Samuel Brace calls for an end to video game adaptations…
Name a good video game to movie adaptation. Go on, name one. Name one bona fide hit with both critics and fans that’s source was a video game. Coming up short? That’s okay, it was an impossible task. There are of course some that are more enjoyable than others but the truth of the matter is that there are zero adaptations of this type that can be called a real success. So why do they continue to get made? What is with this furious determination to find a hit? And do we even need one? Do we even want one?
It was announced this past week that CD Projekt Red franchise The Witcher would be the next property to undergo this rather fruitless process. Now, The Witcher games were themselves an adaptation of a novel series, but transferring a story from the page to a visual medium is something very different, something that makes sense as the two are completely different experiences. Going from one visual format to another however is something that doesn’t make sense, demonstrably so. My problem, and I think our problem, with adaptations is with this very specific subgenre. So we could skirt this issue by focusing on the fact that this proposed adaptation is not of a video game but of a book series, but the truth is the book has been adapted already in the visual sphere so why isn’t this deemed enough? Why isn’t this deemed good enough?
The latest entry in The Witcher game franchise was by all measures a resounding success and the story was a big part of that, but just because it worked in one visual medium doesn’t mean it will work again in another and it doesn’t need to. Why do we need another version of this story or of any video game narrative? The Witcher tale has already been told by a team of very able storytellers, so where is the necessity for it to be retold on film? The Witcher is a rare case of book to game to film. Far more common is the game to film adaptation, and this is where the real problem lies and what I would like to focus on here.
The issue all stems from the fallacy that video games aren’t valid enough, that as a form of entertainment they are second tier to film, that a story isn’t premium until we see it acted out in live action at a multiplex. However, the engaged and informed among us all know this to be completely untrue. Video games as of 2015 are insanely popular, more so than ever, making an asinine amount of money for their developers and distributors while having the capability to tell a riveting story all by themselves.
Video games don’t need film. They are two very different forms of entertainment that are equally as valuable and enjoyable as each other. Uncharted is another long gestated game to movie adaptation. The Story of adventurer Nathan Drake has been on the development slate for quite some time, but there seems to be no good reason as to why. Well, that’s not exactly true, if they can make a hit out the movie then truck loads of cash would soon be pulling into the benefactor’s offices, but as we’ve just mentioned there has never been such a success to model after, for whatever reason this particular type of adaptation doesn’t work, so can we just stop trying and be happy with the experience we already have? The Uncharted games are fantastic and they contain an extremely compelling story, we don’t need to see it again.
Now, I am not saying adaptations in general aren’t valuable, but it would be unfair to compare them. There are plenty examples of book to film successes, so the precedent already exists, the incentive is there to follow in the footsteps of previous triumphs. But this rich history doesn’t exist with video games, so why bother trying? It’s obvious that the audience doesn’t want these adaptations and that the translation just doesn’t go over smoothly between mediums, so why not leave our beloved games alone?
Now, we all know that Hollywood needs ideas, that we are at a point in the culture and in this very particular medium where originality is hard to come by, I mean, so many stories have already been told. So it’s easy to understand why studios would look at games like The Last of Us, like Uncharted and think “Wow, there is something great here, people would really like this stuff”, well spoiler alert, we already like this stuff and we know they are great. Money makes the world go round, we know that, we know that if one of these adaptations work that could equate to more money towards the game from which it spawned but at the moment the market has already spoken, there has been a definitive answer from the audience that this is not something we want, so please stop trying to give it to us. I think we as an audience have already done what we’ve needed to do here, we’ve generally not liked these movies, we’ve on the whole voted with our wallets and not made hit franchises from these adaptations (Resident Evil has become a film franchise but not a good one, we can all agree that is not a contrarian stance) so it’s hard to say why this is still happening to us. Perhaps we are guilty of speculation that might be fuelling what is happening here, but we’ve voted where it counts.
Listen, this isn’t a complex argument, there isn’t really much more to say about this. So let’s just end it here, let’s end it by saying we know what we want and it’s not this. We are not entitled to faithful adaptations but we should expect the market to work correctly, the evidence is there, so stop trying to sell us a product that we don’t want, a product that has already worked wonderfully in another medium. Our antipathy is real and it’s been expressed clearly. We love these stories, these characters, and a lot of them are as good as they are because of the interaction that is only possible through participating as a gamer. There are so many great tales in video games, there are so few — if any — that would find improvement through another medium. So on top of guarding our cash and withholding our adoration; let’s also stop asking who should play character X in a movie, or who should direct game Z in the film version. Let’s not give them any excuse. The talented artists that pour themselves into these magnificent creations deserve more from us than to hear that essentially what they achieved wasn’t good enough, that in three years time the ‘real’ artists will bring legitimacy to their work. Come on, enough is enough. Film is great, but so are video games. We don’t need cinema to validate them.