This special issue of Digital icons is dedicated to the memory of
a brilliant scholar of Russian fandom culture and our dear friend.
It is unquestionable that over the past few years the relationship between film and computer games has become increasingly complex. With advances in filming and editing technologies the convergence of the two visual media is inevitable: cyber-narratives and cinematic narratives, both forms of visual narration and representation, have increasingly become blurred. Recent scholarship has highlighted the story-telling potential of computer games (see, for example, McClean 2007; Wardrip-Fruin&Harrigan 2004). An increasing number of computer games now tell historical, political and social stories that once were only in the purview of filmmakers. Popular films now frequently employ first-person shooter game techniques. Films have also served as the source of inspiration for popular video games while games have often provided the scripts for feature films.
Scholarly studies of the cinema-game convergence have primarily built on the works of Henry Jenkins, who helped to popularize the term ‘transmedia storytelling’ in order to capture the technique of telling a story across multiple media platforms (Jenkins 2003). As Jenkins wrote in his seminal article on the subject, ‘let’s face it: we have entered an era of media convergence that makes the flow of content across multiple media channels almost inevitable’ (Jenkins 2003). Ten years later, that inevitability has become a dominant reality: movies based on video games and video games based on movies have helped to establish transmedia storytelling as a significant aspect of media culture.
A handful of recent publications have helped to push the study of cinema-game convergence in new directions. Robert Alan Brookey’s Hollywood Gamers: Digital Convergence in the Film and Video Game Industries (2010) is an important contribution to our understanding of the film and computer game convergence as an emerging phenomenon of the global entertainment industry. Brookey’s study centres on ‘Hollywood’; however, in real terms it examines practices characteristic of the entertainment industry in all industrially developed countries. He sees the film and computer game convergence as a business strategy and also as part of the Hollywood-military connection. Brookey begins by contesting that the film and computer game convergence is a type of rhetoric that exists in order to extend the experience of film and augment the practices of the film franchise. His discussion is rooted in a historical setting: he analyses the practice of releasing the content of old films as video games and of producing games based on films that in themselves were spin-offs of comic books and thus constitute a multi-modal adaptation. The most significant part of his work has to do with how computer games based on films function as cultural hybrids. In his framework, these hybrids refer not only to media hybrids but also to actual cultural cross-overs as they employ characters and setting derived from different cultural traditions and practices.
The influence of the American film industry and the American military-industrial complex in the realm of cinema-game convergence is also the focus of Nick Dyer-Witheford’s and Greig de Peuter’s Games of Empire (2009). They provide as their hypothesis that ‘video games are a paradigmatic media of Empire—planetary, militarized hypercapitalism—and of some of the forces presently challenging it (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009: xv)’. Games, they argue, are increasingly integrated with film, music, and other media to build a hypercapitalist empire (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009: xv). They also, the authors ominously declare, ‘are increasingly perceived by corporate managers and state administrators as formal and informal means of training populations in the practices of digital work and governability’ (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009: xv). Games are now a ‘school of labor, an instrument of rulership, and a laboratory for the fantasies of advanced techno-capital (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009: xix)’.
Dyer-Witheford’s and de Peuter’s more narratological approach is heavily influenced by the theories of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000). Their murky, ever-present ‘Empire’ is the driving agent, which Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter define as ‘the global capitalist ascendancy of the early twenty-first century, a system administered and policed by a consortium of competitively collaborative neoliberal states, among whom the United States still clings, by virtue of its military might, to an increasingly dubious preeminence’ (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009: xxiii). Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter see their book as a third path in convergence studies, neither luddite nor narratologist, that builds on McKenzie Wark’s (2007) concept that games provide an ‘atopian’ refuge from the ‘false promises’ of neoliberal capitalism (21). Their Games of Empire charts games as ‘a system of global ownership, privatized property, coercive class relations, military operations, and radical struggle’ (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009: xxix).
