Video Games Should Be Adapted For Television, Not Film
By Merrill Barr on August 26, 2014
In the coming years, we’re going to be seeing film adaptations of video games such as Hitman, Warcraft, Deus Ex, Assassin’s Creed and even Angry Birds. With major comic book properties wearing thin as Marvel and Warner Bros. wage all out war against each other, other major studios are now looking at video games as the next untapped resource for feature film adaptations. While the tradition of turning video games into movies can be traced all the way back to 1993 with Super Mario Bros., the same can’t be said for television. Even with the ramp up in the realm of feature films, television has yet to truly tap into the gaming culture for the next great live-action series, and that’s a shame considering that television, like novels, may be a better suited medium for adapting games to screen.
Game of Thrones, The Vampire Diaries, Under The Dome, Hannibal, Dexter, Rizzoli & Isles, The Last Ship– these are just a fraction of the successful television series based on novels that can be named without doing any major research. While television success ultimately comes down to the capability of the team behind the scenes, it’s hard to deny that most of these titles wouldn’t work as well on the big screen. Perhaps the biggest reason why is because a television series, especially in the case of one’s based on a series of books and not a single entry, has the capability to explore the lives of its characters over time, rather than cramming everything into a single shot.
We often find ourselves asking why so many video game-licensed movies don’t work, and while the reasons are robust, perhaps one of the major flaws is that like novels, the story adaptations need time to gestate and grow. How can anyone truly be expected to turn a game that requires 60 or more hours of dedication into a two hour film? How is that even fair to anyone involved in the process? If the big reason why people love video games so much is because they get to explore the world that’s been crafted for them at will, how can a film ever match that experience and not feel reductive and inferior? A television series, however, operates with a much different and more appropriate set of storytelling rules.
One of the great things that makes television stand out as a storytelling medium is its allowance for exploration. In 60-100 episodes, the audience is given a chance to analyze worlds (as they did with the likes of Battlestar Galactica, and do with the likes of Game of Thrones) and explore lives (as they did with the likes of Dexter, and do with the likes of Hannibal). This built-in need to explore multiple arcs and themes over dozens of episodes makes television the perfect natural companion for a medium like video games, which demands much of the same structure type to make something unique.
We’ve already seen glimmers of hope in the form of animation with properties like Sonic and Pokémon, but why has there been no jump into the live-action realm with video game-based television? The closest we’ve come so far is the Halo series from Steven Spielberg and Microsoft, which is currently hanging in question with Xbox’s television initiative being nixed. After all this time, things continue to feel as if Hollywood’s more hell-bent on making video games workable for film, when it should be finding ways to make the medium adaptable to television.
As we continue to get live-action web-series for properties such as Mortal Kombat (the MK series did also have a show called Mortal Kombat Conquest that wasn’t bad and was cancelled too soon), perfectly viable titles including Half-Life, Fallout, L.A. Noire, Sleeping Dogs and Diablo continue to sit in obscurity– at least from the perspective of television networks and production studios that have the power to turn these properties into something great. If video games really are the next untapped adaptation resource, television needs to jump on the bandwagon before the feature film market gobbles everything alive. Video game TV: Hollywood, make it happen.
What video games would you like to see turned into television series? Let us know in the comments below.