The industry over the last few years has seen a pretty impressive boost in terms of how many beloved video games are being churned into films. The fear is prevalent though. This is the fear of placing our heroes and storylines into the hands of Hollywood and waiting to nervously fidget in the cinema some time in 2015 wondering if you will ever look at Assassin’s Creed, Ratchet and Clank, or World of Warcraft in the same way again.
In this discussion, the quality of the film itself is being set aside, I am thinking about the way the consumer changes from an active role in the story to a passive onlooker, and the reasons why this perhaps contributes to the distrust of Hollywood in the adaptation of our games.
Why is it such a risk for companies to develop these cinematic adaptations?
To start, everyone goes into that cinema with their own experience of the game, an experience and interpretation unique to them, but still imprinted on their memory of the game and their enjoyment of the game. A film is a complex collaboration of interpretations amalgamating into one representation of the game that is birthed into the world as the definitive representation of that game. The player will therefore begin to feel a certain amount of estrangement from the characters, story and setting because they are no longer in control of their experience. The character they have previously been playing is now operating outside of this control, losing the link between player and protagonist that drives emotional response to action.
It’s easy to see a film adaptation as a betrayal of a game’s storyline, especially if different writers are employed. However, thinking about the film as a different product to the game can often lead to more enjoyment overall.
The brand of the game series essentially works as a chain of products, with movie adaptations fitting neatly into this chain. Each individual link of this chain contributes something to the overall brand, a new Resident Evil game that perhaps doesn’t perform as well will contribute to the hit and miss nature of the brand. However, at the same time, each individual link will differ and comment on links before it in order to keep the brand fresh and exciting. For example, though not technically part of the Resident Evil brand, The Evil Within comments on the Resi games before it and sets up a new psychological element to the Shinji Mikami survival horror game concept.
Films sit in this chain of branding because they offer a different way of viewing aspects of the game that continue or build around previously developed plots. The differences between the film and the game within the branding chain make certain aspects of storytelling more difficult in film. The main example of this is internality. As a player, we have access to the character’s thoughts and control over their corresponding actions. A film, though it can use awkward voice-overs, performs best when presenting the external. This distances the viewer from the protagonist and when the protagonist is a character the viewer has previously had this internal connection with, the result is often disjointed.
It is worth remembering then, in 2015, that these movie adaptations are a continuation of the ongoing dialogue between the player and the game as represented by the branding chain. Essentially they work as an aside, something to give the consumer an external depiction of the world of the game to ‘colour’ the events that take place within the game itself.
So when shuffling nervously in the cinema next year, just remember to watch the movie adaptation as both a separate product to the game and an expansion of the information already presented, it might make the whole experience a little easier. And if you really need to, you can always take a PlayStation controller with you.