Games set big agenda

November 20th, 2012 Features, Software, Tech, The West Australian

In case you’re still in any doubt about the cultural impact of the video game industry, game publisher Ubisoft and film studio New Regency announced recently that they’re starting production on a movie adaptation of the hit game franchise Assassin’s Creed, to star serious thespian and man of the moment, Michael Fassbender.

Have we finally outgrown the stereotypes of gamers as trench-coated 30 year olds living in their parents’ spare room, games relegated shamefully to the same corner as toys when it comes to the high minded artistic output of the human race?

Alex Hutchinson thinks the stereotype was pervasive ten years ago, but not anymore. “Today your Mum’s probably playing Farmville on her Facebook account and everyone’s been playing Scrabulous on their iPhone,” he says. “It’s broadened the audience and people are realising are much more mainstream. There’s still a corner of the market where people think gamers are all creepy and lonely but that’s going away.”

Hutchinson knows what he’s talking about. Born in Melbourne and with a degree in archaeology behind him (among other careers and skills he terms ‘bizarre’), the 36 year old joined a small Australian game studio before producer colleagues poached by the US gaming giant Electronic Arts convinced him to join them in California. Ever-bigger projects and a transfer to Montreal led him to the position of creative director at Ubisoft, where he’s in the midst of launching the latest version of on the biggest game franchises around, Assassin’s Creed III.

Aside from the staggering amount of money the games industry generates (In June 2011, the global market was valued at US$65bn versus $32.6bn taken at movie box office), its cultural impact surely makes it as legitimate an art form as any other. “No film director or actor would be seen dead on TV ten years ago,” Hutchinson explains, “now they’re all flocking to TV because it’s better. Once upon a time rock and roll was the devil’s music, then rap was. I’m not sure what is now but you see the same thing all the time, just in a newer medium.”

Of course, the announcement of the Assassin’s Creed movie isn’t the first time movies and games have cross-pollinated. Since 1993’s Super Mario Bros, movies based on videogames have seen varying degrees of commercial and artistic success. December will see the Australian release of Wreck-It Ralph, the 3D animated story of a video game bad guy who wants to get in touch with his heroic side.

But the links between games and other media are also far subtler than that. Look at the aesthetic similarity between the found footage horror movie craze and the first person shooter (FPS) game format. Games are splicing and sharing DNA with other media just like so many of their characters do.

“The new breed of directors are all in their 30s and they grew up playing games,” Hutchinson says about the hand-in-hand nature of gaming and cinematic trends. “There are some absolutely terrific comic book movies now, and the reason is because those directors went in with an honest love of those characters and stories and didn’t see them as juvenile things they had to look down on. As gaming becomes more mature the same thing happens. People making TV shows and movies are game fans, so we’re kind of all growing up together. There’s an energy and intensity to gaming that movies want to emulate.”

And of course – especially when it comes to movies – Australia is making a disproportionately large impact. Hollywood can’t get enough of our actors and increasingly our directors and screenwriters. When asked if we make as big a splash in gaming, Hutchinson says we already have, just not the way you think.

“There’s been a talent drain over the years,” he says. “A lot of gamers have been recruited from Australia, left and done great work. There were four Australians on our team in Assassin’s Creed III. Our Australian cinematic director Dave Wilkinson worked on Mass Effect I, II and III. There are a lot of Australians around, they just tend to get lured by the bigger games and no one’s been able to put a flag in the ground in Australia and rally that talent.

“I’d love to work back in Australia. There are so many good people you could get together to make something amazing. But I’m very much enjoying my time here in Montreal.”

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