Will Novels, Movies and Video Games All Blend Into One?

Is the day soon coming, or has it already arrived, when consumers won’t see much difference between reading a novel, watching a movie, and playing a video game?

Over the past year, I have seen lots of evidence that the boundaries that used to separate these and other categories are breaking down.

For example, until recently, if you planned to read a celebrity’s autobiography, that meant you went out and bought a book, which you would read page-by-page as the author reflected on his or her life.

Now, however, that is the old-fashioned way to do it. Today I saw an article about the actor Neil Patrick Harris’s autobiography, which takes a much different approach. It is an interactive autobiography, which shares similarities to a video game. The description of the “book” on Amazon.com asks, “Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”?” The reader of Harris’s book doesn’t simply read about the actor’s life, but lives it: “You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp….Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.”

All these choices have consequences for the reader: “Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas.” As if that were not enough, the book also contains recipes, a song, and magic tricks!

The Hobbit: Book, Movie, or Video Game?

Another example of category-blending that stands out to me is the most recent Hobbit movie, Desolation of Smaug. The category-blending I’m referring to is not the fact that I first experienced The Hobbit as a book, and now it is a series of films. Books and films are still separate categories. I am talking about the blending of categories within the film itself.

As I watched the movie, there were times when I couldn’t help but think I was actually experiencing a video game, especially in battle scenes that felt entirely different from anything I remember from the book. In one part, for example, dwarves rush down a raging river in barrels as orcs (many orcs) attack them and as elves attack the orcs. I half expected the elves to get 100 points per orc or dwarves to get bonus points for making it past certain barriers. It was an exciting scene, but it didn’t feel like a movie in those parts.

Many actions movies have that video game feel now, as bad guys (or creatures, or robots, or other villains) get wiped out in large numbers in battle sequences that seem to go on for a very long time. Think of the Transformers movies or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or many others. Many scenes could be transferred almost directly into a video game.

As Movies Become Games, Games Become…Movies? Books?

Of course, as films become more like video games, many video games, with their more elaborate plots, complex characters, and lush and realistic visuals, now feel more like films. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say they have begun to resemble television series, like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, with storylines that extend over longer periods and characters that can become as familiar as the real people in our lives.

That depth of character and plot sophistication found in recent TV series such as Mad Men and Downton Abbey remind many viewers and readers of yet another category of storytelling, the novel.

“Reality” now merely another story category

Now, even the category known as “reality” is breaking down. I don’t mean reality television, which is its own category-blending genre, but I am talking about real life itself. It used to be that video games copied reality. You played a game to feel what it was like to fight in a battle, or race a car around a track, or ski down a slope. Now experiences are being created to reverse that, in other words to bring the thrill of video games into real life.

The New York Times reported this summer on an experience called Escape Rooms, in which people are trapped together in a room and are given clues and puzzles and codes to solve in order to escape. It’s a video-game-like experience, but without the video. You’re in a real room with real people, and you’re really trapped (although you’re eventually set free even if you don’t solve the clues).

Not everybody likes these trends. When some people go to a movie, for instance, they don’t want a video game stuck in the middle of it. They want their categories pure. On the other hand, there has never been time when people had more ways to enjoy storytelling in every imaginable form. My prediction is that as time goes on, the categories will break down even further, and more and more viewers/readers/players will come to expect the inventive techniques.

18 thoughts on “Will Novels, Movies and Video Games All Blend Into One?

  1. Great piece. I, too, foresee the walls of these categories crumbling and meshing together as time continues. It HAS become an expectancy from the younger generations to get “more” out of these sources of “entertainment”–more excitement, more movement, more interaction, all of which trigger more reaction and emotional response. Myself, I find it interesting and intriguing, but not necessary to keep me as a consumer. Although, it certainly invites readers, gamers and movie-goers to delight in more options, I choose to take each category overlap-free. I am still quite satisfied to sit in a quiet room with a well-written, hard-back, bound novel and get lost in the story. Perhaps not as sophisticated, but a purist I am.

    • I am with you, Pamela. A good, hefty novel is plenty to keep me entertained. But that isn’t enough for lots of people anymore, so everything keeps getting ratcheted up. Thanks for your comment.