It is a seductive theory, just as Hardt’s and Negri’s original concept was. It is also one that has started to influence the study of cinegames in the former Soviet world, particularly in Anikó Imre’s 2009 book entitled Identity Games. ‘It is tempting,’ Imre writes in response to the sudden transfer in the region from command to consumer economies, ‘to see the past two decades of the history of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as an accelerated transition from [one form] of totalitarianism to [another]’ (Imre 2009: 2). Imre defines her study as one that combines a textual approach with a post-communist sensibility; it is also, like Dyer-Witheford’s and de Peuter’s, primarily a study of American cultural imperialism and its effects in the new Europe. While her focus is on elite culture in the Balkans, her study is generally skeptical about Henry Jenkins’s 2006 ‘cosmopedia’ view of fan cultures (Jenkins 2006). Instead, Imre argues in a chapter entitled ‘Global Media Games in the New Europe’ that media convergence has produced a fan culture rooted in post-communist nostalgia, understood as ‘a play of time—a way to capture, preserve, and process slipping memories of socialism’ (Imre 2009: 18).
This issue of Digital Icons advances the theoretical implications of cinema-game convergence by introducing the concept of ‘cinegames’ that we understand as a larger cultural phenomenon, underwritten by the development of new technologies and the emergence of new social practice. In taking this approach, the contributors also move beyond Jenkins’s theory of convergence culture. The issue expands the parameters of understanding cinegames in Russia, mapping out new ways to evaluate convergent cultures in the newly formed countries of Eurasia.
Daria Shembel situates the emergence of cinegames historically through an examination of the Soviet film director Dziga Vertov and his 1926 film, A Sixth Part of the World [Shestaia chast’ mira] (8.1). As she argues, ‘in his work the Soviet Montage director anticipated some of the techniques of digital media, including those of video games’ (Shembel 2012: 1). The relationship between cinema and games, in other words, may have deeper roots than other scholars have acknowledged, and therefore may not be easily explained as manifestations of American cultural imperialism or nostalgia for the Soviet era.
Vlad Strukov extends this analysis in his article (8.2), which focuses on two films: Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark [Russkii kovcheg, 2002] and Aleksei Popogrebskii’s How I Ended This Summer [Kak ia provel etim letom, 2010]. He shows that the two films share an interest in Russian and Soviet modernity both in its artistic and technological manifestations, and they utilise digital technology in order to explore new types of subjectivity emerging as a result of the imperial collapse. The analysis of the films focuses on a specific sensibility of the subject in the digital era revealed in the nuances of the temporal organisations of the cinegames. The article examines how film as a form of art responds to new forms of visuality available to the filmmaker both at the level of representation as well as a modular form of discourse, and what affects it has on the temporal composition of the films. Strukov demonstrates how the cinegame is used as ‘an aesthetic tool that enables the directors to explore the crisis of statehood, national identity and modernity in post-Soviet Russia’ (Strukov 2012: 21).
The crisis of nationhood in the new Russia, one that stems from the collapse of the Soviet empire and the subsequent attempts to redefine Russian national identity, informs the articles by Greg Dolgopolov and Stephen Norris. Dolgopolov (8.3) examines the Night Watch phenomenon in Russia across multiple media platforms, beginning with the 2004 film (based on Sergei Lukianenko’s 1998 novel) and including the various games based on it. In his reading, Dolgopolov argues that the ‘concept of transmedia cannot fully account for the dynamics of multiplatform narratives, popular culture adaptations and commercial imperatives without a consideration of the national popular culture and industry’ of the Russian cinema and gaming worlds. Night Watch is therefore not about empire and nostalgia as the same crises of statehood and nationhood identified by Strukov.
Norris (8.4) takes up these issues through a case study of Fedor Bondarchuk’s 2005 blockbuster film, Ninth Company [9 rota], which brought the story of the Soviet-Afghan War to the big screen. Bondarchuk’s movie set box office records and won awards, but it also sparked an intense debate about the meanings of the war itself, a debate conducted across several media platforms, including games. Audience members and gamers all attempted to understand the legacies of the Afghan War and its patriotic applications in present-day Russia: what mattered in these debates, as Norris writes, were the new media outlets available to Russians, ranging from blockbuster films to online chat rooms to video games.
