By picking the word “logical” Mary Pickford threw us into the limits of a paradox:

It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkie instead of the other way around.

Beneath her phrase lies the possibility of conceiving silent cinema as a door towards abstraction, given its concentration on visual patterns that go beyond the restrictions of dialogue-centered narration. Pickford envisioned silent films as a reaction against the constraints of sound cinema, as an attempt to open more space for visual imagination (silence, motion, tempo) and less for the impression of realism. But what if we applied The Pickford Paradox to think about the evolution of new media? Looking backwards, to silent cinema, in order to move forward and enrich the language of video games.

Nowadays, realistic graphics, dense dramatized plots and constant dialogue seem to be the self-imposed goal of the video game industry (or a big part of it). In a way, the visual freedom of the first computer games and arcades, which opened the possibility of a certain abstract motion expression (concerned with gameplay visuality and not necessarily sacrificed to verbal storytelling), is being constrained by a high-tech race towards anthropocentric realism. The so-called “cut scenes” inserted throughout the game, as well as a number of allegedly film-realistic procedures, make games look more and more like talkies (but not necessarily like films). Is history repeating itself? Could Mary Pickford’s claim be adapted to contemporary video game design? Better and worse games will always be made independently from its talkie/silent orientation, but are we simply facing a matter of technological and programming improvements? Or could we affirm that a certain aesthetic possibility -communicate through images, not only words- is at stake?

Perhaps engaging a true comparison between silent film forms and early interactive games, through concrete sequences and examples, may be a good way to put into crisis our personal notion of media evolution. With a bit of luck, looking back to the origins of film history might help us value the amazing discoveries and possible creative paths (yet to be developed) of early video games and new media. Under that perspective, Mary Pickford’s husband may be resurrected as the ultimate silent version of Megaman, and the sight gags of Buster Keaton could maybe teach us a trick or two about Super Mario’s love affair with gravity…


The GAMEPLAYGAG Project has been exhibited in:

– Gameplay. Cultura del videojoc, CCCB, Barcelona: Dec 2019 – Aug 2020.

– Games and Over Screening Program, Nova Cinema, Brussels: April 13, 2019.

– 30th ISHS Conference – Humour: Positively Transforming, Tallinn: June 28, 2018.

– Keynote talk at Columbia University – School of The Arts. New York: Oct 28, 2017.

– Cicle l’HUMOR, Aula Eixample, Fundació Joan Maragall + IDEC. Barcelona: Nov 2, 2015.

– ANIMAC, Mostra Internacional de Cinema d’Animació. Universitat de Lleida: Apr 9, 2015.

– Jugar Coa Cultura, Consello da Cultura Galega. Santiago de Compostela: Mar 5, 2015.

– Transmedia Week / Story Code + Taula de Nova Recerca UPF. Barcelona: Oct 30, 2014.

– SCMS, Society for Cinema and Media Studies International Conference. Chicago: Mar 7, 2013.

– PhD Dissertation Public Defense: The visual gag. From silent film to gameplay. Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Barcelona: May 31, 2012.

– Forty Years of Video Games. Médiathèque L’Apostrophe. Chartres: Nov 8, 2011.

– Múseo Games, une histoire à rejouer. Musée EDF Electropolis. Mulhouse: Apr 16, 2011.

– IX Magis Film Studies Spring School. Gorizia-Udine: Apr 14, 2011.

– 8th Seminar on the Origins and History of Cinema / Musel del Cinema. Girona: Apr 1, 2011.

– XIII AEHC Film Studies International Congress. Santiago de Compostela: Mar 11, 2011.

– University of Southern California / School of Cinematic Arts. Los Angeles: Sep 13, 2010.

– Múseo Games, une histoire à rejouer. Musée des Arts et Métiers. Paris: Jun 22, 2010.

– II AE-IC Communication International Congress. Málaga: Feb 5, 2010.

– Play Belgium International Exhibition. Brussels: Dec 22, 2009.

– The Tokyo University Of The Arts (Geidai) / Film and New Media. Yokohama: Jun 13, 2009.

– MA Dissertation Public Defense: The Gags of Buster Keaton. Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Barcelona: Dec 9, 2008.

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