Origins of the First-Person Shooter

The moment I read the title of Chapter 2 in Galloway’s Gaming, I was instantly excited.  I thought the chapter would make mention of the first games that incorporated first-person shooting.  I figured the chapter would be all about Doom and the revolution it started.  I am partial to first-person shooters, from Goldeneye to Half-Life to Halo to Call of Duty, they are one of two consistent game types I buy (the other being sports games).  I soon found out that my assumption was wrong.  The chapter was all about how film influenced the invention of the first-person shooter, which did not turn out to be such a bad change from what was expected.

When reading the chapter it surprised me that no film since Lady in the Lake has attempted to film a whole movie in first person subjective.  While movies have flirted with a similar idea in using a video camera as the perspective, such as The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, the camera switches hands a few times and doesnt have the same feel as would a first person subjective shot.  With movies moving more and more towards gimmicks such as 3D to invigorate movies or try to invest in a new idea, one would think that a whole untapped perspective of movies would be jumped upon.

Galloway touched upon one difficulty of having a whole movie shot from the first person subjective is that movies are normally continuous.  He argues that the reason the angle can succeed in games is because players play “during the interstices between other actions.”  I however, have more faith in filmmakers.  If one has seen the movie Memento then they would know that a continuous storyline is not necessary.

Would anyone else be intrigued by a movie shot in the first-person subjective angle?

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6 Responses to Origins of the First-Person Shooter

  1. cole says:

    I think the first person subjective angle works for video games and not for films because in video games the player is in control. I quickly get bored/annoyed watching someone else play an FPS, because I am accustomed to controlling the situation. When movies use something close to a first person perspective it feels very limiting, especially when you want the character to turn around. In video games the extension of your sense of self into the video game character is smooth, and the ‘character’ in the video game is merely your avatar.

    I was less thrilled with Galloway’s take on video games. He dedicated a large portion of a chapter about video games to an art form that appeared to have no significant influence on video game development. His approach seemed like a good start to analyzing films, but when it comes to video games I think he tended to overemphasize the importance of vision. What makes an FPS or even a 3rd person shooter different from film is the player’s sense of control. He phrased it differently by saying that for video games creators have to make a coherent ‘space’ or 3D environment, and at the end of the chapter he says that the first person view creates “identification”. It sounds like an analysis by someone who has spent way more time watching films then playing FPSs.

    • I’d take issue with the idea that films have had no significant influence on videogame development, but that’s not really what Galloway is arguing anyway here. In fact, he’s trying to highlight the differences between the subjective POV in film and the subjective POV in first-person shooters. When he suggests that the origin of the first-person shooter lies in film, what he really means is that the idea of seeing from a first-person perspective first arises in film, where it is rarely used. Film invented a whole new way of seeing. Videogames seized upon this way of seeing, but did something totally different with it.

    • Hayley Roder says:

      Cole, I was intrigued by your assertion that Galloway is a guy who has spent more time watching films than playing FPS games, so I looked him up. He’s a relatively young guy, a professor at NYU who teaches media, culture, and communication. He also has a background in programming. So, all of these things suggest to me that he’s probably had experience both in video games and in film. But even if not, even if he is more of a film studies guy, I don’t necessarily see how that’s a bad thing. Film has had a huge effect on video games.

      I think what he does in this chapter is unique. He takes the relationship between film and video games–something we’ve discussed quite a bit–and offers us a new perspective. He suggests, like Professor Sample mentioned, that the concept of this viewpoint was first done in film and adapted by video games. It doesn’t mean that film has done a bad job with it, it’s just done something different with it.

      I’m not sure I agree with what you said about the importance of vision. Sure, I agree that what makes this perspective so interesting is the fact that we have control over actions, whereas in film we do not, but vision is critical to the experience in both disciplines. What makes the game challenging, frustrating, interesting is influenced by vision, by what we can and cannot see. Think about the use of on-screen and off-screen space and the other spatial structures we talked about. Many of these are based on vision. The first-person view does create identification–not only does it put you in this character’s shoes, it also tells you a lot more about the world around you. We as humans would have a lot of trouble knowing who we are without a culture or an environment around us.

      Anyway, just my two cents. 🙂

  2. rderkse1 says:

    In the thriller Paranormal Activity, a large portion of the movie is shot in the first person subjective; Katie’s boyfriend Micah shoots the movie in an attempt to capture the “Paranormal Activity” Katie suspects in her home. When Micah is in control of the camera, the viewer’s heightened fear is a result of his lack of sight; the viewer can’t look at what is outside of Micah’s view. Though most of these scenes occur during the daytime, or the “safe” part of the movie, the film evokes the viewer’s fear in relinquishing control to the cameraman. The cinematographic style that the movie is best known for, however, is the steady “night vision” shot of the couple’s bedroom while they sleep. The viewer’s fear in these scenes, instead of resulting from relinquishing control to the cameraman, comes from total inability to control or look away from the continuous shot. Because the “night vision” shot looks realistic, like home videos, it is easier for the viewer to relate to and become engrossed in the thriller.

    In a video game, the player has continuous control of the situation if the camera angles remain the same. In some “boss” levels, however, the camera angle is fixed to limit the player’s possible actions. The goal of most video games, unlike thriller movies, is not to evoke fear, but to challenge the player. If the player is given complete mastery not only of his actions but also of his vision, the game is not as challenging.

    • Jason Ko says:

      I would counter and say that in games, the lack of good camera control is a source of frustration, not challenge. Of course, if the locked camera is engineered in such a way that it offers everything a player could ask for, then there is no problem. However, due to the interactive nature of games and their emergent properties which have yet be understood fully, this almost never happens. Inevitably, some player will not act precisely as the designer intended, and the camera will get in the way.

      This can be seen in games like Resident Evil (or so I have heard, someone correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t actually played much of this series) which attempt to use the camera in the same manner as the horror film genre. Instead of heightening tension, the shoddy camera angles only make it hard to aim, a problem which is exasperated by poor controls.

  3. Hayley Roder says:

    I agree with the last thing you said–I think that angle has an equal chance of succeeding in film, but it has to be done right. Not all movies have continuous story lines, in as much as that you don’t have to see everything that happens. Some movies even skip years of time and you’re able to pick up on what happened during that time. It’s like the concept of an enthymeme–just because you have a major premise and a conclusion without a minor premise doesn’t mean your argument (or in this case, a film) is bad, or even weak–it just means that the audience has to infer or assume your minor premise. You have to do that well for it to succeed, though. You couldn’t skip huge amounts of time and have a ton of things change without somehow explaining them.

    But I think you’re right–I don’t believe film viewers would expect every second of this type of film to be jam-packed with action. This perspective is very realistic and similar to our own lives–and I’m pretty certain every second of people’s days isn’t jam-packed with action like video games are. An interstice, after all, is a very brief period of time–and I think that would be expected, and perhaps even welcomed, if film were to tackle it.

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