Live-action adaptations of video games have been around since Super Mario Bros. debuted in movie theaters in 1993. Since the movie’s release, properties including Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Doom have found their way into theaters. While live-action adaptations of video games are not uncommon, some games lend themselves better to the live-action format than others. Mortal Kombat and Doom, for instance, both have stories, but are not all that deep, allowing writers to expand on those universes through television and movies. The Witcher, on the other hand, works as a television show because it is based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series, and has a vast wealth of existing lore to work with.
Prior to the release of the first Witcher book, The Last Wish in 1993, Sapkowski created the property in the mid-1980s by writing various short stories. However, recent game series’ like God of War, Horizon, and Ghost of Tsushima are so adept at using modern technology to tell grand stories that their upcoming live-action adaptations feel unnecessary. Of course they’ll help these properties reach a wider audience, but making live-action adaptations of games that are already cinematic masterpieces is a double-edged sword. Especially when sites like YouTube and Twitch exist.
If someone does not play video games or does not want to spend multiple hours sorting through extensive dialogue trees in Horizon, for example, they have a few options. They can watch a friend or loved one play one of these games in-person, or they can go on Twitch or YouTube where various creators have put all the cutscenes together into one long epic movie for free. When it comes to games from the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 era (the dawn of truly cinematic gaming) to now, there is only so much lore you can use when adapting story-driven games. If you try to make your own lore then you run the risk of not only alienating fans of the property but also breaking canon and doing harm to the characters. I love God of War, but the series’ last outing was such a cinematic triumph that it’s hard to see what a live-action adaptation can really add to it.
Kratos’ story has been around since 2005, and the upcoming God of War: Ragnarok will cap off his and his son Atreus’ adventure through Norse mythology. After that, what is left for Kratos and his kin to possibly explore? What made the series popular is its immersive gameplay and brutal deaths. Why watch a character kill a powerful god when you can be the character that kills the powerful god?
Ghost of Tsushima told a wonderful, powerful, and emotional story about a family during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. It is one of my favorite games of all time. It looks like the live-action movie (recently announced by Sony) is going to just re-tell that same story. Now, if Sony wanted to create an animated anthology series like Disney’s Star Wars: Visions or the excellent League of Legends spin-off Arcane, I would be all for that, because an anthology would ensure that the storylines of future games in the series would not be affected.
As we are seeing with the Marvel cinematic universe, when you tie a bunch of things together it can muddy the storytelling, especially for those of us who don’t watch these movies from the start. I am not against adaptations of all video games, just ones from the past 20-plus years whose stories are so deep that they function as their own movies. I am all for Sony’s Gran Turismo live-action show, for instance, because it’s a series without a story; it’s just a racing simulator with a narrative blank canvas.
If Microsoft wants to put Killer Instinct on Peacock or in theaters, that works too. But to immediately adapt stories from current and last generation games into live-action forms of entertainment feels superfluous. We do not need a Metal Gear Solid show or movie.
There are other ways for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to expand their audiences: make their games cross-platform. Now I am not saying Sony should put Ghost of Tsushima or God of War on Xbox, or Microsoft to port Halo to PlayStation, but the PC is fast becoming a comfortable middle-ground for the rival companies as they bring their once-exclusive games to it. Sony is bringing Marvel’s Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Miles Morales and The Last of Us Part 1 to PC, while Microsoft has for a good few years now been launching its former Xbox exclusives on PC (and why not, given that Windows is a Microsoft platforms?).
Sure you can make a live-action adaptation of a story-driven game, but there are a bunch of high production hurdles to clear. As we all saw with Game of Thrones, once you go off-book it can be a tough road to successfully land the final season or act. It’s one thing to do a Gran Turismo or Twisted Metal adaption, and even a 2D animated Tomba show could work, but the likes of Mass Effect, God of War, and Borderlands – all of which are getting adapted – just don’t need it.
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