The Video Game Adaptation Curse. Real or Fake?

hello world!
Nick McKay
| April 1, 2023
hello world!

Video game adaptations are cursed! 

Ok, maybe they aren’t. I mean, sometimes, video game adaptations are pretty damn cool! But unfortunately, a lot of the time, they end up pretty damn awful. With the plethora of incredible stories told through the video game medium, there is nearly endless potential for adaptations of all kinds. It isn’t always easy to adapt video games, as the uniquely immersive experience of playing a video game is often hard to translate to the more strictly visual mediums of TV and film.

Far too often, Hollywood shoots and misses with these adaptations, and it usually feels like a cash grab on the success of a triple-A video game title, and to be fair, from a business perspective, it is a pretty solid move. Financially, producing more content for a fanbase of millions is never a bad idea. But while the adaptation may be profitable, it can still miss the mark in a few critical ways. 

Often, adaptations are weak, generic, lazy, and underproduced, but what stings the most is lack of care for the source material. It seems way too frequent that studios produce media that lacks the same flair as the video game that inspired it. Whether these adaptations change core elements of the concept, meaninglessly alter elements of the game’s original world design, or over-cater to an audience who hasn’t played the game, it regularly feels like production companies forget the fanbase that built the IP in the first place.

Remember that really bad Assassin’s Creed movie?

The Assassin’s Creed adaptation bombed at the box office, wasn’t well received by fans, and, for the most part, felt kind of silly. Most of the film feels silly, in fact, and lacks the spark that makes the Assassin’s Creed video game series so memorable. The movie was chock full of plot lines that overcomplicated an already pretty dull story and left fans of the game wanting more and movie-goers less than impressed. Michael Fassbender is a terrific actor, but there was no saving this film.

Altaïr would be rolling over in his grave.

On to the sour cream of the crop, the 2018 Tomb Raider movie adaptation is probably the best example of what makes an adaptation “bad.” It might not be the worst video game movie, but it has got to be the most insulting. This film changes pretty much everything except the name Lara Croft. The movie was stripped of all supernatural story elements, the villain was completely changed, and critical characters were left out entirely. All of this cheapened and largely ignored the emotional climax of Lara becoming a survivor by downplaying the stakes of survival and more. There is a laundry list of things this film did that massacred its adherence to the source material. 

Seriously, this film shares maybe 2% of its content in common with the game. As a huge Tomb Raider fan myself, this movie felt like a slap in the face to everything the tremendous 2013 Tomb Raider video game reboot did for the series. One thing is for sure; this film has got nothing on Angelina’s Lara Croft.

For a long time, video game adaptations had a bad reputation, and it began to seem as though studios were losing interest in producing them. But lately, the adaptations can’t seem to miss!

For example, Sonic the Hedgehog is a classic video game icon; sure, he’s seen his fair share of bad reviews over the years, but more recently, the IP has consistently produced terrific pieces of media. 

For starters, there is the wonderfully meta and heart-filled animated TV series Sonic Boom, as well as a more recent Netflix series, Sonic Prime (which is awesome, by the way)! The Blue Blur also has two great live-action movies, with a third on the way and a series in the pipeline. The live-action Sonic franchise’s future is looking very bright indeed.

Another terrific adaptation, Arcane, stands out as one of 2021’s best TV series. Adapting the immense lore surrounding the international MOBA phenomenon, League of Legends, Arcane combines a stellar cast and some of the best writing on TV with an animation style that is as beautiful as it is haunting. If you have not seen this, watch it on Netflix right now!

We’ve seen another great video game adaptation make it to the TV screen even more recently. Adapting a game that is widely considered to be one of the best ever made, HBO has struck gold yet again with their adaptation of The Last of Us. A truly great story told with incredible spirit and emotion, this series proves that it isn’t impossible to make a good adaptation of an even better video game.

While we’re at it, Couch Soup has a podcast series breaking down each episode of The Last of Us series. Come check out The Rest of Us podcast over on YouTube, where Lily K, Erika, and I chat about all things The Last of Us. It’s a critical, humorous, deep dive into the show and a ton of fun. There may even be a few extra special guests!

So, is there a video game adaptation curse? No, there is no curse. The real problem arises when the Hollywood money machine starts punching out adaptations like hotcakes. This isn’t all bad; it does mean we get to see our favorite video games made into big Hollywood blockbusters. But sometimes, these shows and movies are produced with very little care. Nevertheless, video game adaptations are getting better at successfully delivering an entertaining and lore-faithful end product.

What do you guys think? Is there a curse? And why do you think video game adaptations have failed so often in the past? Give us a holler on our socials, and let’s talk about it.

In the meantime, I’ll be replaying Bioshock for the 17th time, waiting for that upcoming film adaptation.


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Erika Aundawyn
8 months ago

Now me reading this as new news that there’s going to be a Bioshock movie?! I do think “curse” is technically correct, its can be so hard to adapt one form of contect to another form. That’s why it needs people in charge who truly care about the established lore.

Then again – I, too, find nearly any and all issues stem from the higher-ups and execs, they are calling these shots and forcing changes that just simply are wrong.

Like, the Hobbit for example. If Peter Jackson had his way, there’s wouldnt be that much CGI and it would have been must closer tothe source material.

I’ll stop now before I write my own article in the comments lol

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