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A Short Film Speculates on Just How Pervasive Gaming Culture Might Become

A Short Film Speculates on Just How Pervasive Gaming Culture Might Become (photo)

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We’re never actually in the real world in “PLAY,” a 20-minute short film that’s part of the FutureStates series, which asks filmmakers to postulate on aspects of life in the coming decades. Instead, viewers glide through a series of verisimilitudes, peeling away layer after layer of virtuality. “PLAY,” which was directed by David Kaplan, who co-wrote the film with Eric Zimmerman, takes the viewer through some of the most commonly-held tropes of modern video games, but turns them on their ear. So, it’s the cute Japanese schoolgirl who’s playing the violent urban mayhem game reminiscent of the “Grand Theft Auto” series.

Lots of criticism has cropped up around video games. The medium’s been portrayed as a dangerously addictive habit, a seed for societal irresponsibility or the domain of pervy weirdos. It’s also been looked as a social connector and as a generator of ethereal interactive landscapes full of possibility. With an indie filmmaker and an indie gamemaker at the helm, “PLAY” looks at all of those ideas without judging. You can watch the film below — in the interview that follows, Kaplan and Zimmerman talk about the differences and similarities between games and movies and why Roger Ebert just may not get it.

04232010_play2.jpgHow did this project get started? Were you approached by FutureStates or did you bring the idea to them?

David Kaplan: ITVS suggested I submit a proposal for a science-fiction short. A few people had recommended me based on my past work, particularly my fairy tale short films. I came up with the basic idea for “PLAY” and was happy to receive the initial development grant. At that point, I invited Eric to become involved in the project.

Eric Zimmerman: When David contacted me, he had the core idea of a film set in a future where games are indistinguishable from reality, and that the film followed a character through a series of games within games within games. David and I fleshed things out from there.

Did the two of you have a relationship before this project?

DK: We had never worked together before but we’ve known each other for almost nine years.

EZ: We’ve been admirers of each others’ work from afar. The tipping point was when I got David to playtest my board game “The Unfinished Tale.” There’s a lot of writing in the board game that connects with some of the fairy tale themes of David’s films.

Eric, you’ve made games and now a film. What were the biggest similarities and divergences between the two mediums?

EZ: This project reinforced for me the idea that games are not films, and that all of the big budget 3D games motivated by cinema envy are really barking up the wrong tree. Film is so much a documentary medium — even on a narrative project. Film captures a moment in time: a particular selection of lens and camera angle, a performance, the light on the scene. Games, on the other hand, are synthetic from the ground up. They’re math. They’re simulations. The similarity for me is that as a designer, I’m creating an experience for someone. With a nontraditional film like “PLAY,” you have to really think about how the viewer is led into the experience, step by step, similar to the way that a player comes to learn how to play a game.

04232010_play4.jpgThe first vignette adopts the camera language of certain video games, but that gets dropped. Was that shift making a point about evolution?

DK: We considered returning to the first-person-shooter POV perspective for some of the other segments, but my concern was that it would interfere with the audience’s ability to immerse themselves fully in the film. It’s a gimmick to get the film kick-started in a very visceral way. Plus, there are many video games, such as “World of Warcraft,” which have a more traditional filmic third-person camera perspective.

EZ: It’s much weirder to have a film that is a game in which you don’t have a strict POV. The literal FPS idea keeps the viewer grounded in terms of who is the main character and what their point of view is supposed to be. But as soon as we move away from that, we have room for more ambiguity and misdirection.

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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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