Why video game movies are generally dead on arrival

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It’s common knowledge at this point that a film based off of a video game is basically doomed from the start. It all started with the infamous “Super Mario Bros. Movie,” was continued by the money-hungry hands of Uwe Boll and still continues to this day with the likes of bombs like “Assassin’s Creed.” It won’t work, has never worked, yet bafflingly enough, the normally conservative industry of Hollywood films seems to think gaming franchises need to be adapted.

If you think about it, you can see why the fat cats in Hollywood think this way. Nostalgia is hot right now, one of those reasons being nostalgic properties have a built-in fan base that is likely to show up to the film no matter what. However, this is where the problems begin for video game movies.

Sure, these properties already have massive, devoted fan bases, but those fans flock to these games because they like playing them, not because they like watching them. Everyone knows that watching someone play a video game elicits only about one percent of the excitement of actually playing one. Games tend to have more simplistic plotlines, as the story isn’t what makes people want to play them. Having a good, well-thought-out story certainly adds to the appeal that a game can offer, but it’s not crucial unless it’s in a genre such as horror or adventure games that specifically call for a gripping narrative.

The main appeal of a video game is its interactivity. They are fun and engaging because you as a player are succeeding and failing on your own volition. In the case of particularly difficult games, such as the “Dark Souls” series, your accomplishments are made so much sweeter by the fact that you fought so hard for so long to attain greatness and when the mountaintop is finally traversed, you feel like you have achieved something meaningful. Watching someone else reach those accomplishments instead of yourself only bears weight if the plot around it is as nuanced as the action itself.

No video game movie released thus far has been able to imitate that feeling gamers get after finishing a particularly challenging level. However, one film actually has without even knowing it.

Enter 2014’s “Edge of Tomorrow” or “Live. Die. Repeat.,” depending on when you watched it.

This film encapsulates every feeling and emotion that a gamer goes through during any given single-player campaign and does so without even being based on or about any particular video game.

The plot centers around Tom Cruise’s soldier character who, through some complicated science-fiction exposition, has become trapped in an endless loop of his first real, live-combat experience. This plot device has been used in other genres such as the Bill Murray classic “Groundhog’s Day” as well as in the latest Blumhouse horror production “Happy Death Day” set to be released next month. However, it’s the setting and the subject matter that makes this particular film like a video game.

Cruise’s character has zero combat experience and therefore has to learn through trial and error, much like gamers. Due to him repeating the exact same mission over and over again, he has to memorize and adapt to everything that is going on.
He has to know that this specific kind of alien is going to leap out of this specific spot at this specific time and can only be destroyed by using this specific weapon or this specific maneuver.

What I just described to you is essentially what happens during every single respawn of a “Dark Souls” game.

Cruise progresses through the mission further and further each time he is resurrected until he ultimately figures out the secret to defeating the alien race that stands in his way. His approach to figuring out this mystery is not dissimilar from what gamers are trying to accomplish every time they pop in a disc or open a digital application.

This is somewhat of a novel concept that is instantly relatable to gamers yet is unique in that an average video game film would likely never even think to attempt such a concept, but ultimately that’s something that’s fine by me, as it would come off as disingenuous.

I’d be completely happy if “Live. Die. Repeat.” becomes the only film-going experience ever to accurately depict what it feels like to play a video game, because this formula really can only be used one time without feeling derivative and no film actually based on a video game would be able to make this work.

Even with all of these things considered, studios will still look at those large, built-in audiences and salivate, which is why you’ll be ignoring the “Sonic the Hedgehog” feature film in 2019 (seriously, that’s a real thing).