A Gamer on the Stairs

in 3rd Odessa International Film Festival

by Mike Naafs

For a cinephile it is hard to refrain from nostalgia while sitting on the Battleship Potemkin stairs in Odessa. Ahh, film history! Until one realizes that it has become what it promised to become: history. ‘The past is not dead, it is not even past’? Nothing remains, sitting on the Odessa stairs one feels like when reading about Chekhov’s house, where he wrote his short stories, bothered by noisy children, correcting nannies and chatting ladies. That time has passed, unrelentingly closed off from today’s reality.

“Has the light gone out for you? Because the light’s gone for me. It is the 21st century. It is the 21st century”

While walking around at the Odessa International Film Festival in the 21st century, I think about the anachronism; the 20th century belonged to cinema, with its time, attention, passion, dedication and obedience for the seventh art form. Only little remains of that in the 21st century. Even though film festivals tantalize us with the belief that there still are people that care for cinema, they only seem to do so for a week. Thereafter the bubble bursts, everyday life sets in, and cinema loses its attraction. That was very different in the 20th century; cinema became the new theatre and joined a likewise category: inspiring for insiders, but leaving outsiders untouched.

It does not really matter, the main question is merely: what follows? Is there an eighth art form? One thing is sure: whatever will emerge, it must arrive on its own. It will need to appear on your own individual screen. It cannot be something that is enjoyed collectively while sitting on a seat, surrendering to the public. It seems to have become a huge challenge to sit still and concentrate whilst in a crowd nowadays.

The art form of the 21st century will need to come with headphones and a personal screen. Just like Koss (Vladilav Zhuk) practices for five to six hours a day in Oleg Sentjov’s Gamer (Gaamer). He wants to become a champion of the Quake Tournament – an online game that is played all around the world. With his own avatar he plays against someone else: a one-on-one challenge. The public decides who wins, and Koss always wins. He is destined to join the world championships in Los Angeles, which are organized amidst the E3: the largest video game market in the world (A market reminiscent of the Cannes film market, just that the E3 is much larger). Koss has just one ambition: it is only gold that counts. Strangely enough, he does not show this ambition at all. Sentsjov gives the viewer an archetypical gamer: he is lonely, silent and introverted. It is a young person with a burning ambition – as shown in a wonderful scene in the American hotel – which he never reveals. And when plans go wrong and Koss achieves only the second place, the world outside reacts indifferently and unkind – not much different than before the match. Why continue playing?

It is here, that Koss makes a mistake, just like Sentsjov does. He simply should have started a new game. A game in which it does not really matter whether you are the best nor whether you contribute to social life at all. A gamer could surely also revolve around the aesthetic pleasure of simply touring the virtual world that the game artist created. One can travel where ever and whenever one wants; enjoy the views and sights; listen to magnificent soundtracks; and – most importantly – communicate with fellow players. ‘Have you walked around the bridge? What did that bird mean to tell us?’

Studio Ghilbli (that gave us Spirited Away and Howls Moving Castle) is about to release their first computer game with the appropriate title: The Another World. It echoes this age – helped by cinema – and does away with realism. Nowadays we are forced to seek flight in virtual fantasy worlds. My prediction is that Hayo Miyazaki’s computer game will become the Battleship Potemkin of its time. A game for all; it can be played anywhere, preferably on a personal screen with headphones on. Even on the Odessa steps.

Edited by Yael Shuv