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From Joysticks To The Silver Screen

Gamers playing Halo.
Matt Sayles
"Halo" makes for a great video game experience, but sometimes games don't translate well to the big screen.

Rick Valentin would like you to join him at the intersection of film and video games.

The 3rd annual Arts Tech Film Fest runs this week at the Normal Theater. Organized by Valentin, an Illinois State University arts tech professor, the festival features a variety of films inspired by video game culture. Increasingly, video games, rather than films, are a key cultural touchstone for young people, said Valentin.

"So even if young people are making film references, they're making references in context of video games. Someone won't say, 'Oh, that reminds me of 'Scarface.'' Rather, it reminds them of 'Grand Theft Auto.' And you start realizing that even though there are all these film references in video games, they don't necessarily see the films. It's the people who make the games that are influenced by the films. And then the video games become the cultural reference. So we had the idea to connect these things for the young audiences who love video games so they actually get the film context and maybe some of the references that they see in their media now." 

"They're trying to take something that's interactive and then convert it into the passive form of film."

Part of the problem of putting together this festival, admitted Valentin, is the fact that there aren't a lot of good films about video games.

"There's plenty of video game movies. There's 'Mortal Combat' which is laughingly terrible. There's a huge number of movies made from video games, and I think a lot of people who love video games get excited. 'Oh! There's a 'Warcraft' movie!' and then they'll see it and they realize quickly that movies based on video games are usually not very good."

Video games are interactive, something lacking in film, said Valentin.

"Film is a different type of engagement. Films are somewhat passive. It gives you the video and the audio.  Video games give you the visual, the audio, plus some more choice in narrative. Someone can spend 80 hours playing a video game, whereas it's difficult to capture someone for an 80-hour film—unless it's interactive in some way."

"I think the problem is that they're trying to take something that's interactive and then convert it into the passive form of film. And then narrative become much more important, because in video games it can be the environment, the characters, plus the game element of achievement."

"So trying to translate something to film, it's often just the name of the game, a couple of characters and an environment. But a truly great film requires narrative."

When it comes to the balance between film and games, Valentin narrowed his choices down to a handful of movies that he feels get the balance right: "The Last Starfighter," "eXistenZ," "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" and "Wreck-It Ralph."

The film fest also includes opportunities to view multimedia installations by ISU arts tech students, plus enjoy virtual reality demos. The last night of the festival includes a live music and digital projection performance by the student.

The Arts Tech Film Festival is April 25-29 at the Normal Theater.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.