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Extra Punctuation
Why Movie Adaptations of Games Suck

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 28 Feb 2012 16:00
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As I would hope we all know by now, one of the most inevitably disastrous transfers in culture is videogame to film. And that's surely because it involves the removal of the central aspect of a videogame, the interactivity. A lot of videogame stories and characters are still rather hideously clich├ęd and badly written, but the gameplay aspect can carry them through that. Put under the unforgiving black eye of the film camera, they don't have a leg to stand on.

Things aren't so immediately doomed when adapting from the linear media - films and by extension comic books - to videogames, but a lot needs to be added. Too many film adaptations feel the need to simply follow the plot exactly. Spider-Man 2 is the example I always give of a good film adaptation, because it took the bits from the film that wouldn't have made a good game - the bits where Spider-Man is trying to give up being an action hero and interesting person - and replaced it with more superhero fights and swinging about. By the same token I rate Darkness 1 over Darkness 2 because it actually feels like things are being adapted and expanded rather than having to stay shackled to the original material.

But games-to-films never work because when you take the interactivity out of the story then you're reducing a million potential stories to one. But what's the alternative, besides just not adapting anything from the videogame format at all? Obviously, there's no other medium precisely like videogames because of the audience in the driving seat aspect. But I'm going to risk mockery from the intellectual circles here with my next point and argue that the closest equivalent storytelling medium to videogames is none other than the humble written novel.

The Witcher games are adapted straight from books and some people seem to like those, while there seems to be an entire cottage industry of novels adapted from games like Assassin's Creed, Halo and Mass Effect. You see, the reason why books and games are comparable is because the essence of games is that the experience is a joint effort between the creator and the audience. And when you're reading a book, you're assembling your own vision of the characters and the action inside your head. That's why so many readers will say they prefer the book to the film adaptation.

Books are also immersive and more suitable for extreme long-form storytelling, just like videogames that can hold your attention for six or seven hours in a sitting if you've nothing better to do and your head doesn't start to hurt. And with both books and games you can get frustrated and throw something across the room. Can't do that watching a film. Well, you can, but you'd probably put your back out and the projectionist will raise objections.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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