A massive multiplayer movie experience.

Reading Michael Heilemann’s celebrated investigation of how the character of Chewbacca was crafted, it struck me that movies are multi-player text-based virtual reality games caught on film.

With movies, you start out with a script and then you enlist a bunch of players – artists, craftspeople, actors, musicians, etc. – to they work out the tens of thousands of possibilities of that script well enough to put those thousands of decisions on film for other people to play with – or, really, just “play back.”

The large, highly organized teams who make video games are engaged in a similar activity. They create logic and coordination challenges for individual players to solve and, increasingly, social challenges that allow groups and individuals to take on both scripted and improvised roles which in turn create additional challenges for players.

Role playing in games creates dynamics and opportunities for performances that cannot be produced otherwise; they can neither be simulated without humans nor ever fully anticipated. (As an aside, it’s an established critique that the best Star Wars movies were made by large groups of players and the worst were made by just a few.)

Returning to the economy of films, we know that not everyone can or would want to participate in the making of a movie. However, many enjoy watching the record of such performances. Are movies of massive multiplayer games on the horizon?

“A cast of thousands.”

There is already a vibrant tradition of recording individual performances (see “speed runs“) in games. I suspect we are on the cusp of seeing similar recordings of group performances – thanks, in large part, to the foresight of video game developers who are including more sophisticated recording tools along with their games.

If you could coordinate (orchestrate, record and edit together) the performances within a massive multi-player game, you might end up with a continuous movie experience that is closer to the vitality of theater than most films ever get.