  2. My fear of the continual blurring of the lines between modes of entertainment is not so much focused on the elements that overlap, but rather on the elements that do not. For me, what makes an extraordinary book is one with not only a compelling, captivating story, but also one with words that can move me by sheer poetry. I just finished reading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time (and I must say that I have watched the movies more times than I can count), but what I realized was that the difference between Harry Potter is not the compelling story alone, because we can get that in many books. Instead, it was the language! J.K. Rowling writes of the death of a character, “Then he heard a terrible cry that pulled at his insides, that expressed agony of a kind neither flame nor curse could cause.” Now, this is by no means the most beautiful and tragic line ever written, but in reading this, Rowling’s words evoked emotions a thousand times stronger than I ever experienced watching these movies, and many other tragic films. By blurring the lines of movie and book and game, by drawing the focus to story and story alone, we lose the language that makes a book magical.

    The same can be said for movies and games. In the age of computer technology, movies have served a vital purpose in creating spectacular worlds that challenge even our own imaginations. I have a vivid imagination and have never in my life imagined space to be so spectacular and mysterious as the movie Gravity portrayed it. That is the beauty of film. It can finally create what we see in our mind’s eye. But, as Dr. Bentz said of The Hobbit, we are practically watching a video game! We are so focused on the never-ending battles that we have no time to appreciate the beauty of the masterpiece that has been painted for us.

    I understand the plight of people who simply want to be entertained, but I believe the blending of categories leads only to mediocre entertainment in every medium because we lose what makes each medium unique and spectacular. If video games teach us that action and constant motion is what is desired in movies, and movies lead us to believe that only a compelling story counts, then where is the place for the magnificent beauty of the screen and the poignant words of the pen? What is left to surprise us? We will forever cease to be awed.

    • Courtney, I really like how you state this. I agree with you that the language of novels is what makes that genre stand out. No movie version or video game version can match it, even though films and games may be good entertainment in their own way. As I have written elsewhere, I think the language of novels will keep that genre relevant even though the technology of it is old. I like it best when a novel, film or video game simply tries to be what it IS, but I think the trend will continue to be toward blending, partly because so much of the audience now tolerates it and even expects it. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  3. I don’t believe that books, movies, and video games will ever be able to blend into one. It’s not because it isn’t possible to the even smallest degree, it is because it is not feasible. Each type of facet is used to tell a story, but it can’t be told consistently or with completeness across all three. Although all are used for entertainment and to instill a perspective, philosophy, idea, etc. into the minds and hearts of the audience, they do it in different ways. Books can take as much time as needed to develop plot, characters, themes, and motifs, but movies and video games are automatically at at a disadvantage to that desired amount of time and engagement due to the limitations placed on them by the general public. Movies and video games are either supposed to be short as compared to the time it takes to read a novel, or a condensed version of that piece of literature that hits the main points and ideas and intentions of the author. Books are expected to be thorough and give the most in depth and critical details to the reader, but that is not possible within movies and video games. Although we may expect it at times, it can’t truly be done with the amount of time limited to keep the focus and entertainment of the audience in contrast to novels. Where books are at a disadvantage is in the visual realm. Granted, it can be argue that the visuals instilled and brought to life as the words leave the page can be more than adequate to transport the reader to another dimension outside of their own, but that isn’t what the public wants. We as people don’t want to work hard to be entertained and find the deeper meaning in things. We want to know what we have to know and see what needs to be seen and move on. that is how our society is nowadays. We only need to know what we need to know and move on. That is why video games and movies are more popular than written works. They automatically supply the audience with the necessary visuals and stories that are deemed adequate to give the person all they need. And because of the direct accessibility of engaging with a universe with our senses as if we ourselves were there, we lack the desire to read the actual literature. How many times have we heard “I’ll watch the movie instead”? Too many. It’s because when we are not allowed to engage directly with the text, we drop it and treat it as if it had no worth to begin with. With that in mind, I don’t think books, movies, and video games will ever blend together into one because it would force all through venues to compromise critical elements of their integrity to create something that would cover all the bases. I’m not saying it’s absolutely impossible, it just is highly unlikely.

