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Gabe Newell vs. J.J. Abrams: A (friendly) clash of film vs. games

Movie/TV and game veterans JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell banter good-naturedly about the differences between film and games, showing why their respective artforms are unique -- and precious.

Simon Carless, Blogger

February 6, 2013

2 Min Read

In a kickoff keynote at the DICE Summit, movie/TV and game veterans JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell bantered good-naturedly about the differences between film and games, showing clips from each other's projects to show why both games and film are unique - and precious - artforms. Star Trek and upcoming Star Wars movie director JJ Abrams started out conceding to the strengths of video games as a medium, suggesting that "games in many cases are far better than movies in telling story," partly because "film and TV has… to tell stories in a linear way." Valve's Gabe Newell then aggressively interrupted Abrams, noting that "movies take away agency," and cuing up a clip from Abrams' own Cloverfield that is intentionally and massively chaotic. Newell then joked that regular people would want to "put the camera down and f*cking run… but you won't let me do that." In riposte, Abrams claimed waggishly that "players are often driving the scene in the wrong direction," asking to show a specially made clip from Half-Life 2 which featured the player intentionally goofing off, throwing things around, and teleporting things while there's an important story scene going on elsewhere in the room. Newell believes that games are ultimately a great medium because players can be "architects of their own amusement." But Abrams, cuing up more clips from Valve's own Half-Life 2 which show a lot of exposition and a mute Gordon Freeman, poked that many game characters are "empty vessels… [and] players don't communicate behavior in the way that you would." Ultimately, a lot of this film vs. games sparring was a setup to a great deal of agreement between Newell and Abrams, who are obviously both quick studies in each other's mediums and have a great deal of respect for each other. One thing that both speakers clearly believe in is Abrams' passionately put point: "If you don't care about the characters, nothing matters." Much of the rest of the talk focused on agreement -- "we're recapitulating a series of conversations we had," said Newell -- and the talk ended in a suggestion that JJ Abrams, under his Bad Robot Interactive division, and Newell's Valve, will be working together in the future in both directions: game-to-movie and movie-to-game. "We're going to try to figure out if we can make a Half-Life movie and a Portal movie together," Newell revealed at the talk's conclusion.

About the Author(s)

Simon Carless


Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

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