What Woody Allen can teach gamemakers about love, life, sex, and death.

Over at Slate, Juliet Lapidos described what she learned from catching up with Woody Allen’s entire filmography, the themes that effect every character in the Allen-verse, and the pressure of constant production. If there’s one thing that’s wonderful about bodies of work, it’s seeing the threads that tie them together: the repeated concerns, characters, themes and grand questions that stand as testament to their creator’s mind.

Woody Allen is one of the most prolific directors ever and continues to release a feature every year. Though they vary in their quality, Allen’s work, both by itself and as a whole charts a trajectory that may seem familiar to games.

He recycles character types: the neurotic Jewish New Yorker (the filmmaker’s spit and image), the adulterous intellectual, the hypochondriac intellectual. He recycles plot lines. He even recycles punch lines.

Allen’s constant production showcases the difficulty of maintaining complete originality within a medium that must start from scratch with each iteration. Game sequels are privileged to be able to literally build off of the game that came before them, a process that engenders refinement. Still, studios of both mediums love franchises, hoping each new IP will turn into a recycleable money-making machine. But without abandoning this repetitive process of mulling over the same idea, we would not have gems like Midnight in Paris and instead would be stuck with Annie Hall 36. Similarly though they may be hit or miss, having new games opens up different kinds of mechanics, presentations and even genres that everyone can use and learn from.

Allen’s archetypical protagonist is a creative type, like filmmaker Sandy Bates of Stardust Memories, struggling against their own success, a condition that has begun strangling their creativity. Everyone prefers his “earlier, funny movies” but Sandy doesn’t want to make comedies anymore, he wants to confront the truth. Of life, of the world, of the darkness closing in around us; Sandy—and Allen—wants to do something serious, about death and meaning, instead of just ignoring it the way everyone else seems to:

After the 2009 release of Whatever Workshe told NPR that filmmaking “distracts me from the uncertainty of life, the inevitability of aging and death and death of loved ones; mass killings and starvation, from holocausts-not just man-made carnage, but the existential position you’re in.”

Death is inherent to experiencing games. Without death, there is no chance to try again and improve, which means there is no overall progress. We don’t just get one chance, we get to improve and replay, but more importantly we get to know. We know that there is no real end to the game, we control when it begins and ends. Life has no such certainty, a fact that Allen mulls over, injecting his hesitance into his characters throughout.

Perhaps this is the lesson that the games industry can learn: that there are positives to death. That in letting something die, you have a chance to give something else life. In leaving Hannah and Her Sisters behind, you get the chance to fail with Celebrity and rise from the ashes with Midnight in Paris. 

– Adnan Agha

[via Slate]