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Television and film gets gamified

Jan 22,2019
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Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” left, tells the story of life inside a virtual reality (VR) game. The “Bandersnatch” episode of Netflix’s “Black Mirror” series is an interactive story that plays out like a video game. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

With an increasing number of films adapting stories from video games, elements once only found in the gaming world are now commonplace across entertainment.

Video game adaptations have been popular in movie theaters for over two decades. Movies like “Final Fantasy” (2001), “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), “Warcraft” (2016), and the “Resident Evil” series (1996-2016), all based on video games, have been major blockbusters around the world. Some films use real-time computer graphics engines to produce films, while others are shot to resemble the gameplay of popular first-person shooter titles, like “Hardcore Henry” (2016). The 2018 Korean film “Take Point” also utilizes the first-person perspective to tell its story.

As technological advancements, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), become increasing prevalent in video games, film directors are also searching for creative ways to introduce top-notch technologies to audiences while, at the same time, offering a commentary on the blurring boundaries between the real world and the digital one.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s VR game-based movie “Ready Player One” was a big hit when it was released last year. The movie is set in the year 2045, when the world is on the brink of collapse. Meanwhile, people chat, work and play games in a VR game world called the Oasis.

But after the inventor of the game dies, a pre-recorded message announces that he has hidden a golden egg in the virtual world and that the person who finds the egg will become the game’s heir. The users then compete to be the first person to find the key.

Audiences walk away from the film realizing the dangers of being too immersed in the virtual world and ignoring what’s going on in reality.

Cable channel tvN’s “Memories of the Alhambra” is the first Korean series to use AR as a core element of its show.

In the series, the characters become part of an AR once they put on a pair of special contact lenses. As they navigate the world around them, the players must fight against fake game characters who appear to be very real. But the boundary between reality and fantasy gets blurred after the lead character actually kills another player. The dead character, however, comes back to life and follows the person who killed them like a zombie. After the show’s main character is trapped in the AR world, many interpreted it as a representation of severe game addictions.

The “Bandersnatch” episode of the Netflix series “Black Mirror” is an interactive, movie-like experience where the spectator chooses the decisions and, subsequently, the consequences of the story’s lead character.

The character faces 30 choices throughout the episode and there are five different possible endings. The episode’s running time also depends on the choices that viewers make and can last up to five hours long. As the episode continues, the lead character increasingly suspects that he is being controlled by someone, an eerie realization to watch. Although the audience is given more options, they are still controlled by an outside force - the directors of the show.

Although game-based films often criticize the downsides of a tech-dependent world, they are also a sign that video games are increasingly part of mainstream culture.

In Lee Gyeong-hyeok’s book “Game, A Tool for A New World” (translated), Dr. Ha Jee-hyun says that, “Generally, history is a long story written by [those who have survived]. But games are written by the players themselves; the story depends on what decisions participants make, so it’s an open system. Those who read a lot of history books and play historical games like ‘Civilization’ and ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ have a different take on the world.”

BY YANG SUNG-HEE [yeo.yerim@joongang.co.kr]