Film could boost video game popularity
Posted November 5, 2012 at 9:38 pm in Lifestyle
Wreck-It Ralph, the new Disney Animation feature that came out last weekend, does for video games what Toy Story did for toys and, arguably, what Who Framed Roger Rabbit did for the animated cartoons of old. It achieves the right balance of finding humor in the absurdities of video games and arcades ‚ÄĒ and with a genuine admiration and heart in the medium.
The approach is notable since, up until recently, video games were still treated as a niche form of entertainment, the equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons or chess club. Before the days of Call of Duty, Madden or Halo, people who played video games were perceived not just as nerds, but as introverted individuals who spent all day hiding in their parents‚Äô basements playing games.
Movies and television shows didn‚Äôt do anything to discourage the supposedly fringe culture of video gaming; in fact, this portrayal contributed greatly to that misconception. In most dramas or comedies, if someone played video games they were either kids or stereotypical dorks. This stereotype remains to this day; in television shows such as The Big Bang Theory, the people who play video games are still shown as predominately male, socially awkward and out-of-touch with reality.
This, of course, is inaccurate. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 37 percent of players are actually 36 or older with an average age of 30; meanwhile women make up 47 percent of gamers. This shift in demographics is partly because of the rise of casual gaming and the all-age success of mobile gaming, which has brought in demographics that had simply never played video games before or hadn‚Äôt since the days of the Atari. Nowadays, a 70-year-old grandmother is just as likely to be playing a quick round of Angry Birds as a 7-year-old boy.
Regrettably, the film industry has yet to embrace video games as a mainstream aspect of popular culture. This is no more obvious than in movies that have tried to adapt video games, which has mostly proven to be disastrous. Doom, Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Wing Commander: There have been so many awful video game movies that studios lack confidence in funding more ambitious adaptations, such as the Peter Jackson-produced Halo movie that fell through.
The fundamental flaw in most video game adaptations is that the screenwriters, directors, and producers not only don‚Äôt seem to understand the nuances of the video games they were adapting, but also feel that they can do a ‚Äúbetter‚ÄĚ job at the story. In the infamous 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie, which some consider one of the worst movies ever made, filmmakers turned the Mushroom Kingdom into a strange subterranean city filled with dinosaur-humanoids with tiny heads. Instead of embracing the quirky and distinctly magical aspects of the franchise, they attempted to Americanize it in the worst way possible.
It‚Äôs the same issue that pervaded comic book adaptations for the longest time: Rather than embracing the idiosyncrasies of the material, filmmakers and producers felt that they could improve it by altering it or making it more mainstream. They were never projects that ever felt like they were being made by people who understood or loved what made them work in the first place.
But sometimes it takes a certain film to set a precedent for a respective genre. For comic books, it was Spider-Man. That film and its sequel understood not only what made Peter Parker work, but also embraced the Silver Age attributes and eccentric quality of the characters and the world that the superhero inhabited.
A similar passion project has yet to occur for video game adaptations. It‚Äôs not that the task is an easy one; video games, while drastically improved in the storytelling department, are for the most part a series of action sequences with a fundamental stake in interactivity.
For game players, the arcade era held a certain charm. You were going to enjoy yourself, spend a few quarters, switch over to the latest arcade box and compete against your friends in person, which, to this day, still beats competing against someone online. It was as pure as video gaming could be.
Wreck-It Ralph understands this, embraces it and exploits it for laughs.¬† However, the hilarity doesn‚Äôt come from the film patronizing on arcades and video gaming but instead from a charming attitude towards the video game world.¬† It‚Äôs the mark of a good parody, one that, while making fun of the source material, also manages to stand on its own, much like how great friends can make jokes at each other‚Äôs expense.
It‚Äôs not surprising that the director of Wreck-It Ralph, Rich Moore, worked extensively on the early seasons of The Simpsons and nearly all the episodes of Futurama, which was a similar satirical romp of the science fiction genre.¬† These series have gone a long way to making insider sci-fi knowledge mainstream.
Though video games have yet to create a defining cinematic adaptation, the latest feature from Disney Animation goes a long way toward making the conventions and quirky details of video games and the arcade era something nostalgic, hilarious and utterly charming to all ages.