This article will delve into the dynamic world of video games and video game logic. Many video games have been translated on-screen into video game movies, and the line between the two is blurring all the time. But there’s also a style to them that can be applied to other genres, a so called video game logic.
The Key Aspects Of This Article Are:
- Films which look like video games and adopt video game tendencies.
- Video games which have been adapted into video game movies.
- How to apply video game logic to a screenplay.
Examples of Video Game Movies:
- Source Code (2011)
- Assassins Creed (2016)
- Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)
- Avatar (2009)
- Strange Days (1995)
- The Fifth Element (1995)
- Tomb Raider (2018)
- Sonic The Hedgehog (2020)
- Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
- Resident Evil Afterlife (2010)
- Detective Pikachu (2019)
A key starting point is to review what we mean by narrative in this context. Narrative is logic and a way of organising the actions and events in a film.
“A narrative is defined by David Bordwell as ‘a chain of events in cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space”.
It goes without saying that narrative is central to scriptwriting. It is the chain of cause and events which develop a linear story. However, this narrative is different in the context of video game logic.
Video games are goal-orientated and have a narrative story, but are not always linear. This is because they typically use repetition and flashbacks to create the game element.
This is typical when the avatar goes between levels and challenges e.g. failing and repeating missions etc.
Key Elements Of Narrative:
Narrative structure determines the actions and events in the film and the order in which they happen.
Key aspects which organise and structure a narrative:
- Cause and effect (actions and events need to be coherent, unified and motivated)
- Character motivation (want vs need)
- Turning points (major change in the narrative)
- Expositions (character backstory)
- Obstacles (in the way of achieving the goal)
- Deadlines (time-limit to accomplish the goal)
- Descriptions (vivid descriptions of the world and its surroundings)
- Coincidence (events within the narrative)
- Equilibrium vs disequilibrium
It is also worth mentioning puzzle films and complex narratives, because they are not that dissimilar to films which adhere to a video game logic structure.
These films are non-linear (use flashbacks, not told in chronological order) and have multiple storylines. Their aim is to hook the viewer and create a sense of discomfort. You need to piece the narrative together yourself. Examples of such films include Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Inception.
Video Game Logic:
What is it?
“Video Game Logic is an expression used to highlight absurd plot lines, mechanics and glitches that are found in video games”
Video Game Logic doesn’t always make sense.
Few people have researched the area, but a key author and theorist who has written in detail on the area is Dr. Warren Buckland, who has analysed Source Code and Inception‘s use of Video Game Logic in ‘Hollywood Puzzle Films’.
Structure Of Video Game Movies:
Video game movies are structured around the game’s rules and ‘world‘. Narratives follow a structure. Whereas, video games are framed by rules which players must follow.
Due to the nature of video games and their ‘worlds’, the rules are different to that of our world- they fit the game itself and are therefore, specific and interchangeable.
This is something Ludologists discuss, highlighting the ways in which video games follow a different system of ‘game’ rules which differ from narrative restrictions/rules.
A central element to video games are the rules that players must follow.
- Must customise an Avatar
- There must be a balanced game
- Must redo a challenge until they succeed
- Players must use their avatar’s tactics and strategy to win
Key Devices Employed In Video Games And Video Game Movies:
- Linear or non-linear narrative structures
- Player interactivity
- Space-time warps (the manipulation of narrative time)
- Rewards for winning a challenge (e.g. avatar gaining a new skill)
- Punishments for failing a challenge (e.g. losing a life)
- Repetition (of events/challenges)
- A sense of pace/speed and time restrictions (deadlines to achieve their goal)
- Disguise and transformations (characters physically altering their appearance)
Let’s Delve Into How To Use Video Game Logic To Enhance Your Screenplay In 12 Steps…
1. An Immersive Story World:
The story world is fundamental. It determines a film’s success and audience engagement.
However, given the genre and film type of adapting a ‘video game’ style shown in video game movies, the story world becomes central in the narrative development and appeal of the film.
