Insert Coin: Why the worst are the best when it comes to video game movies

Will Podlewski, Columnist

Video gaming isn’t cheap. With a torrent of online passes, downloadable content and system peripherals taking a huge bite out of gamers’ wallets, it’s harder than ever to get a decent value when you plunk down your hard-earned cash for the next big thing. But in an industry that seems to care only about “Call of Duty” and “Assassin’s Creed,” it’s easy to forget that some of the best games out there cost little to nothing to enjoy. That’s why every two weeks, I’ll be showing you a great new way to get your video gaming fix for under $20. So get your quarters ready and game on!

Like any major entertainment industry, video games generate franchises. With everything from action figures to books, comics to snack foods, a single video game can spawn a massive media empire. So it’s no surprise these gaming Goliaths are wriggling their way into other media categories, thus bringing to life one of the most horrifying genres of entertainment out there: the video game movie.

I have never seen a “good” video game movie, and it’s not particularly hard to figure out why: Video games just really don’t lend themselves to film. Their stories are meant to be interactive, with your skill and choices having a direct impact on the gaming experience. Films just have you witness a world; games make you live in it.

So naturally, it is exceedingly difficult to go from living in a world to just looking at it. That’s why I am almost positive a serious video game film will never be made. Sure, some great short films and mini-series have come from video game roots, like last year’s excellent, but trite, “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” and the thematic “Assassin’s Creed 2” prequel “Assassin’s Creed Lineage.” But video games only make the transition to the world outside the controller in these short exposures.

But what about the video games that have ventured onto the big screen with movies like “Resident Evil,” “Doom” and “Mortal Kombat?” From any critical standpoint, these are at best stupid popcorn movies and at worst embarrassing cash grabs.

In fact, the only video game movies I like are those ones that seem to be intentionally bad, like the 1994 gem of a B movie, “Street Fighter.” The Muscles from Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme actually leads a cast that tries to present a coherent story in the context of a fighting game. It’s so tongue-in-cheek, so over-the-top and earnest in its horribleness that it actually ranks as one of my favorite movies. But that is only because it bears almost no resemblance to the source material.

So, video game companies, look to “Street Fighter” as an example (never thought I’d ever say that) of how to do a video game movie well — ignore the video game altogether. The DVD is only $11 on Amazon, so you have no excuse not to give it a watch.