Random Encounter #4 – Why Video Game Movies Are a Stupid Idea

Cap’n Tightpants IS Nathan Drake. Almost.

Video game movies have a terrible track record but, as the games get more cinematic, the movies should get better, right? Olivia Cottrell doesn’t think so…

As a fan of video games, I’m often asked if I’ve seen any of their big screen adaptations – the Tekken or Street Fighter movies, for example, or the truly, truly awful Doom movie (I did watch it but, for my own protection, my brain has blanked most of the memories out). People also tend to assume I’m excited by the prospect of a Mass Effect movie, or disappointed that the film based on the Uncharted franchise floundered and died.

The truth is, I’m glad when these movies never see the light of day. Not just because the adaptations seem to be universally bad, but because they play to the assumption that film is a higher form of entertainment. True, films are more mainstream than video games (but not, I’d argue, for much longer, thanks to Facebook-based casual gaming and the rise of the Wii as a family console) but there’s no reason why a film should perceived to be a more valuable or significant cultural property than a video game.

What can a film offer that a video game can’t? While adaptations of books or comics can at least introduce a visual or kinetic element to a story, video games have many of the conventions of cinema already built in, especially in cut scenes. Characters are voiced and performed by A-list talent. Do we really need to make them any more compelling? Besides, most film adaptations just revisit the origins or rehash the stories of the games they’re working from. Nothing new is added, and in many cases a lot is taken away.

You remember this, don’t you? No?

Most crucial, however, is the lack of interactivity. For all their similarities, a film will never let you control what happens on screen, while the best games trade on your interaction with the world around you. In Half-Life, for example, you feel responsible for the events of the game because you accidentally helped bring them about. Bioshock’s big reveal hinges on its exploitation of the conventions of video game storytelling. While in Mass Effect, the effects of your decisions are vital to the ongoing plot. Even Uncharted, a game that arguably wishes it were a movie, engages you in unravelling the mystery of the plot through solving puzzles. And it makes you care about the central character of Nathan Drake because it tasks you with guiding him safely on his quest.

So there’s nothing to be gained from trying to force these two media together – they simply aren’t compatible. Ultimately, the best video game movies are the games themselves.

At least it was better than those Mortal Kombat movies

You can find Olivia’s other Random Encounters here. And come back in two weeks for another blast from gaming’s past in Visual Memory.

2 thoughts on “Random Encounter #4 – Why Video Game Movies Are a Stupid Idea

  1. Do you think that games are less suited to film adaptation than a book or tv series, say? Are these the same problems as with any adaptation, or are games a special case?

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