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Racking Focus: What Happens When Video Games Become Something You Just Watch?

Google/YouTube makes a move to blur the line between video game playing and passive viewing.

It's no secret that the line between video games and cinema has been muddled as of late, with more recognizable actors being recruited for video game roles, game storylines becoming more complex, and cutscenes becoming increasingly effective in their uses of cinematic technique. So it comes as no surprise - yet is still highly newsworthy, as it's clearly a significant milestone in the long yet seemingly inevitable march of video games toward the artistic canon - that Google/YouTube is in talks to buy Twitch, a video game streaming service, for $1 billion.

As its description might imply, Twitch is a YouTube-like site that hosts live video streams of gamers around the world playing various games; these video streams can be watched by Twitch's users. It's a fascinating concept to begin with - taking not the playing, but the watching of video games and turning it into entertainment - and made all the more so by the news of YouTube's acquisition.

The move of video games toward an entertainment option that can be simply watched, as opposed to played, changes things.

YouTube's intentions are readily apparent - it seems like a no-brainer that they will cross-promote video game live-feeds with their own uploaded content - and it seems like a sure thing that Twitch's viewership will only increase, assuming the acquisition is completed and approved. But what does it mean for filmmakers?

We all know that the younger audience's entertainment options are more divided than ever before, with video games representing an increasingly large audience share; but the move of video games toward an entertainment option that can be simply watched, as opposed to played, changes things. The opportunities for an enterprising filmmaker are apparent: who's going to make the first video game that no one can play? (I.e. a video game that has been played, and recorded, in advance.) Who's going to figure out how to combine video games and cinema in such a fashion that watching the video game is not only an option, but is in fact is preferable to playing it?

Transmedia storytelling is still rapidly evolving, with as many iterations of the genre as there are entries into it. Video games as cinema offers a starting point that is a bit more grounded, and as such could take off much faster. Where they go next will be exciting to watch.


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