Last month I wrote a piece outlining Hollywood’s recent fervor in bringing beloved video game IPs to the big screen. Problem is, most of the properties that are currently either announced or rumored are all from the big name AAA space. Which is understandable given what these films will likely cost to produce, and so having widely recognizable names like Mario helps to mitigate the potential box office risks. Still, as I mentioned in my writing, some of the most interesting narratives of the past decade haven’t come from the hundred million dollar titles, but rather the indie space.
Blumhouse and the director of Megan did recently release an adaptation to the incredibly popular indie horror franchise, Five Nights at Freddie’s, however its reception was mixed amongst critics. Even though audiences did seem more positive on it if Rotten Tomatoes is anything to go by, personally speaking, FNAF isn’t exactly the type of property that comes to my mind when thinking of potential video game film adaptions. I understand its lore is deeper than the games may outwardly present, and horror is always going to be an easy cash cow for the theatergoing experience, but there are so many more titles—especially ones that may not be as widely known—that deserve a chance at making it on to the big screen. So, let’s take a look at three more games whose stories resonated with me, and I personally feel would make wonderful film adaptations.
South of the Circle – The Political Thriller With A Heart
Set during The Cold War, where the U.S and Russia are having a measuring contest of the phallic nature with their WMD’s, this game puts you in the shoes of Peter, a Cambridge university lecturer struggling to finish his paper on cloud radiation in the hopes to be promoted as a full time professor. Though its story is geopolitical in nature, it’s told through the relationship between Peter and Clara, an undergrad student at Cambridge who strikes inspiration in Peter, but more importantly, helps him find a breakthrough in his paper. While playing, I was hesitant with the idea of connecting such a vast historical topic with a romantic plot thread, but the way in which the game presents both stories you realize that by the end of it all, everything connects beautifully. The game tells a greater story of the structures and follies of male dominated politics, and how even those men who find themselves the “good ones,” still fall into, disregard, or enable those clear structures for their personal gain.
South of the Circle already feels like a playable movie with how its point-and-click and QTE mechanics blend in with its cinematics, giving you a sense of urgency from the get-go. Though I feel so much of the game, both with its distinct art-style and its moment-to-moment gameplay, tells its narrative through the medium of a video game so well, I can still see it translating to an enthralling big-screen thriller.
Dot’s Home – An Intimate Drama With A Strong Message
Another point-and-click adventure game, Dot’s Home puts you in the shoes of a young black woman named Dot who lives in her grandma’s home in Detroit. The premise of the game is simple, as Dot you find a mysterious key that unlocks a door and allows you to go back in time to discover how your grandparents came to buy their beloved house; reliving key moments in both their lives as well as your parents, and the struggles all of them had to face in regards to race and inequality. From the history of redlining, predatory lending, the destruction of communities by massive real estate companies, and how all these things have historically been tied with racism — affecting non-white families and communities specifically throughout the decades — Dot’s Home has a clear and strong voice as it tackles these important issues, and never shies away from taking a stance; rightfully so.
Once again, very easy to see this translating into a riveting drama if given to the right production team. Though I think a miniseries could work better to explore all of the story’s themes, while also giving each character their proper arc, a 120+ minute runtime could still get the job done. One aspect that I think could be a bit of a challenge, and why I think a story like this resonates as much as it does due to it being a video game, is the existence of multiple endings. Depending on the choices you make, you see one of three possible endings of what Dot’s future becomes, each of them being vastly different from each other. The endings play a key role in giving commentary of the larger sociopolitical issues in regards to real-estate and community, so finding a way to translate that to film is very important.
Disco Elysium – The Psychological Murder Mystery With A Political Core
Anybody who’s played this game knows that its inclusion on a list like this is of no surprise; rather its omission in my first article could be seen as a gross oversight. A game whose script consists of over one million words, Disco Elysium is known for its immensely dense and evocative writing and world-building. On the surface, the game tells the story of an amnesiac detective tasked to solve the murder of a hanged man. However, the deeper he delves, the more mysteries he uncovers both in himself and the seedy underbelly of the impoverished town of Revachol.
From its intricately written politics, to its cast of incredibly realized characters, and its overall oppressive tone, Disco Elysium is rife with content, which even a sliver of could be made into a captivating film. This is one of those cases again where I think a miniseries would be better suited to fully realize the breadth of this game’s world and characters, but some efficient cuts both in the writer’s and editor’s rooms could bring out a focused narrative that’s able to get across all the depressing nuances of this wonderfully bleak yet heartfelt story.
That being said, the main challenge for a film adaption (at least in America) is actually more to do with the game’s politics, and whether a Hollywood-funded, American-owned distributor would be willing to make a film whose developers are openly communist. Developers ZA/UM are astutely aware of the nuanced follies of our political spectrum, and critique the gamut of ideologies that separate us. However, when it comes down to it, they never shy away from firmly taking a stance. Stances aren’t usually something producers of Hollywood like taking, unless of course the focus-testing shows that doing so will result in an uptick at the box-office, which usually doesn’t consist of pro-Marxist narratives.
Nevertheless, Disco Elysium remains one of if not the best written game I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. If a film adaptation can do justice to its writing with great direction and performances, all the while keeping honest with both its politics and grit, then the result may very well be a cinematic masterpiece that would gobble up even the most prestigious of Hollywood’s awards.
Is there an indie game that you think could make for a good blockbuster? Or at least decent award bait at Cannes and Sundance? Let us know in the comments!