Keep games as games
With the recent news that the upcoming Ghost of Tsushima film has found its screenwriter in Takashi Doscher, I think it’s time to take a look at all these video game movies.
From released adaptations like this year’s Uncharted and 2016’s Assassin’s Creed to those in the works like a God of War and The Last of Us TV series. High-budget video game movies and tv shows have become the apple of execs’ eyes recently.
But do we truly, earnestly need them? Was anyone clamouring for a live-action recreation for half of these properties, if any?
Well, some people must be, but I’m not so convinced.
The long production times of game movies and shows
A history of development hell links many of these films and shows. Talks of an Uncharted movie first cropped up in 2008. Meanwhile, the recently released Halo series seemingly started development in 2013. It was only in the last few years that production of game films and shows really kicked off.
It’s debatable where this sudden interest in game adaptations has come from. The runaway success of Detective Pikachu and The Witcher tv series, both released in 2019, could have had a hand in it. Or maybe there’s been a general trend towards accepting video game stories by wider media.
So, why am I so against this trend?
Building game narratives
My biggest problem is that game stories fundamentally don’t work as well without gameplay. Games like BioShock and Portal have good stories, not despite being games, but rather because they’re games. Hell, BioShock’s famous twist revolves almost entirely around the fact that you are a player following objectives.
This is the advantage games have over other media: the gameplay, surprise surprise. In other media, the most the audience does is observe what is happening to a character. Games, however, make the audience an active participant, and any good game narrative takes advantage of this.
The aforementioned God of War and The Last of Us are often lauded for the relationships between the main character and their companion. God of War’s Kratos and Atreus to The Last of Us’s Joel and Ellie. But it’s through gameplay that these relationships are built. The way both companion characters gradually get more useful to the player bolsters the interactions they have outside of combat segments. In the more relaxed segments, the player is free to look around and trigger dialogue between these characters that feels just that extra bit more personal, as it’s an interaction you found.
Now sure, a well-written show could achieve a similar goal with their characters. However, these game adaptations are starting on the backheel by trying to do the exact same thing with fewer options. Why would I watch a series of The Last of Us when I could play through the game again and more easily connect with the characters? All while also, you know, playing a fun video game?
The most baffling choice for a game movie for me so far has been Metal Gear Solid. The series has a reputation for using gameplay to mess with players, like the infamous Psycho Mantis fight from MGS1. Call me skeptical, but I don’t see how a movie adaptation could even approach the tone and style of Metal Gear Solid.
So, what makes a “good” game movie?
Out of all the recent video game movies, I’d argue the Sonic the Hedgehog films are among the best. Now obviously I don’t think either one is the pinnacle of art, but they are fun. Less attempts to try and retell any particular Sonic story and instead a goofy family movie with a Sonic coat of paint.
And at the end of the day, that’s the best that game movies can be. Whatever genre fits closest to the source material, filled in with characters from the game and doomed to average at around 50/100 on Metacritic.
It doesn’t matter how the Ghost of Tsushima movie turns out, or the Metal Gear Solid film or The Last of Us tv series or any other game adaptation. I guarantee that they won’t build upon their source material in any meaningful way. Many have tried, but none have succeeded and, in my opinion, none will succeed.
Do you think so too? Or do you think that these game adaptations have potential? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Or you can hop over to our Discord and chat with us about all things gaming and entertainment!