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In Focus: Skyrim and Live-Action Trailers

In Focus: what’s the point of live-action game trailers?

What’s the point of making a live-action trailer for a video game? What’s the message that the game developer is sending? That games aren’t cool enough to be interesting in their own right? That films are more worthy of attention than games? That the game developer doesn’t have sufficient confidence in its work to just show that?

All of those points should be considered, especially in the case of the latest live-action trailer for a video game. While previous releases – the Deus Ex: Human revolution trailer is a good recent example – explore themes of the game but not the game itself, the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim trailer looks more like a scene from the gameplay trailer, but with humans rather than pixels. Why bother?


In the live-action trailer (above), we see a medieval-fantasy town sheathed in wintery grey terrorised by a dragon. People flee in panic and terror, rushing past a man wearing the same down-horned helmet as the hero of the gameplay trailer. He tenses his fist, knuckles popping, before striding through the wailing crowd, unsheathing his sword to stand before a dragon that mysteriously lands rather than just roasting him from the air.

What have we learned? What new facts about Skyrim are we now excited about? Not the graphics, the menus, the interactivity of the game-world, the combat mechanics, and certainly not the game itself – nothing of the game is on show.

All we take away from the trailer is that Skyrim has a medieval-fantasy setting, and features odd helmets and dragons.

In Focus: Skyrim and Live-Action Trailers In Focus: what’s the point of live-action game trailers?
Does that helmet look familiar?

The Skyrim trailer isn’t the best of live-action trailers, so it’s easy to criticise. However, those previous points about a lack of faith in games – how they appear, what’s possible with game-engine cinematics – are present in every live-action trailer. Games look great these days, so why not show them off? Even if a game engine hasn’t been designed to do cinematic trailers, animation techniques can do the job.

Games might be prettier than ever before, but we’re still nowhere near photo-realism: show a polished animated trailer and you set the expectation that the forthcoming game will have pretty graphics, show a live-action trailer and there’s no clear indication as to how the game will look. Graphics are still a strong way to grab people’s attention and create excitement and interest; not showing the game raises certain doubts, surely.

Aside from budgetary concerns, the aim of a live-action trailer is to present a game as being realistic, because look: there are real people. The Skyrim, Deus Ex and Mass Effect 3 live-action trailers all hope to encourage emotional engagement via real people and ground the fantastical events in a real world.

What a shame. Video games are a sufficiently rich and engaging medium that story, emotion, atmosphere and characterisation can be intrinsic to it, and not implied via people in silly costumes.

In Focus is a regular discussion and analysis of the latest games trailers.

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