The Future of Thrillers

How will the movie experience look like in the future? Judging by the industry, 3-D films are the next big thing. Myself, I’m skeptical. 3-D is a linear movie-making improvement, just as Dolby Surround & HDTV. Definitely not an acceptable excuse for a Pocahontas remake to become the biggest blockbuster, ever. (But I guess I’m a minority here.)

I offer what I believe to be a real game-changer in the film industry. One of the most exciting developments of the computer era must be video games, and the past decade has seen the rise of interactive cinema: Games designed to deliver a cinematic experience as well as an enjoying game experience. These games employ techniques such as in-game movie cutscenes, cinematic viewing angles and open-world interaction.

However, in order to truly engulf the player in an alternate reality, it is prominent to create a believable representation of this reality. Realistic computer graphics are finally coming close to ripe. State-of-the-art movie graphics are so real, they could probably pass a Graphics Turing Test. It’s just a matter of time until these techniques are perfected for creating realistic computer game graphics.

Last year I happened to play a game called Fahrenheit, and in the process something odd happened: My wife, who happened to sit next to me as I started playing, was hooked as a viewer to the game. She forbade me from playing on without her. What was a great game for me turned out to be just as great a movie for her. The fact that the results were truly unpredictable, and I could fail the game at any point, added an extra rush of excitement to her experience. It was truly a new kind of thriller.

Fahrenheit’s initial diversification of plot-lines eventually converged to a single, monotonous keyboard-grinding effort. Using the replay feature on the “difficult” parts took the fun out of the game towards its end. The excitement subsided. Still, the after taste was strong and sweet. Out of this experience, and some conversations with friends, emerged a new game playing / movie watching recipe.

Instead of the treaded path most western novels & Hollywood thrillers follow, I’d like to have a multi-plot-line video game in which there are several protagonists. Each protagonist will have an existence independent of the others, such that each could advance the plot on its own. It should still live in a very controlled, artistic screenplay (unlike World of Warcraft), and balancing the personal freedom with a concise plot is probably the harders part of the whole thing.

And then someone did it!

Heavy Rain, the newest title from makers of Fahrenheit, meets my exact demands.

So here’s how my friends and I envision this thriller:

  • Several people meet together to play the game / watch the movie.
  • Each person controls one of the character, so that there’s a different ‘fist’ behind each protagonist.
  • No replays are allowed. Also, no prior knowledge of the plot should be gained.
  • When a person is not actively playing, he is watching the movie. Thus, every one is a part-time player, part-time movie audience.

We intend to film ourselves during the experience and actively discuss our feelings. If the results are interesting, they will be posted as a follow-up.

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Posted Saturday, April 24th, 2010 under Life 2.0.


  1. When I was a child, I used to sit next to my friends, watching them play arcade and fighting games. My coordination was too poor to play those games myself..

    Anyway, Shalev told me about such idea some time ago. I thought this idea could be nice, but it wouldn’t change how most people watch movies. The revolution of Web 2.0 has taught us that even though now content on the Internet can be made by everyone, it is actually contributed by only very few of us. According to some stats, just 0.16% of YouTube users upload videos, and only 0.2% of Flickr users upload photos. Wikipedia has a more reasonable percentage, with 4.6% of visitors actually editing and adding information. This might be a very sophisticated way to say that most people are lazy and like to be sit on their couch at home and watch TV. Therefore this nice idea might end up as another way of making movies at home, for those few who are not too lazy to do that.

    And as for 3D movies, they might end up just like cinema itself, that did not begin as an acceptable medium for artists, but developed to be one. When this technology was introduced, people came to the movies mostly in order to experience the new amazing technology of moving projected pictures. The first films did not have a significant plot or actors. They resembled the movies that are displayed at the Luna Park. It took the technology some years to become ubiquitous, and for artists to discover it as an innovative method of expressing themselves.

