Horror Video Game Remakes And The Enigma Of Mediums

Scott Lukas
Scott Lukas

The meeting of video games and motion pictures is indeed, a perilous one. Like the fearfulness of modernity, the nightmarish landscapes and improbable realities projected in both video games and motion pictures suggest an interesting hybridity. More and more, there are growing affinities between video games and films, but at the same time, critics and everyday people often seem unwilling to accept such a union. Like the rampaging villagers in films such as ‘Frankenstein,’ audiences are quick to judge a union of the video game and the film as illegitimate. As Herbert Marshall McLuhan once wrote, “the meeting of two media forms institutes new and emergent forms and, in the process, inspires critical insights about media that we may take for granted. As well, such meeting problematizes the processes of remaking common, now, across all media.” This article explores the somewhat unholy meeting of two media forms that have come dangerously close to one another and how this meeting is played out in the films and the commentary surrounding ‘Doom’ (2005), ‘Silent Hill’ (2006), and ‘Resident Evil’ (2002).

Video games and movies are often seen as having separate origins, in part because exemplary forms of each — such as ‘Pong’ (1972) and ‘The Godfather’ (1972) — seem worlds apart. Film has been around much longer than video games and it also shares a much higher status as a form of high culture. Similarly, video games are associated with a youth demographic that is often written off as uncreative, impressionable, and playful.

Interestingly, events of the past show more affinities between these media than differences. Consider, for example, the outrage in the United Kingdom and the United States of America that erupted concerning purported claims about copycat killings related to ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1972) and ‘Natural Born Killers’ (1994), and also consider the claims that violent video games like ‘Doom’ led to the Columbine massacre. As well, in terms of fan identification with media, films like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ create loyalties deeper than many religions, as do video games like ‘World of Warcraft,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ and ‘Halo.’ At technical levels, films have begun to draw on video games, especially as action movie directors strive to increase the frenetic pace of their films, and video games rely on films, especially as more video games are developing extensive characterizations, storylines, and ambient universes. In a world of increasing intermedia, the effects of video games on films and vice versa are becoming more common and more profound.

In the contemporary world, forms of adaptation, remaking, and translation abounds. Etymologically, the prefix re-refers to “back to the original place,” “again” or “anew,” “restoration to a previous state or condition,” and the “undoing of some previous action.” In remaking then — whether a film, video game, text, or theme park ride — there is an inherent subversion of the original. This subversion may be enhanced when one medium crosses into the territory of the other medium. As Constantine Verevis once suggested, what generally distinguishes the remake from the adaptation is “the medium of the original artefact.”

The remake works within the same semiotic register, such as film, while the adaptation moves from one register to another, such as literature to film. However, I wish to expand the consideration of the remake as it applies to video games. Whereas the move of literature to film may be maintained as one of adaptation — since literature is generally the process of inscribing words on a page — the move of video games to film and films to video game increasingly reflect remaking rather than adaptation. This is mainly due to the fact that the lines distinguishing film and video games are becoming less distinct; there is a slippage at play between the film and the video game — that is simultaneously technical, cinematic, literary, and interpretative — that I will explore.

I will attempt to show that, contrary to some popular opinions, films based on video games are, in fact, not adaptations, but remakes, and that through the process of remaking a video game into a film, a notable cultural tension between media and about remaking is brought to the surface. Analysing the affinities between these two media provides the critic with valuable insights about both the process of film remaking in general and the specific circumstances that have led to the controversy over the role of video games in remaking.

In addressing the multiple transformative movements between the worlds of video games and film, I will consider both the remaking of films as video games and, primarily, the remaking of video games as films. I have chosen three popular video games for the analysis — ‘Doom,’ ‘Silent Hill,’ and ‘Resident Evil’ — because they are popular video games that each launched multiple game sequels and numerous product tie-ins and franchising; because like classic films, each is considered a classic video game; because they are radically different types of games in terms of interface (one is a first-person shooter, the others are third person), narrative (one is focused on visceral combat, the others on cinematic-like suspense and ambiance); because they each emphasise elements of horror, especially through their use of demons and zombies as villains; and because each of the games was remade into popular film versions. In addition to expanding the idea of remaking as a process of inter-media, I hope to offer insights on the value of video games as influences on film and culture in general, during the following weeks to come.

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