Grand Theft Adaptation

Grand Theft Adaptation
It's All Real To Me

Max Steele | 16 Aug 2005 12:04
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When I'm sitting in a theatre watching a terrible movie made from a great game, the first thing I think to do is blame the marketers.

When a marketer approaches a product - and that's what Lord of the Rings and Halo and Star Wars are to marketers - he'll ask, "What is the brand? What are its brand properties? What are the brand's demographics? What does the brand stand for in the mind of its consumer? How can we extend the brand?"

I'm not making this stuff up. Just listen to Marvel Studios' CEO, Avi Arad, talk about the recent Fantastic Four movie: "It's a tent pole film that supports all our brands and every area of our business." It's not a story, it's not a setting, it's not a modern myth for our time - it's a "tent pole" for supporting "brands." You know, brands like Dr. Doomâ„¢. Or was that Dr. Doom®? You get the point.

Marketers are taught to think this way in school, mind you, so we can't blame them too much. But contrast it to the way some of the great creators have approached their creations.

Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, felt he was documenting the story of a character as it really happened - "[Conan] simply stalked full grown out of oblivion and set me at work recording the saga of his adventures," he explained. Likewise, J.R.R. Tolkien saw himself as a historian documenting a world, bringing to light something which was real. When Tolkien was once asked a question about Middle-Earth to which he had no answer, he wrote in his diary: "Must find out."

"Must find out." Think about that.

Obviously, as the creator of Middle-Earth and the author of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was entitled to give any answer he would like to any question about the setting. But he didn't: He waited to learn the right answer. Tolkien understood that given the totality of his creation, there almost certainly was a right answer, a logical answer that made sense within his canon, his mythology, his history, and his themes. He respected his creation enough to be true to it, to work at discovering what that right answer was.

What he didn't do was consult a demographic survey to find out what answer would most appeal to white males aged 18-30. Tolkien never brand managed Middle-Earth. That's something only a marketer would do.

The problem, you see, is that marketers don't understand escapism. They don't understand that the most powerful reason you're reading Lord of the Rings, or playing Final Fantasy X, or watching Star Wars, is to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in a world of action, adventure, and heroism.

And so, they don't understand that the key to successful escapist fiction is verisimilitude. You've probably never even seen that word before in your life. But that's only because The Man has kept it from you. Say it now. Feel its power. It means "the quality of appearing to be true or real."

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