Nel post precedente ho fatto riferimento al videogioco Tron: Evoution, che nel franchise Tron si frappone, dal punto di vista narrativo, tra il primo lungometraggio, del 1982, e quello uscito a fine 2010 negli Usa (gennaio 2011 in Italia).
A partire dalla fine degli anni novanta il reciproco interscambio tra cinema (o serialità televisiva) e videogame s’è fatto via via più fitto. In un interessante articolo, How a Salad Bowl Can Improve Transmedia Storytelling: Integration and Convergence in Film and Game Development, Trevor G. Elsington individua tre tipi di videogiochi ispirati a film per il grande schermo:
– i videogiochi che riprendono i personaggi, gli eventi narrati nel film, senza aggiungere elementi all’universo finzionale del lungometraggio e che quindi vengono sviluppati in una prospettiva di fruizione espansa, ma non come rilanci crossmediali della narrazione filmica: la storia raccontata è sempre la stessa, ma adattata al medium videoludico;
– i videogiochi che esplorano aspetti dell’universo narrativo lasciati inesplorati nel film e che, tuttavia, per essere pienamente compresi, presuppongono che il giocatore s’approcci al videogame dopo aver visto il lungometraggio cinematografico. In questo caso viene meno quel presupposto di indipendenza dei singoli moduli narrativi di un franchise crossmediale di cui ho già parlato, e questo può incidere negativamente sull’esperienza di gioco e sullo stesso successo commerciale del videogioco, che finisce per individuare il proprio target di riferimento nei fan onnivori del franchise;
– i videogiochi che esplorano aspetti dell’universo narrativo lasciati inesplorati nel film, ne ampliano i confini, e riescono a risultare attrattivi e coinvolgenti anche per chi non ha visto il lungometraggio, garantendo un’esperienza di intrattenimento soddisfacente anche se fruiti isolatamente rispetto agli altri segmenti del franchise.
Di seguito riporto un lungo estratto dell’articolo di Elsington (i link ed i video non sono parte del paper originale), che oltre a individuare le tre tipologie di trasposizione videoludica che ho appena sintetizzato, ne fornisce molteplici esempi e cerca di individuare le ragioni per cui molto spesso la critica non li accolga positivamente, fornendo una panoramica delle potenzialità e dei rischi di un’espansione narrativa crossmediale realizzata attraverso un videogioco. Buona lettura…
«[…] not all filmlicensed games are equal; distinct categories exist within the larger category of licensed adaptations. The most common variety is the direct film adaptation, in which a videogame closely follows the film narrative by directly converting film events into interactive gameplay. This is also the largest category, yielding recent examples like the Spiderman 2, Fantastic Four, and Harry Potter games (EA). While exceptions occur, they are also among the most commonly criticized games on the market, seen as attempts to quickly cash in on the hype of a particular film release. A title that exemplifies this trend as well as the common problems in film-to-game adaptation is Vivendi Universalís Van Helsing adaptation from 2004.
Metacritic shows Van Helsing receiving 64 based on forty-one reviews. Comments on the game ranged from lukewarm to savage, with one reviewer concluding, Van Helsing is a shining example of whatís wrong with games based on movies (Dodson). So what went wrong? Critics pointed to shallow, unchallenging gameplay, mediocre graphics, and a predictable narrative based directly on the film. But more significantly, critics point to limited camera locations within the game space, presumably designed to offer a sense of the film’s cinematography, that limit the ability to see important objects in the game or maneuver effectively during combat. Opponents attack from off screen, depth of field becomes impaired to the point that players have difficulty gauging their attacks, and in general, the camera often hides more than it reveals (Lewis; GamesRadar). The limited camera movement reduces players to a set path, similar to an actor hitting his marks, shuttling players along a linear level design in order to work through events mandated by the film. In effect, the game becomes similar to laser-disc based games like Dragon ís Lair and Space Ace, in which game play becomes a process of memorizing which move to make at what time, thus severely hampering any notion of interactive or emergent gameplay. And finally, critics point to perhaps the most common complaint about film-to-game adaptations: an over-reliance upon cutscenes. Players are not rewarded with events within the interactive game space, but instead play up to a climactic point, after which the game engine takes over and delivers a canned cinematic. Not only does the design choice rupture the sense of immersion in an interactive space, it also undoes the basic idea of games, which is that they are subject to player control. The game defeats itself by trying to be too much like the film, or embracing a melting pot approach. As one critic summarizes, Unfortunately, all the cool stuff happens during the cut-scenes (Dodson). It is a flaw seen repeatedly in the games of this genre.
