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Dowling: 3D Will Succeed When 'Experiential', Not Gimmick

Ex-Hollywood Reporter EIC Bob Dowling tells Gamasutra ahead of this week's 3D Gaming Summit that James Cameron's concept that "games and film are experiential" will overcome the critics' claims of 3D stereoscopic "gimmicks".
3D stereoscopic technology first emerged in the 1800s, and since its introduction, 3D media seems to always have had a novelty factor -- a certain impracticality -- that relegates it to gimmick status. But today video game console makers are exploring 3D in various ways, whether it's Sony with 3D sterescopic PlayStation 3 games and new Bravia TVs, or even Nintendo with its new upcoming 3DS handheld. That's not to mention the film business, where James Cameron's 3D stereoscopic movie Avatar recently became the highest-grossing film ever with over $2 billion in worldwide sales. That film's success only give game makers more interest in 3D gaming's viability. "3D [film] goes back to the 1890s. There were a lot of permutations of 3D over that whole century, and most of them came about for the wrong reasons," explained Robert Dowling in a phone interview. He's the former editor-in-chief of The Hollywood Reporter, and the co-producer of the 3D Gaming Summit, which takes place April 21-22 in Los Angeles. "The film business was terrified about TV, and then they were terrified about the DVD business, so they decided that they had to come up with something that you could put on the screen that you couldn't deal with on a television screen," he said. In other words, 3D was used more as a means to protect the movie industry's business, rather than as a legitimate creative tool for film makers. "Once [move studios] realized [TV and DVD] were not threats, they kind of lost interest in [3D]," said Dowling. "Also, the projection wasn't very good, people didn't like the glasses and people were getting sick from it. So every one of [the 3D movies] died." At the inaugural 3D Gaming Summit happening this week, Hollywood figures including Avatar producer Jon Landau and Resident Evil film director Paul W.S. Anderson will be presenting keynotes alongside game industry 3D proponents such as Nvidia. The merging of the two disciplines is supposed signify that 3D is no longer about protecting a business, but about the merging of creativity and technology in order to grow a business in both film and games. "With the success of Avatar, I think to a large extent, that solidified 3D as a world of opportunity," said Dowling. "In my way of thinking, when you look at films that have come out, in terms of animation and live action specifically, they have kind of convinced the creative community that they can use 3D as a tool to tell a story better, to make it more interesting and engaging." Movie studios are relying on the game industry to push 3D into the home with technology and media that is compatible with new 3D-capable TVs. "It became clear that one of the biggest drivers of [3D television sales] is going to be games, because there are so many gamers in the world, with consoles, it drives people to that stream," Dowling said. "The idea that gamers can get immersed into a game that they are experiencing through 3D is very attractive," he added. "It's our contention that 3D, television, console and games are all going to merge together, and all be complementary to each other to turn this industry into a really big deal." But there is still a lingering question about the novelty factor of 3D games. The most popular methods of 3D still require glasses, current home solutions require very expensive hardware, and the game industry has yet to see a 3D game that's equivalent to Cameron's Avatar film in terms of execution. So, is 3D gaming really going to push past its gimmick status this time around? "I continually quote Jim Cameron," replied Dowling. "Cameron said at a meeting I was at that he feels the word 'screen' is used inappropriately. He wants to convert that to the word 'window,' because he wants you to come inside to his environment." "Most of the people who are critical of 3D are kind of criticizing what comes out of the screen, the things that pop out at you and all that stuff. That's kind of more gimmicky than anyone else." He continued, "Cameron's concept is much stronger. That is that the whole idea of games and film are experiential -- that you go into the suspension of disbelief, that you get involved in it. And gaming is to a much greater extent involved in [the experience]. And so if you add a dimension such as 3D that allows the consumer of the product to go inside, to a deeper extent, it's going to intensify that engagement, that experience. And everyone's going to want to be a part of it."

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