Reading the coverage of the launch of videogame Grand Theft Auto IV this week, one might be forgiven for thinking the main crime was against the poor old film industry.

For those uninitiated in the gaming world, the latest instalment of the role-playing phenomena is set to be the biggest entertainment launch in history. And for understandable reasons, everyone is drawing comparisons with cinema.

That's partly, and accurately, because while the teens are locked away all night blowing the heads off gangstas, they may not be packing the aisles for Iron Man. But it's more than that: the implication is that gaming is the hip younger sibling of cinema.

Role-playing games in particular certainly steal unashamedly from the cinema, explicitly putting the user into the director's seat of an action adventure. They eat up characteristics that cinema once claimed as its own - chiefly being an immersive medium that pulls in the user, sometimes for days on end. Games hog television and travelling time.

And then they go to the next level by asking the user to lead the action. Cinema, by contrast, remains wedded to the notion of the definitive text. Film offers the director's cut, while games go for the customer's cut.

So it's easy to see why the focus is on the competition with film. But too much of the film industry chatter, these days, is based on a fear the cinema, particularly theatrical, is out of kilter with these excitable times.

This is an age when everyone is permanently in contact; when the social has given way to the individual in huge areas of life; and when the consumer has acquired a (largely illusory) sense of a power to demand to be entertained anywhere. The theatre, in particular, is none of those things. Yet we have mistaken weakness for cinema's strength.

The issue isn't really the medium but the time it takes up. You don't see headlines about how gardening, restaurants or elk-fancying are hitting film, yet all activities eat up the precious hours and minutes of which we all have fewer these days.

The focus on Grand Theft Auto is not so much about the content as the fact that, despite its 18 certificate, it consumes teen time and that remains a demographic about which the industry obsesses.

Yet when it comes to time, film has serious advantages, particularly the supposedly threatened theatres. There are very few experiences left to humanity in which we assign ourselves the privilege of putting our lives on hold for a couple of hours or so. In a time-poor world, cinema's prestige has increased.

Film also has an afterlife. While games may break records on launch, they make a relatively quick and inexorable slide into the bargain bucket. Movies, on the other hand, have a longer shelf-life on DVD, television and the internet. A select few will go on to keep making money as classics for decades after their release.

What we have not yet mentioned is the additional life films can have in games consoles. Games are a visual medium that require a frame of reference for the action that it takes cinema to provide; the game of the film has so far normally been better than the film of the game.

But there's no need to claim superiority for either medium. They are different species and both have the ability - and increasingly the tools - to adapt. In marketing terms, they have a great deal to gain from each other.

Maybe Mike Leigh's conversion to the sunny disposition is catching. But surely if film can find ways to increase its distribution to reach those demanding customers wherever they damn well want it, then reach and power can grow.

That does not diminish the challenges ahead but somewhere, in the 13th straight hour of computer felony, there is someone for whom the penny will drop - and rather than essentially act out making a film, they could actually, well, make a film.

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