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Ask a Dork: Citizen Kane-ing

“What do you think is the deal with the “Citizen Kane-ing” of video games? What do you think it represents? Does gaming need that moment?”

People like to make judgement calls using comparative terms. It’s often easier to hype media through the use of benchmarking than it is to actually use descriptive terms and break down quality. For example, over the past six months I’ve heard people say things like “Argo is 2012’s Citizen Kane,” or “The Last of Us is video gaming’s Citizen Kane.” You understand what it means because Citizen Kane is recognized widely as an excellent piece of work. Even if you personally dislike Citizen Kane, you understand that something is considered to be of high quality providing it is being compared to Citizen Kane. It’s an effective means of conveyance, however, it’s clear that not everyone is a fan of video games being compared to a movie.

I don’t just think that games are being compared to Citizen Kane because it’s a benchmarking convention though. Above being an example of a very good movie, Citizen Kane happens to feature a very well told story, full of twists, character development, and interesting dialogue. So, while I can understand why some people would be annoyed at a video game being compared to a movie, perhaps what is really being said is that the video game’s narrative, characters, and dialogues is just as strong as Citizen Kane’s.

However, if the comparison has the aim of saying “this video game has a smart story,” other examples that actually are video games could have been used. For example, why not say that “The Last of Us is 2013’s System Shock II,” or “Dishonored is 2012’s Thief: Deadly Shadows”? Those comparisons definitely work, providing you understand that System Shock II and Thief: Deadly Shadows are video game narrative masterpieces.

Unfortunately, a number of video gamers are so young that they likely haven’t played and may not have even heard of games like System Shock II. On the other hand, films like Citizen Kane transcend generation and linger in the public conscious. I have no idea why. Perhaps we need to work harder to legitimize video games as an art form.

Trent Seely

I'm not that crazy about me either.

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