TV Video Games and the Future of Storytelling
A few days ago, I finally sat through the trailer for the film Rampage when it popped up before a video I was trying to watch on YouTube. I liked the video game Rampage when I was younger, I still like Dwayne Johnson, and the trailer makes the film look like a fun spectacle. However, I’m not at all excited for the film. There are a lot of things there to make me like it, but it’s still a video game adaptation. Those, traditionally, haven’t been great. Even the best video game films are only on the upper side of average. Too often, the video games they’re based on only work because they are video games and players can interact with them. They work because they’re made to be played. That’s why I can’t ever really get excited for films based on video games. Although, what I can get excited for is the rise of television shows based on video games.
TV shows adapted from video games aren’t anything new, but they’re usually animated kids shows. A recently announced live-action TV series based on the long-running Street Fighter franchise is looking to change that. The show will be developed by the same team who produced a live-action web series adaptation of Street Fighter and backed by the game’s creators, Capcom. It is intended to cover the general story of Street Fighter II, namely diverse characters coming together to fight each other in a shady martial arts tournament. On a related note, Showtime just announced that their live-action Halo TV series, based on the popular video game franchise, is looking to start filming sometime in fall 2018. The project, which was stuck in pre-production for years, is being produced by Steven Spielberg and his production company, Amblin Entertainment. The Halo video games follow a space marine in his fight against different alien races, but I’m not sure whether the TV series will directly adapt the story of the games or simply use them as a jumping off point.
To be honest, even though I have fond memories of playing Street Fighter as a little kid and playing Halo 3 as often as I could when I was in high school, I’m not much of a gamer these days. The fact that there are a couple TV shows based on those properties isn’t what’s got me excited about them (even if one of them is being made for a premium cable channel). What does have me excited for them is that they may signal a new trend if they’re popular, and that trend may be coming at the perfect time.
A while back, I talked about the evolving technology of TV. The most important development, from my perspective, was the advent of interactive storytelling in mainstream TV. Interactive storytelling is still a developing idea that’s only just starting to become something viable for mainstream productions. It’s been used in children’s programs such as Netflix’s Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale, but this past year saw it used by acclaimed directors like Steven Soderbergh to test the waters of its long-term viability. Soderbergh brought his love for experimental storytelling to HBO’s Mosaic. Mosaic is a murder-mystery miniseries that comes in two forms: a traditional TV miniseries on HBO, and an “interactive movie” that comes in an app. The latter version of Mosaic gives viewers the chance to decide which characters to follow as the mystery plays out.
The new streaming series #WarGames (based on the 1983 film WarGames) ignores the traditional TV part completely. The series instead takes place entirely online, either in an app or on the show’s website. Viewers follow a small group of hackers all communicating online, and must choose which characters to follow and when. Unlike Mosaic, the choices in#WarGames gives viewers the power to impact the plot. The story changes according to what characters and information the viewer prefers to follow without the viewer specifically making direct choices. Both Mosaic and #WarGames represent “the next big evolution in entertainment.” They’re both live-action series, but they take advantage of the fact that TV now includes things like websites and apps to deliver a more dynamic story across different platforms. The two shows ignore traditional structure and passive viewing to make the viewer engage in the story. Using the consumer’s input to influence or drive the action that appears onscreen is the entire point of video games.
Both Street Fighter and the Halo TV adaptations are still in very early development stages. I doubt either will take advantage of the potential in interactive storytelling, but there’s no question that that potential is perfectly suited to a TV adaptation of a video game. Bear in mind, most of this is speculation on my part. I don’t know if video game TV shows will be a trend, I just think they could be if done correctly. At the same time, I’m not really a big fan of the idea of interactive storytelling being a commonly used gimmick. I get that there’s novelty to the idea, but novelty wears off pretty quickly. Unless a streaming service like Netflix continues to support the idea, it will probably die out quickly because traditional TV can’t support branching paths or interaction like an online TV show can. I just don’t want to have to download an app for every single TV show. Besides, I can’t see too many people accepting TV watching as an active pastime. I feel like that kind of approach could work perfectly for TV shows based on video games though. Whether it’s actual branching paths or just choosing who to follow (as one would when picking which character to play in a video game), the element of interaction could elevate video game shows beyond the typical lackluster film adaptation.
Maybe I’m just a rambling madman; maybe interactive storytelling and live-action video game TV shows will both remain separate fads. Interactive storytelling could easily end up being TV’s version of the 3-D and found footage fads of the late 2000s. I hope not. There are too many interesting places that an interactive video game TV show could go.