How this week’s Nintendo news could shape the future of gaming and movies

08.25.15 2 years ago

If Nintendo could make all knowledge of the 1993 Rocky Morton/Annabelle Jenkel “Super Mario Brothers” movie disappear, I'll bet they do it. Even if it cost a ton of money, they'd pony up and they'd do it happily. Whatever that movie is, and I have met a few people who think it's actually a good movie, it is not anything that resembles any of the actual Mario games. It's such a bizarre and off-kilter interpretation of what someone thought Mario was that it's kind of impressive.

Yesterday, Fortune published an interview on Nintendo's return to movie production, and my first thought was, “Dear god, why?!”

Shigeru Miyamoto, the man behind Nintendo's SPD Division, is going to be the man who supervises how this new wave of adaptations gets handled. He seems excited when he speaks in the June report on the company's earnings. It's generated a huge amount of online excitement, and a ton of the Nintendo kids who have grown up loving the company got very excited about what they might be seeing on movie screens in the near future.

Let me suggest that the excitement may be premature.

Beyond that, let me suggest that Nintendo drop the plan completely and just focus on their games, because this is not good news. Not at all. Not for anyone.

Here's the thing… Nintendo is an amazing gaming company. I respect and admire Nintendo. I think they may be better than anyone at creating games that are fun to play with a room full of people who are actually playing together. One of my favorite afternoons last year was spent getting absolutely pulverized at “Mario Kart.” Nintendo has a knack for creating games that young players can instinctively jump into, and that's nothing to undervalue.

But they're not movies. And they shouldn't be. Maybe it's time we get serious about what's different between the two and stop throwing games into the meat grinder. I get the confusion, but it seems like we keep running the same experiment, getting the same result, and then ignoring it because we don't like the answer. The more technically adept gaming becomes and the more power we throw at them, the more we can make games look like movies or feel like movies. But no matter what coat of paint you put on it, a game is an active experience. It is something you are doing, where you have agency, and it's the entire point of things. Forget about cut scenes. Forget about narrative. Those aren't Nintendo's strongest suits anyway. Nintendo hasn't really fallen into that particular competition. Instead, they have always focused on creating big colorful silly worlds full of kid-friendly characters and game play based on play, not death.

The idea that Nintendo has to conquer Hollywood to somehow validate their company's success is crazy. McDonald's isn't required to also offer flawless auto care at their restaurants, even though both of them are service industries. Just because games and films are both entertainment and just because both of them require audio and video, it does not automatically follow that someone who is good at one is good at the other. I think it makes more sense to adapt movies into games than it does to adapt games into movies. One of the reasons I enjoyed the “Ghostbusters” games a few years ago was because it gave me a chance to operate a proton pack and a ghost trap. More than anything else, I wanted to do the thing that I saw in the film, and I wanted to get good at doing it. Every single time I play a new Batman game from this “Arkham” series, the kick is the combat system that lets you feel like you can beat the holy hell out of a room full of 83 bad guys.

Nintendo's Donkey Kong featured in “Pixels,” and they also allowed the use of a few characters in “Wreck-It Ralph.” I remember at the time that the “Ralph” filmmakers had tried to get Mario and/or Luigi and they'd been flatly refused. Mario makes a quick appearance in “Pixels,” though, suggesting that the company is warming up to the idea again that movies are a necessary and important part of their identity.

Miyamoto and Shinya Takahashi seem to understand the profound difference between the media, saying “I've always felt video games, being an interactive medium, and movies, being a passive medium, mean the two are quite different.” Yes. Correct. Miyamoto gets it. He then turns around and says, “As we look more broadly at what is Nintendo's role as an entertainment company, we're starting to think more and more about how movies can fit in with that, and we'll potentially be looking at things like movies in the future.”

Take a look at the coverage since this comment was made and look at how many articles there are with people listing immediately which games they want made into movies. The number of times the word “Zelda” has been published in the past 24 hours is staggering, and it suggests that people aren't really reading what the article actually says. This is not an announcement. This is not Nintendo announcing a shared universe slate with 42 release dates between now and 2031. This is simply the establishment of a new section within the company that allows them to have conversations with other companies. I think it would be far more likely that whatever we see from them next in film, if anything, will be something new and collaborative and thought out in a way that tries something new. They've gone down the “here's our IP, go make your movie” road before, and it didn't work for them. Why would they simply repeat that mistake now?

If they do this right, they could point the way forward for both game companies and movie companies. They have such goodwill built with young gamers and with gamers who have grown up with the company as a constant presence in their life, and that goodwill could easily translate into movies if they make these choices correctly. I would love to see them do something brand new, because it would dare the rest of the industry to think in new ways as well.

It's about time.

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