HILL: How Video Games Can Save Comics.

It’s a difficult reality for many to accept, but video games are changing the role of genre in modern culture. I teach narrative principles to teenagers when I have the time, and what I’m noticing is that for a lot of young people, video games are where they’re falling in love with characters. They still watch movies, almost by reflex, but they don’t talk to me about film characters. They talk to me about Dante’s backstory from DEVIL MAY CRY, or why Niko Bellic is pretty cool, but kinda boringas he burns the world in GRAND THEFT AUTO IV. They argue with me about whether Commander Shepherd is a woman or a man as he/she saves the universe from the Collectors in MASS EFFECT 2. One of them asked me if there were any movies like Rockstar’s upcoming RED DEAD REDEMPTION. 

Heh. 

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He thought this was cool. And it is. So I showed him this:


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He didn't even know movies like the above existed. 

There’s a generation, probably two generations, that are falling in love with genre because of high definition gaming. But unlike AVATAR where everyone is seeing it but no one remembers a single character, this generation is bonding to the characters they play. Which makes sense since most games require you to interact with these characters for 8 to 10 hours, and most movies, especially genre films, tucker out around 90 minutes. 

And frankly, most genre movies wallow in mediocrity these days. If LETHAL WEAPON came out today, it would get marketed as a violent indie-drama and garner a best picture nod. 

Gaming also presents big budget diversity, which is a near-impossibility in the current studio system. In games, you have female characters commanding 200 million dollar worlds, ethnic lead characters, lead characters that aren’t even human at all. The financial and cultural realities of Hollywood won't ever allow that to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future. Hollywood, as a business, has to play to the slowest speed of progressive culture, so they can make money from everyone and offend no one. Gaming, having begun as a sub-cultural movement, is allowed more creative freedom. 

In the beginning of video gaming, the war was over interactivity. Technology struggled to give the player more to do than eat pellets and play digital tennis. Now the current gaming engines allow players to shoot anything in the face, or make a dialogue decision that changes an entire world. Realizing this, game developers are taking a greater interest in using narrative to fuel their experiences. 

2K’s SPEC OPS: THE LINE clearly evokes APOCALYPSE NOW, or more accurately the horrors of war and tribalism outlined by Joseph Conrad in his classic novel HEART OF DARKNESS. 

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Concept Art from 2K's SPEC OPS: THE LINE (coming this year) 

MASS EFFECT 2 is the lives up to the promise of the science fiction epic that BLADE RUNNER made us back in 1982. GRAND THEFT AUTO IV isn’t a crib of crime drama, it’s an original story with a bold perspective on American criminal ambition and the price of revenge. 

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 I don't want to see the film version of this because it can't possibly be as pure...

...but a comic? Hells yeah. Someone call Brian Azzarello, please. 

Despite all of this, Comics still seem intent on mainly adapting movies, and being nothing more than shotgun marketing for mid-budgeted genre films that will die on the second weekend before the inevitable suicide plunge to DVD. 

However, some people get it. 

The MASS EFFECT tie-in comic is selling extremely well for Dark Horse, and it should because it’s solid and MASS EFFECT is a universe definitely worth exploring in sequential art. IDW is publishing a DRAGON AGE comic and while I don’t enjoy Orson Scott Card’s homophobia, he can spin a decent story so that might be worth the price of admission. 

But it’s not about what I think. I’m 32. I’m old and irrelevant. It’s about the tweens and teenagers I know who are more eager to purchase this stuff than they are Batman and Peter Parker. 

Many professionals in comics seem to be in a cold flop-sweat about bringing new readers to what they like to publish, but they should be up late publishing things that these potential customers want to read.

There are more than a few game-to-comic adaptations out there, but few of them really make a sincere attempt to tell a strong story. You read them, and you can see the creators and publishers collecting checks and giving an afterthought to the experience of the reader. Most of them are 20 page, “buy the game” ads that charge you money to advertise to you. I imagine that sells more often than it doesn’t, but that’s not capitalizing on the potential. 

An exception are the HALO tie-in books, edited by Ruwan Jayatilleke, in particular the HALO: UPRISING series written by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. 

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This is a beautiful example of everyone involved taking the endeavor seriously. From BUNGIE (the developer) to MARVEL (the publisher) on down to the and the editors and creators. The result is a pretty damn fantastic story that helps humanize the HALO universe. 

And a lot of the teenagers I know want to read that long before they'd pick up a copy of JLA. 

The Land of Gaming is a field of missed opportunities. I’d love to see a mini-series based on: Rubi from Bethesda’s WET. The world of Rockstar’s RED DEAD REDEMPTION. How about a fearlessly funny story following Eddie Riggs from Tim Schafer’s BRUTAL LEGEND? Faith from EA/DICE’s MIRROR’S EDGE...there’s a lot of narrative gold in them hills, a lot of intellectual properties that could use a four to six issue yarn. When the gestation period of a video game is between 2 and 3 years, fans hungry for more of that world will most likely be drawn to the comics that help them revisit the characters they’ve spent so much time playing. 

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But it’s about more than entertainment. It’s about introducing a new generation to the power of an art form and making sure that comics are creating new younger fans and not playing to the superhero fancies of old men like me. It’s about telling stories in a market that could use more narrative development, stories about characters that are often times more rich than anything at the local multiplex. It’s about the comics industry stopping their machinations to change popular culture to what they want it to be, and recognizing what it is, taking advantage of the massive opportunities that exist in the biggest narrative growth market.

And for the record, Commander Shepherd’s first name is “London.”  She looks like Gillian Anderson from season 3 of the X-Files, and she turned the adversity she faced as a female ship commander into the fuel she needed to save the universe. 

All male Commander Shepherds are lies, especially that default character model in those MASS EFFECT 2 commercials.

About The Author: Bryan Edward Hill writes screenplays and comics, currently you can check is co-written series with Rob Levin, BROKEN TRINITY: PANDORA'S BOX published by Top Cow Productions, in stores on 2.24.10 Follow him on twitter: @bryanedwardhill or his blog: The Bryan Hill Project. As always, Bryan Hill asks you to drink responsibly. 

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