Five Movie and Game Pairings

Games make good companions to other media and vice versa because games present an entirely different way of experiencing a story. The first hand experience that we get from games can make us more easily relate to the hardships of a character or expand on the world of a movie in unintentional ways. Or, after watching a movie with a similar story, we might find ourselves sympathizing with the enemies that we so carelessly dispatch in droves in games. In either case, certain combinations of these two different media benefit from the experience of each other and here are a few examples that I’ve collected.

As a general rule, I didn’t want to promote a movie and game combination that developers themselves used to promote their game. So no Heavy Rain and Seven, or Kane and Lynch and Heat, or Borderlands and The Road Warrior, etc.

Red Faction: Guerilla and The Hurt Locker

Brian Taylor wrote an article for Bitmob describing his experience with the game after seeing the movie. He considers their two differing presentations of the consequences of bombings and argues that the game’s consequences in particular need to be ignored in order to enjoy the game (“Game Pairings: Red Faction: Guerrilla + The Hurt Locker = ?”, Bitmob, 31 October 2009). My take is slightly different.

Both stories have a lot in common on the surface, though they seem to approach the same idea from opposite ends of the spectrum. One is about a guerilla fighter who uses lots of explosives to attack an occupying military force, the other is about a bomb disposal unit within an occupying military force disarming bombs set by guerilla fighters.

However, it’s unlikely that the game will make you sympathize with the bombers in the movie because once you get past the surface the differences becomes too obvious too ignore: one is about soldiers in Iraq, the other is about rebels on mars; they’re not actually congruent. That said, you just might find yourself more sympathetic to the EDF soldiers on mars after watching The Hurt Locker.

When I ram a vehicle laden with explosives into a convoy and everyone opens fire on me, it’s easy to kill them without a second thought. But what if one of those soldiers is a war junkie like William James? I can’t help but think of all the random soldiers that I’ve killed, their possible friendships with other soldiers that I’ve killed, and their inner struggles. When I blow up the first vehicle in a convoy, the Martian James isn’t scared. He’s excited. This is what he lives for. He runs towards me just as I detonate the mines on the car next to him, and he’s gone in one glorious fireball.

Fallout 3 and The Book of Eli

People were putting these two together before the movie even came out. On a superficial level, they use a similar looking font for their titles. On a stylistic level, both are set in post-apocalyptic worlds and use a muted color palate. On a thematic level, both are about men trying to return hope to a desperate populace. However, the men in each go about this in very different ways.

In Fallout 3, your father seeks to create hope through science with a water purification system. In The Book of Eli, Eli seeks to inspire others through religion with the words of the Bible. Each makes a strong case for its method of inspiration and serve as interesting rebuttals to each other in the larger discussion of the role of faith and science in desolate times.

The stories also present contrasting examples of the men who would bring hope. Your father in Fallout 3 never wavers in his desire to restart Project Purity, but Eli becomes disillusioned as he constantly fights to survive, hoarding the Bible, reluctant to share it with anyone at all. The differences provide a fascinating look at the corrupting influence of a hopeless world, and after experiencing the oppressive atmosphere of Fallout 3, you can easily relate to Eli’s more selfish actions. Survival is hard in any wasteland.

Far Cry 2 and Blood Diamond

Unlike the previous choices, these two stories don’t offer opposing ideas. Instead, they’re so similar that you could probably trick someone into believing that one was based on the other. In fact, they’re so similar that once you see/play both that it becomes hard to separate the two. Throughout Far Cry 2, I kept expecting someone to say “This is Africa”, and in Blood Diamond, I waited for someone to bring up the corrupting influence of The Jackal.

They feel cut from the same cloth, especially with their thematic focus on violence as a part of everyday life. Characters in Blood Diamond shrug it off, citing T.I.A. as an excuse, and in Far Cry 2, you experience for yourself just how violent normal life is thanks to constant firefights with jeeps and guard posts.

In this way, they supplement one another perfectly. One seems to expand on ideas that the other only touches upon. When I find a diamond briefcase in Far Cry 2, I wonder what some poor soul had to go through to bring it here. Perhaps this dead body next to it was a man trying to expose the dirty diamond trade. When I see children with guns in Blood Diamond, I wonder if the arms dealer that supplies them has the same philosophy as The Jackal. Experiencing one story will give you a new perception of the other.

The Saboteur and Inglorious Basterds

I first heard this couple paired on an episode of Co-Op (“Time Capsule — Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, The Saboteur, Area 5, 12 January 2010). I’ve heard it again multiple times since then, but it’s still an apt comparison as both take a unique approach to an old genre. Both are ostensibly World War II stories, but they actually have very little to do with the war and more to do with life in Nazi-occupied France.

Inglorious Basterds doesn’t concern itself with the emotional toll of war on individual soldiers, instead it’s a movie about the power of movies. The use of film as propaganda is a major plot point, the heroes sneak into a theatre posing as members of the film community, and the historically inaccurate ending proves more cathartic than reality could ever be. The movie is split into chapters, a rather jarring transition for film, but Tarantino never wants you to forget that you’re watching a movie. In this case, breaking the immersion isn’t bad because it reminds you that this is a movie and then shows you how movies are powerful tools. Its stylistic touches support its theme.

The Saboteur is, shockingly, not a first-person shooter but an open world game in which you must liberate Paris. The areas under Nazi occupation are black and white, and whenever you liberate a section of the city, color returns to the world. This stylistic use of color suggests a return of something lost and that the enemy sees the world differently than you do. It uses color to represent the emotions of a people. It’s very appropriate that the red light district acts as your home base, since it’s a section of town literally defined by color.

If you want a new take on World War II, you owe it to yourself to watch and play both of these.

Assassin’s Creed and Lost

While not a movie, the similarities between Assassin’s Creed and Lost are too great not to be mentioned. I could talk about the recurring themes of faith throughout both series or the use of time travel (whether though genetic memory or an underground turnstile) as a major plot device, but these similarities are really just coincidental. It’s all about the mysteries.

Both pride themselves on the slow drip of information fed to players and viewers. Lost specializes in this kind of meandering storytelling, and many of the answers in Assassin’s Creed are found outside the main path of the story. Plus, with two years between major games in the series, that means that the mystery of Assassin’s Creed has been stretched out for six years. If you can last that long for a game to tell its story, you can easily take the mystery of Lost being stretched out for a similar six years.

Both stories start with a seemingly simple premise but quickly grow into something much larger. Assassin’s Creed begins with a shamed assassin working his way back up the ranks, then becomes an epic involving religious myth, evil corporations, ancient civilizations, mind control devices, and even hints of the apocalypse. Lost starts with people stranded on a tropical island, then grows to include wells of electromagnetic energy, a time traveling island, shape shifting smoke monsters, all building to an archetypal battle between good and evil. When you look back at the beginning of both, it’s strange to realize how little you knew. If you like the increasingly Byzantine plot of the Assassin’s Creed games, you’ll love Lost.