Dogme 95 and Video Games

Over Christmas time I watched The Hunt (the banner photo for this post), a Danish drama starring Mads Mikkelsen. It is my standard “Alternative Xmas Movie” (yeah, I’m not a fan of Die Hard). It had been a good few years since I had watched The Hunt, so when I was done I started researching the film, looking at all the trivia surrounding it. I had heard of the director, Thomas Vinterberg, before, but only just connected The Hunt with the film movement he was part of, Dogme 95.

I had heard of Dogme 95 before, through passing mentions in the film world and in my studies. Dogme 95 was a set of guidelines created by Vinterberg and another Danish director, Lars Von Trier, as part of the Realism movement. The duo had become disillusioned with the films that Hollywood made, thinking it had become too high budgeted and laden with special effects, using spectacle to entice viewers instead of story. They set out to reestablish the balance within filmmaking, bringing it back to the basics of the form, and brought out a set of rules for directors to follow.

To qualify as a Dogme 95 film, the following rules had to be applied;

  1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets cannot be brought it (i.e. it must makes sense for a prop to be in the location).
  2. Sound must not be produced apart from the image. Music is not allowed unless it occurs within the scene e.g. radio.
  3. The camera must be handheld. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
  4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light, a single lamp can be attached to the camera, or you have to cut the scene).
  5. Optical works or filters are forbidden.
  6. The film must not contain superficial action (e.g. Murders, weapons).
  7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden (The film must take place in the here and now).
  8. Genre Movies (Westerns, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy) are unacceptable.
  9. The format must be Academy 35mm
  10. The director must not be credited.

Quite a few films have been made with these rule (the Dogme 95 website lists the notable creations). But after finishing The Hunt, I began to think; could you make a Dogme 95 game? So, let us have a go at transposing the Dogme 95 rules so that they work for video games. Obviously some Dogme 95 rules have no equivalent to games, so I’ll have to edit them, as well as bring in new ones that are unique to gaming.

The Rules of a Dogme 95 Game

  1. Dogme Games must have no story. You can have a Star Wars-like text-dump at the beginning, but all other narrative must be discarded. This is because Dogme 95 is about bringing filmmaking down the basics, and games, unlike film, can work without stories (even though I write games and am drawn mainly to stories than gameplay).
  2. No music is allowed, unless, just like in a Dogme 95 film, it is played as part of a recording or is played “live” (as in the player “plays” the music such as a Guitar/DJ Hero). Sound effects are okay.
  3. Generic brown/grey/industrial colour schemes are forbidden. Dogme 95 was partly about getting away from what the big studios were doing, and brown/grey/industrial colour schemes are pretty much synonymous with a lot of big-budget games. So don’t have a game with the colours of Gears Of War and Battlefield 1.
  4. The game must run on the lowest specs possible. I’m not a big tech person, so I always get a bit worried that the game I dropped £60 on won’t work unless I spend another £200 on something I didn’t even know I needed. Dogme was all about democratisation of filmmaking (apart from that arbitrary 35mm rule), so a Dogme game should work without having to retrofit your PC with extra hardware just to run it. As I said, I’m not a tech guy, so if anyone can give me proper numbers to put here, I would be glad to mention your contribution. Optional extra rule; it must use the Unity engine.
  5. No superficial action. No killing or combat, non-lethal or otherwise (even if not done by the player). Easy.
  6. No FPSes, open worlds, sports or the nebulous term “Action-Adventure”. Gaming has genres, but these are obviously the biggest version on the market. Let us move beyond them. We’ll also group in the genre talk, so no wars (historical or made up), Fantasy (Tolkien-esque) or Sci Fi. And no multiplayer, either online or co-op.
  7. No middle-aged white guys, with brown hair and stubble. Mainly because we’ve had so many of them.

Are there any Dogme 95 games?

As I have been writing this, I’ve been trying to think of games that could fit all of these rules but coming up blank every single time. Some come close; Space Invaders, Minecraft, Journey, Flower…Guitar Hero possibly?

Another couple of classic games probably gets to the closest idea of a Dogme 95 game; Pong and Tetris. Neither have a story, or murder, they aren’t part of the genres I disqualified and they are easily playable on any system, including pocket calculators, consoles, phone, PCs and even oscilloscopes. In their later versions, they have gone past the monochrome colours they were created with and given bright, shiny colours. The music that came with the original Tetris has been taken away from the game, and the multiplayer restriction in the original Pong has also changed with the advent of AI.

But I think there is only one game that answers all of the guidelines of a Dogme game…Solitaire. Now I know that to some that might seem like a cop out, as it was already a game before it was put on computers. But damn, it works.

This is purely a thought experiment. I don’t want to get rid of games that include these qualities. Heck, I write narrative-heavy games, I don’t ever want to get rid of stories in games. But it is an interesting idea for games design, and would be quite cool to try and make a game that fits all these qualities. If you have any ideas of games that might fit these rules, or any ideas for extra rules, head down to the comments section.

Note: I found an article after writing this by Ernest Adams called Dogma 2001: A Challenge to Game Designers, which also tries to create a list of Dogme rules for video games. We have some similar rules, because we are both working off the original ten set out by Vinterberg and Von Trier. However, Adams has some more concrete ideas on the specs rule, as well as some other interesting additions. Have a look here.

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