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Not So Fast, Ebert – Games Like Hitman and Prince of Persia Surpass Their Film Adaptations

Roger Ebert wrote yet another article about how games can never be art. He hits the same notes as always — his definition of art differs from gamers’ definition, he doesn’t think most games are interesting, and so on — but there’s an implicit undercurrent of scorn in Ebert’s article for gaming’s perceived maturity level. As the subject matter of most games ranges from the ludicrously cute (Super Mario Galaxy) to the horrifyingly violent (Gears of War), it’s not an unreasonable argument to make — until you start comparing video games against their film adaptations.

We’ve assembled a list of four different games whose adaptations were unquestionably less mature than their interactive source material.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Ubisoft’s Sands of Time trilogy is one of the few game franchises in recent memory to consist of a completely nonwhite cast. As the title suggests, the game takes place in Persia, and you play as — wait for it — the prince. This may not sound like a terribly important detail, but in a medium filled to the brim with attractive white dudes gunning down minorities (hello, Nathan Drake), Prince of Persia’s cast of ethnically appropriate characters is deserving of respect.

Flash forward to the 2010 film adaptation of the first Sands of Time game: nearly every single leading character is portrayed by a white person with a tan. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as the prince may very well be hugely entertaining and Gemma Arterton (otherwise known as the best part of Quantum of Solace) may be fantastic as Farah, but one can’t help bemoan the fact that Jerry Bruckheimer and company didn’t trust American audiences to empathize with a story about Persians that included, you know, actual Persians.

Street Fighter (1994)
The Street Fighter franchise suffers from much the same problems as Prince of Persia, only worse. Where the Prince of Persia movie at least keeps the characters of the prince and Farah as the leads of the story, Steven E. de Souza’s 1994 film went out of its way to demote series protagonist Ryu to a supporting role so that the all-American character of Guile could take center stage. The Über-patriot Guile was played with a heavy Belgian accent by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Don’t think too hard about that, or your nose will begin to bleed.

When it came time to make another Street Fighter film, The Legend of Chun-Li, the filmmakers took a slightly different approach: rather than demote Chun-Li, they gave the role of the undeniably Chinese character to the half-Dutch, half-Indonesian actress Kristin Kreuk.

Postal (2007)
I absolutely hate using the words “Postal” and “mature” in the same sentence — we’re talking about a game series that allows you to use cats as silencers — but where Uwe Boll’s adaptation attempted (and failed) to be a relevant, shocking, provocative critique of post-9/11 America, the original Postal games were considerably less pretentious. Sure, you could set people on fire and pee on them to extinguish the flames. Sure, Gary Coleman was a machine-gun-toting boss character. Sure, the games were abrasively loud and stupid — but they never, ever claimed to be anything more. Even the least mature, least pretentious game of all time remains ever-so-slightly more adult than a film that opens with a comedy sketch about the World Trade Center falling.

Hitman (2007)
No matter what, Hitman is a franchise about killing people. It’s right there in the title. But the series’ real test of maturity concerns exactly how that violence is portrayed: The Hitman games showed Agent 47’s actions as necessary at best, and monstrous at worst; even though he almost exclusively killed gangsters and men of low moral character, the games always admitted that 47 was no better than the people he executed. Cold, emotionless, and amoral, the developers never attempted to justify his actions. The Xavier Gens film, on the other hand, attempts to paint 47 as a dark hero who stops evil conspiracies and saves innocent prostitutes. It tries to turn 47’s murders into something romantic and noble, whereas the game did not flinch in portraying his actions as brutal.

But what do you think? Are we just grasping at straws, or can games be more mature than the films based on them?

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