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Have games replaced films as the most exciting storytelling medium?

With an increasing number of video games being the source material for blockbuster film and TV franchises, we explore the shift in entertainment dominance

If you live in a country with access to YouTube and have even the faintest interest in films and TV shows, you’ve probably noticed that 2024 promises to be a year packed with exciting content. With the release of the highly anticipated second season of Halo already underway, the upcoming Fallout series slated for April, and the cinematic adaptation of Borderlands hitting theatres in August, it's clear audiences have a lot to look forward to.

But what's particularly striking about these releases is that they all originate from triple-A rated video games.

While it once seemed that films held the reins as the primary vehicle for storytelling and the birthplace of major franchises resulting in games as offshoots (Star Wars, Spiderman, The Matrix etc), it now seems that it’s frequently games taking the lead. This shift prompts a compelling question: are games the new blockbusters? Have films been dethroned as the most exciting storytelling medium?

A bold statement, but ask yourself this. Without opening Google or prodding your local colleague, can you think of any films coming out later this year and beyond that have piqued your interest? Now ask yourself the same question about upcoming gaming titles in that same time period. Unless you're involved in the entertainment industry or call yourself a film buff, it’s very likely the first question either reminded you of an upcoming Marvel title or drew a blank entirely, while the second most likely resulted in a thought about GTA 6.

Game studios feeding us trailers, teasers and hints about games coming out a year, two years or even three years in the future is practically the norm. GTA 6 began as a rumour almost a decade ago, and the anticipation for its release shows no signs of settling, despite the trailer having been released a few months ago and the game itself remaining a distant spec on the horizon. Games like CyberPunk, Fallout and Starfield have all found incredible success in maintaining hype through similar strategies, despite varying tones of reception upon their eventual release. The main film studio to rollout teasers years in advance of their release seems to be Marvel, which has clearly borrowed the model from the gaming industry. 

The excitement garnered by film releases now often pales in comparison to the hype generated by games. Even when films succeed in building enough anticipation to dominate the zeitgeist (think Barbenheimer) their moment as the focal point of discussion is often short lived. Once the film comes out, it’s quickly watched, discussed and memed before falling out of relevance. This could, in part, be down to the ease with which we can now access any and every blockbuster film that comes out. As of June 2020, streaming has been the preferred way to watch freshly released films for 36% of adults, while only 14% see the cinema as their ideal way to experience them - down from 28% in 2018. This may come as no surprise; once a movie exits the cinemas (or sometimes even before) it swiftly migrates to streaming platforms where it's part of a TV package bundle and instantly accessible, and often just another choice to flick through while unpacking your Thursday night Deliveroo. 

“A staggering 84% of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices as second screens while watching films and TV shows.”

With attention spans at an all-time-low, passive viewing experiences just don’t seem to have the same ability they once did to captivate us, no matter how intricate or well-crafted they may be. Case and point, a staggering 84% of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices as second screens while watching films and TV shows. On the flip side, with players needing both hands to navigate virtual worlds and overcome challenges, gaming effectively monopolises our attention, offering a level of immersion unmatched by traditional media.

Moreover, the budgets allocated to triple-A rated games dwarf those of films, enabling developers to craft immersive experiences with lengthy soundtracks, extensive voice acting, and expansive worlds filled with easter eggs and narrative hooks. The level of resource poured into these allows gamers to delve into richly detailed universes in as shallow or deeply considered a way as each person desires. 

In 2024 and beyond, the boundaries between gaming and traditional media continue to blur, ushering in an era where interactive experiences take the stage as a primary entertainment focus. As we eagerly anticipate the next wave of groundbreaking releases, one thing remains certain: the power of video games to captivate, inspire, and redefine the very essence of entertainment shows no signs of waning.