Inception: The Video Game

I have a new post over at CGP. Here’s the lead-in:


Screenshot from Inception featuring Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Yesterday I went to see Christopher Nolan’s Inception and I was instantly struck by the obvious comparison between its dream-intruder’s conceit and the Gibson-esque jacked-in conception of virtual reality immersion. The procudure at the center of the film is called “shared dreaming,” which resembles Gibson’s characterization of cyberspace as consensual hallucination, participated in by multiple operators. Like the Internet, dream-jacking was developed as a military technology; like video games, it was used to train soldiers. As in The Matrix, it is performed by attaching the participant’s body to a series of invasive tubes and wires, leaving the physically present body inert and unconscious. The dreams within dreams are called “levels.” And so on. Kirk Hamilton at GamerMelodico puts the relationship between Inception and gaming this way:

Here is a videogame movie that isn’t based on a game, it’s simply… a videogame movie. In other words, rather than adapting an existing game’s story a la Prince of Persia orHitman, Inception presents an original story built on the fundamental tenets of videogames. It’s a tale of people transporting their consciousness into a construct where notions of life, death, time and identity become quite different than in the waking world. So I suppose it’s appropriate that the film’s biggest shortcoming feels so fundamentally game-y in nature.

Hamilton goes on in his post, Inception’s Usability Problem, in which he imagines Inception as a video game, to argue that its biggest shortcoming was that the dream-jacking mechanic was inelegantly presented to the point that an overabundance of explication left it feeling like “a videogame that is all tutorial and no play.” Though I see his point, I disagree. I felt the awkwardness of explaining dreamjacking reflects how unsure the characters themselves are about the technology, how it works, and its implications and consequences. His central point remains, however, there certainly was a predominance of explication and intricate rule systems: too much talk, not enough rock. I get that. But this leads to an even more interesting question as it problematize the very premise, of imagining the movie as a game. If its a game that’s all tutorial an no play, is it even possible to imagine it as a game? Furthermore, what would it mean for it to be gamey with no game?


To read the rest, visit The Critical Gaming Project.