Video games have become a huge industry. There is no denying that. When gaming first exploded onto the scene in the 80s, I doubt anyone could have foreseen a time when games would sell for more than $1 billion the way Grand Theft Auto V did last year or a time when games would elicit the kind of emotional reaction that The Last of Us continues to with its recent HD remake. Gaming is likely the fastest growing entertainment industry out there right now, making this a golden age for those of us who love to spend our days wrapped up in virtual worlds.
This is the kind of success that Hollywood has been dreaming of for decades and there has never been a cultural trend that Hollywood wasn’t poised to exploit. As we speak, Maisie “Arya Stark” Williams is rumoured to be in talks to play Ellie from The Last of Us, Nathan Drake’s poised to make the leap to the big screen in an Uncharted movie, and they just keep bringing the Dead Island movie back from the dead. And if I hear about Michael Fassbender’s supposed casting in an Assassin’s Creed movie one more time, I don’t know what I’ll do.
So boys and girls, I hope you’re ready for a steady stream of just god awful movies based on your favourite video games, because that’s what is on the horizon for us. How do I know it is going to be awful? Because they are always awful. Sometimes because they are made by people with only a passing familiarity with the source material. Sometimes because they force video game concepts that simply don’t work on screen. And sometimes its just because they have a god awful script.
But why are video game movies terrible, even when Uwe Boll isn’t involved? Why can we not get a good film adaptation of a video game even though other “geek” pastimes such as comic books have been so successful that we’re now getting a talking space raccoon in the number one movie in the country? Why can Lord of the Rings become a cultural phenomenon while The Legend of Zelda movie will forever remain nothing more than the most well produced (and awesome) April Fool’s Day prank ever. What is it that created the slew of terrible films based on so many excellent intellectual properties?
Part of the problem is that video games and film are two entirely different modes of storytelling. Video games, as I’ve said before, are the most interactive medium, allowing developers to force the players to into making difficult choices as part of the experience. Sure, there are plenty of actors that can make us empathise with the decisions they have made, but, with the right crafting, video games can make that impact ten times greater (ala Heavy Rain). This interactivity makes everything more powerful. Whether it is a budding romance, the fallout of an epic battle, or simply the satisfaction of seeing a happy ending, it eventually becomes you rather than just the main character that goes on the journey. This level of interactivity is impossible to replicate in a film and is a big reason why the stories of movie adaptations fall flat.
Video games stories are written to take advantage of this interactivity, to allow the character to progress through the plot by completing the gameplay and to create that sense of immersion that can’t be replicated in any other art form. In the same way that the best novels take advantage of the purely textual medium to allow the reader’s mind to create the scene, filling in the details left out by the author to craft their own perfect horror/romance/dragon, the best video game plots use the immersion aspect of the medium to allow the player to become the main character.
Of course, another major problem is the relative youth of the medium. Despite the fact that many of us have grown up playing video games, compared to some of the other storytelling mediums out there it is shockingly recent. I mean, if you think about it, only those under thirty years old grew up in a world where video games were in the mainstream. Meanwhile, films have been around for well over a century, the best known comic book characters are over seventy-five years old now, and theatre and plays date back over two millennia. Compared to this, video games are the broody teenager of art, still awkwardly trying find its own identity while moodily demanding to be taken seriously and firmly believing that it knows everything already and has nothing left to learn. While there have been massive leaps forward in storytelling in the past few years, spearheaded by companies like BioWare, Quantic Dream, Naughty Dog, video games simply don’t have the depth of history that other mediums do. Adapting something so new onto a more established medium can have the adverse effect of exposing some of the roughness of the original.
Of course, no amount of fear and trepidation will stop Hollywood from mining the sweet, sweet caverns of video game fans for all their spare change. With Dead Island, The Last of Us, Warcraft, Assassins Creed, and many others either scheduled or rumoured for release over the next few years, only time will tell if Hollywood has any intention of learning from past mistakes.
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An American trying to infiltrate and understand English society, Trent is a writer of novels and player of games. He has a serious addiction to JRPGs, the weirder the better, and anything that keeps him distracted from work.