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Jesper Juul, in his article, Games Telling Stories?, makes a quick reference to contemporary games’ usage of cinematic cut-scenes: “We should also note that most modern games feature cut-scenes, i.e. passages where the player cannot do anything but most simply watch events unfolding. Cut-scenes typically come in the form of introductions and scenes when the player has completed part of the game.” Over break, I played one of my favorite games of all time, Resident Evil 4, for the eighth or ninth time. It just never gets old. I played it so much that my mom promptly referred to me as “Killer.” If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s a third-person survival/horror game where you are a government agent sent to a remote part of Spain to rescue the daughter of the American president. As it turns out, a religious cult infected the preisdent’s daughter with a contagious viral parasite, with the idea that they will send her back to her father and she will release this parasite onto the US (one reasoning being to stop the US from arrogantly policing the world). In the game, you are the agent and you shoot zombies with very powerful guns.

But beyond the excitement of constantly being on the run from zombies, the game does have many narrative elements, first being a quite complete story that actually adds to the mythology of the preceding Resident Evil games. There are developed characters (from other games in the series, too), the game is presented and broken up into chapters, and Leon, the main character, is your focalizing agent. Now, from reading the articles, calling Leon a focalizing agent may be a misuse of Bordwell and Chatman’s notion of the term, and in much the same way that those two apply literary theory to films and then adjust, apply film theory to games encounters similar problems. Anyway, I want to focus on the cut scenes of Resident Evil 4 and the extent to which many of these cut-scenes emphasize interactivity as opposed to a cut-scene which, for the most part, operates under strictly cinematic terms.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39HkecWiQUI

The usual cut scenes I have encountered operate, as I mentioned above, cinematically, meaning that the interactive nature of the game stops and you, the audience AND the player, can sit back and relax while receiving story information. In my head, I’m seeing cut scenes from first-person shooters, like Goldeneye, that are created to look like the scenes are shot cinematically, but also progress the story. The link above is what I find to be an excellent example of how games use, but expand upon, the capabilities of other media.

To begin with, the cut-scene features some pretty nifty “camerawork”. It starts with a tracking shot which turns into a pan around the character (Leon, the protagonist). Then it cuts to a medium shot of Leon turning around (crossing the axis) and then goes to a long shot. Also, this cutscene does advance the story of the game, but also advances the story of the mythology (Krauser was supposed to have died in Resident Evil 2; he’s working for Umbrella: a secret organization developing virus that turn people into zombies). So it is cinematic and fits in with the cut scene’s use in games as Juul states.

What the cut scene here does is provide the user a new level of interaction with the storyworld. First, the button pressing. This is the critical difference. The button pressing obviously forces player involvement; you cannot advance the story unless you press the buttons. If you don’t press the buttons fast enough, the army guy will kill you and you’ll have to try it all over again. Further, it amps up the suspense, which is critical in survival-horror games; the point is to try to incite thrills, fright, and feelings of suspense within the player (trust me, play this game with the lights off after midnight…it is scary). Also, my favorite move, is the button cues that make the player rapidly press one button. For example, at the end of the video, you have to rapidly press A and then B and then A again for the army guy not to stab you in the throat. Also, the music and the camerawork all incite player interaction: as the army guy bears down on you, the camera closes in on the knife and the music heightens, all of which are supposed to make the player mash the buttons faster and with more immediacy. Your character, or, since I find myself often identifying with the character, YOU will die if you do not mash the button fast enough.

Second, a lesser point, but I think it merits some discussion, is that I believe the makers of this game were keenly aware of the lack of player interaction during cut scenes. For example, I must’ve died 5 or 6 times the first time I played through the game because I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that even during the cut scenes, you still had to interact. Also, its suspenseful, because you never know when you’ll have to press buttons during the cut scenes, because most of the cut scenes don’t use that technique. It’s a self-conscious manipulation of a gaming convention adjusted to the survival horror genre, while maintaining its essential storytelling functions.

If you haven’t played this game…it’s good. You should check it out. (They have it for Wii too where you use the WiiMote as the gun).

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