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Level Up: The Progression of Video Game Adaptations | Mailee Phan

If you’re a niche film fan or an avid player of retro video games, perhaps you’ve stumbled across the trainwreck that is Super Mario Bros, the first video game movie adaptation. Despite its talented cast and incredibly popular inspiration, the film completely goes against everything the game sets up; Goombas are changed from small, mushroom-like creatures to hulking lizard-men, Yoshi gets stabbed, and not once does the main character himself say “it’s a-me, Mario!”.

We’ve come a long way since this rough beginning, and video game adaptations are starting to take hold on the film and television industry. Major media production companies have begun to recognize the value in the stories presented in modern video games, not just the action. In the past, adaptations like Doom, Assassin’s Creed, and Hitman have failed in this regard, attempting to recreate the same adrenaline rush the games produced, rather than actually adapting the media to fit the big screen.

Netflix’s Arcane excelled in creating a multi-faceted yet consistent storyline, adapting the backstories of multiple characters from the battle game League of Legends beyond their in-game behavior. The series quickly became one of Netflix’s most popular shows, reaching audiences far outside of just the gaming sphere because of its artful balance between faith to the game’s action and a development on its lack of a central storyline. Arcane’s success derives from the fact that it’s not trying to be the game projected on the big screen, but a transformation of characters and environments to better fit the themes of growth and destruction depicted in both pieces of media. Rather than searching an online wiki for a specific fighter’s backstory within the game, each character is fully fleshed out, with their own motivations, be it power, connection to family, or success and recognition, as well as tensions between each other.

Another example of success for video game adaptations is HBO’s currently airing series The Last of Us based on the game of the same name. Co-creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin have described their intentions in creating a series based on, yet separate from the game by putting the focus not on a constant onslaught of “infected” to fight, but on how different types of people survive during the apocalypse. Each episode brings about a variety of characters, all from various walks of life, and how they aid, attack, and interact with survivors Joel and Tess as they are tasked with transporting a 14-year-old girl across a barren and infected-ridden wasteland.

These well-made adaptations are only paving the way for even more ambitious reworks. Leaks have been rapidly spreading of a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie, based on the wildly popular survival-horror game, starring classic Scream star Matthew Lillard and Josh Hutcherson of The Hunger Games fame. The film is produced by none other than Blumhouse Productions, known for horror hits such as Insidious, Sinister, and Get Out. Blumhouse has also picked up a film version of Dead by Daylight, a game in the same genre, both of which have no major central story and are fueled by lore existing on the internet. Hopefully, these adaptations will continue to both build upon the basic in-game premises as well as create interesting and well-developed characters in a similar manner to its predecessors.

While all can’t be winners (see 2022’s overly action-packed Uncharted), it feels as though the most recent video-game-based media is leading us into a golden age of adaptations.

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