I’ve often wondered why more TV shows don’t adapt or spin off in video game format, and it’s a mystery that I’ve yet to solve. I’d go as far as saying many TV production companies are missing fantastic opportunities, so I’ve compiled a list of reasons to adapt more shows into video games.
The biggest two positive outcomes revolving around this topic are fan base related. The first is a relatively simple one; giving your fans more to enjoy. I don’t think any fan of any TV show will refuse a chance to get more out of their beloved characters and plots. The chance to provide content that supports, explains, enhances or even just repeats events from a TV show is something not taken advantage of in modern media.
It goes without saying that the execution has to be spot on – the last thing anyone wants is a fandom backlash. It’s not up to this article to determine how best to execute such an adaptation, though I’ll be sure to give a few opinions. Before we get to the “hows”, however, there is another fan related reason for adaptations to be considering; new fans. Simpler than the first concept, releasing a video game is going to attract attention from a broader scale than just fans of the source material. The execution again is a factor, admittedly. If it’s a good game then people are going to care about it and there’s the chance for them to discover the source material.
There are a number of examples of TV shows that have succeeded in transforming their universe into that of a video game, and it is important to note the many different ways in which these adaptations have been successful. One of the more notable adaptations in recent memory is Trion Worlds’ “Defiance”, based on the Syfy show of the same name. Whilst perhaps a unique case in as much as the game ties-in directly to TV show events, the game and show have both received praise for their ability to stand alone and work together effectively. As an MMO, the video game half of the Defiance duo would not work if it could not be recognised and respected as a game in its own right. There are many games adapted from media that rely far too heavily on their source, and Defiance is the polar opposite of that. Being able to draw from events in the show, portray them in the game and let the players take part as though they are involved directly in the overarching plot is a massive success of this adaptation.
And now we come, inevitably, back to the point of execution. The risk of not doing justice to a series is likely a turnoff for a lot of potential adaptations, as good intentions don’t necessarily result in a good outcome. I have always felt TV shows are limited purely by the episodic nature in which they are released, and the chance to extend a story (prologue, epilogue or otherwise) comes very naturally when taking the TV universe into a video game. Movie adaptations face similar risks but are naturally backed better financially, which is why we see a lot of video games based on films – although they usually are a direct portrayal of their source. Alien: Isolation is a fantastic example of a game based on a film series that had its own story building from its origins, and succeeded. As long as there is well worked representation of the base material, an adaptation can be executed well as a game in its own right.
The flip side of this argument is that a game will pay too much fan service, and doing this can be the ultimate downfall to an adaptation. Not only does is mean that newcomers to the universe are playing catch up; it can often result in not enough attention being paid to the gameplay. Fine lines indeed. There are strong, undeniable reasons to play it safe and not risk traversing into a new medium of storytelling, but the positives cannot be ignored indefinitely.
I always have and always will feel that TV writers have so much more to offer and are limited by the nature of TV. Expanding a pre-existing universe into the realm of gaming gives such a scope and, if all the right boxes are checked, means all parties come out winning from the situation. I’d like to think that in a year or three we’ll all be talking about how many great TV show video games there are, but for now I’ll just keep campaigning.
All of this ultimately depends on the type of TV show in question. Many shows don’t fit the bill for a video game adaptation, often more realistic universes with less to explore. Fantasy based programmes, however, could provide the scope for a successful adaptation with the right studio behind it. Whilst a Breaking Bad or Mad Men video game would probably recreate the show’s storyline and offer little to interest fans of the series, we’ve already seen that a Game of Thrones adaptation can offer so much more due to the scope of its fantasy setting. These are all very ambitious and wishful thoughts, but with the right passion and support I can see a future filled with TV based video games.