eXistenZ: Addressing an Impure Cinema

There are three ways that video games engage with film. These are:

Films that use video games as a trope; films that are influenced by video games in structure and/or aesthetics; films that are adaptation of video game material (Giordano et al, 2015)

It is the third typology that casts a shadow over the debate. Video games and films, despite similarities in production, consumption and technique are dissimilar when it comes to engagement; the film viewer experiences, whereas the game player controls. Nobody plays a game for the cut scenes. Mark Wolf acknowledges a difference between the ludic tradition of the video game and the audiovisual nature of the videogame (Wolf, 2008:3)

Victoria (2015) conforms to the second typology with it’s unbroken take following a single protagonist in an often over the shoulder third person perspective, whereas eXistenz (1999) realises the first. It is most successful at approximating the gaming experience, albeit cinematically.


Allegra Geller: “There’s nothing happening here. We’re safe. It’s boring.”


The idea of becoming lost in the game, what eXistenZ’s Pikul calls the “deforming of reality”, is examined to the point that we are unaware at the film’s end as to whether we are in the film’s “real” world or in yet another game world. This meditates on a potentially very real scenario once the apparatus of VR becomes less intrusive to the logic of immediacy. eXistenZ recognises this in it’s portrayal of technology, developing from hand units and skull caps, to the foetal “game-pods” attached to the user to, finally, miniaturised pods that disappear into the gamer’s body.


The impurity of cinema (Bazin’s “mixed cinema”) is what makes it progressive; turning it’s back on arguments of purity and acknowledging its history as well as the potential for growth in embracing other art forms.

Tony Pomfret



Bazin, A (1967). ‘In Defense of Mixed Cinema’, in Gray, H (Ed). What is Cinema vol 1. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, pp 53-75

Giordano, F, Girina, I and Fassone, R. (2015) Re-framing video games in the light of cinema, Games as Art Media Entertainment. Available at: http://www.gamejournal.it/intro_5/#wsa-endnote-1 (Accessed 13 March, 2017)

Movieclips Film Festivals and Indie Films (2015) Victoria Official Trailer 1 (2015) – Thriller HD. YouTube. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp8wcV3GjW0 (Accessed 13 March, 2017)

Wolf, M (Ed). The Video Game Explosion. Westport CT, London: Greenwood Press


Further Reading:

Betz, C (2015) With eXistenZ, Cronenberg created the only videogame movie we’ll ever need. Kill Screen. Available at https://killscreen.com/articles/existenz-cronenberg-created-only-videogame-movie-well-ever-need/ (Accessed 13 March, 2017)


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