Press F to stream: Why video games from Halo to The Last of Us are coming to TV

Like, I suppose, many of you, the first time I experienced Halo I wasn’t even the one behind the controller. Instead, I spent a night sitting on my best friend’s bunk bed, watching him battle an alien cult, alien parasites, and an assortment of creepy things. yet strangely endearing alien soldiers.

At 10, of course, I was sitting in front of movies and stuffed with books. But I’d never spent eight or ten hours straight doing one thing, let alone something so surreal, otherworldly, and alien as Halo. But as soon as I saw that final cutscene of a planet exploding as we zoomed away in a spaceship, I was hooked.

Twenty years later, this scene could well return. Paramount + Halo The series premiered just a week ago, the end of an almost decade-long development hell as studios struggled to bring the story now spanning 16 games and 20 novels to screen. Still, it’s an extremely rapid progression for a format that less than 10 years ago was known for emotional interactions as forced as Call of Duty‘s “Press F to pay tribute.”

There, players were asked to commemorate their entire relationship with their deceased best friend and comrade Pte. Will Irons while attending his funeral, approaching the coffin amid a swell of violins and… pressing F.

But for a medium that has been widely derided as less or even dangerous, video games coming to television represent a double-edged sword.

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And while there’s an interesting answer to why so many adaptations are coming now, the fact that they’re coming at all continues to reinforce an old idea: that video games aren’t real vehicles for storytelling. stories, or an accessible medium for “ordinary people”. “to engage in the stories they tell – despite eclipsing movie and music industry revenues combined.

“It’s seen as a sort of validation, or a sort of crowning achievement, like, ‘Hey, video games are suddenly worth considering because film and TV makers have deigned to pay attention to them’. , said Ben Lindbergh, editor of pop culture outlet The Ringer.

Lindbergh, who also followed the real tidal wave of video games on the horizon, said that while this may be a good thing for the industry, it doesn’t excite him as a player. Video games could represent the next frontier for an industry looking for another Marvel Universe to colonize, but that comes at the expense of games’ ability to capitalize on the audience itself.

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Because – instead of games maturing into a respected format for storytelling – they simply became fodder for studios, having successfully emulated what made legacy media, such as TV and movies, work. Meanwhile, these studios are ignoring the inherent benefits of video games for telling stories in the first place.

“I just feel like: Well, if I like the game, the game already exists,” Lindbergh said. “I’ve had that experience before.”

Adaptations in progress

And Halo is really far from alone. HBO The last of us – widely hailed as one of the best storytelling game series ever made – will premiere as a series directed by Chernobyls Craig Mazin in 2023. Netflix resident Evila live-action reboot of the classic horror series – which has already been adapted into a series of films beginning in the early 2000s – is released on July 14. To fall and God of the war are heading to Amazon Prime, with rumors of Mass Effect in the works of the streamer as well.

From left to right, stills from Halo, The Last of Us, and Resident Evil are shown. All three are in the process of adapting their respective video game series into broadcasts. (Paramount+, HBO, Capcom)

Meanwhile, the live action Pokemon (which started out as a video game), Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell And two Far cry series — as well as a grave robber anime – all coming to Netflix.

And dj2 Entertainment – a studio purpose-built to bring video games to the small screen – recently shared its creation of shows based on Disco Elysee, life is strange and It takes two.

What’s mind-boggling is that it’s not even close to an exhaustive list.

When announcing these latest titles, producer Dmitri M. Johnson had a little to say on why all these adaptations are coming down the pipe.

“The dj2 team has long believed that video games will one day serve as an incredible source for the stories told in television and film,” Johnson said, “and that it was only the lack of love and respect for the art form that had previously had successful adaptations back.”

But when it comes to adaptations, not all of them have been failures. Dj2 himself had somewhat shocking success with the 2020s sonic the hedgehog, and more sonic the hedgehog 2 generated positive buzz ahead of its North American release this month. 2019 Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, 2016 The Angry Birds Movie, 2010s Prince of Persia and others also had a positive box office.

Even still, the vast majority of adaptations haven’t just been box office busts, but everyone interviewed for this article agreed that almost all of them have been critical disappointments in the main thing they were meant to achieve: tell a good story.

“There’s not a big story about it,” said Susan Arendt, a 15-year-old video game journalist who now hosts a podcast dedicated to the world of gaming. resident Evil, for example; while they’re phenomenally successful – like, they print money – they’re bad. the resident Evil movies aren’t good.”

Writing video games about “creating a player experience”

Peter Boychuk, a Vancouver-based games writer and adjunct professor of video game writing at UBC, said some of the difficulty in moving games to other platforms is that writing for the one is inherently different from writing for the other.

“You’re not really writing a story, even though it’s a very narrative game,” he said of crafting a game narrative. “You’re creating a player experience.”

Games are more about guiding audiences through a “core player fantasy,” Boychuk said, creating branching possibilities that users can interact with directly. It allows them to inhabit a character and an experience more fully than movies or television ever could, and identify with them over much longer arcs that can span hundreds of hours.

And Eric Hayot, professor of literature at Penn State University, who writes and teaches on link between video games and literatureargued that as game writers intentionally and unknowingly aped the techniques of novels and movies in the 90s, the line between them as art forms blurred, even as critics and audiences refused to recognize it.

The last of us is a really good example of that,” he said. “But I think there are a number of other games that try to represent us, in some sense, some of the wealth and of the full range of human emotions.”

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Arendt said that for most of Hollywood and video game history, executives didn’t see this evolving complexity as something worth incorporating into movies. Instead, they simply saw game titles as a moneymaker: big names that delivered more in terms of embedded audience than narrative content.

That’s why studios have largely chosen games with little or no inherent story (like Super Mario Bros., mortal combat and Loss) or replaced virtually any existing story already present in place of an oversimplified reimagining (grave robber Where Unexplored).

These choices also came with a cultural disdain for the relatively new medium of video games, which has yet to fully turn the corner like comic books have begun to. When the game company Electronic Arts was founded in the 1980s, they posted an ad with the insecure title “Can a Computer Make You Cry?” – a seemingly unanswered question in gaming research as recently as 2005.

And in 2010, movie guru Roger Ebert was still fighting over video games could never be artbecause anything that really puts storytelling first “ceases to be a game and becomes the representation of a story, a novel, a play, a dance, a film”.

Arendt said the doubt around the narrative weight of video games has started to shift – which is why studios are now choosing source material with meatier stories “that can translate very easily to TV and film, if you know. get out of the way”.

And while TV gives even more space to adapt these stories than movies, taking them there still shows an “inherent bias” to legacy media, Arendt said, when audiences might watch play-throughs instead. (videos of other people going through games), sit on their best friend’s bunk bed like I did – or, as Arendt put it, “just go play the creepy game”.

Games and movies journalist Justin Carter said there’s both good and bad about the wave of adaptation. TV adaptations may offer a way around the access control and controversies that swirl around video game culture and make it particularly hostile to LGBTQ+, not white and not bad players.

But continuing to position TV and movies above games motivates game writers to emulate them and potentially lose what makes video games unique and, in some ways, better. At the same time, delivering too many adaptations too quickly could torpedo the video game revolution before it has even begun.

“There’s an equal chance that things will go perfectly well and continue this relative recovery that we have,” Carter said. “But it’s also kind of like the house of cards, and it looks like a few more moves and we could be square 1 again.”