A Response to Mr. Bob "Moviebob" Chipman's latest commentary

This is a response to this series of tweets by Mr. Chipman:

Given the context of Mr. Chipman’s tweets taken as a whole and having followed his work as an avid fan for some time, I feel reasonable secure assuming he has in his mind for gaming a paradigm shift akin to the collapse of the studio system and the rise of “New Hollywood”. I say this because, in Mr. Chipman’s own words, gaming needs “a superior, progressive audience” which indicates he has in his mind a demographic shift for the medium which is precisely what happened to usher in New Hollywood, and also in his own words “the dinosaur AAA-space” which I believe to be an allusion (however unintentional) to the studio system.

I’m not attempting to put words in Mr. Chipman’s mouth, and it is certainly not my intent, so if this assumption is incorrect or off-base I would be more than happy to apologize. Nevertheless, I would like to compare such a paradigm shift in gaming to the rise of New Hollywood to see if it pans out. Regardless of Mr. Chipman’s viewpoints I would strongly urge individuals to view his “Hollywood History 101” series of videos on The Escapist as they are immensely informative as well as entertaining, as well as my chief source of information in this post. I would also suggest viewing The Story of FIlm: an Odyssey by Mark Cousins (readily available on Netflix streaming) for those more interested in cinema and the (international) history of film itself.

And, in the sake of full disclosure, I don’t consider myself a “film buff”. I have at best lay knowledge of cinema and the history of film, I don’t work in the film industry (nor have any inclination), and I don’t have a film degree. I’m merely commenting to the fullest of my (limited) knowledge of the topic at hand, and fully invite anyone to correct me when (not if, when) I go wrong.

It is very true changing demographics precipitated the rise of New Hollywood. Namely, filmmakers’ target demographic shifted from older and less-educated consumers to the younger, generally better-educated, more politically liberal (and certainly more inclined to counterculture), and most importantly more-affluent baby boomers. Accompanying this shift in demographic was the larger cultural context of the numerous upheavals, movements, unrest and revolutions of the 1960s (sexual, countercultural, political), which cannot be ignored especially as the same individuals responsible for those revolutions were also Hollywood’s new target demographic.

Which is why Hollywood turned to that generation, among which were the great auteurs of the era, to make movies for the target demographic — they understood their audience, and their audience’s desires, something the older and more established producers and directors did not. I would argue, at least for Hollywood’s part not “for the art” but “for the profit” — not to deride or undermine the achievements and brilliance of the auteurs, but rather to point out capitalist endeavors are, like it or not, still capitalist. They did so because the “star-driven” and “epic film” genres of the 1950s and early-to-mid ’60s which propped up the major studios following the Paramount anti-trust case ceased to be profitable (increasing salaries, budgets, and decreasing box office grosses do that).

Of course, that was not the only factor leading to New Hollywood. The end of the Hays Code, in itself a self-enforced industry-wide system of censorship, and its replacement by the MPAA ratings system (which as of 2014 is little better, especially in terms of suppressing indie filmmakers, but that is a conversation for another time) was a watershed moment in which producers, and directors, and writers whose expression had been long repressed were free to do as they will.

Those three reasons are generally — at least, as far as I’ve ever read or seen — accepted as critical to the rise of New Hollywood (not the press and critics in and of themselves). Now, what of the consequences of the rise of New Hollywood? The rise of auteur theory and the birth of New Wave cinema certainly signified a paradigm shift in (at least American) filmmaking. It also saw the rise of the summer blockbuster which led to a new equilibrium in the “tentpole system” by which those selfsame blockbusters raise capital for indie and art films (as well as “Oscar season”). Cinema as an art and expressive medium moved forward, but on the backs (and the dollar) of the old studios eager to turn a profit off a new demographic…and now, yesteryear’s auteurs are today’s ossified establishment, struggling to cope with the era of digital distribution and newfound populism of content creation.

But, does the precipitating factors of the rise of New Hollywood really match up with the realities of today’s gaming industry and consumer base?

First, demographics; as an entertainment medium, film and gaming is a consumer-driven marketplace. Demographics are key, as without understanding consumers and their desires products (yes, even commodified art, which is the case with film and games alike) simply will not sell, and the businesses that produce them will not succeed. The demographics for gaming aren’t undergoing a generational, political, or cultural shift; that already happened. In fact, the average age of gamers is increasing (entirely explainable with the relative newness of gaming as a mainstream hobby, and historical connotations of gaming as a “children’s” hobby precluding older individuals from entering it).

Second, the state of the industry, namely profitability. The gaming industry, including triple-A, is growing. The triple-A’s, especially, despite numerous missteps and hot off the heels of a global recession are exceeding expectations. One would, at least, expect if the first factor were present in some way the industry would be lagging, by failing to meet newfound consumer demands (clearly, it isn’t).

Third, there is no defining, watershed moment on the horizon. Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing have existed for years. Gaming has no “Hays Code” and even were there the industry holds no coercive power in the existence of alternate means of funding, production, and distribution, and the ESRB ratings system is going nowhere.

Simply put, the gaming industry won’t be undergoing a “New Hollywood” style paradigm shift any time soon. What would happen, already has, and ultimately pearl-clutching over the state of the industry by the gaming press is much ado about nothing (with many in the gaming press assuming the role of Don John, no less). The precipitating factors simply aren’t there. That doesn’t mean it will never happen, or that industry shocks (a distinct notion from an outright market crash in the vein of that which happened in 1983) in the near future will not trigger reform, but for the time being such a massive industry shift is not on the horizon.

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