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Here’s Why Video Games Don’t Work as Movies

Recently the team working on the new Tomb Raider movie showed off the first images of Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. While I am heavily looking forward to this movie as I absolutely love the game it’s based on, I can’t help but think of all the other times I’ve been let down by a movie adaptation of a video game. So I thought I’d look into why all these movies are so bad.

When you have a property or a franchise that has shown previous success or gathered a sort of following or popularity, you want to do everything you can with it and double down somehow. Well with video games it seems easy, you have a first successful entry in a series so you make a sequel. Easy, right? It would seem so and fans of said video game series would agree that that is the best option. But video games take a long time to make and sometimes developers don’t want to just jump into a sequel if they aren’t ready to or if they just don’t know where to take the series. So we can’t always count on teams to pump out sequel after sequel but we can hope for something.

Why not take the thing we already love and put it on the big screen? This might surprise you, but there are millions of people who love the Assassin’s Creed series, myself included, so we’ll use this example. With tons of interesting characters and source material to work with, plus a proven track record of solid narrative gaming experiences and plot devices, it would seem like a no-brainer for the perfect video game movie. And I’ll admit, when I heard they were doing this, I was excited to see what they could do. The franchise is so recognisable and worthy that Ubisoft was able to secure high-profile actors such as Michael Fasbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons. This is shaping up to be an awesome experience and surely will deliver, so could go wrong?

Here’s Why Video Games Don’t Work as Movies

Well if we stick with the Assassin’s Creed example, a lot of things, but that’s a much longer post that I don’t feel like writing today. But overall, and it’s known, video games just haven’t worked as movies. But why? It seems so easy, there’s already characters people know, a story already in place and a setting to work with. How hard could it be to make that into a movie? Very hard, apparently, and I think I know why.

First of all, we need to consider the length of both forms of entertainment. Movies can vary between 90 minutes and 180. We don’t really need three-hour movies, that’s a lot of sitting and waiting. Video games have a much greater range in playtime which can be anywhere from eight hours to 40 or even 300 if you’re going for a Platinum trophy in The Witcher 3. Of course, there are smaller indie titles that can be beaten quickly and only take an hour of your time, but we haven’t seen a movie go for one of those shorter titles. The problem here becomes trying to condense a 20-40 hour story into two hours, sometimes less. That’s a lot of missed narrative and video games aren’t good because of three plot points, they’re good because they have ten or fifteen solid plot points. You would need five movies to tell the story of Uncharted 4.

Here’s Why Video Games Don’t Work as Movies

Think if you would make Bioshock Infinite into a two-hour movie, imagine all of the important plot points you would have to brush over. The importance of Daisey Fitzroy and the Vox Populi would be lost in favor of being able to tell all of Booker and Elizabeth’s story. Hell, you’d need a solid half hour to tell the ending of the game. So get to work writing out 90 minutes of introducing Booker, getting to Columbia, the fight to get to Elizabeth, the deception of New York, Daisey Fitzroy, the turn of the Vox Populi, Songbird Attacks, the Lutece Twins, other twists and turns, the truth about Comstock, the final fight and the overall dynamic of the ending. There’s no way you can do it without leaving something important out. The biggest issue with video game movies start with timing, there isn’t enough time in one movie to tell a complete story that we would get from the video game counterpart.

But what about original stories? Wasn’t the Assassin’s Creed movie an original story? Why didn’t that work out?

Original stories are great and I welcome them but if you’re going to win over the audience you already have, you need to stick to those characters to tell the story. Not every gamer is like me and will welcome different adaptations, unfortunately. And again, a gamers relationship with a character happens over the full experience of the game. A movie is very rushed to make you connect with the characters on screen and you often miss those connections in favor of getting to the talking points of the story. Also, over those 40 hours of gameplay, gamers aren’t just connecting with the main characters there are tons of side missions and areas to explore that we want to see, that we want to go to. A lot of this is missed in movies because they’re not that important to what’s going on in the main story but in a game, they’re important to the player.

Video games are interactive and movies are not.

The fact that we don’t get to tell our version of Ezio or Nathan Drake or Lara Croft is what turns gamers off of a movie. It’s not the experience we want.

Gamers like a flushed out, interactive experience. We like lore. We like connecting with side characters. We like approaching a scene how we want to play it. But movies don’t give us this opportunity and the unfortunate part is, video game movies aren’t for gamers. These movies already have a gamer’s attention, we’re already fans of the series and are most likely going to see the movie. These movies are to get new fans in, new exposure to a particular series and to ultimately make that sweet, sweet mainstream money. But a rushed experience introducing a lot of plot lines and characters probably won’t work for most people.

Gamers are going to be the first people to see your video game movie and they’ll be the first to hate it. Not necessarily because it’s bad (though, historically, they have been) but because the movie doesn’t resonate with the gamer’s experience. Uncharted 4 has sold more than eight million units so when the Uncharted movie hits theatres that’s a huge crowd that is already interested but most of them are sure to hate it. Again, not because it’s bad but it’s not their Nathan Drake, it’s not their Sully, it’s not Naughty Dog’s work, it doesn’t fit what they like about the series. So if 10% of those eight million hate this movie, and 10% of those people go to Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB to say they hate it, that’s not a good place to be.

Here’s Why Video Games Don’t Work as Movies

Speaking of the Uncharted movie, because there is one in the works, a lot of these movies don’t have anything to do with the people who make the games and made the thing that we like. Corey May is credited as the main writer of the Assassin’s Creed series and he wasn’t involved with the movie at all. Granted, May left Ubisoft in 2015 but Michael Lesslie was hired to write the film (Assassin’s Creed) in 2013. How could you skip the guy responsible for writing the better games of the series? So why could the Uncharted movie be in trouble already? Look at these tweets from Niel Druckmann (Creative Director and Writer at Naughty Dog)…

There’s a clear disconnect here between the guys who are working on the movie and the guys who put their blood, sweat, and tears into the stories and characters they are overly passionate about. When the people who are making the games we love so much aren’t involved in the movie version of it, it’ll show right away. At that point, it becomes a new experience and should just have a different name.

Coming up we have the mentioned Tomb Raider movie, a Rampage movie, Five Nights At Freddy’s and more and they all suffer from the same issues I described here. I’m staying optimistic for the future, thinking that it can’t be worse than what we have now, but there isn’t a good track record to follow.

We’re going to get more and more movie adaptations of video games, that’s a guarantee as long as they make money. Hopefully, along the way, someone figures out the formula to make a good one. As long as I love these franchises, I’ll see these movies and I’ll come straight to n3rdabl3.com to tell you why you should avoid it. I’m just hoping one day I can write up a review about how good a video game movie is. Let’s start with the Tomb Raider movie, please?