Video games as films: Is the transition plausible?

Video game adaptations do have their merits, but they cannot emulate the key element of the gaming experience: participation

By Alex Hobbs

Since the early 1990’s Hollywood has possessed a lingering fascination with the video game industry. On the surface these two formats seem perfect for each other, embracing ambitious action, grand-scale adventure, and the all-important avenue of escapism. Yet somehow these adaptations never manage to break the box office, often being met with lukewarm responses at best. With Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter being released later this year, alongside Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed, the two films already face critical preconceptions; video game movies on the whole are not successful movies.

This is not to say that video game adaptations do not have their merits, rather they cannot emulate the key element of the gaming experience: participation. These are stories that are designed to include us, that make us feel like we have a say in the way a narrative plays out. For hours we become these characters, we explore their capabilities and test their limits. The time and effort that we put into shaping their stories is far too precious. However, when Christian Slater shows up as Edward Carnby in Alone in the Dark (often considered to be one of the worst films of all time) suddenly we lose attachment largely because we lose control. As far as we are concerned his actions are now his own and we are no longer responsible for the consequences.  Of course there are some aspects of the video game movie that, with enough attention to detail, can translate surprisingly well to the big screen.

Christoph Gans’ 2006 adaptation of Silent Hill managed to convey the same atmosphere that made the survival horror franchise so iconic. The film makes use of the same soundtrack from the games, incorporates fixed camera positions from angles identical to those of the PlayStation One era, and the threat of Pyramid Head is just as horrific as we remember. The world that the film depicts is accurate – it looks like Silent Hill. The film’s plot albeit may be weak, and the characters questionable, but to mimic the atmosphere of one of the most haunting franchises of all time is an impressive feat.

As an audience that indulges in both film and video games, there is nothing we seek more than a successful combination of the two. Perhaps Assassin’s Creed will be the ground-breaking adaptation we have been craving for so long, or maybe we will be stuck in cinematic mediocrity for as long as Hollywood pursues the gaming industry. With the new push of virtual reality experience though we may see an answer to Hollywood’s issues with participation and immersion sooner than we think. For now, the video game film renaissance still seems out of reach, leaving us praying for something to flourish and do justice to a well-deserved art form.


Alex Hobbs

This article was published in our October 2016 issue.

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