Is television the way to go for video game adaptations?

As we know, films based on video games haven’t managed to achieve critical approval yet. With so many different genres having been adapted by so many studios, it can only be the medium that is the problem: perhaps video games just aren’t meant to be adapted into film. Or perhaps film just isn’t meant to adapt video games. Could video game adaptations work if adapted to television?

It makes sense, because video games resemble television more than film, as an experience. There are save points and game play is spread over a period of time. Think of them as like novels. Video game plots don’t happen all at once, which is why adapting them into films isn’t going to work; a single feature film cannot contain so much plot and lore.

The rule of thumb is that the more lore there is, the more plot there needs to be to accommodate exposition in order for any of it to make sense; television could, by its very nature. Each episode is a different level, and a season of programming would be able to contain the vast amount of story that is in the average video game. Netflix’s Castlevania (based on Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989)) was well-received, and as a streamed series, the viewer could experience it like a continuing game, jumping in and out at their pleasure. Writer Warren Ellis told PASTE that he’s never played Castlevania, but the success of his adaptation proves that a good writer is all that’s required, instead of someone who’s a fan of the source material but wouldn’t be very good at adapting it (other adaptations are likely making this mistake, judging by their critical reception). Plus, the first season is the length of a feature film, so in a way, it’s both (it began development as a feature film).

One potential obstacle that would need to be considered is the way that a video game can be played differently by different players, especially when presented with different options which will create different outcomes. With either television series or feature films, there’s a linear plot which the viewer can only observe (no matter how hard Nintendo try). That would be the greatest difference, and is something that no motion picture medium could avoid – that medium might not be perfect for video game adaptations because of this, but that’s something which video game players will just have to accept. It’s a pretty good reason not to even bother, because it fundamentally changes the way it’s experienced, which would diminish the source material by making it static and lifeless.

If a way were found to introduce a choose-your-own-adventure element into it, by selecting episodes to make decisions, that would neither be a legitimate game, nor a legitimate television series. Not only would doing so diminish both mediums by removing what makes each of them different from each other, it would also show that the adaptation wasn’t working within the conventional bounds of its new medium.

But Castlevania proves that it can be done properly, so if there are to be any more video game adaptations, surely a television series would at least be somewhat better suited?

As far as video game adaptations go, Castlevania is certainly one of the best. In fact, the television show, which just premiered its first four episodes on Netflix, could serve as a starting point for future creatives tasked with adapting interactive entertainment into a passive, scripted program.

The Verge‘s Michael Moore

WIRED reports that Netflix are already looking at in-development adaptations of the Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher series, as well as a second season of Castlevania, which will be double the length of season one; perhaps this will allow it be more developed in order to truly escape its source material?

3 responses to “Is television the way to go for video game adaptations?”

  1. Great article! I definitely think that television series are more appropriate than films for video game adaptations and I would love to see the Castlevania approach towards adapting some of my favorite game series. As you said, it is a lot better for fitting the appropriate amount of lore. I think another important step is that game-inspired television doesn’t try to simply retell the same stories. If I want to experience the existing story I’ll just play the video game – give me something new and unique with your show, a fresh interpretation that I can’t get with a controller in my hand. I think that will help adaptations to stand out more as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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