Games and Adaptations

[Research] (03.07.09, 2:33 pm)

Linda Hutcheon looks at an adaptation as a work that borrows or references another work while drawing attention to its influence. She sees adaptations as separate from sequels, in that the desire is different. A sequel or prequel or a fanfiction is a desire to continue the world and not let it end. I must disagree on this point. Mainstream games are works that tend to be either sequels or adaptations of films. There is additionally another phenomenon that is more frequent given the technological development in games, and that is the remake. A remake is less a sequel than an adaptation, but within the same medium and context, sometimes with more bells and whistles and so on. I think that all of these, remakes, adaptations, and sequels, are instances of the same phenomenon of continuing a text. This is Gideon Toury’s notion of breathing life into the text. (Although, admittedly, in this age the lives of games are increasingly short.)

Very frequently with game sequels, a plot may be developed and continued (as per literary sequels), but the essence of the game, the mechanics, are adapted. They are adapted to new content, they are adapted to new systems, platforms, and technologies, and they are adapted to new interface conventions. The “text” of the gameplay rules and mechanics is clearly an adaptation and not a sequel. Several interesting phenomena occur in game adaptations, especially in connection to the corpus of game-related films. I say game-related because there are a large body of films that have been adapted into games, and also a large body of films that have been adapted from games. Frequently the members of this latter category are deplored by critics and fans alike, but they take on interesting functions in terms of continuing the world.

A good example is the Silent Hill series published by Konami. Silent Hill is now officially in its fifth installment, but there has also been a PSP game, a comic book, and a film. The nature of the games is that they are not sequels that follow the same characters, but instead present different characters experiences in the nightmarish world of Silent Hill, and giving different perspectives on the same mythology. Both the film and the comic reinvent the mythology itself. They adapt and change not only the plot (which is not surprising, given the diversity of plots of the games), but also the underlying themes of the world. What is most fascinating though, is how the film (which was released after the fourth installment of the game) became a clear influence on the fifth, borrowing at least a couple of visual effects and devices that were used in the film. What is suggested by this is all of the works have something in common that is beyond the mythology alone, and this is an ur-mythology that conceptually links them together.

In addition to game and film adaptations, there are adaptations between game media. Some of the most common games that appear on every new computer that is bundled with Microsoft Windows, as well as on many handheld devices are games of solitaire. In this age of transmediation and media convergence, games appear on many different channels. For instance, World of Warcraft now has its own collectible card game and tabletop roleplaying game. It is also important to remember that Wolrd of Warcraft is a continuation of the original Warcraft franchise, so the mechanics have been adapted from real time strategy, to real time massively multiplayer, to turn based card game, to tabletop roleplaying. Common among these is not only themes and conventions, but also a particular reverence for the canon, the story of the world.

Game adaptations are not alone in their focus on canon. The hit TV series Lost, which is now in its 5th season (again, a work that has been heavily continued), has many sources that are interested in cataloging the canon of the show, and hypothesizing resolutions to the many mysteries that it presents. In addition to the television content, Lost has an alternate reality game that has created web sites for many of the fictional entities in the show, as well as Twitter feeds for the characters. Additionally, there is a video game released for the franchise, called “Lost: Via Domus”, that puts the player in the world, alongside the other characters, in effort to solve more of the mysteries independently. This game is very significant because it introduces a very different approach to the watcher/player’s engagement with the world of Lost. Interestingly, the game itself has been labeled by the authorities- the producers- as non-canon. The player-immersive experience, is thus an element excluded from what is given as the factual history of the show. More interestingly, the experience of playing a game, controlling an avatar thorugh a world, is an immersive experience. The type of experience given by the show, and its many media channels, is very different, this is an epistemophilic experience, not an immersive one. The epistemophilic experience is about learning the complete story about the world, as an external observer. The immersive experience is about being in the world, and learning about the world from within. All games tend to have a bit of both, and cultures around games will nurture both perspectives, but they are very different pleasures. I have not yet played Via Domus, but (being a glutton for punishment) I intend to, to see what it is about.

All of these give many different accounts of the adaptations of games, and the interaction between games and their surrounding contexts. I think that game sequels and the adaptations between the forms of games and between games and other media are different ways of continuing the world, either in terms of immersion or in terms of being able to comprehensively know and witness it. There is clearly not one way to make an adaptation, and certainly not one way to judge one. Of particular interest is the reverence, not for plot, but for canon. However, the space of games is fundamentally about interactivity, and in a sophisticated interactive world, cannon must be broken. Games thus exist at an uneasy junction between fixed factuality andinteractive freedom.

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