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Video Games’ Worst Enemy? Video-Game Movies


In a media-saturated world of random violence and juvenile delinquency, video games are one of the least respected art forms around. “They’re too violent,” many say. “They’re shallow.” Given the medium’s propensity for power fantasies and D-cups, perhaps games have rightfully earned some of this scorn — but we should also place some blame on the movies adapted from them. Flicks like Hitman and Alone in the Dark are the most exposure some people get to video games. So it’s easy to see how the populace-at-large looks at the medium as mindless, derivative violence. Today, I’d like to counter a few assumptions your average moviegoer might glean about games from Hollywood’s horrific adaptations.

Not all video games are dumbed-down versions of existing movies
It would be dishonest to suggest that modern action games don’t take a page or two from Hollywood’s library, but most decent titles manage to switch up the clichéd formulas to which moviegoers have become so accustomed. Take Max Payne, which may consist primarily of John Woo-esque gunplay, but also provides haunting, impressionistic scenes where Max is tasked with running across solid trails of blood that hover above a black abyss while he searches for his dead infant daughter. You ain’t gonna see that in a Michael Bay movie.

Video games can be scary
Both Silent Hill and Alone in the Dark were alternately unnerving and terrifying games — true horror classics, by any definition of the word. That the movie adaptations of both ended up being about as frightening as an episode of The Andy Griffith Show is, unquestionably, a bummer. Horror games derive much of their shock value from interactivity: the monster with the huge sword isn’t chasing some actress on screen, he’s chasing you. While the Silent Hill movie doesn’t hesitate to pile on the gore, it’s missing that constant sense of subconscious terror and unease that pervades every moment of the first few games. Once you take that interactivity away, audiences are left only with some creepy monsters and a few sudden shocks. Or, in Alone in the Dark‘s case, Tara Reid and a bunch of ill-conceived CGI action scenes.

Video games never wanted that jerk face Uwe Boll
Have you ever had a friend bring a stranger to a party who’s obnoxious, arrogant, and a complete drain on your entire group? That’s how gamers feel about Uwe Boll, the director of such dreck as Postal and Bloodrayne. The rest of the world sees the half-dozen video game flicks he’s made, and they think, “My God — is that what video games are like?” He’s the most public, most consistent face of gaming for the rest of the civilized world, but none of us wants it to be that way. If it were up to us, the mainstream public would meet game designers like Ken Levine, Gabe Newell, and Jason Rohrer. Instead, every year or so they get a glimpse of the kind of arrogant, unrepentant stupidity that only Uwe Boll can so regularly dole out. We’d throw him out of the party if we could. Believe me. We just can’t find the exit.

Some of the medium’s best works can’t possibly be adapted
Katamari Damacy is a game about rolling a large ball into progressively larger objects while insane Japanese music plays in the background. Grim Fandango is a noir that takes place in the Mexican land of the dead, where the main character is a grim reaper and everyone else is a walking skeleton. These are two of the most imaginative video games ever made, and you will (hopefully) never see a movie based on either of them. That’s because some of the greatest video games are anti-narratives and, thus, anti-Hollywood. While some video games do have emotionally and intellectually involving narratives, many have absolutely nothing to offer in terms of a three-act story. They’re exemplars of the interactive medium and deserve to be judged as such.

If only there were a way to convince moviegoing audiences of video games’ sheer artfulness. Then maybe the medium would have an easier time. Instead, Uwe Boll is our spokesman — and Hitman our podium. But perhaps I’m overlooking some of the good things video-game movies do for the medium. Can you think of any?

Anthony Burch is the features editor for and the co-writer and director of the video series Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’? He recently completed Runner, his first art game.

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