Gernot Howanitz (8.5) also takes a case study—the 2010 first-person shooter game Metro 2033—and uses it to argue for its interferences with literature and with other games. He evaluates the game through the lens of ėkranizatsiia [screenisation] in order to draw out the connections between film, literature, and games that all worked to make Metro 2033 popular in Russia. In the end, as Howanitz argues, Metro 2033 is a cinegame, a bibliogame and a ludogame.
Overall the special issue addresses a series of interrelated question. What are the historical, political and cultural factors that have created cinegames in the region? How have video games transformed film spectatorship? What is the political potential of socio-cultural practices that involve both film and computer games? What is the new temporal economy of films that are based on computer games? How do films enrich the ludic experience of gamers? What is the role of fan activity in establishing links between films and games? What is the impact of film-game hybrids on the existing system of film genres? What is the critical perception of such films in the counties in the region? What is the role of such films and games in the processing of rebuilding national entertainment industries in the post-totalitarian countries? How do film-game products respond to global cultural trends and engage with national cultural traditions? Is it possible to apply the theoretical framework of transnational cinema to such films? As the essays that follow indicate, the answers to these questions are not ones easily reduced to the formulas offered by Jenkins, Brookey, Dyer-Witherford and de Peuter, and others. We hope that the answers provided in the essays in this special issue will help stimulate further research into the dynamic cultures of cinegames.
The discussion of cinegames continues in the ‘Reports and Commentaries’ section. Vitaly Chernetsky (8.6.1) reviews Oleh Sentsov’s 2011 film Gamer, a documentary-style movie about a young competitive video gamer in Ukraine. The second commentary, by Dirk Uffelmann (8.6.2), announces the Spring School by the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Passau (March 2013), which is devoted to the topic of digital mnemonics in Slavic Studies.
The issue concludes with three book reviews (8.7.1-8.7.3). Vlad Strukov reviews ‘Moving Data: The iPhone and the Future of Media’ (edited by Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau), Robert Saunders reviews ‘The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You (by Eli Pariser) and Ruth Kitchen reviews ‘Screening Torture: Media Representations of State Terror and Political Domination’ (edited by Michael Flynn and Fabiola Salek).
The issue was guest-edited by Stephen M. Norris (Miami University, Ohio, USA) and Vlad Strukov (University of Leeds, UK).
The issue was prepared by Sudha Rajagopalan, Ellen Rutten, Henrike Schmidt and Vlad Strukov, with editorial support from Pedro Hernandez and Kristen Meredith.
Stephen M. Norris & Vlad Strukov, Guest-Editors.
Oxford, Ohio and London, England; December 2012.
Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig de Peuter (2009). Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri (2000). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Imre, Anikó (2009). Identity Games: Globalization and the Transformation of Media Cultures in the New Europe. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Jenkins, Henry (2003). ‘Transmedia Storytelling.’ Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/news/401760/transmedia-storytelling/ (accessed 4 February 2013).
Jenkins, Henry (2006). Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York University Press.
McClean, Shilo T. (2007). Digital Storytelling: The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Shembel, Daria (2012). ‘A Sixth Part of the World. A Film-Engine and a Database. Dziga Vertov’s Cine-Eye, Video Games and Contemporary Digital Media’. Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media, 8, 1-18. https://www.digitalicons.org/issue08/daria-shembel/ (accessed 13 March 2013).
Strukov, Vlad (2012). ‘Ludic Digitality: A. Sokurov’s Russian Ark and A. Popogrebskii’s How I Ended This Summer as Cinegames’. Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media, 8, 19-45. https://www.digitalicons.org/issue08/vlad-strukov/ (accessed 13 March 2013).
Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Pat Harrigan (eds) (2004). First Person Shooter: New Media as Story, Performance and Game. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Wark, McKenzie (2007). Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.