Last week, the Hollywood war machines insistent on taking great games and beating them into submission with clichés and cheesy dialogue introduced their latest combatant: Michael Fassbender, a.k.a. Callum Lynch in the “Assassin’s Creed” film adaptation.
Fassbender, darkly lit and clad in the iconic assassin robes, looks amazing. He actually looks a bit like Desmond Miles, the time-traveling hero of the “Assassin’s Creed” games.
As nerds, we trust Fassbender. He is a strong, capable Magneto in the “X-Men” films. He will be Steve Jobs. Heck, I can’t wait to see him be Macbeth. He can’t possibly do us wrong.
The costume fits his strengths. Mainly, it allows us to look into his eyes – the eyes that force us to feel things like sadness, anguish, anger or sexual attraction. This is a good-looking actor at the top of his career carrying a major adaptation of one of gaming’s biggest franchises.
We’re saved, right?
Yes, most game adaptations are awful. They are terrible on several levels. These films upset fans of the gaming franchise, who feel betrayed, as well as those non-gamers who had the misfortune of wandering into a screening of “Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li,” which I know for a fact took a year off of my life when I saw it the day it came out in 2009.
But there’s a sort of morbid fun video game fans take from these films. We know they are going to tank. We want to watch it happen. My friends and I play a game in which the only point is to get really hammered and see who can watch “Bloodrayne: The Third Reich” the longest before weeping for mercy.
We also have to remember that many game adaptations weren’t made for us; they are for children. When I was 7, I legitimately believed the “Super Mario Bros.” and “Mortal Kombat” movies were great films.
At 27, I know that Jean-Claude Van Damme was truly the worst choice ever for Guile in “Street Fighter,” but I will still watch it every time it comes on cable at 1:45 a.m. on a Tuesday. It isn’t conventionally good in a critical or artistic sense, but I love it. And that’s ultimately what matters.
The need to somehow legitimize video games’ artistic and narrative merits through film and TV adaptations worthy of Oscars and Emmys is silly. The gaming industry doesn’t need that. It is perfectly legitimate on its own.
Financially, gaming is already well beyond the film industry on a global scale. The Motion Picture Association of America reported $36.4 billion in global box office sales in 2014, while video game analysts at Newzoo released an $81.4 billion figure for the gaming industry last year. The MPAA figures don’t include DVD or Blu-ray sales, but it is safe to assume it isn’t close.
There’s some work to do as far as artistic acclaim; video games do not receive nearly enough credit for their artistic achievements. But I believe that is improving, and this recognition will come.
Even if the game industry does need a true praiseworthy film adaptation, Fassbender’s role in “Assassin’s Creed” won’t be enough to vault the movie into that distinction.
Let’s not forget that Dennis Hopper was King Koopa in the “Super Mario Bros.” movie. Ben Kingsley, an Oscar winner and real-life knight, couldn’t save “Bloodrayne” from director Uwe Boll’s clutches. Boll is the scourge of the gaming industry, having carved a lengthy career out of taking great games and adapting them into abominations of film.
One interesting wrinkle in the “Assassin’s Creed” adaptation is that French gaming publishing giant Ubisoft has created its own film and TV production company to helm the process. Maybe taking some of the traditional Hollywood machinations out of the process will yield a different result?
Whatever happens, let’s just enjoy “Assassin’s Creed” for what it will be – a simple action film. It probably won’t win any awards. It isn’t going to bring glory to gaming, just as “The Avengers” or “Batman” didn’t “legitimize” comic books. Comic books were awesome before Marvel started blasting out films, and they’re still awesome.
For the most part, gaming culture is simply popular culture. There’s no hierarchy for entertainment. Gaming is no better or worse than movies, paintings or opera. It’s all fun, and it’s all art.
Everyone plays games. Everyone is a nerd. Let’s all hug.
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