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The Good Press - Issue #44: Adaptations


The Good Press

February 17 · Issue #44 · View online

A newsletter of observations about life, sports, and/or anything else that comes to mind

HBO is developing an adaptation of a video game masterpiece and I’m excited about it despite the checkered history of video game adaptations to TV and film. We all make our own adaptations throughout our lives, some bigger than others.

Hello and welcome to another edition of The Good Press, a newsletter of observations about life, sports, and/or anything else that comes to mind.
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HBO may have a gamechanger on their hands (Illustration/Concept Art: Marek Okon)
HBO may have a gamechanger on their hands (Illustration/Concept Art: Marek Okon)
I’ve played video games a lot throughout my life, having been born in the era of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, back when games had 8-bit graphics. I’m talking about Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and Duck Hunt.
I know I don’t sound spry when I compare “back then” to now, but when I started playing video games on the NES, the controller was a lot simpler than what it’s evolved into today. There are professional video game players now, the same way people play professional sports. There have even been cases of professional gamers suffering career-ending injuries if you can believe that.
Games have come a long way. Many of today’s video games are capable of being pretty strong facsimiles of everything from sporting events, feature films, or choose-your-own-adventure novels, with a lot of added interactivity. The best games today can feel as immersive as any medium that came before.
Recently, my fiancée and I got around to a critically-acclaimed 2013 action-adventure video game, The Last of Us, an absolute masterpiece of a game that was recently greenlit for a TV adaptation on HBO, likely to premiere in 2022. We may have been late to discovering the game (we didn’t get a Playstation 4 until early in the pandemic) but it’s aged incredibly well (in some harrowing ways), and we’ve both been blown away with it from an artistic perspective.
To call it an action-adventure game or a survival game or a horror game or a third-person shooting game is reductive, however. Describing it by a genre is not enough to fully encapsulate the experience that The Last of Us provides. It plays like an interactive long-form film in an incredibly immersive way, with an intuitive gameplay experience, and evocative, emotional storytelling. At its core, The Last of Us is a story of loss, grief, finding purpose after tragedy, and finding something to keep fighting for in an unforgiving, post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a plague that has brought the fate of humanity to the brink.
You know, lighter fare.
Maybe it’s not exactly the escape from reality I usually go for when I’m looking for a distraction from the news these days, though at least our real-life pandemic isn’t a zombie apocalypse like the pandemic in The Last of Us is. I’m not usually a fan of zombie stories or the horror/survival genre, but the hype around the game is justified. We found ourselves completely gripped by the game’s emotional center, protagonists Joel and Ellie, who lend heart and humanity to the game’s bleak post-plague universe in the fictional 2030s.
The history of video game adaptations into film and television is pretty checkered, to say the least. Richard Newby of The Hollywood Reporter wrote about the difficulties that come with adapting video games into movies and television shows, and why The Last of Us has a chance to buck the trend.
HBO's 'The Last of Us' and the Art of Adaptation HBO's 'The Last of Us' and the Art of Adaptation
Two Game of Thrones alumni have been cast as the two protagonists of the HBO adaptation, with Pedro Pascal cast as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie.
HBO's ‘The Last of Us’ Casts Pedro Pascal as Joel, ‘Game of Thrones’ Breakout Bella Ramsey as Ellie
The first game had an estimated playtime of about 12-16 hours, while its 2020 sequel, The Last of Us Part II, had a playtime of about 25-30 hours, more than enough material to tell a compelling story over a long period of TV time.
To make a good adaptation, you need a good adapter and a good adaptee, so to speak. Adapting stories from one medium to another requires not only strong source material but talented creators who can bring the idea to life.
Despite the uphill battle that comes with adapting a story to a new medium, I think The Last of Us is set up to succeed and become a hit on HBO, not only because of the fertile ground the game established but because of the details that have already been reported about the names attached to the project. The HBO adaptation will be creatively developed by Neil Druckmann, the creative director and writer of the games, along with another writer, Craig Mazin, who created the award-winning series, Chernobyl for HBO in 2019.
It’s rare for a video game adaptation to have the game’s creative director brought on to the project, much less in a high-level writing and executive producing role, but its a testament to the high expectations that HBO seems to have in the game’s chances of finding big success on the small screen. The creator of Chernobyl‘s involvement is a nod to the grim nature of the source material, as it’s a story of humanity in chaos and crisis, however, it’s the game’s quietest moments that are the ones that stick with you the most.
