough attention to elicit change, others can simply be a summation of information from history and experts in the field happy to provide their stance on one side or another. Video Games: The Movie lives squarely in the second camp, and although it succeeds at retelling the already well-documented history of the video game industry, it provides very little in the way of analysis, context, or even credible statistics.
Supported by celebrities of the gaming world, the documentary chugs us through the six decades that propelled garage experiments and MIT prototypes into the multi-billion dollar industry that spans the entire globe. Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) narrates our way through the years, while non-related video game fans like Zach Braff chime in with their own anecdotes to help substantiate the narrative.
The second half does attempt to touch upon some of the central conflicts facing the industry today, especially video game violence, but it is here where the documentary really falters. Right when the film makers could have taken the time to research the argument and enhance the presentation with a context that would allow the casual viewer to better understand some of these problems, each argument is simply avoided or dismissed with yet another video bite from another video game developer or celebrity. Even when one developer mentions the existence of data that indicates violent video games do not encourage violence in players, no mention of them are ever shown – or even heard of – again.
Even when discussing the topic of narrative evolution in recent years, the filmmakers choose clips from some unorthodox places. It isn’t to say they were wrong in choosing the particular video games they showed, but in every instance I could think of at least two or three other examples that would have explained video game storytelling in a much better manner.
Bearing all of this in mind, I understand that Video Games: The Movie was not made for people that already know what the industry is facing today, but for those who don’t. In that vein, the documentary does a passable job at allowing any random viewer to learn something new about the video game industry. As for a cause to action or some kind of proposed future for the video game industry, there simply is none. For the average game enthusiast, however, Video Games: The Movie won’t teach you anything new, nor sway your stance on any current debates facing the industry today.