In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
It's not that I can't handle the obvious Republican overtones or the way Jack Bauer tortures people every two hours like a junkie needing a fix. It's certainly not because I find that the cast will completely go against character to move a plot point forward or even their use of techno-babble jargon to cover plot holes. Hell, I can even forgive them for the creation of Chloe O’ Brien – the only woman on Earth living with permanent PMS.
No, I just don't like 24 because it bores me to death.
Every year I'll watch it and by the eight hour mark I find my patience fading fast, despite some great nail-biting moments telling me to ‘hang on in there’. Last year, I managed to stick with it all the way to the end because the only thing that kept me going was Kiefer Sutherland's unintentionally funny, bug-eyed jitters. Even so, I still dusted off 24: The Game for the PS2.
Like I do...for every season.
I don't like 24, but I do like 24: The Game.
The premise of 24 appeals to me, regardless of how the writers have squandered its potential. The ‘real time’ aspect is a perfect partner for the thriller genre. Though while it's somewhat fun to watch Bauer run around blowing away terrorists and asking about the location of lip balm in his quiet/loud voice, the show runners have to pad the whole thing out with ham-fisted political nonsense that would make Tom Clancy cringe (and yes, I've read Patriot Games sadly). Let's not forget some of the relationship dramas that add nothing to the story.
That’s never the case in the videogame tie-in though. The plot seemingly amounts to what it must be like to be inside one of Jack Bauer's daydream, presumably during all those other days of the year where he’s not an emotional wreck. It's a pure male fantasy of hi-octane action stripped bare.
All notion of reality is thrown out the window for the story’s duration, as Jack singlehandedly wipes out at least three hundred men in the course of a day. Though honestly, I'm not particularly concerned about the body count. No, I'm more worried about the fact an entire army has been hired for what seems like a twenty man operation.
How the hell is everyone going to get paid if the smuggling operation is a success?
Your profit margin is going to be slim if you're looking for a return on your hard work, right?!
Of course, this is just a videogame. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief about the multiple on-screen massacres in the same way you’re supposed to believe that Nathan Drake doesn’t really kill that many people in the original Uncharted. It's a relentlessly dumb concept however; a one-sided version of a show that provokes while it entertains. There's no politics involved or real moral dilemmas for Jack to contemplate; overall, there's no subtext or discussion to the entire event. I've somehow played this game in full about five times in the past, whereas I've only managed to sit through three full seasons of the show.
All of which brings me to the real point of discussion here.
There's something really intriguing about (yet barely discussed) taking an existing franchise that dabbles with thought provoking drama and turning it into pure popcorn fantasy. Videogames emulate cinema and television all the time, but since themes are lost through simple copying and assimilation, the original idea loses its unique identity even if it retains the entertainment value.
I pretentiously call it ‘Fun Simulacrum’ mainly because it’s catchy and it rhymes.
So why am I having more fun playing 24: The Game as if it was Rambo III, rather than re-enacting the restraint highlighted in the show? Personally, it's most likely to do with the core design than anything on my sub-conscious part. In the game, Jack, Tony and Michelle can shout out their credentials and detain suspects, but the game stubbornly plays hardball and as a result, you're forced to kill nearly everybody you see.
It has made me wonder if my opinion of the game would still be the same if the action was broken up by scenes of the President discussing both sides of a morality argument? I can see it serves no real purpose to the interaction, but at the same time, would I still regard 24: The Game as more memorable with those scenes left in? Honestly, I don't know. I do believe it would have been an entirely different game, for better or worse.
Tie-ins aren’t a new thing, but their evolution has been interesting to watch as the technology gets better at emulating the source material. Like 24: The Game, there are a few videogame tie-ins that take the hyper reality of existing material and push the envelope further. Even something as dull as Lost: Via Domus still manages to throw in more action, with its random snipers and chase sequences, than the TV show its based on. Interaction within TV/movie tie-ins is a necessary evil that mutates the subject matter into a far removed form, but at the same time, there are those who enjoy the escapism of an already escapist subject. After all, Goldeneye 64 is more memorable nowadays than the source material; not bad for a game that barely resembles the movie, save for character names and locations.
I think it’s unfair to say all tie-ins make the same ‘mistake’ though. Some have such a rich background to work on that it closely resembles the original work. Take something like Star Trek: 25th Anniversary and its sequel Judgement Rites for example; the games perfectly replicate The Original Series through space battles to standard point and click adventuring. Players take control of Captain Kirk every step of the way and picking ‘out of character’ choices gives you a bad score at the end of a mission. If Kirk scores badly all the way through, you don’t see the real ending. Thus, the games replicate the show’s narrative structure perfectly and players act the role rather than imposing their own selves on an established, well known, character.
As another example, Westwood’s underrated Blade Runner plays out the detective element of the film and thus gives the narrative time to expand upon the themes presented in the movie. Your character can’t act out of place because there aren’t any hyper-reality situations to warrant that kind of motivation. The X Files FMV Game follows a similar route with a new protagonist.
Of course, we’ve seen what happens when tie-ins completely goes against the material and misses the point. While 24: The Game at least tries to exist in the show’s slightly fantastical world, videogame tie-ins like Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza and Die Hard Trilogy expand on material so much that it goes beyond parody.
In the first movie at least, John McClane is battling against very real odds that will most likely get him killed straight away. He’s trying to survive against fourteen robbers and rarely does he confront them unless he has too (a majority of the film is him improvising and hiding from Gruber’s gang). In the game Nakatomi Plaza, you’re wiping out an entire army of goons and soaking up bullets like some kind of Jackie Chan Super Cop. Ideally, it’s not as revered as the movie because it’s too extreme; it’s gone beyond that to the point of sensibility that it’s Die Hard in name only. That said, as a game, something like Die Hard Trilogy is enjoyable enough for its gameplay that we ignore such flaws.
But for the sheer audacity of taking the hyper realism of a show or a movie, stripping bare all the components and rebuilding into a completely different form, in all honesty, what's wrong with that if it becomes a guilty pleasure?
I'm all for games as cinematic endeavours and I do like to champion a good narrative while slapping the wrists of developers who miss the point (see: every developer who glossed over Aliens’ Vietnam War allusions), but at the same time, it’s alright to enjoy a good escapist fantasy that is familiar and you want to participate in. Sure, it’s never going to emulate the originals, but it’s still a fun way to spend an hour being entertained.
This blog is actually a redux of one of my first on Destructoid, but I was never happy with it (too much 24: The Game) and also, I forgot to press the ‘show’ button at the time; so it remained hidden until I realised it was too late. Oh those were the days...