How Minecraft Can Help Hollywood Make Better Movies

By Gus Mastrapa in Pretension +1
Friday, August 26, 2011 at 9:00 am
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Common wisdom is that movies based on video games stink. There are more than a few reasons why its tough to turn an interactive piece of software into a two-hour film narrative. But the biggest reason is that half of the stories in video games are knock-offs of stories better told in other mediums. More than half are cribbing from James Cameron's Aliens and the rest are riffing on The Lord of the Rings. Rehashes are rarely as thrilling or assured as the original.

 Its okay that game plots are derivative of movies, because games let you be a space marine and a ring-bearer. Games trump originality with immersion. That's not to say that games aren't fertile ground for adaptation for TV and movies. It's just that Hollywood has been looking in the wrong place all this time. They've been going for the big names -- the properties that everybody knows like Halo and Super Mario Brothers. But those kind of big-budget undertakings are always doomed to disappoint. Instead Hollywood should put a dozen script monkeys in front of the obscure genre of role-playing games called roguelikes (think Minecraft, Nethack and Dwarf Fortress) and let the games write the plots for them.

The brilliant thing about Nethack is that it is procedural. You never know what the dungeon is going to look like and what treasures, monsters or obstacles you're going to encounter. Because of that you usually face a million different deaths. You can starve to death, die from poison, or be bludgeoned by a dwarf. I was once burned to death by a flaming book. A game as morbid as this would mesh nicely in a format similar to The Twlight Zone or Tales From the Crypt

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Anthologies are out of style these days, because viewers want characters they can expect to see week after week. So if I was going to make a TV show inspired by Nethack I'd make the main character be the weird dude who works at the dungeon shop. He's commute every day through the traps and bat infested mines to get to his dusty store, where he'd encounter adventurers, monsters and mad dungeon keepers looking for food, weapons or treasure. Each episode would still feature the brutal deaths of adventurers, but you could populate the show with recurring characters like monsters or even the rare competent dungeon crawler. I picture the show as darkly comedic, with an overarching story-line about the mysterious dungeon keeper that signs everybody's checks and the one hero destined to kill him.

The Minecraft movie should be tripped-the-hell out. In fact the plot should be about a guy who smokes a Jeffry, sits down to veg out in front of Minecraft and finds himself zapped into the game ala Tron. I'd play the first part of the flick like a survival horror flick -- dude needs to build shelter and weapon before nightfall. Everybody loves watching a stoner struggle. But heads are always better in pairs -- so the plot twist should be that our hero wasn't the only dude who go transported into the game. A weird glitch in Notch's latest update caused every gamer playing Minecraft while on a control substance to get sucked into the same server. The last half of the flick would achieve what The Matrix failed and tell the compelling and funny story of a bunch of burnt-out gamers trying to forge a society in a creeper-infested, voxel-based world. The rave scene, DJ'ed by Deadmau5 of course, would be a thing of legend.

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I saved the best for last, because Dwarf Fortress stories are things of legend. The game is made to create entire worlds. If you've never heard of the game I suggest you run to The New York times and read all about it. Then, go check out all the amazing stories that have happened to people while playing Dwarf Fortress. My favorites are the illustrated sagas of Tim Denee -- the stories of Oilfurnace and Bronzemurder

The elevator pitch for my Dwarf Fortress movie would The Thing meets The Lord of the Rings -- a dozen dwarfs build a new fortress and everything seems great until they discover a vast network of caverns. At first they discover riches there, but when winter comes and food grows scarce they turn on each other. Then something dread comes out of the deeps and threatens to murder them all. I'd use multiple plays of Dwarf Fortress to generate different difficulties for the dwarves to overcome. And, just to keep things open for sequels, I'd let one dwarf live. Somebody call Kurt Russell. It is time for his comeback.

Pretension +1 is a column by Gus Mastrapa about the culture of video games. It runs every Friday morning until Hollywood shows up on Mastrapa's doorstep with a bag of money.


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