Citizen Kane is to Pac-Man as Rosebud is to Wakka Wakka Wakka


Kane, after dying on Quick Man's stage for the 90th time.

Kane, after dying on Quick Man's stage for the 90th time.

The term “Citizen Kane of gaming” needs to be buried, along with “totes,” “staycation,” and “sparkling vampires”.

Not because it’s an exaggerated phrase, the Godwin equivalent of any Internet argument invoking Hitler or the Holocaust. That, I don’t mind. The problem is that it’s trite. What’s a famous movie that critics like? Citizen Kane. What do I like doing in my spare time? Gaming. How can I combine the two to create a delicious sandwich of my favorite pastime and art/intellectualism? Say X is the video game’s Citizen Kane.

Beyond sounding like a hipster’s failed attempt at MadLibs, the main issue is that it shows a somewhat obvious misunderstanding of a movie like Citizen Kane and, perhaps, movies in general. It was on the top of AFI’s greatest movie list, but is by no means the most important movie to define cinema. Birth of a Nation defined the epic. Metropolis might be the first sci-fi/dystopian vision. Safety Last could be the first high-concept comedy.

Seeking the “Citizen Kane” of games is a silly endeavor because you should be seeking not one but several video games that redefined the genre in some manner. There are plenty games that do this, even if the use the same basic mechanics or style.

Below is an example. First is the final scene of Citizen Kane, which uses deep focus as a “larger than life” visual motif.

Now, below is a video from Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game, a French film that– dare I say it– also used deep focus! In fact, this movie is pretty damn famous (outside the US) and, I believe, uses deep focus much more effectively, especially in relation to the overly-complex plot involving emotional portrayals and backstabbing and cheating and so-on (by the way– it’s not as melodramatic as it sounds; it’s actually pretty funny.)

I know that this makes me appear like some sort of hipster-film snob, but I’m not. Hell, I enjoyed Transformers!… when the robots were fighting. But I think the pursuit of a game that, as Destructoid’s Burch quotes, “[utilizes] a medium’s strength” is really nothing that you need to “find” so much as you have to explain in relation to the genre of video games as a whole. Citizen Kane’s reputation is not unlike many other films that have been released; On the Waterfront is a good example, and so is Chinatown. Nothing particular is unique about deep focus and good editing; hell, this is what films should have. And, as being a complex character study? I can’t count the number of good films focusing on one slightly-disturbed character.

As far as I’m concerned, Doom is a good contender is for such a title, in that it took the FPS and utilized it in a format that, at the time, was novel and seemed perfect for it. I personally wouldn’t argue it, but it’s a viable possibility. So is Goldeneye, Mario 64, Final Fantasy, and so on.

It’s telling that the Citizen Kane of gaming is being used; no one says “the Macbeth of gaming” or “the Mona Lisa of gaming” or “the The Death of a Salesman of gaming,” all of which are genre defining and game-changing in their own ways. Let’s be honest here– it’s not about genre-defining, since we have plenty of games that do– but it’s about games as art, as the game we’re “going to show to Ebert to convince him videogames are a legitimate art form”. There’s a pretty huge difference in games that utilize the medium to its most potent effect, and showing the world games can be art. The latter requires several games to do this, from the indie to the blockbuster to the foreign. It requires an avenue through which games can be studied and explored, returned to and debates, thought upon and analyzed. And while I truly admire sites like Destructoid trying to approach this issue, along with the active fanbase, I think that overall approach is flawed. I don’t want “a” game to showcase gaming as an artform. I want “lots” of games. I want the people, the fans, the game designers, and so on to explain their thinking and their flaws, the ins and outs, the interplay of gamer/game, the controversy (real controversy, not Sambo-watermelon crap), and nuances of gaming as a whole.

A critic would already “roll his eyes” at the debate of a single game that’s definitive of this.

The argument of Portal, Braid, Shadow of the Colossus, and Half-Life are starts. Hell, add in Pong, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Mario 64, Sonic 3/Sonic and Kunckles, Mortal Kombat and Metal Gear Solid. Even the defunct Dreamcast. Show how they started an idea, began a movement, instigated a social and cultural response, supported or subjugated a genre, and so on.

Stop looking for the Rosebud, people, and start looking at everything around it.

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  1. #1 by Jon on October 15, 2009 - 10:42 pm

    Poor Orson Welles…Have you seen the wine commercial?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzbeKtaLi5M

    Face it, dude’s awesome. I’m actually waiting for the Citizen Kane video game. You get to ride a sled, have affairs, run for governor, and then gain a lot of money. It’s a first person sled game.

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