Writing Effective Adaptations, Part 2

Writing about writing adaptations prompted telling replies from Carl Klutzke and Jonathan King.  Klutzke related some of his adventures (and misadventures) with adaptations while King delineated his appreciation for Battlestar Galactica.  These posts prompted me to wonder how other adaptations in other media are received by their audiences.

Unsurprisingly, most web posts on the subject focus on cinematic adaptations.  Fortunately for us, many core concepts in that medium apply to ours as well.


Jimmy-Akin150Jimmy Akin considered these issues from the eyes of a film critic in his What is a good adaptation? Regarding whether films should be judged differently if they are adaptations “Fans of the work being adapted often have a simple answer: A good adaptation is faithful to the original…[but] what constitutes ‘fidelity?’ Does fidelity mean following the original exactly, or are departures allowed? What sort of departures?”  Akin goes on to assert “a good adaptation is one for which, the better you know the source material, the more you are capable of appreciating the film.”

Akin is on to something here.  Consider some of the themed games you’ve played which had no connection to the source material.  Even if the game were good, knowledge of the theme did nothing to enhance your experience as a player.  But we must acknowledge that the primary market for an adaptation is a fan of the source material.  That fan wants their familiarity with the original material to make a difference–to enhance her appreciation of the game.

michelle-kerns_largeMichelle Kerns extends this argument in her thoughtful 2009 essay What makes a good book to movie adaptation? Five great bookish movies….and five lousy ones that “This mystical combination is not the result of portraying the characters, plot, or setting with religious devotion. The key to a great book to movie adaptation lies in the film’s success at concentrating and magnifying the feelings readers have when they read the book.”  She then goes on to assert that a good adaptation should “boil the book down until the best parts are concentrated together in a way that multiplies what made the book great powerful and emotional enough to jump out from the screen and grab people who’ve never even thought of reading the book.”

Ashley RossAshley Ross’ Time Magazine article How to Turn a Great Book Into a Movie That Isn’t Terrible points to the importance of collaboration: “The difficulty of capturing that essence can be alleviated, though, when authors have a hand in the screenplay” and I couldn’t agree more.  We designers should urge our creators to be collaborators, to share their vision of characters and setting, of tone and pace.

Marshall_McLuhan_holding_a_mirrorThis is not to say that converting a property into a game doesn’t require concession from the creator as well; it certainly does.  As Marshall McLuhan asserted, the medium is the message–a game delivers story to its players not only by the content delivered in the game, but also by the characteristics of games themselves.

Consider some of the themed games you’ve played which had excellent connection to the source material but were terrible games.  Knowledge of the theme might have enhanced your experience but only enough to make that experience less bad, not enough to make it good.  We are creating game adaptations.  They must be good games.  They must take advantage of the features of our medium–player engagement through meaningful decision, active participation in the game’s story.

It is not enough for an adaptation to be a good game NOR is it sufficient for one to be loyal to the source material.  The adaptations we write must both be good games AND serve the source material.  These concepts will all need to be kept in mind as we begin discussing the process of creating an adaptation.

For further thoughts on this subject, steer your browser to James Hunt’s Top 25 underappreciated comic book movies does a solid job of looking beyond the surface of Hollywood’s torrid relationship with spandex at the films which were able to convey the core of the original text while still effectively serving their own medium.  The medium is the message indeed.  Besides, Hunt’s inclusion of some of the best non-action comic adaptations of all time–American Splendor, Persepolis and Ghost World earned him a special shout out.  Well done, Mr. Hunt.

What do you feel is most important quality for an adaptation? What’s your favorite adaptation? Have you written one? How did you go about it?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.