  4. I should hope that novels, movies, and videos games will continue to retain their own unique characteristics. Yet, like many have mentioned above, I am also able to see the ways that they are trying to imitate each other. I will, however, dare to claim that novels are probably the safest of these three forms in staying true to their original intent. For someone who loves to sit down with a good book, my enjoyment comes from the fact that reading is an investment. It takes pages and pages for characters to be unveiled and hours and hours for plots to thicken and develop. This isn’t the case with movies and video games. Though these are both valid expressions of creativity and art, they cater to an audience who needs the information quick and who needs the information now. More than that, the audience for these two forms experience either instant or semi-instant gratification. Because of this, I can see the ways in which video games and movies are beginning to mesh more seamlessly. Just recently, I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the way that chase scenes throughout the movie were filmed felt like the characters were trapped in a video game. The same goes for fighting sequences in various action movies. Until recently, I used to be a film major, so I have learned time and time again that the most important element of a film should be the story. Yet, because the wants and needs of a busy and often un-attentive audience are now being elevated, it seems that basic story elements are now being lost in favor of fleeting attention grabbers.

  5. I think the discussion of blending is an interesting one as it seems many artists look to other forms of art for ideas of how to convey their own work. I wouldn’t know about an experience that captivates everything (possibly larping which I am recently learning is much different than the stereotypes around it), but I do think each form has their own area of expertise, and as such, each is of similar and equal value.

    I think the reason many of us prefer books over movies or games is not because the other forms are of less impact, but because either experience too much (so that a return to the printed page is a renewed experience) or not enough (and are therein have not found a piece to connect deeply with). We should also note that the novel has had a thousand or more years of experimentation behind it (if you include works such as Plato’s Republic). Films have been around for what? Little over 100 years, and that’s being generous. And games are even younger, with the first realistic format of consoles coming out in the 1980′s. If we were to compare, that puts books as an elderly person, with films a teenager, and games as toddlers.

    We also have to consider culture. Indeed, it has only been in recent years that games have branched out from focusing on adolescent boys and begun creating stories that reach a broader audience (at least of a noteworthy caliber). There are still plenty of games with focus purely on multiplayer, but we’re also seeing a trend of deeper, more artistic narratives like Bioshock Infinite or Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

    Personally, I love all three mediums. I love them all so much, that I’ve reconsidered my career path countless times and even still do not feel satisfied creating stories in just one out of the three forms. Each effects me differently, in ways that only they can, but all of them (when done well) produce the same element of catharsis. I’d say that when the medium is at it’s best, books are strongest at being comforting companions, films are best at bringing understanding of others, and games are best at causing self-reflection (I am speaking of player choice). Obviously these are not exclusive and that’s part of why we see a lot of overlap. Because the thing they all have in coming is storytelling. It wouldn’t even be far to condemn games because of things like Wii Sports or MMO’s because its not like the other mediums are free of Transformer movies and Twilight books.

    P.S. Apologizes to Transformer and Twilight fans everywhere. I don’t hate them, I just wouldn’t rank them with classics.

  6. Hi, Professor Bentz!

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article about a topic which I had thought little about prior to reading your piece. It is a very interesting and present-day notion regarding the blending of media in our culture. While reading your article, I felt swayed to argue firmly for the separation of media because I believe their differences make them unique and allow them to stand on their own. Take books, for example — books have such a lovely and comforting smell and feel. Holding a physical copy of a book, whether it be new or worn, is one of my favorite pastimes. Opening it up to start reading the first page or finding the bookmark buried in the text has been, for myself, if not several other readers, such a lovely

  7. experience. [I am going to interrupt my response right now to explain why half of my post was posted at 3:27 a.m. this morning. I was typing away when I accidentally hit the "Post Comment" button -- I tried to undo what I had just done but unfortunately I tried to no avail. Alas, when I went to your blog today to write a post, I saw that my post had gone through (at 3:27 a.m. I am not sure why because I was writing it around 8 p.m.), and now I intend to finish my post! My apologies for the double-posts!] To continue to advocate for the separation of media, books, despite their physical tangibility, allow readers to create mental images for the imagery and sequences described within the book. This is where I think the separation of media is so unique because each form (book, movie, and video game) allows readers a different experience of gaining knowledge and enjoying entertainment. In this strain, movies are unique in that they so vividly and visually illustrate events within a plot line — often times, they might contrast how someone perceives something to look, and this can add to the experience of viewing this form of media. Similarly, video games allow for the player to be so actively involved in making decisions in the particular game or experience of the game. In this sense, video games are the form of the three types of media that allow for participants (i.e. readers for books and viewers for movies) to make decisions that affect the outcome of the media experience. In this sense, I think it is important to separate these three types of media because the different experience each presents for the reader, viewer, or player is what draws people to the experience itself (However, I do think it would be neat to experience a combination of the three at some point in my life, but until that point, I enjoy their differences!).

