Warcraft. The Angry Birds Movie. Ratchet & Clank. The “video game movie” is one which never seems to hit home with critics nor audiences. Sometimes, popular characters become altered beyond recognition. Sometimes, the storyline seems to only create tenuous links to the source material. Whatever the reason, video game movies tend to see audience members walking away disappointed time and time again. That rarely stops it from raking in millions for the company that produces it, though. We all know this to be the case. But when a film adaptation of our favourite game comes out, you can bet your boots we’ll go and see it, hoping above hope that it’ll be the exception to the rule.
It never has been. Why?
Video game movies tend to come about in a completely different way from many other film genres. Often, their original marketing plan of “let’s make a movie about such-and-such-a popular video game” takes center stage. Meanwhile the all-important issue of plot is made very much secondary. As a general rule, the plots of action-driven (rather than plot-driven, which are obviously a different story entirely) video games are fairly simple. This is to allow the player to focus more on the challenge placed in front of them—on the “what?” and “how?” rather than the “why?”. In these cases, the plot which the writers have settled on is one which was designed to be played, rather than watched, and the result is a film which they may as well have designed not to be watched either.
Your other main flaw comes from yet another vital aspect of a film: characterisation. Video game developers must deliberately design characters who lack certain key personality characteristics. This is so that the game can be as immersive as possible for the player. Characters with strong personality traits can feel unrelatable to a player who doesn’t have that specific trait, and the character needs to be relatable. In fact, the character needs to be the player. Developers have worked for years to perfect this balance, but they perfected it for games, not for film. Once a filmmaker introduces a video game character into their film, it becomes jarringly obvious how one-dimensional the character is. This makes for a protagonist who is pretty darned boring, which isn’t what you want in a movie.
There is, however, a potential game-changer now entering the field: The growing phenomenon that is virtual reality (VR)—an advancement in technology which serves to bring player immersion to a new level. Can it be that this will change the way we look at video games, and potentially other forms of media, for good?
Virtual reality is not limited to gaming. It has simply become entangled with the gaming industry as its concept makes it the perfect escalation to the gaming experience. VR technology allows users to bridge the gap in their minds between game and reality. This is a technology which can make the user feel as though they are somewhere else entirely – in the world of their own game. While this tech has not yet been developed to the point where it’s affordable to all gamers, it seems as though we’re not as far off as before.
What makes these game structures different when it comes to potential film adaptations is that the advancement doesn’t lie in the premise, the plot, or the characterisation. These areas remain relatively unchanged beyond a few obvious tweaks. Instead, the change lies in the avatar’s sensory experience itself. Filmmakers must focus on creating a work which mimics the gameplay experience, sensorily, in order to emulate these games cinematically. This is something which previous video game adaptations have severely lacked. Although it will take a lot of work and development to introduce these nuances to the world of film, it is possible for these games to have a strong impact on the film industry. We don’t need any more weak adaptations with poor critical reception.
These ideas are all nothing more than one writer’s wild speculations, of course, but it remains the case that in many forms of media, including games, films, and even books, players, viewers, and readers are being given the chance to become more and more immersed. Where these changes will take us is anyone’s guess right now, but it’s fairly safe to say that we’ll be seeing developments in the virtual reality-video game movie-world faster than ever before.