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Can We Stop With the “Adaption Curse”?

The Last of Us is a TV show now, and a million websites have declared it the end of the Video Game adaption curse. But at this point it’s just a talking point.


This article won’t touch on The Last of Us – I’m not watching it until the series is finished – but instead on the hype around every new video game adaption as finally “breaking the curse”. It happened with Sonic, it happened with Mortal Kombat and it happens every time someone watches a film and doesn’t instantly hate it.

Has there been many great video game adaptations? No. That’s not because it’s cursed, it’s because the medium isn’t especially good at transferring over to more linear mediums. The Last of Us bucks that trend for obvious reasons. Any cutscene heavy action game stands a chance at being well-adapted, especially when it is as critically acclaimed as The Last of Us.

I mean, think about it. The cutscenes were motion captured, the “levels” basically exist as play interaction between story elements, and can be easily replaced with more filmic setpieces. It’s baffling that producers haven’t already caught onto the ease with which these games can be transferred. I would hope that films like Metal Gear Solid will go the same way – and not just because I’m a fan.

But even when you ignore all this, the “curse” narrative doesn’t stand up. The industry hasn’t inspired an adaption as beloved and influential as The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo’s book. It probably never will. That isn’t the level we should be holding things to.

Doing Well Enough – The Adaption “Curse”

Books are easier to adapt to film than games are. Games tend to be stylised, loaded with filler (for film, anyway) and unsubtle. Any story there tends to sandwich between the game itself, rather than being a key part of it.

But that doesn’t mean that what has been produced is necessarily bad. Angelina Jolie’s first Tomb Raider film is dated fun, Resident Evil helped to bring new crowds to the franchise, Detective Pikachu was a great take on that series. Sonic the Hedgehog was hugely popular (despite being disappointing). Uncharted, Warcraft, Rampage and Assassin’s Creed all made lots of money, and that’s about all I can say about those.

Talk of “the Curse” seems to hit every time a new adaption is released. Will this be the one to break it?

There is this idea that there has never been a successful game adaption. That just isn’t true. Whether you’re talking fan reception – Sonic is weighing in at 8.1 with fans on Metacritic – or financially.

The problem comes when you decide you want games to be taken really, really seriously. And it’s true, game adaptions don’t score well. Even The Last of Us with its universal acclaim is “only” sitting at an 84.

But as a fanbase we have to ask why that might be. And more importantly, why it bothers us so much. And if the answer is that game stories just usually stink – and it’s a fair answer – then that something we have to change.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott