When looking at the recently-released Assassin’s Creed movie, as well as the negative reception that followed, one specific meme comes to mind:
Indeed, this was a film that had pretty much everything going for it. It had an amazing cast, a great director, the promise of spectacle, and an intriguing premise. This was quite the cinematic video game property to begin with, so it was widely expected that the transition to the big screen would be a smooth one. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and like virtually every other video game movie ever produced in the past 20+ years, it seems to have amounted to very little.
With this in mind, I think it may be time to call it quits on adapting video games altogether. I know, it’s a crazy extreme knee-jerk response. There are plenty other games that would be just as well suited to the big screen, right? And, after all, comic book movies also faced decades of poor adaptations before they were finally nailed in a way that both respected the source material and pleased mainstream audiences, right? What’s so different about adapting video games than comics or even books?
Well, unfortunately, the differences are huge. While books may have a stronger character focus, and comics may have a stronger visual focus, both mediums generally work to accomplish the same task as films: they tell stories. That’s right, outliers and stylistic differences aside, the majority of each are predisposed to adaptations because a lot of what works on the page in both instances can be accomplished on the big screen.
So what about video games? Yes, we live in an age where they’re more cinematic than ever, but with the exception of, maybe, the Telltale games (and even those have a focus more on the outcomes of your own decision-making than on straight-up story), the main draw to video games is vastly different from films, books, comics, or any other traditional storytelling medium. And that’s because video games aren't a traditional storytelling medium. More than anything, they’re an experience-based medium.
Let’s just take a look at a company that has a very old-school approach to video game development: Nintendo. Generally, they’re a gameplay-first kind of company. Just look at the countless Mario games in their library. I’d say a sizable percentage of those have a cut-and-dry story about Princess Peach getting held hostage by Bowser for the 87th time. But who cares? No one plays Mario for the story.
One could say the same for Assassin’s Creed (though admittedly, to a lesser extent). While gamers may be drawn to the likes of Ezio and his overall story, at the end of the day, that’s not the main draw. The main draw is the game play. To live the life of an assassin and take out some b*tches from behind. To jump off high buildings and parkour around historical cities. That’s where the real money is that, and that’s why this franchise has done so well as a video game series. It’s meant to give gamers an opportunity to “live out” these fantasies of being a badass.
While the film definitely has the ability to give viewers that experience of taking a trip back in time, the immersion potential is limited. At the end of the day, we’re following someone else’s story, and with that, there is always a certain level of distance that’s to be had from the experience. Players were Ezio, but we can only watch Callum Lynch.
So what does all this mean? It means that no matter what studios try, they will never be able to replicate that key experience that draws players to the video games. Can they tell a great story? Absolutely. It’s possible. But they can’t really create that same experience.
I know what you’re thinking. What about RPGs? Indeed those are games that are likely better suited to adaptations (as some are very story-centric). However, they may actually be better fit for TV than film, otherwise you’re scaling down the story to fit the medium, and once again losing something integral to a property’s appeal (generally, the scope). Additionally, fantasy is a genre that has very limited appeal outside of a core fanbase (though one that is growing), and as such, the cost to put something to the big screen may outweigh the number of viewers who would actually go and see the film, when all said and done.
As much as we like to think of video games as the next frontier of film adaptations, there honestly is little resemblance between games and their comic books. Their endgames are much different, their audiences expect a different experience, and when all said and done, studios would have to fabricate a new “draw” to their film that may end up alienating the fans.
So at the end of the day, there may be more of a reason that these films have never worked apart from “the studios don’t understand the material.” Assassin’s Creed was a movie that was being co-produced by Ubisoft — the studio behind the video games themselves. If anything, this one should have been the resounding success we’ve all been hoping for. Instead, it seems to have been the final nail in the coffin of me realizing that: perhaps video games just aren’t suited to the big screen.
And that’s okay.
But what do you think? Do you also believe that Hollywood should call it quits on video game movies, or are you still holding out hope that your favorite franchise will be the one to break the curse? Let us know your thoughts down below!