Interpreting ‘Inception’ as Commentary on the Videogame Industry

I’ve made no secret in the past about my feelings for the movie ‘Inception’. I don’t think it’s bad by any means, but I find it to be not much more than a neat heist flick that’s no deeper than most blockbusters. It’s inconsistent and somewhat silly, but maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. With a second viewing, I’ve found an interpretation that works for me, and finally makes the movie wholly enjoyable.

I saw ‘Inception‘ for the first time in theaters. I jumped on the hype wagon at first. Based on the actors in the film and the director, I expected something along the lines of a big budget ‘Memento‘. What I got instead was a big disappointment. I found nothing mysterious or special about the film. The only answer I had to the question of “Was the ending real or a dream?” was “I don’t care.” I really didn’t. There was no reason to.

I talked about the movie with my friends and countless people online who let me know how wrong I was, and I thought about it often. How could I not think about it? The world seemed to have fallen to its knees at the feet of the film. I couldn’t go online without hearing about it.

When I watched it the second time – for the purpose of enjoying a Rifftrax – something clicked in my brain. If movies are art, and art is open to interpretation, then I’m able to interpret ‘Inception’ any way I please. ‘Inception’, to me, is a brilliant commentary on the videogame industry. Just go with me on this. I haven’t worked out all the kinks, but I really think this makes sense.

To start, we have a few characters that need to be identified. The first is Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb. In the movie, he’s a master of dreams who used to be far more adventurous and daring with his exploration of the human mind.

Cobb is the indie game designer gone corporate. Think of him as a revolutionary designer who’s working for a major company. Peter Molyneux comes to mind. So does Tim Schafer. Now imagine that instead of working on passion projects, he’s pushing out sequel after mindless sequel.

Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, is a brand new game developer. She’s the next big thing, like a Jonathan Blow or Jenova Chen. More accurately, she’s like a combination of Minh Le and Jess Cliffe, the minds behind ‘Counterstrike’. She’s a level designer, of course. After all, who else could make a maze in one minute that takes two minutes to solve? She’s brilliant, promising, and eager to get to work on something absolutely amazing.

Cobb hires Ariadne to do just that – to create some of the most exciting and inventive levels ever made. She shows Cobb what she’s capable of, and it’s damn impressive. She makes levels that defy the laws of physics.

Ariadne isn’t the only new member on the team. Cobb recruits the best and the brightest. He gathers up people who are capable of greatness and willing to experiment with something that no one else has done before. It’s a daring goal, but with high risk comes high reward.

The team gets together, but instead of being allowed to work to the best of their abilities, the crew is limited by the subconscious of Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer. That subconscious can represent the studio heads, the general public, or both.

Fischer’s subconscious doesn’t like extreme or inventive ideas. It’s instead drawn to things that it’s already familiar with it. Messing with that causes the people in his dream to react violently, just like internet goers when even the slightest change is suggested for a sequel to a game they love, or a new twist is put on a genre they’re already familiar with.

The pressure of pleasing the fans and the studio heads means that none of the amazing and brilliant people brought on to the project can do what they were hired for. Instead of shaping the world to her liking, Ariadne must bend to the whims of the subconscious.

The end result is several levels of dreaming, each representing a videogame. The first starts with an interesting premise – a role-playing game with conversation trees and a deception mechanic. It quickly turns into a dull shooter with vehicle levels.

Game 2 begins like the first, but adds a bit of a stealth combat element. It too breaks down into being a shooter by the end. There’s an interesting gravity mechanic, but that doesn’t change the nature of the game itself.

The third game, and the last level that most of the crew goes to, doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than it is. In fact, if Nolan were deliberately trying to make a movie taking a shot at the videogame, he couldn’t have chosen a better representation.

The whole crew appears on snowmobiles and armed to the teeth. I’ve played almost the exact same mission in several games, including ‘Modern Warfare 2’. It’s not quite as common as the mine cart and lava levels were in 2D platformers, but it’s close.

Despite all of the brilliant people that came together to create the game, the end result is a crappy generic shooter. How often does that happen? Really often – even in games I love like ‘Gears of War 2’. Think about the story and dialogue in that game. Now consider that the writer isn’t just some guy off the street, but Joshua Ortega, who has written an honest-to-goodness novel. Even if it’s a terrible novel, it’s better than the story in ‘Gears of War 2’.