A second type of licensed adaptation can be found in what Henry Jenkins calls transmedia storytelling, where each media product contributes to an overall narrative world. The most notable example of this genre are the various products associated with The Matrix films. For the purposes of this paper, it is most accurate to discuss the two Matrix sequels and the game as separate from the original Matrix film, in that the larger transmedia project was released in connection with The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, and the reception of these films was significantly different from the original film. Despite collectively earning over $800 million at the box-office, revenue fell markedly from the second to the third film, and both films saw significant drop in revenue after the opening week. Both facts suggest a word of mouth effect that cooled interest from the first film. Critical reception of the films focused on the tangled narrative, apparent plot holes, and undeveloped tangents. Roger Ebert, professing to like the films, writes that his admiration for Revolutions is tempered by the awkward fact that I don’t much give a damn what happens to any of the characters before concluding with a significant wink that finally I measure my concern for him not in affection but more like the score in a video game (Ebert). Likewise, game critics emphasized the unfinished feeling of the game, shallow and repetitious gameplay, confusing narrative, and a general lack of polish (Turner; Liu). Not surprisingly, then, Enter the Matrix receives a 62 across thirty reviews on Metacritic. Jeff Gerstmann reflects a common complaint when writing the game serves as little more than an advertisement for the film ñ it doesn’t have a story that stands on its own, and the gameplay doesn’t really offer anything that we haven’t seen in better games (Gerstmann). He notes the gameís tendency to sacrifice game play for special effects and cut scenes, such that players are asked to play up to a critical moment only to have the game engine take over and deliver a canned animation. Part of critical response to the game is clearly motivated by the gameís unusual design strategy. Unlike Van Helsing and other, more straightforward adaptations, Enter the Matrix chooses to develop narrative lines that are often in the background of the film narrative. Not only does this require that gameplayers see the film in order to fully understand game events, it constantly points to the existence of other products that will complete the whole narrative of the project. What Gerstmann interprets as advertising for the film may be in fact seen as an unusual attempt to tell a story across media. However, seen from a gameplay perspective, the design strategy leads the game too much in the direction of a film. In other words, the critics of the game and film argue that in trying to be more like each other, each text manages to sacrifice the strength of its own medium without realizing the strengths of the other. As such, the Matrix project employs a melting pot strategy that, while financially successful, resulted in a selfdefeating design that met with growing fan resistance leading to diminishing financial returns. Furthermore, as I will discuss below, the criticism received for feeling unpolished suggests the possibility that the project did not receive adequate production time.
In contrast to Van Helsing and similar to Enter the Matrix, EAís The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age attempts something near transmedia storytelling by allowing players to direct original characters through their own adventures in the larger world of Middle Earth. While the initial games based on The Lord of the Rings film license are typical interactive walkthroughs of the corresponding film events, The Third Age is first of the series not based directly on a film. In The Third Age, characters pursue an original storyline which at times intersects with film events, providing the larger picture of what happened before, during, or after the heroes of the movies pursue their quest; however, it is not necessary to play the game in order to understand film events or vice versa, as critics suggest is the case with The Matrix project. Reactions to the game were generally favorable, and the title receives 73 across thirty-four reviews on Metacritic. What criticism that is offered focuses specifically on the common flaw of relying on cinematic form over interactivity. In her review for GameSpot, Bethany Massimilla notes the gameís tendency to communicate narrative exposition through cutscenes; Gandalf (Ian McKellen), a major character from the books and films, reveals story information directly, rather than characters interacting with each other or the game world in order to reveal narrative. She argues that you are explicitly told what has happened and what will happen instead of actually seeing it happen, and it serves to somewhat distance the player from the whole experience (Massimilla). In this, the game recreates some of the faults of Enter the Matrix, in that its narrative strategy relies too heavily upon the reception model offered by film, rather than the interaction model that people desire from games. However, in general, this critic concludes that the game play is strong enough to offer a compelling experience, and more importantly, fans of the books and films will enjoy the chance to explore Middle Earth and interact with the major characters while augmenting the clear narrative lines set by Tolkien. There is an attempt to let the game maintain its own specific strengths and purpose within the larger project, as well as explore the larger canvas of this fictional world without being too greatly impeded by the events of the films. Clearly, The Lord of the Rings project has an advantage in that its fanbase was pregenerated by the popularity of Tolkienís fiction and the numerous products already developed in connection to the license, ranging from art calendars and role-playing games to fan conventions. But the point remains that where The Third Age is critiqued, it is for the moments where it fails to be a game in its attempt to be more like a film; where it succeeds is where it plays upon the strengths of the game medium and offers players the chance to fully explore a larger fictional world. While not self-defeating to the degree of the previous two games discussed, The Third Age does run the risk of converging upon a melting pot form in that it occasionally relies on film conventions to advance a videogame narrative.
