Why Video Games and Movies Don’t Mix

Why Video Games and Movies Don’t Mix

Ever wonder why filmmakers struggle to adapt video game properties from Prince of Persia to Alone in the Dark to the big screen? Hint: It has more to do with fundamental differences in each art form than choice of director, as we’re certain Uwe Boll (the mastermind behind such cinematic ‘classics’ as House of the Dead and Bloodrayne) will be relieved to learn.

Similarly, it may have also dawned on you that many of history’s most celebrated films also translate poorly to the interactive format. The reasons here are manifold as well, but suffice it to say that it typically has more to do with their approach to storytelling than lack of studio support and restrictive licensing agreements (although these issues can also commonly bedevil projects too).

In hopes of getting to the bottom of the dilemma, we recently explored the topic in a column titled Why Do Video Games Make Such Bad Movies? on CNN.com. A few extra points worth adding to the discussion as well:

1. Digital diversions exist in infinitely malleable 3D wonderlands, and are thus less beholden to real-world constraints like camera placement and makeup or special effects budgets. Avatar’s James Cameron might not have a problem dropping several hundred million dollars on bringing giant blue humanoids and their lush alien worlds to life on-screen. But your average film director inherently faces an uphill battle compared with his/her video game counterpart attempting to bring God of War’s realms of Greek mythology or Metroid’s space-age derelicts to life.

2. Games are living, breathing entities during development, which constantly change as designers introduce new scenarios, levels and plot twists. Unlike in Hollywood, the storyline is designed to support the action, not vice versa. As such, game writers don’t just have to adapt and evolve scripts, characters and dialogue dynamically to address these changes. They also have to do so without ruining or breaking any work that’s been done before. With story still viewed as an afterthought, not core foundation of most titles, this can present a major challenge, as there’s generally little financial wiggle room in projects for re-recording professional dialogue or redoing months’ worth of programming and graphic design.

3. Other issues can oftentimes plague such crossover productions, from overzealous license holders to politically-charged work environments, stringent series guidelines or tales which opt to flesh out fanciful universes at the expense of characters and their motivations.

The Wizard wasn’t bad, but it was a feature-length Nintendo commercial. Power Glove, anyone?

Whatever the reasons for the failure of so many Hollywood and gaming industry collaborations, we’re confident that we’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg. So what say you? Did Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros. suck for the reasons outlined in the article above? Or is there more to the story, given that Resident Evil and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were able to fare slightly better? Either way, we’re eager to entertain any and all comments from the peanut gallery. In the meantime, we’ll be busy torturing the wife with marathon viewings of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Let’s just say Casablanca it ain’t…

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.

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