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Sorry but The Last Of Us proved video game adaptations are pointless

Yes, it was good. But we don't need more franchises doomed to stay in the shadow of the original

The Last of Us

The Last of Us only flourished when it stepped away from the source material. Image: HBO

“Can’t believe it missed that bit of the game!” “Wasn’t that similar to how it went in the game!”

Whenever an episode of The Last Of Us had just aired, this was where the conversation in my group chat ended up. Sure, I was enjoying the series. It was critically acclaimed, moving. But the endless messages made me think: was it needed?

If you like video game adaptations, you’re in for a treat. We’re in a golden age of pointless adaptations. Gran Turismo (90 million games sold). Assassin’s Creed (200 million sales). Gears of War (40 million sales). All these and more are coming to the big and small screens.

Those statistics will tell you exactly why studios are so keen to unplug the controller and ram adaptations down the streaming pipes. An adaptation is a safe bet. But those numbers also point to the futility of it all.

We hardly need more franchises. In 2022, one Twitter user crunched the numbers, looking at the top 2,100 films from the past 40 years. He found original ideas were in decline – in 1981, 16 per cent of top 25 films were “sequels, spinoffs or remakes”. By 2019, that number had increased to 80 per cent.

https://twitter.com/ercjhnkrbs/status/1561284538940145664

It puts a number to something you’ll surely be feeling in your bones. A big day at the cinema one year is increasingly the same as it was the previous year. Another Ant-Man film isn’t exactly helping matters.

Let me pre-empt you saying ‘well we all love book adaptations’. Well done. You’re wrong, though. Books (the good ones) don’t have pictures. Video games do.

They also happen to be pictures millions and millions of people have already spent hours and hours experiencing. There’s an audience for having these experiences repackaged, glossed up and lightly washed of the Doritos dust. But what’s the point?

I won’t get dragged into a debate on quality. Yes, we’ve had some terrible attempts at live-action versions of Halo and Assassin’s Creed. But the issue isn’t that they tend to be terrible (this could surely be fixed), but that they neither can nor should escape the shadow of the source material.

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Even when done well, the metric of success is whether it was better or worse than the original game. As though the high point of popular culture is how well we can impersonate something millions of people already have a good idea of. It doesn’t serve existing fans, and it shortchanges wider audiences.

Take, again, The Last Of Us. It produced one of TV’s great episodes – a love story to leave you staring vacantly as the credits rolled – only when it took a wild turn from the storyline of the games. In other words, it only flourished when it wasn’t really The Last Of Us.

So what’s the alternative? How can we fight back?

I am a sicko. I don’t own a console powerful enough to actually play the new Call of Duty, so I’ll happily sit on YouTube watching a screen capture of somebody blasting through it on the lowest difficulty, just to get my kicks. It’s four and a half hours of the worst, but also kind of the best, action movie you’ve ever seen.

You might think this is a niche pursuit. On the most recent Call of Duty game (Modern Warfare 2, itself a remake which made over $1bn in sales) 7.5m viewers have done the same. I am, on reflection, perhaps not actually that weird. If you want somebody talking while they do the same, head to Twitch.

This might not be for you. Take it as a litmus test for whether you’re actually that interested in what’s in the game. Do you care enough about Gears of War to watch somebody playing it? No? That’s fine, but it hardly suggests you’re dying for it to be turned into a TV series.

All we ask for is something new – play your part in making that happen.

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