Videogames, Books, Movies And The Cross-Saturation Of Media
Do you remember the last film you watched that didn’t have some character who was predestined to save the world in some capacity? It’s become something of a stale cliché of late with even the recent The Amazing Spider-Man movie re-writing canon in such a way as to bastardise the whole point of the character of Peter Parker with the allusion that he was genetically engineered from his early childhood to be Spider-Man. Spoiler alert.
This past weekend I also watched Ender’s Game, which is the story (inspired by a series of books of course) of a young boy who is trained to be a commander and subsequently– actually let’s not spoil the movie or books for anyone who still wishes to see it but suffice to say, he is the Neo of a new generation. Likewise indeed The Matrix as well as various other popular characters the likes of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Commander Shepard, Dante, Marcus Fenix, Katniss Everdeen and so many more. When it comes to ‘chosen one’ characters we are pretty much spoiled for choice, and they really do come in all shapes and sizes save for dwarves unless you’d like to count Tyrion Lannister who isn’t really a saviour if you think about it, or a character-created dwarf in Dragon Age.
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Starting to sound like something that should be kept for off-topic Friday? Hold on a minute. There’s more.
I recently played and finished a game called Spec-Ops: The Line. Now as far as third person shooters go, this game is a delightfully average romp through sandstorm-ravaged Dubai after some cataclysmic event pretty much ruins the city and strands everyone in it, including an occupying military force. The true beauty of the experience however comes in the story and the way in which it is told. You see, Spec-Ops: The Line does what few other games have achieved in presenting you with choices along the lines of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ but it does so with such marvellous gusto that not only do you feel every action but you start to question even your own motives as a person. It’s pretty strong in its narrative.
And yet if you’ve read Heart of Darkness or a bunch of similar books, then in all likelihood none of this is entirely new to you.
One further example if I may, involves some of the scenes presented to players in games the likes of The Walking Dead. For example the first time you’re forced to make a choice that involves one character dying in order to save another, or the first time you have to amputate a bite victim to stop them from turning, or indeed watching characters fight each other for limited resources, making pacts and forming alliances so as to preserve their own flailing lives just that little bit longer. Thing is, if you’ve read the comic or watched the series then none of this would be new to you. Yet the game was lauded for exactly these emotionally charged moments. Not to discredit an amazing series of games but is it that simple? Do you just take influence from something else and reap the benefits?
And we thought Flappy Bird was a ripoff.
Thing is, this only really becomes apparent if you’ve had a lot of exposure to various types of media and if you have had that much exposure to various types of media then you are likely either very lucky to have lived a life surrounded by so much media, or you don’t have a life in the first place and so you have tonnes of time on your hands to read, watch and play everything you possibly can, in which case you’re more ostensible in your consumption of that media but we’ll grant that you could be using that time far less productively so fair enough. Long sentence is long.
Still, having read a decent amount of books, watched a decent amount of movies and played far more than the average amount of games, I can say that after a while it all starts to blend together. A lot of what is purported to be original content just isn’t, and a lot of inspired content typically follows a particular spin or is just done in a different medium because it can be profitable. This is why The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight all got two-parters to their concluding books and The Hobbit was split into a trilogy.
The direct result of this is that unlike the days of Half-Life 2, Doom 3 and the first Far Cry — which was B-movie action at its finest in a game — we are now getting derivative storylines that while far, far more poignant and moving are not entirely original in the first place. You could pretty much just play a game of ‘name the videogame and then draw the comparison’ and you’d likely be hard-pressed to find a completely original game that isn’t Borderlands 2. The Last of Us? I Am Legend. BioShock: Infinite? BioShock. BioShock? Atlas Shrugged. And so on and so forth.
I suppose you could also argue that some of the stories are done far better in a different medium — some book-created worlds (Middle-Earth, anyone?) are far better suited to an in-game environment — and there is still quite a lot of great inspiration to pull meaning we’ve not created a wall of clichés just yet.
Of course a lot of gamers don’t actually read that much, and a lot of readers don’t play that many games and well, who even knows why people watch the movies they watch, I mean really, Transformers 4? Although that said, I have to say that the most original and thus far inspiring work to be done in recent years for me is that of the Marvel movie universe; they’re doing some amazing things with their licensed heroes and I am loving all of it. Now if only a Deadpool movie would happen…
Nevertheless the question remains; is it too much? Are we going to reach a point of creative bankruptcy soon? Or is it just a case of those lucky few being spoiled for choice? Either way, you start to understand why the likes of Spec-Ops: The Line and BioShock: Infinite aren’t quite as impressive to everyone. As gamers we already know why the likes of Max Payne 3, God of War: Ascension and Batman: Arkham Origins failed to impress. We’ve seen it all before, and better. Likewise, there are some of us who have seen it all before in other mediums, and better.