Whether or not you like Children of Men, you should (at the very least) be able to appreciate it as a barometer for demonstrating just how far games have to go before they catch up, at least in terms of storytelling, with movies. Of course, in a perfect world, blockbuster games could be something other than violent chaos with B-movie ambitions. But so long as perfectly talented developers like Hideo Kojima inexplicably worship the work of directors like Ryuhei Kitamura, the popular face of gaming is doomed to be little more than Hollywood’s brain-damaged little brother.
All throughout Children, I was dogged by a single nagging thought: I hope Valve is taking notes, because this movie is basically crib notes for Half-Life 3. Or HL4, if those Episodes are really supposed to be HL3. Whatever. The point here is that Alfonso CuarÃ³n basically created a big-screen rendition of the world seen in Half-Life 2 — a dystopic future in which humanity has succumbed to an outside force, venturing beyond the confines of a few fascist-run cities is deadly, an underground resistance with a meaningfully Greek symbol has arisen, and no one can have children — but actually made it interesting. Convincing, even. Sure, the agent of humanity’s downfall is different; it’s aliens in one case, a flu pandemic in another. But the results are the same.
Part of what makes Children so much more convincing is the world itself; the film’s vision of London really and truly feels like a city clinging desperately to civilization, its residents seem sincerely despairing. Something that bugged me about HL2 was its utter sterility; the world was run down but still felt oh-so-sanitary. Compare each work’s respective train station sequences; in HL2, you have a few people standing around looking sad, while in Children the stations are packed with refugees being savagely abused by armed guards. Or the climactic shootouts in the ruins of rundown apartment buildings — Children’s hovels are squalid, crumbling, packed with squatters haplessly torn apart in the crossfire. HL2’s are more like fixer-uppers, and even though the few residents just kinda sit there they’re perfectly safe.
And that’s the biggest difference, I guess. Games just don’t feel dangerous. Even though you’re actually more involved in the events of a game, Children was far more harrowing. The hero and his companions seemed vulnerable at every moment. You know how Gordon Freeman’s supposed to be this everyman, a nerdy physicist who manages to battle his way through improbable odds through sheer adrenaline-fueled luck? Children’s Theo actually is. He never so much as touches a gun, let alone collects Gordon’s arsenal of rifles and rockets launchers (all of which he tucks neatly into his pants pocket when not in use, one supposes). Theo is pushed forward by a combination of desperation and conviction; Gordon keeps going forward because… well, because he has to reach the end of the level, I guess.
The only genre that really tries to capture that sense of fragility and imminent death is survival horror, but immersion is ananthema to the Resident Evils of the world. Survival horror games are seemingly designed to take you out of the game at every turn, whether by poor controls or clumsy mechanics. RE4 and some of the Silent Hill games almost get it right, but not quite. And then their storylines are tremendously stupid, to say the least. Why not a little genuine science fiction instead of ludicrous sci-fi/fantasy hybrids?
In summary, I’m old and grouchy and don’t have a lot of patience for the uncanny valley and big, dumb blockbusters. Clearly I should be ignored.