Lights, Camera, Minus the Action:Hollywood Wants Your Games!
Written by: Adam Kheroua
In 1998 "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" toppled the US box office, making more money than any film in the last six weeks of that year. This unprecedented success of a video game - a mere childrens' pastime - forced hitherto the dominant cultural and artistic domains and mediums to sit up and take notice: videogames could be art. Videogames could be successful. Videogames could be lucrative. Of course, these realisations are secondary compared to the most important assertion that could be made after this moment - that videogames could 'be', and that was enough.
Of course, they tried it. They had to. No one told the game industry it didn't have to yet. We had the awful cartoon adaptations, the embarrassing movie attempts and the half-hearted comic books; each and every one as forgettable as the next. The medium existed in a tentative space, like the new kid at school, trying everything to fit in before realising being yourself is enough. Now, before the credits roll on this heart-warming highschool drama, let's skip to the big-budget sequel where gaming wrecks everything and is declared 'recession proof'.
The 2000s' were some damn fine years for the medium as a means and an ends in regards to artistic expression. Whether we were on the cusp of a human revolution in "Deus Ex", unlocking the secrets of an ancient ringed world in "Halo", kindly relishing a rapturous sojourn beyond the sea in "Bioshock", or losing ourselves in a water-colour world fit for a sun god in "Okami": gaming firmly ensconced itself as an entertainment and artistic medium that frequently surpassed the pallid performances and mediocre matinees of Hollywood, without having to bend itself to fit between the cells in a film reel, or the sarcophagal confines of a book. Gaming was an end unto itself and not a means to pursue artistic expression or development beyond the medium.
This is not to say that prior established mediums could not run parallel to gaming, and of course many a gaming 'universe' wouldn't be so ubiquitous in scope where it not for the ubiquity of the mediums' that expressed said universe. Having the odd tale to take in or a comic to catch up with was fine, but that was not and should never have been considered an optimal or natural endpoint for any game whatsoever. The "Halo" expanded universe scratched itches and calmed curiosity at best, while never attempting to stand-in for an actual videogame. "Assassin's Creed" novelisations answered questions players may have had that simply didn't justify getting in the way of entire interactive experiences. No stepping stones, no 'launching off points', no subtraction by addition: gaming paraphernalia was exactly that. A dalliance, a bauble; never the main attraction. Which brings us to this very moment: Playstation Productions. This is as definitionally redundant as it is unnecessary as it is perverse as it is awful; and it is the sole reason Sony bought Bungie. Worst Spider Man and best live-action Morty Tom Holland starring in "Uncharted", "The Witcher: The Series", "Sonic The Hedgehog: The Movie", HBO's "The Last of Us" television series, Paramonut+'s "Halo" television series,the upcoming "Super Mario" movie, the proposed "Battlefield" universe: we're all shitting our pants - invariably filling our post-ironic gamer 'chic' snapbacks in the process - about NFTs while Hollywood literally sells your most beloved games back to you! Yes, it's a greek tragedy when an idiot cryto-bro buys a monkey jpeg because he thinks he's investing in a restaurant, or an MMORPG, without realising he is either: artificially surging the price of the crypto currency that underwrites the transaction, or throwing his money into a liquidity pool that is seconds away from getting 'rug-pulled' - stolen - right from underneath himself and all the other idiots that invested in the scam. I can find this as hilarious as it is nefarious, and still find the time to maintain the integrity of this beloved medium from other hostile actors. And make no mistake: Netflix, Paramount, HBO, Playstation Productions and probably even Denny's Applebees Max are all hostile actors, looking to capitalise on the game-as-service model by driving it to its most lucrative terminus: the cessation of cutscenes in games in order to justify movies.
You've fallen for this before, just so you know. This is new to you and you alone. We've all played "Destiny", we bought "Overwatch", Ubisoft's Tom Clancy games have avoided cutscenes like Ubisoft boss 'Please let-me-go' avoids responsible management and vetting procedures, and campaign-less "Call of Duty" and "Battlefield" games are things that you either missed or let happen by spending your money on them and spewing that apologia-cum-well... cum, really, when you told me "a lack of campaign will make the remainder of the game better, bro!" or "With less to do, the rest will be polished, my dude!". Committing to a narrative poses obvious risks to the potentiality of an IP that's a 'big dreamer', shall we say? A narrative in a videogame constrains Hollywood types in their casting, plot and sequel potential, effectively reducing the speculative value of the IP they are gambling on. Now that I think about it, all this speculating and gambling almost makes Hollywood's encroachment on gaming identical to NFTs... you know, those harmless collection of pictures that require massive initial investment and are bereft of creativity, typically just re-selling someone else's work. Not like an adaptation of a game into a movie at all. Totally different. Yup. Different.
Thusly we arrive at the final scene - no, this is not a movie, fuck you - we arrive at the final chapter of this piece - our conclusion. I say 'our', but what I mean is my conclusion.... And yours. I know where I stand when it comes to the commercialisation of this medium: it's unnecessary, shameless profiteering that has to undermine the fundamental flexibility of the form in order to convince people its justified. You have to believe that games cannot deliver cutscenes or tell stories in order to precipitate your waddle to the cinema, in the same gaggles you flew in when Hollywood ripped up your comics and demanded you pay for the scraps they glued together. This new paradigm incentivises stripped-down games in order to maximise profits from single-use IPs. Think about it: Bungie's post-purchase statement after being bought by Sony starts with this exact line - "We believe games have limitless potential, and to do anything worthwhile in entertainment..." You can read, right? Why immediately make a lexical distinction between games and 'entertainment', so aptly obscure so as to defy definition? Furthermore, Bungie state that Sony will help them create "Generation-spanning 'entertainment'..." further stating that "game worlds are only the beginning of what our IP can become..." This poison-pen-letter to gamers - perhaps the darkest entry in Bungie's grimoire - is straight up telling you "Destiny" is an IP, first-and-foremost, thereby laying the groundwork for the coming t.v shows and movies and novels and all the rest of the shit they are going to pile on this game, which will necessitate its removal from the game. "Destiny" was never a mere game - a child's pastime - but an opportunity to make some big bucks once the right investor comes along.
We can quibble about the precision of my foresight, but surely you can see where this could go? This encroachment on our beloved medium is one head on the Hydra that pursues it. Microtransactions, studio buy outs and monopolisation, NFTs and Hollywood: they are carrion birds, picking at the corpse of gaming, not adding value to it. Right now, NFTs are reviled for the scam that many of them are, as well as the threat they might metastasize into. In the same vein, the acceleration of 'Hollywoodisation' in the gaming space may very well lead to the excavation of qualitative artistic attempts in the space, much in the same way the modern comic book industry has pivoted to using comics to pitch tv shows. It's time we returned to our roots and showed Hollywood what games are, have been and always will be. Just as in 1998, 'time' is of the essence, and for a game many consider to be overrated and out-performed today, Link's Hollywood-hammering heroics are still teaching us lessons in gaming, even today; with a little link to gaming's past, we might just be able to prevent its unfortunate future.
Written by: Adam Kheroua