Making movies based on video games has become a trend for filmmaking studios in the past couple of years. In recent years we have seen movies like Warcraft, Netflix’s Resident Evil, and recently Uncharted, which were mediocre at best. The only good and accepted adaptations of video games were animes and animations, like Castlevania and Aracne. The Halo and The Last of Us series on the horizon and BioShock movie confirmed, the question arises again that why movies based on video games always fail to meet the expectations?
The Concept of Film Based on Video Games is Flawed
Before we even try to see the main reason every film based on video games fails, we should point out why the whole concept of video game movie adaptation is wrong and flawed. When a form of art is created and born, it tries to give a more immersive experience than the older art forms. Music only requires good ears to be enjoyed, paintings only a pair of keen eyes, movies require both. This is why movies are more popular than painting; it occupies your eyes and ears. In other words, this form of art expands its experience. Now video games want the player to engage in the creation of the story. It wants players to listen, see and use their hands to make things happen. You can play music and not listen to it, and it would end eventually. You can play a film and not watch it, and it would end eventually, but for finishing a video game, you need to play it. It won’t be finished by itself.
A significant portion of a video game story is told when players engage in combats or explore. When you put that interactive story in a more linear and non-interactive form of storytelling, you chop out the most critical aspect of the previous form (video games). Many video games have incredible stories because of how the story is intertwined with the gameplay of video games. Seeing a soldier kill innocents in a movie does not have the same impact of doing it yourself in Spec Ops: The Line, for example. Chopping out interactions of players or the viewer is not a good and engaging idea, and it is the core of why every film based on video games fails.
Video Games and Movies Have Different Structure of Storytelling
The other big reason why most video game adaptation fails is that movies have a different kind of structure for their storytelling than video games. If a movie wants to be good or a masterpiece, it needs to have a challenging, deep, and well-written script and story. The first goal of a movie is to entertain the viewer with a good story. If the story is flawed, the movie will fail, no matter how good it was directed or how the scores were in line with the movie’s theme. The first and most important thing a movie needs is a good story.
This is not the case for video games. The main job of a good video game is to provide fun hours via engaging gameplay and level design. Some of the most popular games don’t have a masterpiece or deep stories like Warzone or Fortnite. But when the studio and director go through hours and hours of creating an engaging and deep story like BioShock or Witcher 3, fans and critics appreciate it.
But even if we only look at the story of movies and video games, they are different in many ways. The most crucial difference between them is how each story builds its pace. In the movies, we usually see the three-act structure that doesn’t work on every single video game. There are many times that players would be stuck in one place for hours, whether it’s due to a puzzle or difficulty. The story and pace of that game should be written and built in a way that even if the player is stuck in place for hours, he would still think the story is progressing. This is merely impossible in films. The story of a film cannot be stuck in a place like video games and still be progressing.
The other part of a video game narrative in adventure games like Tomb Raider or Uncharted is the sense of mystery and the satisfaction of solving that mystery. We have many good movies that give the pleasure of solving a puzzle or mystery to the viewer, but again the structure is way different from the video games. The satisfaction that comes from the movie is because of our connection with the main character. So the movie needs to create a touchable and real character to bring that satisfaction. As for the games, the satisfaction comes from solving the mystery yourself. When you complete a tomb in Tomb Raider, for instance, you are not happy for Lara Croft, and you feel happy because it was you who solved the mystery through the character of Lara.
Is It Possible to Make a Good Video Game Movie Adaptation?
The short answer is yes, it is possible, but it should not be a direct adaptation. When you can control the main character of a story, it would be much more interesting than just watching a character do things. Therefore the only way to make a good film based on a video game is to tell a story in the universe of a game that wasn’t told before. It is near impossible to recreate the experience of playing BioShock in the film based on it. However, they can tell an untold story in the world of BioShock, for example, the story of the Twins in BioShock Infinite or how Andrew Ryan created the Rapture. But trying to tell a story that has been told more profoundly is not going to work, no matter how anyone tries.