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Today’s Word

“Everybody these days is talking about transmedia,” said video game agent Keith Boesky in a recent New York Times article. “Transmedia”! Finally my enemy has a name.

I remember the afternoon I first had a sense of what was to come. It was in film school. One day, from out of nowhere, it was decided that we of USC’s Film Production department were required to take a video game class. The moment I heard the news I remember thinking, “Years from now, I will look back on this moment as the beginning of the end of meaningful content in Hollywood.” It was a flash-forward containing a flashback.

That day, I barged – literally, barged – into the dean’s office. I was shaky, borderline belligerent, and fueled by the righteous fire of someone whose parents were footing the bill.

“This is a mistake,” I said. “You’ve got to be kidding with the video games.”

The dean looked up. His still eyes, peering out from behind thick screenwriterly frames, told me it was no use. “It’s the future,” he muttered. “Electronic narrative is the future.”

“Electronic narrative? I came here to learn film. Cinema. Not to analyze Donkey Kong.”

“It’s a good skill to have.” He put down his dog-eared copy of Syd Field. “Another arrow for your quiver.”

“What arrow? What quiver? I want human feelings!”

“It’s another form of story telling. That’s all.”

“Show me a video game that does what Cries and Whispers does, and I’ll take the class. Show me Ingmar Bergman’s Mortal Kombat, in which I can play Liv Ullmann and do battle with a total metaphysical breakdown, and you’ve got yourself a convert.” I was kidding, but I was completely serious.

The next day, I was in a basement with fifteen pale-faced boys who I was certain had never seen a bare tit in their lives. For two hours, we discussed a game called Grand Theft Auto. Then I raised my hand.

“Have any of you ever wept at the end of a video game?” I asked. “I mean really wept. Convulsive sobs.”

They blinked back at me. Then one spoke.

“The end of Final Fantasy IV is really sad.”

I didn’t speak. My professor – in all honesty, a very nice man – tried then to help me see it another way. “You know, of course, that film was originally perceived as a low-culture medium.”

“You can’t compare the evolution of a mammal to the evolution of an amoeba,” I announced. “Film came from D.W. Griffith. You people come from Pong.”

After class that day, I returned to the dean and begged him for clemency. “They’re Pong People,” I pleaded. “And they’re going to kill us.”

The dean hung his head.

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