American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

“You’ve Seen the Movie, Now Play the Game”: Recoding the Cinematic in Digital Media and Virtual Culture

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Communication

First Advisor

Ronald Shields (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Donald Callen (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lisa Alexander (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Margaret Yacobucci (Committee Member)


Although seen as an emergent area of study, the history of video games shows that the medium has had a longevity that speaks to its status as a major cultural force, not only within American society but also globally. Much of video game production has been influenced by cinema, and perhaps nowhere is this seen more directly than in the topic of games based on movies. Functioning as franchise expansion, spaces for play, and story development, film-to-game translations have been a significant component of video game titles since the early days of the medium. As the technological possibilities of hardware development continued in both the film and video game industries, issues of media convergence and divergence between film and video games have grown in importance. This dissertation looks at the ways that this connection was established and has changed by looking at the relationship between film and video games in terms of economics, aesthetics, and narrative. Beginning in the 1970s, or roughly at the time of the second generation of home gaming consoles, and continuing to the release of the most recent consoles in 2005, it traces major areas of intersection between films and video games by identifying key titles and companies to consider both how and why the prevalence of video games has happened and continues to grow in power. By looking at a wide variety of games – those found in arcades; on home consoles and home computers; for portable devices included dedicated gaming units, cell phones, and other personal digital assistants; and games that exist in other forms, such as those found in web browsers or as bonus features on digital video discs – this dissertation illuminates a complex history that intertwines technological development, economic forces, and aesthetic considerations of visual and narrative design.