You must decide what your world your story is set in.
- Is it set today?
- And if so, where?
Location and time are central factors to consider here.
- Is it a science-fiction story set in another universe?
- Is it a hybrid film?
- Or is it present day? This may make it more engaging and relevant for modern audiences.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the film is set in present day and centres around modern school students.
- However, as soon as they enter the game they become their avatars and enter the virtual world of (the now video game), Jumanji.
- In Tomb Raider, the film is based on the Tomb Raider video game series (2001-2007).
- The film follows the video game’s leading character, Lara Croft.
- Likewise, Source Code is set in modern day.
- However, the world isn’t quite as it seems-the film narrative continually goes back into the past in an attempt for the protagonist to prevent a terrorist attack ever happening.
- The Fifth Element is unrealistic and futuristic. The film jumps between 1914 and 2263 and is set in an alien world. The characters need to go through the different levels.
Interesting and unique visuals play a significant part here e.g. Avatar and The Fifth Element which both make use of the science-fiction genre and CGI to make the film an immersive experience .
To enhance your screenplay and to have an interesting, unique film to pitch you need to create a story world which is exciting, fresh and engaging.
2. A Compelling Narrative:
The narrative itself is central.
The main aim of any film is to engage and hook your audiences in the story you are trying to tell. This is a central aspect to video game films in particular, as they have the challenge of making the transition of a popular video game to the ‘big’ screen in a convincing and successful way.
To achieve this, these films must have a compelling and engaging narrative. It is very well wanting to bring a loved video game to ‘life’ through a film, but this will only work if there is a strong narrative.
The narrative and characters both need to be well-developed to engage audiences.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the film is a remake of the 1995 film.
- However, the remake modernises the story by having the characters transform into their avatars (on the online game) and they enter the game, instead of the game coming to life.
- The story centres on a group of teenagers (who do not like/know one another) who need to work together to win the game and escape Jumanji.
- In Tomb Raider, the film centres on Lara who, after her father disappears, discovers information on his research into Himiko and undergoes a journey to explore his research further.
- Likewise, Source Code‘s premise is compelling. Captain Colter is reentered into the same moment in time on a commuter train.
- However, when the train explodes, Colter wakes up in a cockpit. His mission is to find the bomber and prevent the attack from ever happening.
- In The Fifth Element, the universe is threatened. A spaceship containing the fifth element is meant to save it, but is blown up.
- Scientists take the spaceship’s DNA to create a being, Leeloo, who soon escapes. She needs to meet Father Vito Cornelius to complete her mission.
As you can see from the examples above, all of these films make use of and have created a compelling narrative. Despite all adopting a video game style and adhering to video game logic, they all have distinct and compelling narratives.
3. An Interesting And Relatable Protagonist:
As with any film, it is vital you have a well-developed, likeable and relatable protagonist(s).
This is important with video game films. The avatar is created for the audience (they have no say, unlike a video game).
Therefore, they need to relate to every viewer in some way because you are going on a journey with them.
Also, in video game films the viewer literally enters the game and follows its rules through the avatar. Therefore, you need to carefully develop your protagonist.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, there are numerous leading protagonist characters: Martha, Bethany, Spencer and Anthony.
- In Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, the video game’s famous character, is the protagonist. She appears as a relatable character, developed through the relationship/ bond with her father.
- Likewise, in Source Code, Captain Colter is the protagonist. He is well-developed, relatable (relationship with his father) and has an arc.
- In The Fifth Element, there are several leading characters. However, LeeLoo and Major Korben Dallas are the main figures in the film. They are both interesting, especially LeeLoo, despite not being overtly relatable for audiences.
This stage is essential for any narrative, you must have an interesting and relatable protagonist. However, for video game movies this is even more so the case as because they need to bring the game to life and make it enjoyable and engaging for the viewer.
They are the avatar for audience, taking them into this world and on this journey.
4. A Well-Crafted Villain
In most (if not all films) there should be a well-developed, interesting antagonist character who creates obstacles which prevent the protagonist from achieving their goal.
