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March 18, 2016

Videos Games Make Terrible Movies

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

I just read that J.J. Abrams is considering making video games Half Life and Portal into a movie. He might do a good job, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve written before about terrible movies based on video games, but I didn’t offer my suggestions on how to make it work.

Before I get into my suggestions, I’m referring specifically to first-person shooter video games. Multiplayer games, such as World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and Battlefield, lack the storyline of a first person campaign game. If you want to make a movie based on a game, I think it should at minimum parallel an A-to-Z storyline from a game, not a clutch of strangers trying to virtually kill each other.

To make a story work, you need disobedience. That’s the mother of all drama. So something must happen or go wrong and then it needs to be fixed: Romeo and Juliet fall in love despite their families, Gatsby fabricates his life to impress a girl, or Joffrey lops off Ned Stark’s head. Some video games, even in campaign mode, lack this basic drama: You’re on a mission to hunt down a bad guy and you visit various places, solve puzzles, and kill people (or monsters) to meet that goal. That’s fun in a video game, but lacks audience interest for a movie.

So my ideal video game movie would have to include a storyline, disobedience, the standard video game archetypes, the boss levels, and the über boss at the end. The film would also need to frame the video game players as themselves. That would be the fun part.

In Grand Theft Auto V, the three types of video game players are represented by the three protagonists in the story: Franklin represents the player new to the scene. Michael is the seasoned player, bored with the game but ready to invent new challenges. Trevor is chaos, willing to test the limits and do things no human would do in real life. I think any good video game movie would have to include all three character types.

For example, suppose Hollywood makes Half Life: The Movie. The protagonist is the mute Gordon Freeman. He’d have to talk in the movie, of course; a first person point-of-view character would never hold the audience’s attention in modern cinema. You’d need supporting characters in addition to Gordon.

Alex Freeman would could be one, but she’d have to framed in the perspective of a game player, not the helpful AI she is in the game. Face it, Alex’s character offers nothing to the plot of Half Life 2. So she could exist, but she’d have to be either a seasoned veteran (the Michael character from GTA:V) or a newbie (the Franklin character from GTA:V). Joining them you must have the third character, chaos (Trevor), who isn’t necessary in the video game itself.

As an example, suppose Gordon and Alex are entering the Vortigaunt camp in a Half Life movie. Suddenly, the Trevor character enters God mode and starts killing things. That’s a prime example of disobedience, but it also brings video gameplay to the film.

Anyway, those are my ramblings. I’d really like to see a video game made successfully into a film. I suppose I’m just going to wait for it to happen.


  1. Hmmm, could it be that modern games are movie like certanly the open of Half Life (I’ve not played Half Life 2) that the transition is awkward as the people who have played the game will know not to open that door, but the auidence who have not played the game will not know. The two are very similar and the issue is you can make reference to the game but at the same time it should not be a requisit to the film. Or will we suddenly see the Matrix??

    Comment by glennp — March 19, 2016 @ 5:15 pm

  2. Good question.

    Upon further reflection, I believe both are valid story-telling media. Movies are passive, video games are active. If you’re going to convert one into the other, the director must account for the difference. That’s the point we’re at now and I don’t believe anyone has exactly figured it out.

    Comment by admin — March 21, 2016 @ 2:04 pm

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