There's some debate on my forums about various movie reviews like this one that call Avatar "like a video game."
The problem some of my forum members have is when movie reviewers call something "like a video game" and have no idea what they are talking about. Take this quote:
You’ll feel like you just mastered the greatest video game ever conceived in an amazing three-hour setting. You’ll change your life, get the girl and save the world, yet all you had to do was sit back and enjoy the fly.
You actually won't feel like you've mastered anything because a movie is a form of passive entertainment and mastering something, especially something fundamentally interactive, is an active process. So what the heck is that even supposed to mean?
The thing is, Avatar really is like a game, it's just only certain people can really credibly say that. It's kind of like how I can't really say the N-word. If I say it (or even if I write this paragraph?), it would be really offensive. If a black person says it though, they say it with a kind of knowledge and experience that I can't have. Incidentally, I saw a news report yesterday where a woman described a Nigerian terrorist's appearance as "African American." Wow. Political correctness gone so awry that it ends up describing a terrorist who hates America as "American" just because we have no acceptable way to say "black" anymore.
Back to our story. At the very least, I will claim that somewhere in the world, you can call something "like a video game." I mean a thing that isn't a video game...isn't a video game. We know that. But a thing can really be "like" a video game. It can share some essential quality or remind us of a video game. In what way is the movie Avatar "like a video game" then?
It takes place in a fantasy world. The world uses hyper-saturated, vibrant colors. More importantly, it's a world with *jumping*. Lots of it. Running, jumping, climbing, and swinging through trees. It's a world where the ground lights up under your feet as you take a step. A world where touching a plant lights it up or makes it change its size. A world where you can ride an array of fantastic beasts--both ground and flying versions. In short, it's a world of INTERACTION.
Now, you could be a jerk and claim that everything has interaction. The world of, say, Law & Order (a cop / lawyer show) has "interaction." The cops fire bullets, the lawyers open doors, etc. But seriously, don't be a jerk about it. The world of Avatar has an extreme level of interaction (between the world itself and the inhabitants of the world) that's just uncommon. I fully understand that there is no more interaction between the screen and the audience than any other movie. I'm not saying *that* type of interaction is going on. What I am saying is that if you held a mirror up to "interaction" you'd see something like Avatar in the reflection. What you wouldn't experience is "feeling you've mastered the greatest video game ever made." That's kind of ridiculous. Nonetheless, I think it's still fair to call Avatar "like a video game."
But here's the boring part: so what? I don't mean the comparison as a compliment. I don't mean it as an insult. I simply mean it as description. (Incidentally, many movie reviewers seem to assume a game is automatically some terrible thing and they use the comparison as an insult.) Anyway, we've now described a facet of the movie. We've described that it depicts a world that's highly interactive. Pretty boring (yet true) statement, if you ask me.
It would be more interesting to discuss the story, that it casts humans as the bad guys, just like in the movie District 9. In both cases, the ignorant humans have no regard for the "others" and are happy to destroy what's sacred to the others without a thought, to slaughter them without a thought, and so on. A member of my forums named WaterD famously said, "The humanity is sad," and I applaud movies like these that try to drive that point home so that maybe "the humanity" can be a bit less sad going forward. Maybe occupying foreign countries is bad. Maybe huge military budgets aren't the greatest idea, in light of the healthcare shortcomings our main character faces. In his world, they can afford outrageous expeditions to conquer foreign lands, but they can't afford to fix his legs, even though they have the technology. The humanity is sad.
Anyway, it's "like a game." And that's not the point.