Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Video Games And Movies. The Dicussion Continues!

Ah gamasutra. You make me happy to be a gamer with your weekly video game criticism roundup. Making us look smart and all by picking out the gems that get lost in the interwebs.

It allowed me to reflect on a favorite subject of mine: video games will never be movies.

Bold, I know. Especially coming from someone who has done the film school thing, has 2 degrees, and made a couple of movies. And the business has been eating up on licensing one after another, hoping to spark the next big game movie craze.

We really haven’t had a “blockbuster” video game movie. Before you ask about Resident Evil, the next installment might be that hit. When it was initially released, it didn’t fare so well in U.S. theaters, but made a killing on DVD and did quite well overseas. That’s one of the reasons why they keep going. With each installment, the ticket sales have gone up, to the point that the last film (what was it, 4, 5? I can’t keep track of them) proved that the virus zombie genre had potential in the heart of Hollywood. The next one has the potential to be that breaker to get video game movies back.

The Super Hero buzz is going to die out soon. I know the pop and glitter that is The Avengers is right around the corner. I’m guilty of wanting to see it too. And I don’t know how well this foray into the “board game movies” such as Battleship will fair. I know it sounds like a joke, but Monopoly and Candy Land have been optioned. Like it or not, it’s going to happen. Remember Clue? Yeah. That does exist and can not be unseen. Like Doom. Though much love for Tim for being the crazy awesome man that he is.

Video game rights are being bought up left and right to capitalize on the medium. They make more than movies, so clearly it has to be a good resource for ideas. Don’t let the past discourage you with Mario Bros. and Tomb Raider. There’s potential there and movies want you to buy into it.


While I’m ready for the super hero biz to slow down, video games are not an amicable replacement. Why? Games are not designed to be movies, even Metal Gear Solid 4 with its days of cut scenes. Just as movies are not designed to be games. Try thinking of one video game that is directly based from a movie that has done well. Go ahead. The Star Wars spin offs such as X-Wing, Tie Fighter, and KoTR don’t count. Those are not direct from the movie story-line based video games.

Honestly, I have a difficult time thinking of one that was considered a success. And what movie these days doesn’t have a video game, aside from recent Oscar winning dramas such as The Iron Lady. Though imagine that being a game; a Margret Thatcher in the body of Meryl Strepe running around, possibly whacking people in the head with a large book of British law. Could be amusing for half a second.

It’s difficult to translate a 2 hour movie into a 20 hour game. The same conundrum that book movies have to deal with. How do you take a book that is 800 pages long and turn it into a 120 minutes of movie watching goodness? Sure you have your stand-outs like Lord of the Rings and Twilight, but think about all of the stuff that was not in those movies. I know LoTR movies are long. Really, really long. But they don’t tell the whole story. A lot of pieces were left out. If you really wanted a word-for-word retelling of LoTR, expect each movie to take upwards to 50 hours. That will never happen.

The same principle applies to video games. How do you take something with up-wards to 50 hours of content and squash it into a movie timeframe? (More like 3 hours when you think of Call of Duty, so actually that could work, couldn’t it? I mean, it’s just shooting at the bad guys in different locations. War movie without a whole lot of drama or crying. Just run and gun. Who wouldn’t want to watch 3 hours of that?)

Kidding aside, you are guaranteed to remove the bulk of the content in order to fit the time. No one wants to see Tomb Raider split into 4 movies just to go through the first PlayStation game. A lot of the stuff that goes on is kind of boring if you’re just watching the movie and not a part of the experience. (This is my next point.) And no one wants to watch Angelina Jolie raiding tombs for 4 movies on one plot line.

But condensing a video game isn’t the big issue. It’s removing the gamer from their element and sticking their gaming content into the movie. If it’s not glaringly obvious, when you take the game out of the console, you remove the interactivity. Part of why video games do as well as they do is that it allows the user to become involved with the product. They control the character, his or her actions, and how the world evolves around them. You can’t do that in a movie with its linear progression to an inevitable conclusion. You can’t control what the main character does. If Super Pip should run to save the people in the burning building or go to the gas station and load up on burritos, the user is removed from the equation. That lack of interactivity is why movies based on video games have not worked. That joy of playing the video game is no longer there. Now you have to sit and watch the story for 2 hours, that may not have won you into playing the game in the first place. I know in my case, I didn’t pick up Infamous or GTA because of the story, but rather the unique aspects of game play that they offered. In the end I do like the stories, but that isn’t what got me to play those particular products.

Movies are programmed differently from games. They are meant to provide you with a story, a beginning, climax, and ending. A nice, neat little package (conceptually, not literally since not all movies are like this) for people to be entertained. A game doesn’t have to do this. I’m sure a number of you sate off into space for hours playing Farmville. There is no real “end” to that game. You choose when you want to end by not playing. You have the option to stop playing the game and not finish the story. Or you have an open world game like Grand Theft Auto where you can keep playing after the primary story line is finished. You can’t do that with a film.

Maybe in the fan fiction universe, but that’s a different realm entirely. This is specifically focusing on the film element.

This whole mess that I’ve typed up isn’t to say that there won’t be good or decent or fantastic movies based on video games, and vice versa. Rather, you can’t take a video game and expect it to be just like a movie. The same principles don’t apply. I wrote up a posting a few months ago disputing some common tropes used in movies that someone was attempting to apply to video games.
Doesn’t work. Video games are not movies. Movies are not video games. They both need to be approached through different sets of criteria in order to properly critique them. It would be the same as putting the Mona Lisa next to Tupac and say “compare the two.” A crude example, but that’s basically what you’re asking movies and video games to do.


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