This is all the more important when it comes to video game films. This is because the entire premise of these films is based on the villain creating obstacles for the protagonist which impacts their journey to finally winning the game.
The villain needs to have a clear goal and want. What do they need and desire? Why are they doing this to the protagonist?
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the game itself is the main villain. Through its continued play on each character’s avatar’s weaknesses, it continually throws obstacles and challenges at them preventing them from winning the game.
- They need to obtain the jewel from Van Pelt and place it in the jaguar to win the game.
- Likewise, in Source Code the villain remains unknown and ambiguous for a considerable period of the film. It is the protagonist’s goal to seek out the villain/terrorist and prevent them from blowing up the train.
- In The Fifth Element, the villain is ‘the evil’ (a great black ball) and the Mangalores which are sent by Zorg to find all of the element stones.
Despite them having a shared aim of preventing the protagonist from achieving their goal and winning/completing the game, they are all unique.
It might come in a recognisable human form or it might be more amorphous. Either way, the antagonist needs to serve as the primary consistent source of obstacles for the protagonist.
5. An Engaging Game and Premise
As I have mentioned, the game itself is obviously central to video game films. It is what makes them stand out and engage audiences. They need to successfully take loved video games and adapt them for the screen.
It is important to remember that although you are writing a video game film (which may be an adaptation from a game), you need to make the film universally appealing in its premise.
The script needs to grab the attention and engage those who are unfamiliar with the game.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the premise is exciting and engaging for the audience. The fact that the film appears normal and then the characters enter into the game makes it unique, compelling and new.
- Likewise, Source Code‘s premise is engaging and unique. The film starts as a normal film but then takes a turn and disturbs the audience’s sense of normality by continually retelling the scene over and over again.
- The Fifth Element adopts the (stereotypical) science-fiction genre and engages the audiences from the offset with the premise of a great ‘evil’ which is approaching earth to take the four elements. The premise may now be rather stereotypical, yet its video game film style hooks audiences early on.
All successful video game films must have an engaging and unique premise. This is essential to writing a solid screenplay and narrative which adheres to video game logic. Your film, must hook audiences through the game itself- it is your film’s USP.
6. Include A Turning Point And Disequilibrium
There needs to be a turning point in the narrative which triggers the chain of events of the ‘video game logic’.
This will be a major change in the direction of the narrative action. It will shake up the film’s initial state/world (the equilibrium) causing a disequilibrium.
This is a key element of video game logic and a video game film, as this moment will trigger the actions and events of the rest of the film.
The protagonist will now enter a ‘new world’ in which they must complete tasks and levels (and undergo a transformation) as a means of restoring the equilibrium.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the turning point is when the four teenagers accidentally enter into the game/ world of Jumanji during a detention.
- The equilibrium is disturbed into a state of disequilibrium.
- However, Source Code falsely introduces the audience to the commuter train being a state of equilibrium. However, as soon as the bomb goes off this is a large turning point in the film and we meet Captain Colter sitting in the cockpit, disturbing the narrative flow and it creates a sense of disequilibrium.
- This is because what we had believed to be true, was proved otherwise.
As you can see from the above examples, when writing a video game movie adhering to video game logic, you need to include turning points which disturb the film’s equilibrium, causing a disequilibrium and a need to restore it. This will become the protagonist‘s goal.
7. Include Interesting Consequences For Failing A Challenge/Level:
A key part of video game logic and the success of structuring a video game narrative is the inclusion of consequences for failing a challenge/level of the game.
This is a key part of what makes a video game film a video game film.
This Is Most Evident In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle:
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the entire film is a game. It is based on the premise that the four characters/avatars need to complete all of the levels/challenges to win.
- They must avoid obstacles which expose their weaknesses and return a jewel to the jaguar to win the game.
- Punishment and rewards are important factors to consider. In the film e.g. one of the characters is eaten and another falls off a cliff etc.
