Heavy Rain is not an interactive film.
I know that’s what its creators were after, and I know that’s how it’s been pitched to the market, and I know it’s been critiqued as both a successful and an unsuccessful implementation of that goal.
To understand why the game is not a playable film, it’s important to review what makes film unique as an art form. There are conflicting opinions, of course, but one stands out: film is editing.
Soviet filmmaker and theorist Lev Kuleshov first suggested editing as film’s primary quality.
His well-known “Kuleshov Effect” seemed to prove the point: in the experiment, Kuleshov cut between the expressionless shot of a famous Russian silent film actor (Ivan Mozzhukhin) and a variety of other shots: a young woman reposed on a chaise, a child in a coffin, a bowl of soup.
Even though the shot of Mozzhukhin’s face remained identical with each cut, the audience made different assumptions about the meaning of his expression.
Kuleshov’s influential pupil Sergei Eisenstein believed it too, arguing that editing techniques (particularly montage) made it uniquely possible for cinema to link seemingly unrelated images through juxtaposition.
The Soviets weren’t alone in their reverence of editing. D.W. Griffith’s early work made strong use of editing and cross-cutting, for example. And as the years and then the decades passed, editing only increased in importance. Stanley Kubrik adopted Kuleshov’s position more or less directly. Francis Ford Coppola has said this about the practice:
The essence of cinema is editing. It’s the combination of what can be extraordinary images, images of people during emotional moments, or just images in a general sense, but put together in a kind of alchemy. A number of images put together a certain way become something quite above and beyond what any of them are individually.
Indeed, editing has become an ever more important tool in filmmaking. The use of jump cuts (edits that disrupt the continuity of a sequence) and quick cuts (rapid edits that increase the pace of a sequence) have become ever more common and familiar as action films and television have increased creators’ reliance on editing as a central cinematic aesthetic.
But generally, video games don’t have cinematic editing. They can’t, because continuity of action is essential to interactive media. In fact, that continuity is so important that most games (3D games, anyway) give the player direct control over the camera, allowing total manipulation of what is seen and from what vantage point.