Are Movies and Video Games Merging?

Are Movies and Video Games Merging?

There are countless ways to tell a story. Through a book. A movie. A video game. On a paper bag, with some crayons. If you’re passionate about what you have to say, then the medium in which you say it in shouldn’t alter the message.

Key word here: Shouldn’t. Whenever a video game appears to have a deep message that should survive the transition to the silver screen, a movie director invariably ambles by and demonstrates that’s not always the case.

But James Cameron, the gentleman who brought us the movies Avatar and Titanic, has faith that game-based movies will get better. In fact, he believes the two mediums are starting to resemble each other.

“I think video games and movies are merging,” he told CNN, “but I think that the same creative talents are starting to flow more evenly back and forth between the mediums. For example, I have a lot of story ideas…a lot more than I could ever do in a lifetime as a filmmaker.”

Cameron suggested that it’s not implausible that a director might take leftover movie ideas to video games, and vice-versa. “I think it’s perfectly valid for a filmmaker to incubate some of their story ideas directly into the game world,” he said. “If, by the way, at some point you decide you want to license it back to a movie studio to turn it into a movie later, fine. That’s just an alternate life cycle for the creation of vision of the world, or a set of characters, or a story.”

Not a surprising statement from Cameron. After all, some critics compared the plot of his monster hit Avatar to a video game. Though, said critics didn’t make the comparison to flatter the movie. The majority of video game plots can be described as a little cheesy, a little loud, a little lacking in subtlety, and a little unsuited for accolades.

There’s nothing wrong with that, same as there’s nothing wrong with enjoying big dumb summer celebrity popcorn movies by Cameron or anyone else. But telling a story through an interactive adventure isn’t as straightforward as simply relaying it to an audience via a book or a movie. If a video game tells a beautiful, dramatic story, that’s wonderful, but if the game’s not fun to play, then the story is worth bupkus. In other words, a video game should be a video game, first and foremost.

That’s not to say game devs should phone in a game’s text, or give up on ways to make their game worlds intertwine with gameplay (would Fallout 3 have ever achieved reverence if the player never cared about tracking down his or her father?): In-game writing isn’t perfect, but we’ve come a long way from “Save the princess,” and we ought to keep reaching for that star. We just need to remember that, despite Cameron’s optimism about the interbreeding potential between games and movies, the two mediums are meant to catch and hold on to your attention in very different ways. That’s part of the reason why most game movies rarely vault over mediocrity.

That said, the world is a magical place where anything is possible. When M.H. Williams from Industry Gamers wrote up Cameron’s comments, he pointed out that recent projects like Ubisoft Motion Pictures–which exists to work on movie adaptations of Ubisoft’s top franchises–may someday successfully marry video games and movies. We’ll have to wait and see (we’re already sitting and holding our bags of popcorn on our laps, thoughtful frowns creasing our features), but it’s not a stretch to believe that Ubisoft’s own movie studio might fare better with a game-to-movie transfer than an unattached studio that’s simply commissioned to do the job.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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