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Finally, someone gets it.
For decades, Hollywood has been trying to take the story of a video game and then translate it into a film. And as of now, that plot has yet to bear a single juicy fruit. As Wreck-It Ralph shows, there is fertile ground there to be found. But it seems what they should’ve been doing from the start was to write a story and THEN set it in a video game.
Games have the unique ability to tell a story that involves the viewer directly, by making them a character in the story. No other form of media can engage the consumer to that degree, and for that reason I have always believed games have the capacity to weave rich yarns that stick with you, experiences you’ll remember forty years from now.
But film is a different medium altogether. When video game stories are adapted for the big screen, they lose that layer of interactivity, and inherently the story can never be the same in that format. I’m not going to argue that a good film based on a video game can’t be made, but I can only imagine it is a Herculean task.
Wreck-It Ralph succeeds as a fusion of game and movie, and it does it by flipping the script. All those studio execs looking for the next great game to bring to Hollywood should’ve been looking at the culture of games itself.
What Disney has essentially done is take the structure of Toy Story, where beloved children’s characters come to life when the kids are away, and sets it in the multiverse of the gaming world. Though the story actually occurs, somewhat anachronistically, in an arcade (when was the last time anyone saw kids flock to the arcade first thing in the morning?) the premise is the same. Just like Buzz in Toy Story, Ralph and the other characters in the film are struggling with their assigned identities.
The film has a universal message about accepting yourself for who you are that resonates with audiences young and old, and it does it without alienating viewers. A movie like this could’ve easily devolved into random wink and nod references to classic game franchises, like the Uwe Boll model of game-to-film adaption. But thankfully, the references are few and far between, and the ones that do show up reference classic, identifiable characters like Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. The occasional deep cut, like a graffiti tag that reads “Aerith lives” is a well hidden little morsel for eagle-eyed viewers.
The setting is rich with ideas, and I can easily see one or two sequels arising in a franchise. One of my favorite shows growing up was Reboot, and while the animation of that series looks antiquated by today’s standards, the idea of a world revolving around the NPCs living in games has ton of unexplored potential. Perhaps the next film could address the sad decline of the arcade, in Toy Story 3 fashion. Or maybe it could somehow introduce the characters to the horrors of online gaming. Though that film might require an NC-17 rating to accurately portray the language used by the average kid on Xbox Live.
I have high hopes for this franchise going forward. My first wish is that it will introduce young kids to classic games of my youth, even as “retro” oddities, so when I’m old and frail I can still relate to the young whippersnappers. But more importantly, I hope it brings gaming further into the mainstream and farther away from the idea of gaming as the deviant hobby that FOX News reports make it out to be.
After years of “will they/won’t they,” the relationship between games and movies has finally moved from “just friends” to “going steady.” I wish nothing but the best for those two crazy kids.