The realm of nostalgia is a fickle space to traipse. It's a place where many wear rose-colored glasses when looking back on childhood favorites–be it films, books, or video games. They're often held up on esteemed pedestals, even if the fan can acknowledge a flaw here and there. And if you dare enter this space to take that highly regarded subject and put your own spin on it (see Netflix's Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022), be prepared to potentially face the wrath of its nostalgic inhabitants. However, there may be an exception to this rule. What if you make it into a video game instead?
I'm not here to defend Texas Chainsaw Massacre –the film speaks for itself, and you're fully in your right to believe that its not-so-great reception was justified. However, there was a distinct difference in reactions between when the trailer for TCM (2022) was revealed and when Gun Media announced their upcoming asymmetrical multiplayer Texas Chain Saw Massacre game. It seemed that audiences were much quicker to dismiss the new film based on the trailer, calling it "woke" as an insult, claiming that there was no way it would live up to its predecessors, and to immediately just "throw it away." On the other hand, the announcement of Gun Media's video game adaptation was largely celebrated (by myself included). There was an immediate sense of excitement about how this IP was being explored in a new medium. There was a lot less "Why are they doing this to my favorite series?" and a lot more "I can't wait to play as Leatherface and unleash a splatterfest." Are audiences generally more accepting of beloved IP being adapted in new formats than they are reboots, long-awaited sequels, or requels?
The case for TCM can be argued from various perspectives–the writing of the Netflix adaptation, Gun Media's proven track record adapting Friday The 13th, etc.. But this reaction from fans is a trend that seems especially prevalent when it comes to horror favorites in particular. On the one hand, fans bemoan reboots ("Why isn't there any original content anymore!?") and admonish the resurgence of their favorite slashers because they feel they're misrepresented in newer media. On the other hand, they'll make their favorite killers like Pinhead trend at #1 on Twitter, hoping that they're the next DLC killer revealed for Dead By Daylight.
It seems there are different rules applied to video game horror reboots as opposed to film reboots. That doesn't mean game developers don't, or shouldn't, care about remaining loyal to the films that they're adapting. This was especially true with Evil Dead: The Game, which is a hit not only for its gameplay but also for its homages to the Evil Dead series. "With Evil Dead, we didn't have to sacrifice faithfulness to find a balance," says Craig Sherman, narrative director of Evil Dead: The Game. "We [Saber Interactive] are huge Evil Dead fans, so this was personal. I've repeatedly used the phrase "a dream come true" to describe my feeling about working on this game."
Evil Dead: The Game seemed to be the perfect storm, striking the sweet spot of appeasing film fans and gamers alike. But even when horror games extract the most revered horror icons and place them in scenarios far beyond their original stomping grounds, it's still given a nod of approval. Michael Myers can chase down Nancy Wheeler in Dead By Daylight and no one bats an eye of disapproval. Leatherface kicks ass in Mortal Kombat, and no one seems to mind that crossover.
Perhaps it's a reversal of expectations–since it's a completely different medium, folks automatically have lower expectations of faithfulness and are less likely to set themselves up for disappointment. But does that mean they have lower expectations overall? Based on the aforementioned games' fanfare, I don't think so. So why do we hold a different set of standards regarding the faithfulness of video game adaptations than we do for films?
"As authentic as we've been to the franchise, the Evil Dead game and an Evil Dead film are obviously different experiences," says Sherman. "I think our game is as close to living inside the Evil Dead universe as you'd ever want to be. You're in control and you're creating your own story. With the films and TV series, you're in the hands of incredibly talented filmmakers who are going to take you on their own ride." The element of control may also be a factor here. With video games, the characters are, to a certain degree, more so what you make of them. If you want to be a troll Jason Voorhees that grabs his victims and spins around in circles with them instead of killing them, you're within your right to do so in Friday The 13th The Game. You can also try to emulate the films and just slaughter all of the counselors. Everyone leaves happy!
In any case, it opens up the floodgate for a lot of discussions around IP and adaptations. There are interesting parallels in the video game space as well–the argument of whether newer Resident Evil games even "feel like" Resident Evil anymore. The question pops up often every time a new entry is released–but my point still stands: What causes us to hold some of these characters so close to our chests when it comes to media that we're so nostalgic about?
I believe it can stem from symbolism. When we hold certain stories and characters to such a high standard, they start to represent things about ourselves and what we value. Michael Myers isn't just a creepy murderer that wears a bleached Captain Kirk mask. He is fear. He's the embodiment of the most influential facets of horror for so many people. When the ability to invoke that symbol is given to a single entity and not by you or a collective force like it can be in a video game, it can feel like it's being undermined if it isn't used in the way that felt so impactful to us in the first place. There's definitely a lot of nuance to this topic, and I'm curious to see how it unfolds with all of the films being adapted into video games lately.
Now if you need me, I'll be trolling Freddy Kreuger as Laurie Strode in Dead By Daylight.