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Home > Why Video Games Are Easier to Adapt than Animation

Why Video Games Are Easier to Adapt than Animation

Fallout Wallpaper by yunuskaynak | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Sometimes the Controller Makes for a Better Show

In recent years, there have been many successful video game adaptations; Fallout, The Last of Us, Cyberpunk Edgerunners, and Sonic the Hedgehog. However, the curse has yet to be broken with live-action adaptations of animated works. Knights of the Zodiac, Netflix’s Avatar, Cowboy Bepop, and many others all flopped as adaptations, making little progress over the decades. As such, it leaves one wondering why video games manage to make for better adaptations. Here is an explanation of why video games have an easier time adapting to movies and TV than anime and cartoons. 

The Magic of Animation 

The first question a person has to ask in an adaptation is what is the new medium and what its strengths are. For each artistic medium, there is a set of tools and benefits. For books you get more descriptions and insights into characters’ heads, for games, you have player agency, and for animation, you get a wider array of expressions. When moving from one medium to another, you lose some of these advantages and gain others. 

With animation character movements, expressions, and battles are limitless. With animation, any design can be created and animated in any way, unconstrained by the limits of reality. Some are realistic, some are hyper-expressive, some are exaggerated, and every one is unique. This contrasts that all live-action works, well, all have the same art style as in reality. Because of this, any adaptation of an animated work will lose this spark.

For examples of video games that had an easier time with this, take Fallout and The Last of Us. Despite their speculative elements, both have a generally realistic art style and realistic combat in terms of physics and weapons used. As such, its style translates well into live-action. On the other hand, take an anime adaptation such as Knights of the Zodiac, where the colorful and fluid action of the anime just doesn’t work in live-action. This applies to other live-action adaptations such as The Last Airbender and Fullmetal Alchemist

Exploring the Worlds of Games 

The next major benefit of video games in adaptation is their setting. For many video games, are not singular stories, but entire worlds. With games such as Fallout and Cyberpunk: Egderunners, their games were open-world and massive in scale. Because of this, they lent themselves very well to standalone stories. Works such as The Witcher, with its thousands of years of lore, lend themselves to these expanded universe stories that tell these events from the backstory. 

However, live-action adaptations of anime and cartoons don’t have this freedom. Usually, they are adapting the main story of the worlds they are set in. As with any adaptation, they have to truncate an entire season into a single two-hour film. Even when they aren’t hacking out the important parts of the story, they then do little to add to them. This applies to most live-action Disney movies, most of which have been despised by critics. 

As stated earlier, player agency is a massive component of video games as an art form. Unfortunately, this can lead to several video games not having a defined “protagonist” as much as they do a silent puppet for the player. With an adaptation, studios can insert a “defined” main character to follow, which fills a void intentionally left by the other medium. All too often, adaptations of anime and cartoons suck the life out of their existing leads. 

Is It Even Worth It? 

With so many misses for animated adaptations, is it even worth it to try and adapt them to live action? Given the reputation of these adaptions, many would say no. Even since the nineties, live-action adaptations have had a sordid reputation. It was only in this decade, beginning with Sonic the Hedgehog, that we finally started getting good video game adaptations. 

However, it would be wrong to give up on trying to adapt animation to live action entirely. The reason that these stories can be told so often is their adaptability. Many of the largest film sagas we know, Harry Potter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are adaptations of books. The thing is, video games are the players’ story. They are the journey they go on and the choices they make. An adaptation into a show or movie is just one way to experience that story.

Although, when adapting animation to live-action, the original is already an audio-visual experience. Often, animation gives the story the specific tools it needs to tell its story. Take Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal, which features no single word of dialogue yet has deep visual storytelling that viewers can’t get outside of animation. As such, a story told in animation cannot be brought to live-action without losing that spark. 

Video games and animation both have advantages and disadvantages in adapting to the screen. Whereas video games leave room to put in a singular story going through it, live-action adaptations of animation do little more than remove the unique appeal of the former medium. What this comparison shows is how each medium has its strengths that creators should know to make the most of each.

Fallout Official Amazon Prime Video Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Omid Rad is a freelance writer, movie lover and overall geek.