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What video games can learn from TV  

Callum Sibley 07 July 2021

Video games might be the relatively new kid on the block when compared to film, TV, and music, but it has quickly become the most profitable industry. While video games have always trended upwards, the recent COVID pandemic certainly put more wind in its sales and drove it to new heights. 

But despite being the biggest entertainment industry around, it’s built on a foundation created by its peers. Would video games be as successful as they are without the lessons it learnt from TV or film? I’m not so sure. So, let’s look at what video games can and have picked up from the more senior industries… 

Pushing boundaries 

As technology has advanced, so too have video games. We’re a million miles away from the likes of Pong or Pac-Man. With the release of the latest generation of consoles – along with the reveal of what Unreal Engine 5 can do – we can push the boundaries of what games can achieve. 

How we tell stories has only become more refined as the room to do more has expanded. And you only have to look at film and TV to see where we’re drawing inspiration from. Some video games want that same level of prestige; to be a defining moment. Today, video games are full of spectacle and drama, pushing more and more. The narrative drives the gameplay instead of vice versa. 

Some have even adopted an episodic format to mimic TV. Where were you when the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead released episode by episode? It was a moment in the industry where everyone was hooked by the story of Lee and Clementine, and it’s because of its TV influences that it managed to be such a hit. 

There’s a bit of Indiana Jones in Uncharted. There’s a touch of Star Wars in Mass Effect. We even see video games cross the boundary to become TV shows and films themselves; HBO’s The Last of Us is sure to be a heart-breaking must watch.


Part of this drive for more emotive narrative is our ability to better capture the drama. Taking a leaf from Hollywood’s book, motion-capture technology allows us to bring an actor’s exact performance to the game. How they move and how they emote are transferred to the game flawlessly. 

We’ve just wrapped on a series of dramatic cut-scenes for a game releasing this summer. Our mission was clear: we wanted to capture the actors’ performance and translate that into the game. Using innovative performance capture technology from our friends Di4D, we were dedicated to getting as realistic performances as possible to translate to the screen. We wanted to tell a story and bring the players into it, too. 

The technology also means the actors can be, well, actors. They can make character choices that reflect who they think they are. It goes along well with the maturation we are seeing in some series. Just look at God of War, which went from a gore-fest hunt for gods to an emotionally driven gore-fest hunt for closure. 

Saying all this, technology isn’t a requirement for a compelling story. The fact that creating a game is more accessible means the doors are open to countless indie developers who can tell the story they wish in a more lo-fi way. Something like Undertale or Disco Elysium are built on a strong narrative foundation and don’t have the same bells and whistles other AAA titles do. Because they don’t need them. It mirrors indie movies, which do exactly the same. 

Video games have taken what TV and film have created and ran with it. Those industries walked so video games could run. And we’re extremely thankful for it. They say we’re in a golden age of TV and film, but I would say we’re in a golden age of games, too. Who knows what the future holds; all I know is I’m excited to see where it goes. 

At REALTIME, we know the importance of a strong narrative, both in your game and in your trailers. To discuss how we can help you, reach out to me at [email protected]