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Can Hollywood win young men back from video gaming?

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Activision’s video game, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2," shattered sales records and became the biggest release of any entertainment property ever in 2009, earning $310 million in 24 hours and solidifying video games as the entertainment medium of today.

At The Wrap, Sharon Waxman offers a list of remedies for what ails the movie business. One of them jumped out at me:

Find a way to connect the gaming obsession of what used to be the core moviegoing audiences – young males 13-24 – with the movie experience. Learn from that interactivity and use that to drive them to the multiplex. (This is a challenge for marketing geniuses. Hollywood has plenty of those.)

Sounds great, but this isn't a marketing problem — it's a medium problem. Apart from technical innovations in digital filmmaking, special effects, and 3-D, the movies are basically the same as they were 30, 40, 50 years ago. A bunch of people sit in a large darkened room and wait for huge moving image to be projected onto a screen. The seats are more comfortable and the sodas are vastly larger. But the medium is about as 20th century as could be. Mid-20th century.

Video games are also 20th century — but very late 20th century. Naturally, Hollywood looks at how wildly successful gaming has been for what Waxman calls the "core" audience (those 13-24 dudes) and figues it can somehow make movies more like games. 

Apart from adapting successful video games to film, in a sort of high-concept piggybacking strategy, this isn't going to work. Interactivity isn't going to come to the multiplex. 

Gaming has become a kind of disturbing activity, as Tom Bissell, a reformed gaming addict, explained in his 2010 book "Extra Lives." Interactivity doesn't actually capture what the 13-24 year-old "cores" are doing. Immersion is more like it. And this is just where the console games are concerned, the ones that are designed to play on an Xbox or a Playstation. When the kids aren't engaged in marathon 3-day "Halo" sessions, they're using their smartphones to play app-based games.

In other words, they're gaming as their primary, and preferred, form of entertainment. Who needs the movies? The storytelling just gets in the way of the mayhem. In fact, storytelling, while not irrelevant, is largely beside the point, and this is why successful video games are produced according to a sequel model. For example, "Call of Duty," a popular single-shooter game, is into its eighth version, with a ninth scheduled for 2013. The settings and historical context have changed, but the basic idea is still to kill, kill, faster, faster.

Developing a video game costs about $5 million — although that figure can jump with something like the "Call of Duty" franchise, whose more recent iterations cost a reported $40-50 million before marketing.

At the low-end, that kind of money might finance a modest independent feature or documentary, but it would barely cover the music budget for a typical Hollywood effort. Proven games get you into Hollywood feature territory, but they're still a bargain, when you compare a blockbuster game to a blockbuster movie. That latter is going to run $200 million-plus.

Now, Hollywood can always license its properties to the gaming business. But building "interactivity" into productions is going to be difficult — if the goal is to attract 13-24 year-olds to the theater. Are they going to "play" the movie? And if not, then is the idea to make the marketing more interactive? That seems to be what Waxman is implying. 

But if the payoff is...just a movie, then why bother?

It's going to take more than marketing genius to overcome the indifference of young men to a form of entertainment almost completely devoid of technology, produced by middle-aged people, that you have to sit still in a giant, dark room to consume. 

What would make more sense would be for the Hollywood marketers to focus on young men who are 25 and older. If they can keep them from giving up on the movies, they might know what to do when the young gamers grow up and are ready to sample entertainment that demands little work on their part and moves at a much slower pace.

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