    • I’m not sure the claim about participation percentage is entirely relevant (since I don’t think that game/movies would be shared or broadcasted) – but it’s an interesting conversation, so why not:

      The active participation percentages you quote are actually pretty fair. For comparison, I looked up cinema attendance figures. As it turns out, in Europe on average each person attends the cinema 3 times a year. This means roughly 25% attendance in a month. Other surveys I found claim that 50% of cinema attenders visit the cinema 5 times or more, per year, which allows an estimation of around 10%-20% unique cinema visitors per month. It is also important to remember that:

      A. Apart from the transportation part of attending the cinema, it is a passive experience.
      B. Cinema has been there for much longer.

      (On the other hand, it costs money)

      More importantly, you didn’t mention the highest source of user participation: Facebook. The content generated by FB users is becoming more and more valuable (and more semantic), and Facebook shows much higher participation rates (

      Even if we settle for Youtube’s 0.16%, we are still talking hundreds of thousands of content publishers. The increase in participation and authoring is phenomenal. Some doodle-math suggests: handful of big networks, each has several media producers = thousands (at most) of media producers before Youtube.

      So, to wrap it up, not everyone has to play interactive games just like not everyone is going to the cinema, but I do believe the increase in participation will continue (if not all-out explode).

      As for 3-D, I wouldn’t compare it to the first cinema. Rather, it’s on the scale of technicolor, sound, HD. And I believe sound was more profound.

  2. Shalev says:

    I was just talking to someone about our experiment tonight, which made me think of you, which made me log into your blog and – boom! i find this post. brilliant.
    we are definitely going to do this soon, i even got a copy of ‘heavy rain’ already. there’s actually too many gamers who want to participate so i’ll have to refuse some of them… i’m thiking of kicking it off late august, how about it?

    Avner: i want to try and see things in a wider context. it’s not movies VS. computer games. Michael’s point was that as an artistic medium, the contemporary computer game is the most fitting medium for the thriller genre. why? the unique aspect of digital art is interactivity, and the kind of interactivity that is most developed in today’s computer gams has a lot to do with thrills: challenge, reaction, decision-making and so forth. actually, if you look at games in general, like soccer or chess, there’s a lot of thrills and tension in many of them.
    David Cage, director of ‘Fahrenheit’ and ‘Heavy Rain’, actually aspired to achieve a wider emotional experience through the gameplay itself in ‘heavy rain’. we’ll paly it soon and see for ourselves how well he did.
    aboout that whole participation rate: how many people are making movies and how many are watching them? dn what about participation rate in the music industry? sculptures? fashion? same goes for every art form. how are these numbers relevant to us? these games are not a communal creation. i don’t see the interactivity as part of the creation process, but part of the experience as a viewer/consumer/whatever-you-call-it. each individual play might seem more unique because i chose to hide the body whereas you chose to escape through the window, but it is essentialy not (if a game is done right…). don’t believe me? think of “the night watch” by Rembrandt. no interactivity whatsoever, yet i’m pretty sure that your viewing experience of it is different than mine… isn’t that the case for every piece of every art? the viewer’s side in the interaction with interactive art is just an extension of his imagination, comprehension, skill, and all other mental mechanisms that are unique in him/her and are used when viewing any kind of art.

  3. Avner, regarding the problem of UGC ( User Generated Content ) see this interesting article:

    In quotation:

    “How to Overcome Participation Inequality?

    You can’t.

    The first step to dealing with participation inequality is to recognize that it will always be with us. It’s existed in every online community and multi-user service that has ever been studied.

    Your only real choice here is in how you shape the inequality curve’s angle. Are you going to have the “usual” 90-9-1 distribution, or the more radical 99-1-0.1 distribution common in some social websites? Can you achieve a more equitable distribution of, say, 80-16-4? (That is, only 80% lurkers, with 16% contributing some and 4% contributing the most.)

    Although participation will always be somewhat unequal, there are ways to better equalize it”

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