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Gaming and Movies – Irreconcilable Differences

February 9th, 2010 by

The relationship between gaming and movies has always been rocky. As someone who spends a lot of time with both, I say it’s time for a divorce.

Sub-par tie-in games go back as far as the Atari 2600’s legendary E.T. game and continue to be the norm. The exceptions, like Tron and Goldeneye are few and far between. Every summer you can count on each potential event movie to have a console game backing it up. The movie studios seem to view them at best as an extra revenue stream or at worst a promotional item on par with Happy Meal toys.
The movie tie-in’s usually characterised by a shortened development cycle as games have to match the release date of the movie. This results in games that usually vary between competent and downright broken. The better movie games are released months (or years) after the films they’re tied to, but even then that’s not a guarantee of quality. The most extreme example of this so far is EA’s “The Godfather”, published exactly 34 years after the theatrical release of the film. What did the mighty EA produce with this Oscar-winning classic? A second-rate GTA clone.
The only major change in this trend has been that unlike the literal adaptations of a movie’s story back in the 8- and 16-bit days, developers now favour prequels and side-stories. While this is a commendable approach, the stories are even thinner than that of the films themselves. Most movies have self-contained arcs, so the games’ plots tend to come off like bad fan-fiction.

Then there’s the game-to-movie adaptation. Let’s face it, apart from RPG’s, story has not traditionally been the strong point of most games. No-one bought games for the cut-scenes. Did anyone play Doom 3 and think “I’d be really interested in an expanded view of this universe”?
The main attraction for movie studios is that games franchises have an in-built audience of gamers who’ll turn out regardless of the film’s quality. Name recognition alone with draw us in.

The problem is that these films require a different story structure to games, and have a shorter span of time to convey it. A twelve level, 15-hour experience has to be boiled down to a three-act, two-hour movie. It’s no surprise the end results bear little or no resemblance to the source material. Final Fantasy: The Sprits Within was written and directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the franchise’s creator, and even he produced a monstrosity that made a ten-digit loss and put paid to Square’s fledgling movie studio (though this is probably due more to it’s incomprehensible plot than a simple lack of spiky-haired androgynous teenagers and Chocobos).

“Silent Hill” was a rare example of a movie being an accurate representation of the game’s aesthetics and story. Despite that, the change of viewpoint from the subjective to the objective killed all of the sense of dread that was key to the games’ success. This also leaves room to ponder plot holes and logic gaps. In the game I was immersed in the experience of wandering through the mist-shrouded streets to find my lost daughter, with the film I sat wondering why the hell Radha Mitchell wasn’t just making a run for it. Other faithful efforts, like “Tomb Raider” and “Mortal Kombat” came from games inspired by movies in the first place (“Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Enter the Dragon”, respectively), so why not just watch the originals?

The tools game developers have at their disposal are equal to (or even greater) that of movie-makers, with the advantage of interactivity.  The potential to create a compelling experience is greater than ever. As Jim Sterling has pointed out, using movies as a model of storytelling is a fool’s errand, they can be so much more. Where Avatar uses it’s visuals to hide paper-thin characters and uneven plotting, Mass Effect 2 creates emotional attachment and a constantly evolving story unique to each player.
The differing ways that each of us plays a game is what make them such a  personal experience, even in a seemingly linear game.Videogame movies play out the same for everyone, with little or no room for individual interpretation.

So guys, sit down. We need to talk. This isn’t doing either of you any good. You’ve grown apart. This co-dependence needs to stop, you’re just hurting each other. A trial separation would be best, and a restraining order against Uwe Boll is probably a good idea, too…

3 Responses to “Gaming and Movies – Irreconcilable Differences”
  1. avatar Anthony Bate says:

    Nice piece, Martyn.
    I tried to Digg, but it wasn’t working.

  2. avatar mym1nd says:

    Great spot of work. I hate mom and dad fighting and agree they’d be better apart than together.

  3. avatar Russell Chilvers says:

    That’s the whole story of the sorry affair wrapped up in a nutshell. Digg won’t play with me either, sorry.

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