Testing the Waters

Video games and movies are beginning to develop a bizarre relationship, one I fully admit I don’t really understand yet. Every time some nervous studio executive has a property they’re unsure of, they make a game out of it to dip their toes in the water. Remember the “Ghostbusters” game that was used as a cultural thermometer recently? And how about “The Chronicles of Riddick” being re-released to gauge the necessity for reviving the character on the big screen? And let’s not forget that “Wall Street” video game they made before bringing Michael Douglas back for another go. You remember it, you played as Gordon Gekko, holding Shia LeBeauf down and beating him with a crowbar. Okay I made that one up, but my point is, they’re doing this a lot.

Anyway, with MGM sinking like a stone, Activision has now decided to try and re-ignite Bond enthusiasm with a new game, “Blood Stone.” I hate it when they do a non-canonical Bond game, because the lack of structure to adhere to allows game developers to turn 007 into a raging, Rambo-style idiot with none of the grace or charisma that makes the character who he is. He becomes another action hero, just like all the others, and as a direct result the magic of James Bond is lost. I look at the cover of “Blood Stone,” and I find myself wondering what the appeal of this character is at all.

There are three additional reasons why it’s stupid to try and test the waters for a movie with a video game:

1. Games are Expensive. The trick only really works with AAA title, and apparently no one told studio heads that those are now hella expensive. You might as well go make the damned movie anyway for the amount of money and time you’re about to drop on this little litmus test of yours.

2. Games are for Dorks. Casual gamers are not real gamers. I don’t say this to be mean, I say it as a fact. A casual gamer is the bitter enemy of a marketing department: they have minimal brand loyalty or awareness, a complete lack of motivation to go out and spend money, and their decisions are based on split-second, apathetic impulses which are almost impossible to control. They play “Wii Tennis” and “Rock Band,” but they don’t give two shakes of a lamb’s tail about movie tie-in video games. And, problematically, they still comprise most of the world.

3. Games are Legitimate. There’s a thing I call the “cinema-centric bias,” which is the basic assumption that movies are the biggest, most real art form. Write a narrative in any other artistic format, and pretty soon some idiot will ask you if it should “be a movie.” Cinematic conversion seems to be some kind of legitimizing force to most Americans, it’s like the story isn’t real until it’s been a movie. The more beloved a narrative, the more agitation there is: “why haven’t they made this into a movie yet?” What about the story was deficient as a novel that it now needs to reborn in a movie theater?

The cinema-centric bias is crap. Movies routinely fail to adapt the essence of a narrative from another artistic medium; sometimes glaringly, in the case of “Watchmen,” and sometimes so slightly that it becomes like an itch you can never scratch, as is the case with the “Harry Potter” films. Movies are like any other art form: sometimes they’re able to repurpose narratives borrowed from elsewhere, sometimes they aren’t. The movie version is not necessarily the definitive version.

Video games, on the other hand, receive the exact opposite treatment: it doesn’t count if you do it in a game. Studio execs who wanted to test “Ghostbusters” assumed they could roll out the IP on the Xbox without damaging the glorious return on the big screen. But here’s my point: that’s not necessarily so. Video games are legitimate, they’re an art form, and to a lot of people, they represent the definitive medium of storytelling. People assume a “Ghostbusters” movie can’t have its thunder stolen by a “Ghostbusters” game. That assumption is wrong. You can sap the pent up energy behind your IP through a video game as readily as anywhere else, perhaps even more so.

And at the end of the day, this “you go first and tell me how they like it” system is condescending to games. It assumes that movies are the main event, and games are just a way to get everyone warmed up. I find this arrogance amusing, seeing as “Halo” and “Call of Duty” can humiliate even “Avatar’s” box office receipts without breaking a sweat. In a subtle way, this is Hollywood playing the mean big brother to this younger artistic medium, trying to hold him in his supposed place while he grows bigger and stronger every day.

It isn’t going to work forever.