“A cutscene or event scene (sometimes in-game cinematic or in-game movie) is a sequence in a video game that is not interactive, breaking up the gameplay. Such scenes could be used to show conversations between characters, to the player, set the mood, reward the player, introduce new gameplay elements, show the effects of a player’s actions, create emotional connections, improve pacing or foreshadow future events.”
One of my favorite cutscenes of all time comes from the first-ever Ninja Gaiden, released for the original Nintendo Entertainment System way back in 1988. For those of you who’ve never played the game before, here’s 75 seconds of game-inspired Professional Development:
ALL. OF. THE. FEELS.
Now here’s these same 75 seconds as seen through the vivid memories of a six-year-old child:
“Whoah! It’s night time!” (0:05)
“And these guys are RUNNING!” (0:07)
“Red Guy is running and Grey Guy is running too!! They’re angry!” (0:12)
“OH MAN THEY’RE JUMPING NOW!!! IS THIS HOW NINJAS FIGHT!?!” (0:16)
“AAAHHHH BRIGHT FLASHING SCREEN!!! THIS GAME IS SO COOL!!! I WANT TO BE A NINJA!!!” (0:20)
“Why is this music sad?” (0:23)
“THE RED GUY FELL DOWN!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!! I LOVE THE RED GUY!!!!” (0:27)
“GREY GUY IS A BAD GUY!!!” (0:28)
Can’t quite understand all of the words on the screen (“whom,” “duel,” etc.)… but I see the word “father.” And music sounds really sad… (0:29 – 0:39)
Blue guy is reading a letter. No idea who blue guy is. No idea what it says (I’m six, remember). (0:39-0:44)
More words I can’t understand. Close up shot of ninja dragon sword. “THAT’S COOL I WANT ONE!!!” (0:45-1:08)
“OH MAN BLUE GUY IS ANGRY! BLUE GUY IS ME?!?! I HAVE A SWORD!?! WHERE IS THAT GREY NINJA!?! (1:09)
Look at how powerful a simple combination of moving images and well-selected music can be at hooking a new player’s attention! Seventy five seconds, and I’m completely sold on this game. No idea what I’m supposed to do or how I’m supposed to do it, mind you, but eager to play the role of blue guy ninja with his super cool dragon sword and thrilled at the prospect of spending countless hours, days, or WEEKS of my time chasing down the Grey Guy ninja who killed the Red Guy ninja that even my six-year-old brain could tell you must have been my video game dad.
Now let’s put this same approach to the classroom.
iMovie is a super slick way to help introduce a new “chapter” or “unit” of your class with a tailor-made cutscene or trailer. Way back before smartphones could do the same stuff even better and for free, I remember spending hours tweaking a homemade trailer using my Macbook and iMovie for a half year Film Studies elective course I first had the privilege of teaching in the Fall of 2013. But these days? You can create a video right from your iPhone!
Be honest: watch the trailer above tell me you’re not at least a little bit interested to spend 18 weeks slogging through the finer points of mis-en-scène, screenwriting format, chiaroscuro technique, and montage theory. By pairing striking visuals with a good mix of mystery and the familiar, the trailer takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster before the course has even begun — and goes a long way in winning a skeptic’s good graces and buy-in, even if they aren’t exactly sure they’ve understood everything they’ve just seen.
Today, 21st century technology makes creating your own mini-movies as simple as drag-and-dropping photos into your smartphone in literally five minutes or less. And if five minutes worth of time spent creating a trailer that’s enough to win the sustained attention of 20+ students for the duration of a three week unit?