Introduction to Film and Games Summit

Lisa Gotto

Ludic concerns have consistently been at the heart of moving images. In the 19th century, optical toys like the flipbook, the phenakistiscope, the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, and the praxinoscope allowed viewers to play with the moving image and to explore visual illusion as a game in its own right. Far from being mere toys for children, these optical devices demonstrated new ways of experimenting with what and how we see things through play. Subsequently, later motion picture films have preserved and built on this specific ludic spirit.

Since its inception, cinema has profoundly relied on the ability to play with audiences and to investigate game motifs and game motivations. From the playfulness of slapstick comedy to the creation of characters like gamblers and tricksters, from the cinematic construction of visual sites of play like speedways, roller coasters, and race courses to the filmic architecture of game spaces like stages, arenas, labyrinths, mirror halls, or casinos, from the self-reflexive function of playing with genres to the ludic scenarios of mindgame movies: Cinema has developed an extraordinarily rich tradition of playing games with and through film.

Commenting and reflecting on this cineludic legacy, the articles of this section trace the relationship between film and games theoretically and through the analysis of compelling examples. They are largely focused on the following questions: Can the cinematic corpus offer a contribution to the evolution of game logics and aesthetics? Can it inspire and provoke the way we think about the philosophy of games? And finally: What more can we learn about video games through the lens of film studies?

Lorenz Engell’s essay “Serial Games. On the Philosophy of Difference and Repetition in Moving Images” focuses on the intricate relations between seriality, intermediality, and creativity as they occur in film, television, and digital games. By drawing on the philosophical concepts of seriality from Stanley Cavell, Gilles Deleuze, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Engell argues that moving images shape our understanding of seriality and can be read as a philosophy of difference and repetition. The distinct quality of digital games, however, allows us to rethink established notions of seriality and processuality. Games are not only objects but also operations; they unfold as activities, practices, and experiences that are able to undermine the distinction of simultaneity and sucessivity, of space and time, and of reproduction and creativity.

In “Games that Play People: The Facts in the Case of D. Cronenberg,” Bernd Herzogenrath explores how film expands the notion of games and the concepts of absorption and immersion that are associated with it. By focusing on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome[1] and eXistenZ,[2] he contends that these films offer a concept of the virtual that goes beyond the virtual reality of computer games. Both films, in different though related ways, are concerned with cinematic topologics that perforate the boundaries of the magic circle. By fusing and amalgamating various states of inside and outside, virtual and actual, they open play and playfulness in such a way that the distinction between different layers of reality becomes indistinguishable. As such, Herzogenrath maintains, they produce not so much a “clash of realities,” but rather an interlacing of realities.

Rembert Hueser’s essay “Abu Goat” offers a cultural-archeological examination of Goat Simulator,[3] a popular third-person simulation game in which the player controls a goat in an open world setting. Digging up sources as varied as Homer’s The Odyssey, Alfred Edmund Brehm’s Life of Animals, images of Abu Simbel, short comedy films from the 1920s, industrial films from the late 1950s, and Hollywood action films from the 2000s, Hueser rebuilds the logic of the game’s ludic landscape as a multifaceted intertwining of the effects of technology and modernity. By approaching Goat Simulator as a complex compound of knowledge constellations, Hueser reveals the ideological tendencies that are inscribed in this game, through both design and play.


eXistenZ (CA/GB 1999, R: David Cronenberg)

Videodrome (CA/USA 1983, R: David Cronenberg)


Goat Simulator (2014, O: Coffee Stain Studios)


[1]     Videodrome (CA/USA 1983, R: David Cronenberg)

[2]     eXistenZ (CA/GB 1999, R: David Cronenberg)

[3]     Goat Simulator (2014, O: Coffee Stain Studios)

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