In the light of next month’s ‘Witcher’ series release, the debate of whether video games add to Hollywood’s creative monopoly has once again resurfaced. Over the last decade itself, movies like ‘Detective Pikachu’, ‘Resident Evil’, and ‘Assassin’s Creed’ have brought to life our favorite video game characters on our cinema screens. However, movie critics do not take to these adaptations fondly, all of the above movies scored less than 7 in the IMDB’s scale out of 10.
With this in mind, we must ask ourselves whether video games should be made into movies at all. In one camp, gamers have argued that most movie producers lack personal connections to the game, adding a layer of difficulty in making them into successful movies. While on the other hand, movies play a part in what motivates some people to start gaming as they can reach a much larger audience.
Although it may be the case that movies give video games the platform to advertise, what good is a poorly represented game on the big screen to viewers? Gaming is about empathizing with the characters that we play as, actively controlling their actions, their choices, and allowing us to personally live their consequences. Movies remove this feeling of personal connection by their passivity. Although film-makers try to incorporate key elements of a game into their film adaptations, it is often seen as hollow by your average moviegoer due to the lack of background storyline. While fans of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ may understand why there was a recurring shot of a flying eagle, an important symbol in the game’s mythology, moviegoers might find it random.
The most successful video game movie at the US box office was the first adaptation of ‘Lara Croft’, starring Angelina Jolie, which grossed £101 million. While the least successful was ‘Alone in the Dark’, Uwe Boll’s convoluted horror flick based on the same game which brought only over £3 million. Most video game adaptations fail to break even in their home countries and need to be saved by their international movie markets. An example of this is 2016’s ‘World of Warcraft’ that did not captivate audiences in the UK, but ended up grossing more than £40 million because of its sales in China. An argument for why these adaptations are still being made is their lucrativeness, despite fierce criticism.
Because of their tendency to stick slavishly to the meandering plots of actual games, movies fail in ways that they could thrive. For instance, film and TV would benefit by providing insight into the hidden inner lives of the game characters. When the movie manages to lean on the core mood of the source material without having to invest in fitting in all the resources and idiosyncrasies of the game, it can tackle what is most interesting about video games: how they intersect with real life.