Escape from Butcher Bay offers a third category of film/game convergence. While drawing upon the Chronicles of Riddick world seen in Pitch Black (2000, David Twohy) and its sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004, David Twohy), the game explores a separate and distinct narrative not directly reliant upon film events.
As such, the game is unlike direct adaptations like Van Helsing, with their directly imitative narratives, or transmedia projects like Enter the Matrix or The Third Age, which while containing separate narratives, are nevertheless reliant on film elements to complete the entire storyline. Escape from Butcher Bay was enthusiastically received by critics, receiving an aggregate score of 89 across eighty-one reviews. GameSpot reviewer Greg Kasavin notes,
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay is one of those exceedingly rare types of games that delivers exceptionally high quality through and through and single-handedly ups the ante for all similar games. The fact that it also happens to be based on a movie franchise ñ something that’s usually a bad sign for a game ñ makes it all the more incredible. (Kasavin)
Escape from Butcher Bay overcomes the stigma attached to film franchise games and becomes that rarest of products, the critically successful film-to-game adaptation. Unlike the previous three games discussed, Escape pursues its own distinct narrative with a minimum of overtly cinematic elements. Players guide Riddick as he escapes from maximum-security prison Butcher Bay, a prequel event to the film narratives. The advantage here is that, while remaining within the same story world and revealing details directly related to the films, the game is not hemmed in by the film narrative. Developers can more easily avoid the temptation to make the game like a film, as in this case, there are no specific film events that need to be related within the game narrative and there are no film scenes to be used as cutscenes. The game offers developers, and therefore players, the best of both worlds; it explores a common narrative world and enhances the depth of the story while not becoming a paler imitation of what is already available in the films. The project pleases fans of the films without alienating players more interested in the game.
The theme that emerges from the critical response to these four games presents a challenge to multimedia franchising as well as the idea of transmedia storytelling. For a straightforward adaptation like Van Helsing, which does not attempt to diverge from the film narrative to any significant degree, the connection to a mainstream film becomes more of a deficit than an asset in terms of gameplay. Already skeptical about licensed film franchise adaptations, critics find little original content to praise and too many cinematic-based handicaps to criticize. Likewise, much of the critique of The Matrix texts, films and otherwise, is that they do not stand on their own merits; the game feels to much like a film, to the point that gameplay agency is sacrificed to its narrative needs and the general attempt to capture a cinematic sense, whereas the films contain large holes that only make sense when filled by the games, short films, and comic books. The Third Age seems to be at its strongest in the moments it is least dependent upon the films, and yet it attempts to maintain a strong connection to cinematic conventions. Certainly, some of this is mandated by the fan scrutiny under which the Lord of the Rings products were created. Nevertheless, for both Enter the Matrix and The Third Age, it is clear that the films set the project agenda and the game developers have designed accordingly. The reasons why this approach usually leads to inferior games will be discussed below. For the moment, suffice it to say that developers moving toward film form end up defeating their own ends by alienating gameplayers. Escape from Butcher Bay, by pursuing a design based on a prequel to film events and not the film events themselves, is free to explore a more interesting alternative. The game capitalizes upon the strengths explored by Enter the Matrix and The Lord of the Rings games without duplicating their weaknesses, specifically meaning that the film agenda does not take over the game agenda. Unlike Enter the Matrix or the Lord of the Rings games, there are no pre-existing scenes from the film that the player is working toward or set events that must happen within the game design. The game developers, and thus players, are free to explore the common transmedia narrative.
Critics repeatedly point to the problem of games working at cross-purposes to themselves. Narrative structure is not the issue; as Escape from Butcher Bay demonstrates, it is possible to have narrative structure within a game and still preserve satisfying gameplay. However, in attempting to be more specifically cinematic via a reliance on film convention, videogames run the risk of giving up their own unique strengths. While Henry Jenkins is likely correct in suggesting that transmedia storytelling is the way of the future for a large section of the entertainment industry (Jenkins), in transmedia storytelling, each text must be able to stand alone and perform efficiently and effectively according to the merits and demands of its own medium. Despite media convergence, a game is not a film is not a comic book. So why do game developers largely maintain a directly imitative or cinematic approach when designing these kinds of games? The problem is two-fold. One, there is a procedural conflict between how games and films are developed, which leads to conservative melting pot designs. Driving this problem is a second and larger issue of economic and cultural legitimacy. The videogame industry imitates the film industry because films generate more money and have achieved greater cultural acceptability.»
Filed under: crossmedia, segnalazioni, transmedia, videogame | Tagged: . Escape from Butcher Bay, henry jenkins, jenkins, matrix, pitch black, ps2, riddick, The Chronicles of Riddick, the lord of the rings, the third age, transmedia storytelling, van helsing, xbox |