Like a handful of you reading this article, I recently watched Netflix and Riot Games’ collaborative project Arcane. For those unaware, Arcane tells an original story, focusing on two of League of Legends’ champions, Vi and Jinx. Oh, and there’s a handful of others such as Caitlyn, Jayce, Viktor, and more. My expectations were that of cautious optimism, as so many video game adaptations like it fail to satisfy the tight rope of new and veteran fans of the source material. And yet, after watching the first act, I was immediately enthralled by its world and characters. Its ability to exist in a rich, pre-established world, while fleshing it out with strong and meaningful characters across the board, quickly made it one of my favorite shows I’ve seen in a while. Looking anywhere online tells you quickly that I’m not the only one.
That got me thinking; if so many video game movie and TV adaptations up to this point failed miserably, what led to that? Well, let’s answer that.
Lack (or Misguidance) of Passion
It’s no secret that many films and TV shows out there care less about quality and more about the dollar signs that come as part of it. It’s a way of life, greedy people will go to any lengths to achieve financial success. That extends especially to video game TV adaptations, especially when said greedy people see a franchise talked about endlessly on social media. It’s almost like free marketing for them.
While many adaptations are beyond guilty for this, I feel one of the stronger cases for this point lies in 2016’s Assassin’s Creed (which if you’ve never heard of, you should probably avoid touching with a 10-foot pole). The film was crafted by a director who previously had three films to his name before Assassin’s Creed, and a wide team of writers attributed to such “greats” as the Divergent series, Locked Down (take a wild guess at what that one’s about), and the reboot for The Transporter. Mix all these people and you get a disaster, as Irish Times writer Donald Clarke puts it beautifully:
One is left wracking brains as to why these talented people wasted so much time. It’s not even the best videogame adaptation released in the past 12 months. Come back, Angry Birds. All is forgiven.”
Developing any adaptation, let alone a video game adaptation requires very cautious attention to the source material. Lean too far to one side, and you have nothing but a laughable disaster. Though with that being said, it’s important to create your own take as well.
Lack of Originality
Before we get into this point, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Yes, The Witcher series is an excellent show thus far with memorable characters and a great story. And yes, it is unoriginal in the sense that it’s taking the story of The Witcher and mostly adapting it. But alas, you’re forgetting two things. For one, The Witcher was originally a book series that was later adapted into a video game series, and later into a TV series. Secondly, it does so while expanding upon different areas and giving its own flavorful spin. With that out of the way, onto the point at hand.
Of the few shows and films that managed to keep a steady grasp on passion, many have suffered from the issue of sticking too close to their source material. An adaptation is a chance for a director and their team to provide their own take on the pre-existing material. But for many, this pre-existing material is a chance to cut down on both time and money. While I strongly believe giving your spin on a classic story is a much stronger idea, it’s hard not to see exactly why they’d do it. Why try and mold a story into the narrative of a game when you can just rework the plot that’s there?
Well, what you get is often soulless stories that have been haphazardly been slapped together and condensed into a more digestible format. Unlike books, games often don’t have enough material to work with and tweak into a movie or TV format (which makes you wonder why this idea was attempted in the first place). When you leave things be, or make things worse by cutting out “unnecessary” sections, you lose that sense of originality. That’s not even beginning to mention when the scenes that are adapted aren’t even done justice. While it may be more difficult and time-consuming at the end of the day, the majority of the time an original story will resonate much stronger with audiences. As a bonus, albeit not benefitting the team behind the project, it opens many more to the idea of experiencing the game that inspired it in the first place.
Movies Are Inferior to TV for Video Game Adaptations
A great video game adaptation is something that takes effort, time, and careful attention to detail to pull off correctly. Films require that, but TV series are much stronger for a variety of reasons. Namely, the extra screen time gives the team behind the project plenty more room to flesh out the property’s world and characters. Video games give those who played them the added benefit of doing some of the dirty work, though you need to offer something to those who haven’t. That’s where TV shines brightest. Now trust me, I’m not so naive to misunderstand that those looking for a cash grab don’t care in the slightest about this fact, but my point still stands. Very rarely do films prove an effective way to tell a video game-related story (Pokemon Detective Pikachu being the only recent example that comes to mind).
That again is one of the areas that Arcane shines strongest. Had Arcane taken the form of a film instead of a series, the story at hand would’ve suffered from terrible pacing and a severe lack of world-building. Thanks to this decision, it gives ample time to explore what life in the central locations of Zaun and Piltover are like, and how their stark class differences play a part in their society. The show stands much taller for it, still leaving plenty of room for future seasons. It also makes you wonder how they’ll develop other regions in other projects the team has mentioned exploring, with the world of Runeterra leaving endless possibilities. That’s enough “Arcane salesperson” from me for one day though.
I hope that, above all else, this trip into “how they failed” was enlightening to some extent. Video game movie and TV (emphasis on the latter) adaptations truly can thrive if they’re done properly, even if many past projects have proven otherwise. With those few shining among the rest, perhaps others will follow suit and capitalize on what Arcane has started. I won’t hold my breath though, as the latest in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’s critical reception is proving we still have a ways to go. At least we still have Uncharted and the Mario film on the horizon, right?