Steven Spielberg’s Surprising Influence on the Video Game Industry

The Big Picture

  • Steven Spielberg’s career as a filmmaker has been heavily influenced by his innovative approach to visual effects and computer graphics.
  • The director has been actively involved in the development of video games, including creating companion games for his movies and collaborating with game development companies like LucasArts and Electronic Arts.
  • Spielberg’s work on the Medal of Honor series helped popularize the first-person shooter genre and even inspired the creation of the successful Call of Duty franchise.

Who wouldn’t want to go on an adventure directed by Steven Spielberg? People who grew up watching Indiana Jones, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park dream of it, and with the release of Indiana Jones and the Great Circle right around the corner, it might seem like the time has finally come. But, while Spielberg himself wasn’t directly involved with the development of the new game, he does have a pretty well-established career in video games, helping develop many other titles, including a few classics. He may not be a hardcore gamer, but has been an enthusiast of the media from the start and has had a fairly successful career in the field — which is only natural if you consider his career in cinema as well.


Ready Player One

When the creator of a virtual reality called the OASIS dies, he makes a posthumous challenge to all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune and control of his world.

Release Date
March 28, 2018

Steven Spielberg


Warner Bros. Pictures/De Line Pictures

A better reality awaits.

Spielberg’s Gaming Career Began Thanks to His Innovative Approach as a Filmmaker

Steven Spielberg has always been a technically innovative filmmaker, dabbling a lot with visual effects and computer graphics, for example. His movies have always pushed the envelope in terms of what is possible to do onscreen, and he’s been like that since the beginning. Classics like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even his more adventurous projects like the Indy franchise wouldn’t have been possible without Spielberg’s flair for technical innovation. As technology progressed, effects became more complex, with computer graphics playing a larger role in effects, like many dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

Computer graphics have also progressed in technology, with video games often leading the charge. The jump from 8-bit games in the late 1980s to 3D ones in the mid-1990s was staggering, and the technology used in the latter wasn’t all that different from the ones movies were starting to make large use of. Spielberg, as a young filmmaker in his 30s, belongs to the earlier generations of gamers and has always had an interest in the field. He made it clear in a 1980s interview with Entertainment Tonight: “For me, it’s a quick thrill. I mean, it takes me a year to have a quick thrill with a movie. With a video game, I can play Tempest and, in 10 minutes, I can probably feel totally like I’ve accomplished something today.”

In the 1980s, many movies had companion video game adaptations, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestial got its own game for Atari, with Spielberg himself taking an active part in its development. According to game designer Scott Warshaw, who had already designed the game adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg wanted “something more like Pac-Man,” and had to be convinced that a more complex game was the way to go. Unfortunately, Warshaw’s concept proved too much for most players, and Atari ended up burying unsold copies of E.T. under landfill and concrete in the town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. This became an urban legend, confirmed a few years later. Now, one of those copies is part of the Smithsonian’s collection.

Spielberg Developed Many Video Games During the 1990s and 2000s

Spielberg is part of a generation of filmmakers that has pretty much shaped the way movies are made and watched today. One of his best friends, George Lucas, created his own game development company in the 1980s, and Spielberg got involved in many of their projects until the mid-1990s. In 1989, LucasArts started development on The Dig, a point-and-click sci-fi game that was initially supposed to be an episode in Spielberg’s anthology series, Amazing Stories. Spielberg wrote the story for the game, and it even got a novelization by Alan Dean Foster.

A year later, Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair came out, a simple game in which the player gets to make their own movie and experience many of the stages of filmmaking. Clips feature artists like Quentin Tarantino, Jennifer Aniston, and Penn & Teller to guide the player along the process, with cinematographer Dean Cundey offering input on filming, too. In the end, Spielberg himself presents the final movie at the premiere. Although it didn’t get much critical or public praise, it does stand as an original idea that could only fit the video game media, and there’s no one better to explore it than Spielberg.

In the 2000s, with graphics improving by the year, Spielberg joined forces with Electronic Arts on many occasions, always aiming to create new and innovative premises for his games. One of those was LMNO, which was announced in 2005 but, unfortunately, got canceled along the way. The story has the player rescue an alien individual named Eve from a government laboratory and help her get to the West Coast while chased by agents, always keeping her hidden from other humans. It combined elements of parkour and a lot of puzzle-solving, as Spielberg requested that no guns be included and puzzles be the alternative.

Later, in 2008, Spielberg again worked with EA to develop Boom Blox for the Nintendo Wii, a sort of Jenga-like party game. The game is co-directed by Spielberg himself. It features a realistic physics system and makes full use of the Wii Remote’s capabilities; the game got a sequel, Boom Blox Bash Party, in 2009.

Spielberg’s Work With ‘Medal of Honor’ Helped Inspire ‘Call of Duty’

Cover art for the game Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond by Electronic Arts
Image via Electronic Arts

Spielberg’s most successful foray into the gaming industry came in 1999, though. After founding DreamWorks Interactive in 1995, they started development on a World War II game inspired by his 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan. After a year in development, Medal of Honor was finally released for the first PlayStation, helping consolidate the first-person shooter style and ushering in an era of war games that tried to emulate its experience.

The first three games in the franchise — including the first two sequels, Medal of Honor: Underground, and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault — had concepts and stories developed by Spielberg himself, who also acted as executive producer. They offer a sort of gameplay that was unmatched at that time, framing the action performed by the player in a sensitive and urgent way, and highlighting the human struggle intrinsic to it. It was World War II, after all.

An interesting fact about the Medal of Honor series is how it actually spawned another successful franchise. In 2003, Activision released the first Call of Duty, a game that was very similar to Medal of Honor in terms of experience and gameplay. It was no coincidence, as it was developed by a team of designers that worked on Allied Assault the previous year and were now given the time and resources to develop their own game, with all the experience they had in the war genre. Nowadays, Call of Duty is the most successful franchise of the two, but, without Medal of Honor and Spielberg’s unique insight, none of it would’ve been possible.



Remember When Steven Spielberg Was Attached To Direct a DC Comics Movie?

Like many Spielberg projects, it never saw the light of day.

‘Ready Player One’ Combines Spielberg’s Passions for Gaming and Directing

Wade (Tye Sheridan) wearing VR goggles with his arm outstretched in 'Ready Player One'
Image via Warner Bros.

If Spielberg’s filmmaking career gave him the tools to become a successful game producer, the opposite is also true. Over the years, video games have also played a role in inspiring his career in cinema. The cinematic quality of many games has informed his approach to storytelling, pushing boundaries in terms of visual effects, narrative complexity, and audience engagement.

It can even be said that his taste for games sort of “peaked” when he directed Ready Player One. The adaptation of the Ernest Cline novel of the same name is a boiling cauldron of gaming, digital effects and settings, and pop-culture references. Also, Spielberg has been heavily involved with the live-action series adaptation of Halo for Paramount+, with showrunner Kiki Wolfkillpraising his insights and mastery over the subject. Hopefully, he gets back on his digital horse for more video games in the future, as we’d all love to go on a Spielberg-directed adventure.

Ready Player One is available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.

Rent on Prime Video


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