Could game-based TV shows be better than movies?

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A long time Halo the protagonist Master Chief is a charmless hero. He’s a character defined by unlimited reserves of strength and gruffness, whose nickname is two tough-sounding titles grafted together (he ends up being given a real human name, which is – wait for it – John). Players have never even seen his face: the amber visor of his helmet remains firmly closed.

Given that Halo is a game about blasting aliens with laser guns, that was never a problem. The leader’s void makes it easier for players to project themselves into his reinforced boots. Yet it was an obstacle for the new Halo TV adaptation on Paramount Plus. Games can have interesting characters and plots, but they don’t necessarily depend on them. This is not the case with television. Paramount, under executive producer Steven Spielberg, needed to make some changes.

First, they decided the chef needed to show his face — a throatless Pablo Schreiber, well-bolstered from his days as “Pornstache” in Netflix‘s prison comedy-drama. Orange is the new black. Then they crushed 16 sci-fi pabulum games into a semi-cohesive narrative that pits humans against aliens and involves lots of wooden dialogue.

To the writing team’s credit, they inject some moral ambiguity into the world by tackling threads only mentioned in the games (like Master Chief’s origins as a child soldier, biologically enhanced in a lab at 14 years). They also cram in endless references to the games, including power swords, first-person views from inside the leader’s helmet, and aliens with invisible camouflage. The overall result is decidedly mediocre television, with entertaining fight scenes and effective, if predictable, plot twists but little nuance or originality. It is unlikely to please anyone from the outside Haloplayer fan base. But with nearly 3 billion players worldwide, that might be enough to make the show a hit. A second season has already been greenlit.

Netflix’s ‘Arcane’ uses animation to bring characters such as Jinx from the game ‘League of Legends’ to life © Courtesy of Netflix

Halo is just one of many games turned into series as streaming platforms voraciously buy up valuable sci-fi and fantasy IPs, especially those that appeal to large pre-existing audiences with younger demographics. . On the way, sumptuous adaptations of the zombie masterpiece The last of us for HBO, with Chernobyl writer Craig Mazin attached, plus shows based on narrative games life is strange and Disco Elysee, coming soon on Amazon. Dozens more are in various stages of production, including new iterations of Resident Evil, Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed as well as Burst cell and Fall.

We already know from decades of abysmal film adaptations that games can be difficult to adapt. Do they have more chances on the small screen?

What directors seem to miss when adapting games for film is that games are not about stories we are told but about worlds we inhabit. They have to wonder what it means for this story to be watched rather than played, and how it might need to change as a result. In this regard, television may be a more natural choice. The length of a series creates space for the games sprawling storytelling style and their myriad characters. This breathing space should also allow showrunners to capitalize on the abundant lore and environmental details of modern games, which contribute to the fashionable pursuit of “world-building.”

Two TV shows that offer hope for form are both animations. The first is Castlevaniaa vampire story based on a hit game series from the 1990s, which has become a surprise hit on Netflix since its launch in 2017. It’s heavily written with mature themes and a thoughtful plot and paved the way for the last year Esoteric. Another Netflix show, Esoteric dive into the origin stories of two heroes of the online battle arena game League of Legends using striking animation that mixes hand-painted textures with 3D graphics. Unlike other adaptations, Esoteric forgoes harsh plot exposition in favor of character-driven drama and plays loosely with its source material, focusing on the complex relationship between two women and including action only where it has a significant impact on the narrative.

Both have charmed audiences far beyond the gaming world. Esoteric even earned a spot on IMDB’s list of 25 Highest Rated TV Shows of all time, together with The Wire, Breaking Bad and the Ken Burns documentary series Vietnam War. This is the first real game adaptation but, judging by the amount of series to come, it’s unlikely to be the last.

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