Hollywood has a history of adapting popular video games into movies, and the results have been…well, almost universally terrible. There are a few exceptions, of course, but it turns out that film executives don’t always have the greatest understanding of what makes the experience of playing a video game different from that of watching a movie. In a recent interview with The Guardian (via Empire), Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser explained why the folks at Rockstar won’t be lured into the same trap which many other game companies often find themselves ensnared, why we’ll probably never see a Grand Theft Auto movie, and why that might actually be a great thing.
“We’ve been offered, many times, and it’s never appealed. The money’s never been close to be worth risking one’s crown jewels. Our small dabblings with Hollywood have always left us running back to games. The freedom we have to do what we want creatively is of enormous value. The second you go near Hollywood, people seem willing, or have been forced, to lose a lot of that control. That sort of amorphous ‘that won’t test well’ attitude is exactly how we don’t work. We’ve always tried to think of stuff that’s innovative and new, and to go into a world where that’s not encouraged would be horrible.”
There’s definitely a culture of sameness to Hollywood blockbusters – just look at how many movies over the past few years have featured blue lasers shot from a skyscraper – and the way that Rockstar has continuously pushed boundaries completely goes against the Hollywood mentality. Houser doesn’t look down on films or longform TV series, but he just knows that it’s not the right fit for the kind of sprawling storytelling they love to do with this franchise.
“There’s still plenty of kudos in doing a film, but you shouldn’t ever do anything in your life for kudos. It’s much easier to imagine GTA as a TV series, as the form is closer, but I still think we’d be losing too much to ever actually do it. We’ve got this big open-world experience that’s 100 hours long, and that gives players control over what they do, what they see, and how they see it. A world where you can do everything from rob a bank to take a yoga lesson to watch TV, all in your own time. How do you condense that into a two-hour or 12-hour experience where you take away the main things: player agency and freedom?”
He hit the nail right on the head. Player agency is the key difference between games and cinema, and he elaborates a bit more here:
“Like all fiction, games are transportive, yet what makes them unique is that you follow your own eyes through the world. Games are, at one level, a progression on from a film – you jump off a cliff rather than a stuntman jumping off a cliff – but open-world games are actually more than that. It’s the being rather than the doing. You’re going to see different things than another player, and when you walk up a hill yourself and see the sun setting on the ocean, that’s a lot different to me taking a camera up there and making you see it.”
Absolutely. There’s a layer of manipulation in film that isn’t there with video games; a director can force a perspective on the audience in a movie, but when you give control to the audience, that perspective becomes an entirely different thing. It sounds like Houser has a good head on his shoulders and is pretty savvy when it comes to these kinds of decisions, so I don’t think we have to worry about a potentially terrible GTA movie hitting theaters as long as he has anything to say about it over at Rockstar.
Grand Theft Auto V hits shelves on Tuesday, September 17th.
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