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07 October 2020

Examining the Relationship Between Films and Games

By // Games

Hollywood directors and video games developers both start out their projects with the same aim, to captivate and enthral their audiences and provide them with an escapism that helps to distract them from the mundanity of day-to-day life.

With the same goals and aims it is no wonder that the two separate industries share so many similarities. In this article we will examine the relationship between film and gaming, starting out with the history of their symbiosis before exploring specific examples of when the two have come together to engage and thrill fans.

The early days

The very first video game was created in 1958 by physicist William Higginbotham, but it wasn’t until the 1980s when the industry really began to take off. In comparison to modern standards the graphics and processing power of games in that decade were positively primitive.

Gaming graphics have come a long way since 1958, allowing for greater detail and a better user experience.

Unable to rely on great graphics and gameplay, video games producers were forced to think creatively and produce engaging storylines to captivate players. Industry experts often refer to this period as the Golden Age of gaming storytelling as developers were forced to think like film directors to make a success out of their games.

This era laid the groundwork for a relationship between film and gaming which really took off in the 1990s when 3D games made their way into the mainstream. 1997 saw the release of the first film to game collaboration that captured the public’s imagination – GoldenEye 007 on the N64.

This first-person shooter was fully licensed by the film franchise, featuring characters and music from the movie. It was a huge commercial success and importantly, it provided proof if it were needed to games developers that a collaboration between film and gaming could be successful.

The modern era

The 13 years after the release of GoldenEye 007 saw a plethora of crossover games based on blockbuster movies ranging from The Matrix to Toy Story. However, in 2010 film and gaming’s relationship advanced to the next level – cross media.

Games featuring longer cut scenes and more intense and engaging storytelling began to become more popular. Games that were essentially movies that players could control like Heavy Rain and Unchartered were played by millions of avid gamers.

Likewise, Hollywood began to recognise the popularity of video games and capitalise on it by producing feature length films based on classic gaming franchises like Assassin’s Creed. Charlie Brooker – the brain behind Black Mirror – even brought a film to Netflix that viewers could interact with and control like a video game.

The link between the two separate industries is now so blurred that it is often difficult to tell the two apart when a theatrical trailer is released.

Notable collaborations

There have been numerous examples of movies based on games and games that have taken their inspiration from the silver screen. To list them all would be a fool’s errand so allow us to pinpoint three specific examples that highlight the relationship between the two industries.

Beetlejuice: Games based on famous movies are nothing new, but something you might not be aware of is the proliferation of movie themes in the world of online slots. Gambling is a silent but sizeable contributor to the wider gaming industry and one way that it attracts is players is in producing licensed games based on cult films.

Beetlejuice is just one example of a successful movie themed slot, based on the 1988 fantasy comedy this slot game features licensed music, characters and images from the original film.

There are many other slots based on film – Pirates of the Caribbean, Nightmare on Elm Street and Jurassic Park to name but a few – that highlight the shared audience between game and film.

Detective Pikachu: The original Pokémon video game series is the second-best selling game franchise of all time with more than 368 million copies sold around the world. The success of the series in the late 1990s and early 2000s inspired a number of entertainment spin-offs including a TV show and various movies.

However, it wasn’t until 2019 that the gaming franchise was successfully adapted to the silver screen with the release of Detective Pikachu starring Ryan Reynolds. This commercial success of Pokémon Go which was released in 2016 was perhaps the inspiration for this latest Pokémon film which grossed $433 million in the Box Office.

Detective Pikachu capitalised on the success of Pokémon which was revitalised by the 2016 mobile game Pokémon Go.

Stars Wars Battlefront: The popular Star Wars series has been subject to a number of video game adaptations throughout the decades. None however have been as revolutionary as the first release in the Battlefront series.

The game was the first to incorporate an online multiplayer mode into the Star Wars universe and it was a phenomenal success. It became the fourth highest selling game of 2015 and the fastest-selling online PS4 game ever in the UK.

What it also did was show games developers that movie crossovers could be more than just gimmicky and nostalgic and that they could become great games in their own right.

Looking Forward

At time of writing there are an absurd number of video game/movie collaborations on the market and in development. Audiences appear to show no signs of falling out of love with crossovers and as such we can expect more collaborations in the future.

However, the nature of those collaborations may be something that is subject to change as directors and games developers look to create the next big thing. Over the course of the next decade it’s quite likely that we will see the establishment of a series of huge companies focusing on both film and game to further blur the lines between the two industries.

Whether that happens or not, the next ten years will be fun filled for movie lovers and gaming fanatics.

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