In gaming’s infancy, most of the premises were adapted from movies. Game developers were using films as hypertext as early as the dismal E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, crafted for the Atari 2600 in 1982. That software may have ended up in a landfill in New Mexico. But nowadays games have grown up, and have even begun to outsell movies, which many studios want to capitalize on.
Perhaps in correlation to recent technological advances, the demand for games to improve has increased exponentially over the last few years. The stories have become increasingly complex, the music far more symphonic, and the visuals more, well, cinematic. However, even with all this progress, the film industry doesn’t know how to capitalize on the gaming industry. Most games based on movies are pretty terrible, partly due to the fact that a studio simply hopes to capitalize on the popularity of its film and takes no care in choosing which company makes the accompanying video game.
After trying for years to persuade gamers into buying their schlock, the film industry is only now starting to comprehend the meticulous standards. While it may take more capital to enlist a quality designer to make your game, spending that extra money could spell the difference between something like the popular Goldeneye 007 and something like the tedious Enter the Matrix.
Meanwhile, the gaming industry is taking initiative to hire actual writers for their games. Duppy Demetrius, who has written for hit TV shows like 24 and The Closer, was nominated in 2010 by the Writers Guild of America for an award for his scripting work on the third-person action shooter Wet. The fact that the WGA is even handing out accolades for video game writing is an indication of the increasing cultural significance of games. Even famous composers like Hans Zimmer, who scored the high-grossing Modern Warfare 2, are getting in on the action. Collaborations like this illustrate just how conjoined games and film are. However, if the gaming industry is going to take advantage of the film industry’s rich resources, it’s only going to make their wares that much more delectable.
You can probably sit down and name every game movie that’s ever been made. Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros. and Resident Evil are probably the best game-to-film adaptations. That isn’t saying a lot – each of those films was loathed by critics and did only marginally well in the box office thanks to the low cinematic standards of our nation’s teenage boys. But lackluster reviews and piddling returns hasn’t deterred Hollywood from purchasing rights to produce films from games. Uncharted, considered one of the most cinematic gaming experiences in recent years, is currently being produced into a film by Columbia Pictures, with David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) attached to direct.
However, despite the promise of a big name studio and a critically-acclaimed director, reservations remain over whether or not Uncharted, or any other game adaptation for that matter, will be worth anyone’s time. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to take an interactive experience like a game and turn it into a passive entertainment. From the perspective of gamers, film studios don’t seem to take the games they adapt seriously. They see an idea that sells well in another medium and take it, but mutate it beyond recognition in the process.
Other than story ideas, films of late have been borrowing concepts very specific to games. New, original stories with seemingly insignificant ideas taken from games are what really seem to work in films. And if you pay enough attention, you may just catch a few.
Consider Avatar, which, at a worldwide total of 2.782 billion is one of the highest grossing films of all time. Avatar was based on the idea of being someone else, taking over a new body, and exploring a world you could never visit in the flesh. It seems an awful lot like an MMO, or massively multiplayer online game. If Sully logged on in his mom’s basement and thrived on a diet of Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew, more people would see the connection.
Avatar takes after one of gaming’s most basic premises – the desire to immerse yourself in a world completely different from your own. This yen for bit-graphic metamorphosis, the need to escape the limitations of your body and enter a world where anything is possible, drives the game industry.
Inception, a film about dreams and ideas, utilizes elements of gaming in its plot. The film’s characters trek deeper and deeper through the myriad layers of an unsuspecting mind in order to plant their idea. In other words, they have to make it through levels to complete their objective. Levels are the basic structure of gaming. Progressively harder levels lead you to your goal until there are no other castles your princess could possibly be in.
Basic narrative references from game to film are merely a start for an industry that is still trying to prove itself as an art form. It’ll be a few more years before this trend makes significant headway and the film industry starts to realize that a good gaming movie is more profitable than an awful one.
As consumers of entertainment, it is important to pay attention to the details of what we consume and how the lines are beginning to blur. It is a beautiful thing, allowing film and gaming to merge in their storylines and concepts. As gaming continues to grow as a medium, perhaps Hollywood will put more time and effort into adaptations. Perhaps one day we’ll see a game movie that doesn’t completely suck, or a game based on a movie that isn’t entirely ridiculous.