As a critic, I often lament how time consuming my chosen medium is, and how it often conflicts with my desire to be well-rounded in my knowledge of entertainment and fine arts. It’s hard to keep up with film, TV and literature when videogames, which are usually much longer, take up so much of your time. But this week I got an unexpected chance to get acquainted with a groundbreaking classic in the last place I saw it coming: within a videogame itself. That was my experience with Stone, a “stoner noir” game about a pothead koala PI that, as an added bonus, features an eclectic soundtrack and a few old movies that the player can browse at their leisure after the game is over. Included are titles like Haxan, a Scandinavian documentary on witchcraft from 1922, Night of the Living Dead from 1968 and Story of the Kelly Gang, an Australian silent film from 1906.
Stone, which centers on the mysterious disappearance of the titular koala’s romantic partner, is not a time consuming experience. What ended up being a 70 minute detour in a game that is otherwise only about a half hour long started with a flashback sequence where the two are seen cozying up on the couch to watch a movie. Curious, I let the film roll just to see how long it would go on, and was surprised to find out I could watch the whole thing. And, in the spirit of spontaneity, I did. I have a bad habit sometimes of dismissing old movies because I assume that if they’re in the public domain and free to use they aren’t significant enough to consume in the first place—but in this case, I was totally wrong. The movie turned out to be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from 1920, considered the earliest example of German expressionism in film and the originator of the twist ending. I hadn’t expected to learn my lesson about not respecting vintage media while playing a videogame, but at the same time, hey, I’ll take it. It was worth it.
Despite my satisfaction with that little foray into film history, it’s hard to say whether adding extras like, well, fully viewable movies within the game actually improve the playing experience—I don’t think Stone, which has its own problems to work out (poor quality subtitles, a few bad vocal performances, some technical problems and terrible character rigging, among them), is any better off for having several vintage films and a few contemporary and well-selected music tracks available for casual browsing. It’s cool, sure, but it doesn’t really mean anything. I still had my difficulties with the technical and artistic issues within the game itself.
But that being said, it’s still one of the more unique experiences I’ve had within a game and I appreciate the opportunity, meaningless though it may be. At the very least, maybe I’ll remember to be a little less dismissive now while browsing Turner Classic Movies.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.