I think we can all agree,film adaptations of video games suck. They range from barely passable to down right garbage (say it with me, gah-bage). They are usually the cheap cash in, the rushes property or the poorly adapted films that we’ve been subjected to for the past few decades. There a few exceptions to this, the first Resident Evil is passable and Mortal Kombat is a campy fun time if you watch it with that in mind. But none are being awarded, becoming blockbusters or even modest hits. But it may be possible to see a game adaption succeed, just not as a film.
Most video games play for hours on end, a “short” game is a 6 hour story while an “epic long game” could reach 80 hours and beyond. Adapting that much content and experience into a two hour film is a terribly difficult task yet studios carry on, hoping to strike gold. But no one, as far as I know, has made an attempt to make a video game television show. Why is that? With, say a ten episode order, a show could cover so much more character development and subtle nuances that the games so masterfully portray rather than the detached and rushed experiences the films have been attempting. Video game films seem to focus more on style and action (neither of which come off that well usually) so I think it’s time to shift the attention elsewhere and here’s two examples to justify my point.
The biggest show on television right now is arguably without a doubt Game of Thrones, based on the books by George R.R. Martin. Instead of turning one book into a 2-3 hour film, roughly each book has been given a season, 10 episodes to fully explore as much of the novel as possible. And you know what? It works brilliantly. So why hasn’t anyone adapted, say, CD Projekt Red’s Witcher series into a show (which in turn is based on a Polish book series but hit international recognition after the release of the critically acclaimed game series.)
“But I look at it now, and it seems like a rock, ideally proportioned, not a flaw on its surface, painfully perfect.”
The world of the Witcher follows Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter who passes from town to town and getting involved with the politics of that situation. The world of the Witcher is shades of grey. There are no heroes. Geralt himself isn’t there to save the day or the world. He finds himself in various situations as he looks for his missing lover, such as being framed for the assassination of the King and seeks to clear his name in Witcher 2.
As Geralt attempts to accomplish this task, the war that is being waged continues to do so regardless of his presence or interference in the political theaters. He has no sway or influence over the politics of the land. His direct or indirect actions, verbal or physical, however may have clear or unclear ramifications to the world around him, such as the execution of a minority race after seeking the help from those in high places. The world around him reeks of desperation. Everywhere Geralt looks, he sees a land trapped in a grey zone, where morals and ethics are put on hold and where something as simple as killing a monster reveals tragic stories of loss or guilt of the past. The world feels rich with story, you pick up on the histories before you arrived. Such a rich world would work as a great backdrop for a television series, as it allows for creative freedom for the writers as well as a world that can shy away from the familiar and the cliché.
This setting is just one example of how a rich world, full of rich backstory and compelling characters with their own motivations could be properly explored with the right run time and budget given to them. Adaptations wouldn’t be limited to low fantasy political epics either. Take the Uncharted series for example, the modern gaming equivalent of Indiana Jones. The game is a strict linear experience, with no option given to allow player choice. Instead, a rich cinematic experience, told and controlled by the developer is presented and the player is merely experiencing that thrilling narrative. Coupled with great acting and great characters and the Uncharted series has proven to be one of the best game series out there. This could translate perfectly into modern TV. Each season would see protagonist Nathan Drake on a new adventure with new settings as the writers weave new tales for old fans and newcomers to experience.
Television has evolved drastically in the past decade, going from sitcom dominance to structured narrative serials to premium cable shows that does not have to adhere to prime time regulations. I would say we are in a golden age of television, with deep interested, flawed characters being pushed into the forefront and given the time to develop and captivate us. It’s fair to say that not all games will translate well to a cinematic experience, either being too action heavy or lacking in story (Tekken anyone?) but given the chance to breathe and be taken seriously, there are titles that would make great television series. I think it’s about time we got a mature, sophisticated adaptation of a video game that respects the craft enough to not water down any content as well as the complexity found in many games today. What do you think, should a network take a crack at adapting a game?