Everyone’s Doing Video Game Adaptations Wrong

We’ve all seen video games adapted into other forms of media, like movies. So far, few, if any, have been good. Super Mario Bros. was adapted into a movie that can best be described as “forgettable” and Tomb Raider has been adapted into several movies that can best be described as, “eh”. But why is it that video games have rarely seen success in other forms? Why haven’t there been many successful attempts? Disney had poured millions of dollars into adapting Prince of Persia into a movie and there was hype it could be one of the best adaptations yet. It was not. At all. More recently, Ubisoft themselves entered the film industry with Ubisoft Motion Pictures. Their first film? Assassin’s Creed, their star IP. This was a surefire hit, right? The games are massively popular with a huge narrative well to draw inspiration from. This failed too (though I argue that the Assassin’s Creed movie wasn’t actually all that bad in hindsight). If a massive budget and the backing of the creator can’t make a video game movie successful, what can?

Perhaps we’re thinking about this the wrong way. Why are we trying to adapt a video game into a movie in the first place? Why not a television show? We’ve been trying to condense a 30-hour single-player campaign into a 2-hour movie. Things will get lost in translation. In order to make a video game into a movie, massive changes to the source material have to be made in order to make it more “cinematic”. What works in a video game simply won’t work in a movie. They have a limited time to tell their stories and set up the situations, the stakes and the characters. Television shows do not have this constraint. If done right, they allow for deep character development, rich narrative story arcs, and surprisingly high production values.

Sure, there have been attempts at turning video games into tv shows in the past, and a lot of them haven’t been very successful (Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, princess!). I would argue these previous attempts were more focused on marketing the product at children rather than a wider audience, and they certainly didn’t have quality in mind. A lot of these early shows were made in a different, bygone era, when seemingly everything got a kids show, just because they could. More recent examples have seen incredible success with older audiences (Netflix’s Castlevania animated series comes to mind). Movies have their place, and I’m sure someday someone will come along and make a great video game movie that will stand the test of time and be hailed as a true classic. We haven’t yet reached that point. Perhaps some properties are better suited to the television format than the movie format, though. Something with as rich and deep a narrative as, say, The Legend of Zelda, might be better served as a show where the characters can grow and evolve over time. Not everything needs to be a movie. If more studios tried to make television shows off of video games, they may have more success.

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