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One-Liner: Power of the Medium on Game and Player

One-Liner: Power of the Medium

Michael Ubaldi  //  January 3, 2011

Whither the big screen?


early four months ago, Adam Bogert suggested that video games might aspire literarily, and here Moon director Duncan Jones sees Blizzard's World of Warcraft as canon befitting cinema. "[It] could be the launch of computer games as good films," Jones enthused in an interview, confident of Blizzard's contractor, Sam Raimi. "It's what I was talking about — it's not worrying about how the game plays, it's about creating the world of the game and investing the audience in that world."

What size audience? Eleven million? Warcraft already enjoys one, and at no cost to its narrative served through an idiom of quests, dungeons, and head-to-head battlegrounds.

Returning to Mass Effect 2 this weekend for the first time in several months, I paused to consider the game's appeal — popularly hailed as "cinematic." Could the character of Commander Shepard step onto the big screen? Effortlessly. And even if BioWare's writing staff didn't boast screenplay credits, the caliber of its work would fool you, me and a film critic. But operative to the brand extension is the word "adaptation," and that means telescoping forty hours of the actual experience provided by the Mass Effect series — compelling NPC interaction, challenges of exploration, exciting shooter sequences — into a strictly visual procession no longer than one hundred eighty minutes. Doubt enters the question of whether the original content survives translation.

If BioWare or Blizzard — or other major developers — want more money, shouldn't they simply design and release another game?

Joseph Powell // January 3, 2011 // 3:26 AM

I don't think Mass Effect 2 would translate well to the big screen, even with the game's cinematic feel. Too many of the subtleties that make the game what it is would be stripped away and the plot would end up a generic sci-fi romp.

Adam K. Bogert // January 3, 2011 // 10:50 AM

Perhaps a bigger issue with ME in particular is just how customizable Shepard is, and how a film would necessarily have to pick one Shepard to become "the" Shepard from here on out (sort of the way book characters become permanently embodied by the actors chosen to portray them in films).

I think film adaptations of games, if they ever work, will have to stick to games with solid, developer-molded characters, even if that unfortunately precludes some of the best games ever made. What makes a great game does not make a great movie, and vice-versa. Greater customizability and agency makes a film adaptation which appeals to those who have played the game less and less likely.

Michael Ubaldi // January 3, 2011 // 2:10 PM

That's quite true, Adam. Which love interest will Shepard choose? Not the black sheep if producers desire mainstream appeal, that's for sure.

Again, though, I wonder if A-list video games are such a desirable property, there aren't many practical reasons to license in a different category with costs as prohibitive as filmmaking.

Adam K. Bogert // January 3, 2011 // 3:42 PM

Certainly I think some games are prime for film adaptation, with what games scholar Henry Jenkins calls "cinema envy" running rampant in the industry. Some games are definitely best left as games, but others are more like interactive films which, honestly, would have made better non-interactive films. The truth is, Halo doesn't offer much in terms of gaming (campaign-wise) that requires interactivity or customization. That's probably why what little customization DOES exist in Halo feels tacked-on, aesthetic, and not at all useful.

QED, Halo would make an excellent film and i have no idea why it has failed to hit the silver screen (except, I suppose, the budgetary constraints you allude to).

But other games thrive on the uniqueness of the medium, whether via player choice or something as fundamental as the first-person perspective. I won't say that DOOM's film adaptation sucked because it was a first-person game (there are plenty of other reasons for that movie's crappiness), but I think what made games like BioShock exceptional was the faceless protagonist. Give Jack a face, and you've destroyed that mystique.

Masakuni // January 3, 2011 // 10:58 PM

Part of the reason halo hasn't made it to film is that ms and bungie haven't allowed someone to just take it and do as they wish. If that were the case it would have probably appeared in the form of an awful movie. Hopefully this means we will actually get a great movie if it does ever end up working out.

Joseph Powell // January 4, 2011 // 2:38 AM

There are plenty of games out there that would make good movies if done right.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie wasn't awful. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit but it did have some quirks and unnecessary parts that I didn't like.

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