Video game films have become so stained in their reputation from the numerous times they have been made and then as soon as they have been released; critically panned and commercially failed. Tomb Raider (2001), Prince of Persia (2010), Assassins Creed (2016), Silent Hill (2006) and many many more. People have attempted to revive this sub-genre of film and try and gain some creditably to video game movies but none have been overly successful. The big question is to why doesn’t video games translate to the medium of film? And if it could, how?
Films and video games are an entirely different medium. Films are a passive experience, even in the age of 3D and 4D immersion, films still have a restrictive narrative compared to video games. There is no way to watch a film like Seven (1995) and decide not to look in the box. There is a preset narrative that cannot be changed by the viewer, unless we had access to a directors cut or extended edition. The audience can be sucked into a film and be amazed by it but it will always be the audience. Unlike video games as the viewer is not a viewer, they are a player. You don’t watch games, you play them. This seems to be the biggest obstacle in translating from video games to film.
The experiences are so different. In video games you are the character, you are their movement, conscience and ability. We as the player become the character and this results in being more invested in the characters. When the video game moves over to the cinema, the experience is reduced. We are no longer the character and it is not the character that you were in the game. You as the character would of never of gone to that cave but in the film, the scriptwriter is the only one that can choose what the character does. It is a lesser experience when you compare the two. It is like if you made mash using home grown potatoes and then the next day you made mash from that instant powder stuff. It looks the same but it just tastes weird and it is not nice. Moral of the story is to never make mash with instant powder.
Also another issue with these films is the complete lack of knowledge and respect for video games. Most of these films are not made by people who have played or know extensive lore that is so important to fans. One of the biggest examples of this is the cinematic adaptation of the explicitly violent Mortal Kombat (1995), which when it was made for the cinema it was a PG-13. There was no blood or fatalities. However, it is a film I like because of the 90’s cheese but it was so bad and was hard to connect it to a video game franchise I adored and still do. The people who make these films just use the game as a brand and just implement a random story that just fits with the name. It is massively disrespectful to fans who have put hundreds of hours into that particular game. It is madness, it is as if someone was making a film about World War Two but had no idea who Winston Churchill and FDR was. Video games at the moment is still not a widely respected medium and thats why the films are treated more as cash cows then respected parts of art and literature.
I’ve explored some of the issues but I want to ask if there really needs to be a film adaptation of video games? Isn’t video games, films by themselves? I have just finished three story based games that I was invested and amazed by with their narrative. Gone Home (2015), Everybody Has Gone To The Rapture (2016) and Life Is Strange (2015). These perfectly show that video games are interactive films. Everybody Has Gone To The Rapture is a fantastic mystery game that you explore to find out what has happen in a post apocalyptic English countryside. The stories of everyone in the village are intertwined like a English Pulp Fiction (1994). The more you explored and played, the more you found out. It slowly unraveled to fulfill a fitting climax that had a beginning, middle and end. It was a 10 hour interactive film. Life is Strange is a little more immersive. This is about a teenage girl who has the power to alter time and finds out in 7 days the town will encounter a large tornado. Life is Strange was released as an episodic game series, just like a TV show. Each having a beginning, middle and end, with a cliffhanger at the end. The narrative was fantastic and had me on the edge of my seat. I had the power to change the course of time and the end was fitting and I was blown away by the complexities of the story, visuals and characters.
There is no need for video game films. They already exist. They are longer, more immersive and more liberating. This is not to knock cinema, as I am a big movie fan. I have been studying it for 6 years. The experience is entirely different and that is okay. It doesn’t translate to film because there is no Rosetta Stone for this. Let films be films and let video games be video games. There maybe a good video game film in the near future but in this current trend it would be foolish to put some money on it. If you want to watch a good video game film ask your friend or sibling to play The Last of Us (2013) and just watch him play it because you will enjoy it, even if it is a 10 hour film.