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Why are video game movies are all terrible?

2 min read

TL;DR: Plot is secondary to gameplay in most video games franchises. Epistemic Status: It’s media analysis, take it for what it is

Video game movies’ Rotten Tomato score averages around 25%. The new Sonic movie for instance seems decided to remind us video games don’t make good film source material.

An important reason for those movies failing creatively, I think, is that for many great video games the plot fairly irrelevant.

If you take any list of the most popular video game series, most entries will fit this criterion. Some games, like the Grand Theft Auto or Uncharted series, have more involved narratives, but most boil down to “save the princess”, “win the race” or “murder everyone”.

It’s important to differentiate between plot and worldbuilding. Many games with effectively no plot have good or even great worldbuilding. Some movies also fit this pattern: John Wick (the first one) and Mad Max: Fury Road have basically no plot, but are filled to the brim with world building. The movies focus on their action and beautiful visuals, and jam details into every character, location and trinket. This makes their fictional worlds compelling even if the movies have effectively no plot.

The video game Dark Souls goes a step further and almost spitefully hides the plot from you. While every sword, character and castle is filled with details and notes about their legendary history, you effectively have to go on the game’s wiki if you want to have a chance to decipher the plot.

Yet John Wick, Mad Max and Dark Souls are all praised by critics and have devoted fanbases. Because they don’t waste creative space on a plot that’s unnecessary, they can devote the rest of their effort in what makes them good.

Originally published on by Matt Ranger