Game doco tears down misconceptions

WILLIAM KERNS
Last updated 10:55 31/07/2014
INSERT COIN: Jeremy Snead's documentary explores games from the arcade to the art gallery.

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Jeremy Snead, 36 and the creator of the first documentary film about the history and culture of video games - called Video Games: The Movie - loved playing them as a child, but said he was not hooked as a gamer until he recognised their artistic value.

Growing up in Levelland, 30 miles west of Lubbock, Snead does remember enjoying playing Asteroids after his father brought home an Atari system.

But the gamer hidden within Snead would not reveal itself until his family installed its first Nintendo entertainment system.

“Me and my older brother, Benji, would stay up all night and play. Both of us had to prove we were the best at (Super) Mario Brothers.”

During a telephone call to promote the release of his first movie, he recalled, “The first game I ever played by myself was Atari Warriors, for Nintendo. As a player, I was a Rambo-type guy, trying to survive while traveling through a war zone.

“Then, a short time after that, I came across an ‘Atari Warriors’ magazine, which had behind-the-scenes advice on how to stay alive. That was the first time it hit me that someone had to draw these game scenes. Someone had to design it, plan it. I realized that video games are an art form.”

Yet they were still something that he, like many his age, played rather than studied.

Levelland was home, but Snead never felt compelled to enroll at South Plains College or Texas Tech.

“I have been a student of the world from a young age,” he shared. “I remember attending Amarillo College for three days after high school, and I knew college wasn’t for me. I just had so many ideas, and I could not stand sitting in a classroom.”

He agreed to move to Amarillo to work with an uncle’s cable construction business. Instead, taking advantage of a loan from his pastor (Jimmy Evans of Trinity Fellowship Amarillo), he started his first business at age 18, selling cellular telephones.

Thinking ahead, he sold his cellphone dealership and accepted a position at Whisperwood Bank in Lubbock.

Snead explained, “I started a mortgage company with a good friend, Greg Bobbitt, where I learned a lot about managing people and money. From there, I began working at FUNimation Entertainment in Dallas for a few years. Since then I’ve grown as an independent filmmaker with my own company, Mediajuice.”

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As fate would have it, Snead was in the right place at the right time.

Mediajuice, which he formed 12 years ago, allows him to make promotional videos.

He added, “Since I already was working with gaming companies, I also was seeing how they were made. I found all of it fascinating.”

From here, he not only researched statistics involving video games - early in his documentary are jaw-dropping facts regarding the average age of gamers, and the percentage of male and female gamers - but also realised he would need enough time to interview at least 100 people involved in progressing the gaming industry.

Even as an independent, he knew Video Games: The Movie must, first and foremost, be entertaining.

Asked if he worried about preaching only to the choir, Snead said, “That was the other big goal: to bridge the gap between gamers and non-gamers. I was thinking everyone would recognsie Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, but the technology of games has evolved so much since then. I wanted my film to be both entertaining and educational.

“I knew the gamers who saw it would feel represented and proud.”

His method of luring more viewers involved attracting celebrities.

In fact, his first choice for a film narrator was Matt Damon. Snead said Damon tweets a lot about video games he recently has been playing. Ben Affleck does the same.

Sean Astin was just someone he planned to interview as one of the “average Joes” playing video games.

Snead said, “But after our interview, Sean and I engaged in a four-hour, epic dinner. Which is when I learned that Sean is a real hustler, and one of the things he likes a lot is the independent-filmmaking spirit. Sean definitely wanted to be more involved with the movie.

“He expressed such interest. And it hit me that Sean is an actor. But he’s also a geek. He appears to be the type of game-playing nerd whom even parents like. Even my mom said, ‘Hey, that’s the guy from Lord of the Rings.’

“Sean’s a member of that community that bubbles to the surface, and people trust them.”

So Astin was moved into the narrator’s role.

That was important because, Snead pointed out, “The movie had to entertain. Some documentaries are political, or designed to help a cause. What I wanted this movie to do was entertain, and also tear down misconceptions.”

That would not be easy.

Even now, there are complaints that video games are too violent.

News stories about teenagers taking weapons to school, and taking lives, at times mention the young conspirators were addicted to violent video games.

Snead paused before saying, “Since video games are interactive, there are times when violent video games become the flavour of the month. Something to blame. The same has been true of violent films, since we live out many movies in our mind. ... It’s a tough subject, because, yes, there are violent games and there can be consequences to violence.

“On the other hand, think back to when Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly arrived. Practically every adult thought they were corrupting young minds.”

Asked if he had a favorite interview, or an interviewee who surprised him, the answer to both was video pioneer Nolan Bushnell.

Bushnell founded Atari in the early 1970s. He made it possible for the earliest versions of Pong to be played at home. He has since been inducted into the Video Game Hall of Fame, while Newsweek included him in a list of 50 Men Who Changed America.

Snead said, “Nolan totally surprised me when he said that he just stumbled onto the game. I respect him so much. He told me he saw this primitive version of Tennis for Two, and just wanted to adapt it into a game he could put into a place like a Pizza Hut.”

Snead continued, “I just assumed that Nolan had come up with this grand vision from the start.

“But all this shows is that you can just have a simple idea and change the world.”

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