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The Five Real Reasons Why Video Game Movies Usually Stink

Real Reasons Why Video Game Movies Usually Stink” width=”560″/>

I like to think that we can be honest with each other here. And if we’re being honest, it’s gotta be said that most movies based on video games aren’t worth the time or the money they cost. You can blame the writing, or the dubious transition between interactive and non-interactive storytelling, but that’s too obvious. The real reasons that video game movies rarely work are actually much less obvious — that is, less obvious to the non-gamer. That’s why you have me to point them out for you.

1. Video game graphics don’t translate
Imagine you’re playing Gears of War 2. Thousands of computer-generated baddies rush through a computer-generated landscape as you computer-generate a chainsaw into their faces. Since everything that occurs on screen exists within the same game engine, it’s easy to visually accept what you see without getting pulled out of the experience. In movies, however, the special effects need to look as realistic as real life. When we see Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis combating hallucinogenic valkyries in Max Payne, we can’t help but notice how the computer-generated beasts just don’t look like they belong. The CGI doesn’t sync with the reality of the world the actors are trying to convey, and your disbelief never has a chance to suspend.

2. “It’s like watching someone else play a video game”
When it comes to pure action and excitement, video games are surpassing movies as the medium du jour. Why bother paying ten bucks to see Jason Statham beat up dudes for a few minutes when you can spend ten times as long beating up the thugs yourself? You see, while a video game can do this and entertain for hours, non-stop action movies can get incredibly tedious (see: Shoot ‘Em Up) because you’re only watching someone else. Video game movies therefore typically end up either dull, action-devoid adaptations like Hitman, or boring, action-packed fluff like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Either way, you’re better off playing the game.

3. The curse of the franchise
More and more often, modern video games are refusing to tell complete stories, opting instead to cash in on a litany of sequels and updates and downloadable content. Games are about interactivity first, and story second. Even if a game ends on a ridiculous cliffhanger (howdy, Modern Warfare 2), so long as the gameplay itself is good all will be forgiven. Movies, on the other hand, are generally nothing without their story. If a moviegoer gets irritated at the sequel-baiting ending of Max Payne, for instance, they just can’t comfort themselves with the fact that they saw a few cool action sequences.

4. The generic hero
Video game protagonists are written like blank slates. The lead in Hitman may have dialogue and some semblance of a personality, but he remains totally silent for at least 90 percent of the game. This allows the player to superimpose their own personality onto him and become even more immersed in the experience. But what happens when you make a movie out of him? You’re either stuck with an incredibly dull, unsympathetic protagonist or you have to arbitrarily superimpose new character traits on him. If you go with the latter, you’ll irritate the fans; if you go with the former, you’ll bore your audience to death. The writers of the Hitman movie tried to split the difference, and managed to disappoint just about everyone.

5. No one wants to spend 40 hours in a theater
BioWare project director Casey Hudson recently mentioned that Hollywood was interested in making a movie out of their scifi epic Mass Effect. The only problem? Mass Effect is a 40-hour game. Open-ended RPGs allow us to explore worlds, to screw around, to do optional tasks that have nothing to do with the main storyline. It’s what makes those games so immersive and enjoyable. But replicating that immersiveness on-screen in any sort of short order is downright impossible. Could you tell Mass Effect‘s story in two hours? Sure, but doing so strips the game of its strengths and leaves you, well, unsatisfied. Which is about par for the course for video game movies.

But perhaps I’ve missed the more significant problems in game-to-movie adaptation. What do you think?

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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