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The Sandbox: New Movies Enter an Old Dimension of Gaming

The Sandbox: New Movies Enter an Old Dimension of Gaming (photo)

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It’s easy to understand why video games continue to be viewed as child’s play. Since the Atari 2600’s groundbreaking 1977 debut, the gaming industry has targeted kids as its prime demographic, defining itself via cartoon mascots and titles that conceal any gameplay or thematic complexity behind a veneer of juvenelia. Yet despite that situation, over the past decade a quiet gaming revolution has begun to show signs of maturity. As PR flacks will readily tell you, the domestic gaming biz now outpaces Hollywood’s annual box office ($21.33 billion to $9.78 billion in 2008 profits alone). Even when factoring in games’ higher average prices and that such figures don’t include DVD and Blu-ray receipts, a discrepancy of that magnitude is fairly astonishing. But it’s not incomprehensible. If plenty of gaming products remain kid-centric, the field has also, in tandem with its original children-of-the-’80s fans’ advancing ages, expanded to include more than just “E for Everyone”-rated entertainment. Games, from “Grand Theft Auto” to “Rock Band” to “World of Warcraft” — have steadily been growing up.

As proven by Hollywood’s endless stream of crummy R-rated movies (or TV junk food like “Rock of Love Bus”), just because something appeals to an adult demo doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth a lick. And while that also holds true for video games, which routinely mistake cursing, bloodshed and Cinemax-style sexual content for “maturity,” the medium has — in ways not always noticeable to casual onlookers, but plain anyone who spends at least a portion of their free time with an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Wii controller in hand — developed an unmistakable strain of sophistication. Roger Ebert may have famously denigrated it as an inherently inferior art form, but any examination of modern gaming on its own terms (rather than against those of literature, film or theater) suggests otherwise. With regards to aesthetics and interface mechanics, as well as to their unique use of interactivity to create visceral and emotional responses, to address moral issues and to investigate the potential of different narrative modes in a hyper-media-saturated culture, video games really are gradually approaching the level of, for lack of a better word, art.

That may sound like highfalutin’ overreaching to the average ear, but that assessment’s been taken to heart by a host of mainstream media big shots, from behind-the-camera A-listers like Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and John Woo, all of whom are involved in game production, to center stage talent like Samuel L. Jackson (“Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”), Liam Neeson (“Fallout 3”) and Vin Diesel (“Wheelman” pictured right), three of the many name-brand stars who’ve contributed performances to recent blockbuster titles. Predictably, where the talent goes, so too goes Hollywood’s major studios, which have not only noticed but initiated measures to counteract gaming’s pop-cultural ascendancy. And nowhere is that more noticeable than in their eager embrace of a half-century-old gimmick that — courtesy of heavily hyped 2009 theatrical releases like DreamWorks’ “Monsters vs. Aliens” and James Cameron’s “Avatar” — is now primed to be a familiar facet of one’s moviegoing experience: 3D.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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