- If a character fails a task, they lose a life. This makes them closer to failing the game.
- In Source Code, when Captain Colter fails a mission, he is killed. He returns until he succeeds
- So, the consequence is that he has to keep dying until he gets it right, however each time he does this he learns new information about the game
The above examples effectively highlight how you must include interesting consequences that your protagonist will face for failing a task/challenge/level. This is an essential aspect you must include to make your screenplay adhere to video game logic traits.
8. Focus On Time: Repetitions, Pace And Deadlines…
These traits are important elements of video game logic and appear frequently in video game movies. They help build a sense of time, rhythm and reinforce how the characters need to reach their goal, usually in a time-restricted period.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the characters all have a few lives each throughout the game.
- Once they have lost a life (when their weakness is exploited), they risk losing all of their lives. They would then fail the game and could be trapped in the game forever/dying.
- The use of repetitions (failing a challenge) helps build pace and makes the film more engaging for the audience.
- Likewise, Source Code uses repetitions, pace and deadlines throughout for dramatic impact and to hook the audiences.
- It is the same scene which is repeated throughout the film, however each time the pace and drama builds.
- As the film progresses, the scene’s pace is faster and there is an emphasis on the deadline (he has 8 mins to prevent the bomb from exploding).
- In The Fifth Element, there is a strong sense of the ‘evil’ throughout and there is an emphasis on the deadline of the evil coming to destroy earth and take the four stones.
- This sense of pace and deadline is conveyed through the cross-cutting between ‘the evil’ and the protagonists.
- The villains are continually trying to catch up with the protagonists. The employment of obstacles also impacts this, adding pace and drama to your video game movie’s narrative.
These are important traits you should include in your story as they will enhance your screenplay and make it adhere to video game logic.
These aspects are important to build a sense of pace and rhythm to keep your audience engaged and hooked with the narrative and game.
Likewise, to do this you should try to work in a sense of repetition of events and/or attempts at trying to complete a challenge/level within your video game movie.
You should also focus on deadlines.
This will help you keep a focus on the premise, the game’s rules and what it is your characters need to overcome and achieve for the narrative to return to its equilibrium.
9. Include Character Disguises and Transformations:
Another important aspect you should write into your screenplay is disguises and transformation. These elements are key to making your screenplay adhere to video game logic and video game films.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, all four leading characters’ identities are disguised. They physically transform into their avatars.
- Source Code does not make dramatic use of disguises, however the character of Captain Colter does make use of transformation.
- He transforms and impacts the future events by reporting the terrorist to the police, preventing the second bomb from going off.
It is important to include disguises and transformations within your screenplay. They help to add a layer of complexity and engagement for the audiences. They keep adding in obstacles and putting the protagonist further back in the development of achieving their goal.
10. Levels and Interactions
Another element you should include is the employment of levels and interactions. This will make your video game movie more developed and layered.
It will also make it adhere to the visual and narrative style of video games. Levels are an essential part of video games.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the film is fairly interactional through its employment of the avatar’s profiles (strengths and weaknesses) and the use of levels.
- The characters need to complete certain tasks to move onto the next level.
- This works effectively in this film as we enter the game itself and go through the challenges with the characters.
- Likewise, Source Code is interactive through its continual repetition of the same scene.
- By repeating the scene numerous times, the audience also looks for the terrorist and bomb and try to work out how to complete the mission.
- Each time he reenters the train, it is a new level. Each level, he is looking for something new in the scene. This shows how he is moving up the game’s level and is nearer to bringing about closure.
- Each time he enters the scene he learns the rules of the game (through punishment (bomb going off) and rewards e.g. later dating Christina).
- The Fifth Element is also interactive through its engaging use of levels and challenges which the characters must complete to get a step nearer to the end.
Levels and interactions are key elements which you should write into your narrative as they are essential parts of video game logic and what transforms your film into a video game film.