  8. Dr. Bentz, I really enjoyed your thoughts on this topic! I agree with you, it seems as if now a days books can be surpassed by technology. This generation we live in relies on technology in every aspect of life. Technology used to be limited in the things it could do but it seems that Technology now is limitless. We can find our books, movies, and video games on any computer just simply by typing in exactly what we want. I personally think it is getting to the point where all books, movies, and video games will morph together if it hasn’t already happened. It is truly disappointing that we don’t value a good read as much as we used to but instead go watch the movie or show instead.

  9. I find the analysis of each of these genres potentially ‘crossing over’ particularly interesting; however, I’d be hard-pressed to find a way to actually allow these categories to really coincide.

    I think video games are really “choose your own adventure” books done right (except in linear story lines, in which you are essentially shown content, and then have to solve a puzzle like beating up baddies, finding a key, etc. to get more content).

    The most I can think of a cross-over of these genres is a movie that takes place in a virtual reality room, where viewers can walk around and experience the story wherever they’d like and choose their own camera angles. However, scene changes would prove difficult to do without breaking the immersion, and I can’t think of how to add the book element.

    What is the main allure of a book, anyway (not in a snarky way, but a genuine question)? Is it the ability to use one’s own imagination to define the words? Is it the intimacy that readers feel with the characters and story? This central element would have to be defined before we could really break down and mix these three genres together.

  10. Hello Dr. Bentz,
    I found this post to be very interesting, as I too find some similarities and overlaps between genres whether I want them there or not. For example, the element of personal impact one has within a video game is evident now in three-dimensional movies. Many people want to feel as a part of an experience as they can. While reading this an experience I have had at several amusement parks came to mind. There are now shows where you can sit and watch a three dimensional video while your chair simultaneously moves, vibrates, blows cold air, or even sprays scents to create a full experience.
    Personally, I find myself the most engaged when reading novels. It is my opinion that movies and video games attempt (and often fail) to recreate the feelings one has when invested in a good book. They both end up lacking because the mental images one paints in his own mind are not going to have the same emotional ties in a movie or video game that someone else’s mind has imagined.
    The end goal in the most recent video games and movies have been to create the most realistic experience possible. However, the process of reading a book is the most realistic because it draws upon REAL experiences and creates in the mind the most vivid story. Regardless, the lines are blurring, and technology could very well come up with a way to make our personal imagination into movie or video-like fruition.

  11. I agree with the idea that movies, novels, and video games are seemingly merging into one category. I have noticed that certain video games now mimic movies, with intricate story lines and realistic graphics. Some may find it more interesting to actively play a character in a book instead of simply reading about them. Personally, I think it is good and bad. Acting out a character in a book through a game may make give one better insight into the personality and life of a character. At the same time, it takes away from the beauty of reading and forming your own interpretations about what you are taking in. I think that in the near future there will be a rise in demand of movies becoming games, mainly because it has been happening already and movies are resembling video games more and more. The possibility of games becoming movies seems more limited to certain genres such as cartoons or anime. I absolutely think that before we know it every book will have some type of visual depiction of its story line, whether it be a video game or movie.

  12. Video games seem like the most relevant example in this article re: fluid identity. Over the past ten years, especially with war-related games, there has been a rise in long-form narration and refined cinematography that is in sharp contrast to seemingly primitive arcade classics, like Pac Man or Space Invaders. Video games are also the youngest medium on the list presented in the post, too. Their connection to Western capitalism is important in the conversation as well. It seems like any movie can be adapted into a video game, whether it’s an action thriller or not. Those on the business side of the gaming industry are all too aware that if Frozen makes millions in the theatre, that it can also profit them handsomely, too.

    The question remains: how unique of an identity has the video game ever had to the public? Is it not just a reaction to Western popular culture? When has the video game ever operated in a way that is not simulating some movie or story? Yes, the interactive quality of video games does distinguish them from books and television; however, there isn’t the same respect or admiration for a video game’s artistry and writing when compared to classic literature and cinema. That all to say: video games are enslaved to higher culture. You can’t produce a game with the same budget as Halo that centers around a small African tribe’s journey to create ritual and language. At least I don’t think so… maybe I’m missing some major microcosms of the gaming universe. Games need players. Most players have specific expectations that are connected to what they consume in other arenas. Film and television (perhaps novels, too) program gamers to appreciate a very specific formula.

