The Last of Us may have broken the main rule of video game adaptations

Miller time: Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller in HBO's 'The Last of Us' (HBO)

Miller time: Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller in HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ (HBO)

Sometimes, six words are all it takes to ruin a good thing. “Adapted from the popular video game.” When it comes to film and TV, few sentences are more sinister than this. Yet since the early days of the game, unfortunate live-action adaptations continue to emerge. Sometimes, the efforts have lived in disgrace: think of the surprisingly misunderstood Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo. Super Mario Brothers. (1993). Or gaudy, incomprehensible Assassin’s Creed (2016). Or hitman – such a good game that they adapted it twice (both with really awful results). So when it was announced that HBO would adapt what’s left of usWhen one of the most critically acclaimed video games ever made becomes a new big-budget TV series, it’s fair to say that even the most die-hard fans have reason to worry.

on the surface, what’s left of us – a gritty post-apocalyptic road tale about an exhausted, grieving smuggler (played by Pedro Pascal) and his young ward (Bella Ramsey) – it’s the perfect source material for a luxury genre series. If the critics are to believe, the 2013 game that originally aired on PlayStation 3 was already halfway to becoming a prestigious TV show, that’s how strong its story, script and motion-capture performances were. HBO’s series, which debuted this weekend on Sky Atlantic in the UK, proved conclusively enough that it remained dogmatically faithful to the original games, removing all dialogue sequences and staging most of its scenes in a similar fashion. To say it’s the best video game adaptation ever made sounds like a curse with mild praise, but it’s also indisputably true. Nick Hilton describes it in his four-star review as “undoubtedly a new milestone in the seemingly impossible task of adapting video games.” It’s a proper TV show, a well-made, gripping drama that has the potential to attract a substantial audience of both actors and non-actors. The big “curse” may have been lifted.

Why do video games have such terrible adaptations? There are several obvious reasons. The first of these is the structure. Almost all video games are built around the essence of the game, a series of repeated actions called the “game loop”. Even story-centric games like what’s left of us this is built around the idea of ​​loop. Go to an area, sneak around, kill some enemies, advance. Repeat. Movies and TV series, on the other hand, are not built around cycles but vice versa – journeys or arcs. A good story needs more than repetition. (Of course, narrative-centric games like this what’s left of us There are story arcs, but these are mainly conveyed through unplayable cutscenes.)

The unique appeal of video games is that they live in the perennial second person. Unlike movies or TV shows, games give the player power of representation – or at least the illusion of representation. There’s no way to really translate that into the passive mediums of film or television. Historically, many video game adaptations have struggled as their characters were designed around this idea of ​​”playability.” Mario brothers; Tomb Raiderfrom Lara Croft; hitmanAnonymous Agent 47. These are not characters designed with personality in mind. These, or at least initially, were simply empty, colored containers for the player to manipulate. Not people, puppets. This is a problem what’s left of us Indeed, the task for fans of the game was actually to preserve the depth and humanity of the existing characters.

Bella Ramsey in 'The Last of Us' (HBO)

Bella Ramsey in ‘The Last of Us’ (HBO)

In the early days of game-to-film adaptations, when video games were considered primarily children’s entertainment, they were often made by people with only a loose understanding of the medium itself. (Again, we’re back to the lowest point. Super Mario Brothers.) Now, this is not always the case. For example, a major reason Netflix’s fans witcher It was because the adaptation fell so much in love with Henry Cavill’s lead performance that he was a vocal and sincere fan of the games that inspired him. what’s left of us similarly made clear his respect for the source material – Neil Druckmann, the game’s original author, co-created and co-wrote the series. ChernobylFrom Craig Mazin.

It may be too soon to tell the sea change. Even if you look back at last year, there are a lot of poor quality live-action game adaptations released. undiscovered with Resident Evil with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It can be what’s left of us just an anomaly, the exception that proves a time-tested rule. But you never know – who can say this isn’t a sign of things to come? Maybe the limit is closer to the sky than we think.

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