These aspects are key elements of your premise. They should provide your protagonist (s) with challenges and obstacles that get in the way of them reaching their goal/completing the game. They should also be interactive and engage the audience, because unlike typical films a video game movie should be highly interactive.
11. Space – Time Warp
Space-Time warps are typical of video games and are part of video game logic. They frequently appear in video game movies.
Space-Time warps are anything that disrupts the natural flow of time by either slowing it down or increasing it.
This is an element which frequently occurs in video game movies and is an important aspect of video game logic. Repetition plays a central part in video games because the player has to continually repeat a challenge until they pass.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the film adheres to the space-time warp concept.
- Apart from the beginning of the film, the film frequently manipulates time.
- Time slows down during the challenges.
- The entirety of the ‘game’ world time fits around the challenges.
- The premise of the film captures this concept. The characters enter a world in which time drags on (could be days), yet in the real world no time has passed).
- Likewise, Source Code manipulates time throughout the entire film and effectively captures its use of space-time warp.
- This is because the same scene replays, but the protagonist’s actions change.
- Every time the film replays the scene, Captain Colter makes new moves as a means of locating the terrorist and preventing the bomb from going off.
- The Fifth Element manipulates time and adheres to the video game style.
- There is a continual repetition of events – the characters having to redo levels and challenges.
The inclusion of a space-time warp is typical of video game films and video game logic because it forces the viewer to enter, alongside the protagonist, the game world.
Unforeseen rules and challenges should disturb the narrative.
This is a key element which makes the film narrative more exciting and engaging for the audience. The sense of unpredictability is a key element within video game movies.
12. Craft a Reward For Winning The Game
A final element you need to spend time carefully crafting is the reward- the protagonist (s) completing the challenge and re-establishing the equilibrium.
How you choose to do this is up to you. However, there should be a final attempt by the villain/an obstacle. This is because something should get in the way of the protagonist achieving their goal and completing the game.
This is the point in the narrative in which the protagonist has finally reached the end and has completed the tasks and won the game. From here onwards, typically (but not exhaustively) the protagonist (s) will return back to normal, marking the end of the film and game world.
- In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, the characters are all faced with a final obstacle (the game plays on the avatars weaknesses e.g. snakes).
- The characters return the jewel and win the game.
- The characters return to the real world.
- In Tomb Raider, once home Lara discovers she was manipulated by an agent. She prepares for her next adventure.
- Source Code ends with Captain Colter unable to prevent the bomb from going off, but he locates the terrorist, Frost and the source code.
- When he enters again, he reveals the identity of the terrorist to prevent a second attack.
- The film ends with him going on a date with Christina in an alternate reality
- The Fifth Element ends with the great evil approaching earth. Dallas declares his love for Leeloo, and Leeloo combining the four stones to create a divine light which destroys the great evil.
The above examples effectively capture how video game films provide closure.
How you choose for your protagonist (s) to either win/lose the game is your call. However, arguably it will be the most important moment in the film so you need to take time and care, and really flesh out how you want your narrative to end.
- Will they win?
- Has normality been restored?
- Will they lose? If so, what will happen?
- Has the protagonist died?
- Are they trapped inside the game?
Some Final Thoughts On How To Use Video Game Logic To Enhance Your Screenplay:
- You should try to incorporate as many of these video game logic elements into your screenplay to enhance it and make it compelling.
- A reminder of the main traits: repetition, pace, deadlines, consequences/punishments, obstacles, manipulation and distortion of time, equilibrium vs disequilibrium and transformations/disguises.
- You should use your imagination. It sounds obvious, especially for a writer, but video game movies need to be unique because it needs to appeal to a wide audience. It should interest people who are not necessarily familiar with video games as well as video game fanatics.
- You can take a video game concept and still make the characters and premise engaging for modern audiences- this is something Tomb Raider has succeeded at.
- Despite the focus on the game world, you need to still concentrate on your protagonist because they should be appealing, interesting and relatable. It is them who we will be going on the journey with after all.
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This article was written by Milly Perrin and edited by IS Staff