The James Clayton Column: video game vitality

Why taking masterpieces from movie history and turning them into games could be a very good thing...

There’s something strange in your neighbourhood. Who you gonna call? Once upon a time you’d ring up the gang from Ghostbusters at the first inkling of anything untoward and uncomfortably out-of-the-ordinary. Sadly though, I’ve a feeling that threatened communities would have contacted someone else over the course of recent years. Undisturbed and untroubled by any kind of paranormal peril, Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston sit bored back at base as the Ectomobile rusts over.

In the post 9/11 climate of panic and suspicion, it’s more likely that people would instantly make an anxious assumption that anything odd was a terrorist plot and pass straight by everyone’s favourite cinematic parapsychologists. Instead of incarceration in an ecto-containment unit, I imagine that this course of action would see Slimer tasered, bagged-and-tagged and taken without trial to Guantanamo Bay. After several days of waterboarding torture, the CIA secure a confession that Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s 1984 rampage through Manhattan was backed by Al-Qaeda, and that Slimer himself had been conspiring to ectoplasmically attack Barack Obama. UN human rights protocol doesn’t extend to poltergeists so, stuck in Gitmo, Slimer’s pleas to Amnesty International go unanswered.

In view of the atrocities of extraordinary rendition being used on ethereal elements, it’s altogether good news then that the parapsychologist team are back on the scene and that Ghostbusters as a concept has returned to receive some rays of limelight. Though vague plans have been mooted over the years and rumours of a new sequel have cropped up every so often, recent talk about taking the Ghostbusters franchise forward has got more substance and stands as a solid prospect.

It’s all thanks to the creation of the spin-off video game of Ivan Reitman’s hit comedy which has succeeded where other tie-ins have failed and got most of the original acting talents back together to revisit their roles. Not just a facilitator for the ghostbustin’ fantasies of gamers the globe over, through this extratextual endeavour the entire franchise and all associated with it have been given a galvanising injection of fresh life.

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Contrary to the all-too-common associations with couch potato culture, video games once again are thus proved as a source of vitality. In the case of Ghostbusters, the controller-thwacking spin-off has reunited the cast and revived their enthusiasm and also presented the possibility of plot extension. Just as the individual game player joins the team as a novice buster, Ghostbusters 3 would see the ageing parapsychologists passing their proton packs on to a bunch of new recruits. It’d be a sort of Ghostbusters: The Next Generation scenario with fresh-faced comedians assuming the roles of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, ready to firmly reboot the ‘80s franchise for the new millennium.

As well as assuring that the torch-passing and transition between two epochs runs smoothly, the approach adopted by Ghostbusters through video gaming also keeps the series’ true spirit going. Far from being the sort of tacky tag-on that tramples all over the legacy of its forebear (see such cynical soul-destroying works as Charlie’s Angels, Starsky & Hutch and the live-action Thunderbirds movie), the game exists as an authentic entity that, I’d say, presents a path to the future and doesn’t douse the golden past under a golden shower. Instead of peeing all over a pop-cultural icon, contemporary computer gaming actually preserves the real essence of the franchise.

Nostalgia and new technology are by no means incompatible, and other recent video game adaptations of ‘old’ movies have operated in a similar way. Interactive spin-offs of crime classics such as The Godfather, Scarface and The Warriors have all been effectively rendered and have received a positive reception over the past few years. It’s great that humble consumers can now live their dream of fighting the Baseball Furies and blowing away rival drug barons in a hail of bullets from the convenient safety and comfort of their own home.

The idea of taking a much-loved masterpiece from movie history and re-introducing it to the masses in computer game format also ensures that the original doesn’t get ignored or forgotten. I reckon that a significant number of teenagers (the core target audience in gaming demographics) have been turned on to Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia trilogy purely as a result of playing The Godfather as a video game. Having been hooked in through home entertainment, new age kids of the console no doubt find themselves exploring a new world of cinema that they would otherwise have not been exposed to.

It’s a reassuring thought that new generations will know about and be encouraged to engage with the goldie oldies years after they’ve been released, especially when the threat of ruinous remakes looms large. To turn to The Warriors as a case in point, it’s a great bonus that the official game of Walter Hill’s 1979 cult film arrived before Tony Scott’s revisionist big-screen blockbuster. If the project unfolds as planned, Scott’s movie will trade New York City for Los Angeles and tone down the comic-strip campiness for ultra-realistic grit of real California gang life, which completely goes against the characteristic spirit of the original. Because the powers-that-be took the genuine article and unleashed it onto the market place in pixellated format, the true roots of The Warriors remain resolutely in popular conscience.

From a marketing and industry perspective then, video gaming can be a symbiotic stimulant to cinema. As a thriving industry, the extratextual experience and opportunities provided through gaming are huge. Purely on the level of passion for movies, churning out fresh games based on old movies like Ghostbusters and The Warriors not only gives the wonders of the past a fresh lease of life, but does an excellent job in bringing them to new audiences.

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New generations need to see The Godfather. They need to check out The Warriors. They need to understand that “say hello to my little friend!” as a famous quote doesn’t come from a shrimp in Shark Tale. What better way to engage them with the glories of bygone eras than through the interactive power possessed in a console controller? For opening their minds to movie legend – and for allowing them the chance to blast rogue ghosties and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with positron collider streams – they’ll thank you for it…

James’ previous column can be found here.