Breaking Down Trailer Breakdowns

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In film production, everything that appears onscreen is referred to as mise-en-scène. This includes the lighting of a scene, the composition of the shot, and the character’s appearance. Essentially, everything the viewer sees has been meticulously thought out by the production crew. Nothing is there by accident.

So, when it comes time for a new game or console announcement, or both like just this past week, the community obsesses over and dissects every frame of those trailers. We hope to find meaning in the minutiae.

And whether we knew it or not, this is the same kind of attention to detail that critics and theorists use to draw meaning from classic films. These are the same skills your high school English teacher desperately tried to teach you when she assigned The Catcher in the Rye.

And despite not knowing the significance of Salinger’s use of the color red, the gaming community is exceptional at dissecting new trailers. Within hours you can find break down videos on YouTube, hot takes on Twitter, and wild speculation across the web.

Mise-en-scène isn’t just about what is shown, it is also about what isn’t shown. For example, one of the biggest takeaways from the Nintendo Switch reveal trailer was the lack of kids and families playing the console. Instead, what Nintendo presents to us are young adults enjoying their new product with other young adults.

From here, we can make inferences about the types of games that will be released for the Switch, and perhaps even where Nintendo is going to focus it’s efforts in the coming months and years. Whether Nintendo follows through with that is something yet to be seen, but to make the decision of not having children with the audience’s first impression of the new console makes for a pretty clear message.

In the meantime, all we can do is keep our readings close and our minds open while watching new trailers. While we’re at it, lets take these skills outside of the gaming community. Apply it to the movies and television we love, our summer reading books, plays, music, the media, politics. I think we will be surprised with what we can unpack.

Dan Berlin


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