I could not recommend The Last of Us more. Seek out the PS4 “remastered” edition of the original and strap yourself in for a wild ride in Part II. It is thought-provoking and evocative, touching on emotional themes I’ve rarely seen broached in video games. We’ve come a long way since Donkey Kong.
Only time will tell whether this adaptation will break the mold, but, we ourselves are no strangers to adaptations in our lives. Back in Issue #17 in August, I wrote about the adjustments (and adjustments to the adjustments) that we make. The adaptations we experience are a similar related concept.
In Other Words
While we are creatures of habit, life always requires us to adapt and evolve.
The world is ever-changing, and the pandemic has forced us to face the realities of that more than perhaps any world event of our lifetimes.
It hasn’t been easy for any of us, adapting to a life of less socialization, or at least an adapted version of it, through smartphones, laptops, and tablets. We haven’t been able to safely hug all our loved ones in nearly a year, and all this physical distancing has been stressful to our emotional and mental health.
A friend of mine in her early 30s recently had a scary experience with the virus, one that saw her, her husband, her three-year-old, and her newborn all test positive with symptoms. Thankfully, all of them have since recovered, but for a family that’s done everything right to painstakingly avoid risk for nearly a year, it was as much a blow to their psyche as their physical health.
It terrified me when she told me about it, because we’re all out here doing our best to adapt to this world, to change our behavior to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, and yet sometimes this tenacious virus finds a way to adapt to us even faster. The smallest of openings allow it to wreak havoc.
After almost a full year of making these adaptations, big and small, we’re still scrambling. We’re racing to vaccinate faster than the virus can mutate, and hopefully, the former will win out in due time. Good luck trying to get an appointment, which is its own can of worms. More hunkering down till then.
For the third week in a row, we’ve had frigid weather, snow, and ice in the northeast of the U.S. This week, a whole lot more places are feeling the chill.
Power outages in many U.S. homes as millions deal with freezing weather Monday and Tuesday | CNN
Hopefully, wherever you’re reading this, you’ve still got your power on and you remembered to put up your windshield wipers vertically so they don’t freeze to your windshield (a tip that I learned the hard way back in Buffalo).
Even my aunt and uncle in Austin, TX had to deal with temperatures below freezing this week, to the point that Anchorage, AK actually had warmer temperatures than Austin did at times over the past few days. There was rare snowfall at the American/Mexican border, and a lot of places that aren’t used to winter storm preparedness had to deal with extremely icy conditions.
And so, we adapt some more. We must. There is no other way.
So maybe I’ll strap on some snowshoes for the first time in my life and try to excavate my car from the igloo that’s formed over it. (Or maybe I’ll just run the remote engine starter. The fireplace beckons. No electricity needed.)
Whether it’s the weather we weather or other things, adapting is all about adjusting to what the environment throws at us, literally and metaphorically. That goes for the climate outside, the climate of our fractured political system, or everything big and small that affects us in some way or another.
Parting Thoughts
One big thing I have to adapt to now is my parents not being a short drive away from my NYC apartment anymore. I know that in a post-pandemic world they’re a three-hour flight away, but at this point, it’s very strange.
So far, they are adapting well to retirement life. The family dog does not appear to be missing the winter weather, and he seems to be enjoying strolls around a new neighborhood and playing with new friends at a new dog park.
No ice to scrape down in Florida, that’s for sure. I’m nowhere near ready to adapt to a more tropical climate myself, but I’d be lying if I said that my fiancée and I haven’t thought about how we would adapt to a change of scenery someday after we’re married. We’ve got a lot of travel to do once we get through this pandemic, and who knows, maybe we’ll find someplace cozy.
Sometimes we adapt and evolve in small, subtle ways. Sometimes it’s major, like learning how to fundamentally alter our social lives for the sake of safety.
Either way, we do what we have to in order to set ourselves up for success.
So we’ll adapt and we’ll find a way. Hopefully, by the time this highly-anticipated HBO project premieres, the memories of the COVID-19 pandemic are more distant than our social lives are. Only time will tell.
Stay safe and stay warm. One step at a time, any way we have to.
Till next time,
Previously in The Good Press
The Good Press - Issue #43: Decency
The Good Press - Issue #42: Accumulation
The Good Press - Issue #41: Be The Light
Catch up quick: The Good Press full online archive
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