It’s far from a comprehensive evaluation, but I’ve long considered the videogame camera an inherently worthless object, and the images it captures similarly, appropriately, meaningless. Game-makers may set out objects and areas of interest, in games like The Last of Us, which naturally draw our attention, but without a director or artistically minded controller working on behalf of the director, the game camera is a kind of loose cannon. In the “film” of a game, i.e. the footage of someone playing a game, there are no edits, no cuts. Cutscenes and other non-interactive moments in games are different, but they command a passive audience, so are not “game” in the conventional sense, but short, animated movies. What is and isn’t visually pertinent may seem to the player like common sense, but without bespoke direction over the camera, looking at the floor in BioShock for five hours becomes as much a part of the pictorial narrative of the game as observing one of its expertly designed narrative markers. There may be things in games we are supposed to look at, but so long as the camera is interactive – which to an extent it must be if the game is to remain a game, and not segue briefly into a film – everything it captures holds equal significance. Since each image is encouraged and created using the same free-form process, interactivity, each image boasts as much of a place in the visual narrative of a game as one another.
Virginia uses cuts, but rather than elucidate the game’s narrative or draw attention to specific imagery they serve more as level transitions. With each fresh cut, Virginia is still shot from the same camera angle – the protagonist’s eye line – and rarely do the cuts respond, in a meaningful way, to the scenes preceding or succeeding them. This is perhaps a limited criticism of Virginia’s visual language, based solely on the Eisenstein, Kuleshov and Soviet montage theories of film editing, which insist editing be used to sensibly and cogently connect images to each other, and it is of course acceptable to use cuts as a sort of filmic non-sequitur, implying, through editing, not a linear and concrete series of events but mood, emotion and other more abstract sensations- Luis Buñuel, Antonin Artaud and Germaine Durac saw in cutting a device for creating non-representational streams of consciousness. But Virginia has conventional ambitions. It’s a crime mystery, nakedly aspiring to shows like The X Files and Twin Peaks. If the game purports to abstraction or expressionism, its creators sadly do not have a flair for imagery. There is no great, single frame in Virginia. There is no particularly impressive or significant-seeming cut. Though I lament the uselessness of a player-controlled camera, the makers of Virginia use their editing not to draw attention to fantastic, meaningful moments – not to clarify themselves – but to unnecessarily obfuscate the game’s story. Where there is none, cuts in Virginia are used to imply complexity and meaning. It is a game which, through rapid and unintelligible movement of the camera, prohibits players from making any firm assumptions about what is going on – because we are afraid of saying the game does nothing and is about nothing, for fear of appearing philistinic, we might say Virginia “has something,” though it is smart and opaque so cannot be described. This is precisely what the game and its makers would like. Cuts are used liberally, unnecessarily, in Virginia, so that players will be forced to nod their heads in incomprehension. If a big secret does lie at Virginia’s centre, it’s that editing can perpetuate visual stories as jumbled and worthless as those captured via a spinning, loose, constantly rolling player-controlled camera.