    Film, television, and the written word have had blurred boundaries for quite some time. British TV miniseries from the mid 20th century seek to get word-for-word dialogue out of the novels they are adapted from. LOST, the hit TV show from 2004, watches like a film, with its nontraditional plot structure and grandiose cinematography that mimics blockbuster films. The depth of plot and character development in TV or cinema seems to span much further back than Downton Abbey or Mad Men. Hitchcock’s Pyscho, while unquestionably visual, is also a masterpiece in creation of Norman Bates from a nuanced and artful script.

    A little scattered, but… maybe what I’m saying is that creators of video games seem the least interested in blurring lines for art’s sake, whereas filmmakers or novelists are intentional for their work’s sake when it comes to breaking walls and deconstructing traditional theory.

  13. Great read. I believe that the blending of the three genres is undeniable. When I see movies that are based off of novels I have read and loved, I am instantly hostile. However, I can see in some cases, movies inspired by books have actually encouraged individuals to lean into the literature. And, the same thing is true with video games. Although I believe that a novel is the most beneficial form of entertainment, I cannot hold distaste for avenues that are propelling others into reading.

  14. Dr. Bentz,

    I loved your thoughts on the blending of video game culture with film/novels. I think you have some really great points. I especially enjoyed the section on the question of “reality” – this is something that I deal with quite often as a theater student at APU. Reality is called into question with almost every piece that I work on as a theater major.

    One concept that I find particularly interesting in theater is that of the “suspension of reality” – the proverbial free pass that is given to both actors and audiences alike, dismissing any unrealistic aspects of a production that further the story or message of the show. For example, I am currently rehearsing for a musical that will premiere next semester at APU called The Spitfire Grill. There are many times that the characters will sing out their inner monologues over the action that is taking course, but the other actors in the scene are to act as though they cannot hear the singing character. This is one way in which suspension of reality furthers the story. So long as the actors make it buyable, the audience will accept the song as an unrealistic, yet informative, narration. In the same way, the blending of video games/movies/novels seems to be doing the same thing.

    You wrote a bit about The Hobbit films. Although I have not seen any of the films (yet!), I can recall several times in the past few years in which I have seen a movie adapted from a novel, comic book, or other piece of writing, that felt more video-game like than it ever did when I read the original work. One of my most prominent responses was this: Do you think that the fusion of video game culture into movies/novels could be a way in which the film/literature industries are reaching out to gamers? Is it an attempt to broaden their prospective audiences/consumers?

    So many interesting thoughts! Thanks for the article.

  15. Dr. Bentz,

    I really enjoyed this post because it is something I tend to think about quite frequently. I work in the cinematic industry so I definitely come in contact with quite a bit of books, films, scripts, and every once in a while, video games. One thing that I’ve noticed is how all of the film companies are trying to get ahead of each other by utilizing the latest technology. For example, I was responsible for researching a new technology that has been invented and used in a multitude of theaters and companies. It’s a 4D theater experience where the movie is essentially all around you. A 270 degree screen with smoke, water, seats that move, etc. Companies are trying to utilize this technology because people in the creative industry are afraid of falling behind. The reason I am saying this is because I think it’s relevant to the change in creative works and essentially the blending aspect. I don’t necessarily think that things will blend together, but more so evolve. I think that book companies, production companies, and video game companies can’t afford to keep things old fashioned. The reason they can’t is because they are competing with other high level companies that will do whatever it takes to make the money. Unfortunately the money aspect is the leading priority for every company. Fact. So, I think that we will see more and more films like the Hobbit that are overloaded with CGI and such because CGI is at an all-time high. It looks the best and is easier to create than actually film a Hobbit battle scene and what-not. An audience wants to see a video game style scene because they like to be taken away from reality. This is probably a major reason for most people in America that go to the movies. They have a normal day job, doing normal day things, and they want to remove themselves for the 2-3 hour time slot that the movie will give them. I’m not saying that things are going to blend, but I do believe that the creative industry is going to evolve and continually change in order to survive against others alike.

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