‘Gears of War 3’, not to pick on the series too much, is being penned by Karen Traviss who writes the ‘Republic Commando’ series of ‘Star Wars’ novels. She’s a good writer, but you can bet that the game is going to follow the same path that they usually do. There are aliens, Marcus has to shoot them, and some people die who aren’t Marcus.

The ending I haven’t quite worked out yet. Going to the final level of dream state could be seen as quitting the company, leaving the naysayers behind, and doing your own thing – kind of like what Tim Schafer is doing now with Double Fine.

I can’t explain the whole spinning top thing or what Michael Caine has to do with anything. This is sort of a half-baked idea in the first place, and I’m not watching a two hour and twenty minute movie over and over again until I figure it out.


  1. Its okay, Josh hates Avatar, you hate Inception, I hate Pulp Fiction.

    Truthfully, once I pulled myself away from all the science that is horribly wrong in the movie….

    Wait, he was dreaming, and in a dream, there is weird science. Okay, the weird science doesn’t bother me anymore.

    • ‘Weird Science’ is awesome – I think we can all agree on that 🙂

      I found the pseudo-scientific explanations in the movie a lot easier to deal with if I just pretended it was all magic.

      • Shayne Blakeley

        The main thing that bugged me about it was why they still needed the I.V. equipment or whatever the hell it was to go from one dream level to the next, wouldn’t that need to be administered OUTSIDE of the dream entirely? I thought for a while that maybe that was just supposed to be used to convince Cillians character that he wasn’t dreaming, but as I recall they still used it to fetch him when he hit the final level without them.

    • Trying to think of the last game that really had a mind-bender in it. I think those kind of went out with Adventure games.

      Waiting for Game Dev Story 2 – want to be able to create ports, remakes, have more than 8 coders, and possibly work on making a game for multiple consoles at once. Just for fun, maybe I’ll port my game to Linux. Also want to do buy-outs, expand into other areas (operating systems, perephials, etc like Microsoft), offer downloadable content and expansion packs to games I have out, have subscription based games (the revenue of the game versus the cost of server mantainace), develope for mobile devices, and then have Apple suddenly decide they are going to take a higher percentage from developers after they have been out for four years, so Google suddenly decides that they are going to announce that their fees are going to be 1/3 the cost. Also, would like to have “adult themed” games. Motion-controlled swimsuit / mini-skirt games, and junior high simulation games are about as close as I can get right now.

  2. Shayne Blakeley

    Now I’m picturing the character of Mal as the Ghost Whale in Bubble Bobble or Jason in the Friday the 13th game, as soon as they show up, you’re fucked, the end.

  3. Barsoom Bob

    Dick, your game developer overlay kind of works, but the point of the movie was not really the heist / inception. It was the emotional journey that Cob had to travel to get straight. Just like Mrs Cob materializing out of the shadows and screwing up his elaborate plans/ dreams. Repressed guilt and other emotions can screw us around royally until we finally confront them and make peace with the issues.

    It was a surprisingly emotional and touching ending to the movie until he threw in that cheap shot at the end with the spinning top. I believe this movie would be fairing much better in the higher end Oscar races if he had not put that abrupt cut away in to end the movie.

    Just as he gives the audience that emotional pay off to the 2 1/2 hour movie, he pulls the rug out from under everyone by doing an Inception on the audience and then made them doubt if what they were just feeling was really real. It was a film maker showing off but shot the movie in the foot.

    • Dick Ward

      We’ll just go ahead and disagree on that. The whole Cobb emotional thing was secondary to the heist, which would reuinite Cobb with his children. That’s the main story – Cobb has to pull one last heist to get back together with his kids because apparently Michael Caine can’t just bring them to him.

      The whole guilt angle was an aside to this. It was an interesting story, but it definitely wasn’t the main story.

  4. You’re not alone mate. I thought Inception was blown all out of proportion. It was nothing more than an ok thriller. Nothing revolutionary or mind-bending. Unless of course you’ve been fed on a diet of “Big Momma” films.

  5. Patrick A Crone

    I enjoyed Inception because I believe that as soon as Cobb approached Miles to help him, Miles had Cobb sedated and the film from that point is a dream constructed by miles and his own team to make Cobb deal with his past. So all the inconsistant science and confussion can be chalked up to being a single dream from the get go.

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