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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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A screenshot from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the video game. (EA)
A screenshot from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the video game. (EA)

How a video game almost ruined Harry Potter for me Add to ...

Whenever I give myself over to a fictional series I grow worried that I might die before it reaches its conclusion. I felt this fear most strongly during the two years between the first and last of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films. I had a terrible stomach flu in the summer of 2002 and mixed among my mortal thoughts as I laid immobile on the bathroom floor was this: "I'm not going to get to see the One Ring burn in the fires of Mount Doom."

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Though undeniably geeky, this dread is not uncommon. During the 20 or so years between the first book in the Dark Tower series and the last, Stephen King received letters from readers on their death beds pleading to know how the story would end (the author was unable to accommodate these requests, for he himself had no idea how the Gunslinger's quest would eventually resolve). Similarly, the film Fanboys, about a group of Star Wars fans who travel to Skywalker Ranch to steal an early copy of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, had roots in the writer's fear that he might not live to see the second trilogy completed.











But let's talk about the pop culture phenomenon at hand: Harry Potter. I haven't read any of the books in J.K. Rowling's defining series. However, I've seen all of the films at least a couple of times, and I've become quite invested in the characters. I've anxiously anticipated the revelation of their final destiny for several years. And at some point over the last half decade or so (probably around the time that I learned I needed to undergo a major surgery) I found myself worried that I might not ever learn how Harry's struggle against Voldemort would end.

Of course, the story's ending was out there for me to discover whenever I wanted. The final book was released in 2007, after all. But I protected myself from spoilers. For better or worse, Harry Potter and his friends are, in my eyes, creatures of the silver screen.

Then one of my editors assigned me to review Electronic Arts' video game Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, which was released three days before its namesake opened in theatres. I could have passed on the review, but this is how I make my living. Did it really make sense for me to give up a paycheque just to keep the mystery alive for a few more days?

So I played the game. And, like most games based on films, it was quite bad. Its creators did little more than craft a third person shooter in which wands replace guns and spells fill the role of bullets.

Worse, though, was how it mechanically works through each of the final film's plot points without injecting even a hint of intrigue, suspense, or emotion. In Potter parlance, it plucks the life out of Rowling's rich narrative quicker than a dementor can suck the soul out of a fledgling wizard. It completely fails to capture the essence-the magic, if you will-of the Harry Potter experience.

After working through about three quarters of the game-which took only a few hours-I sensed that I was approaching the end. So great was my instinct to protect this special moment that I'd been waiting for years to experience in a theatre that I all but flung the controller from my hands. I wrote my review without finishing the game.

I didn't get to see the movie on opening day, as I imagined I would. I stayed home with my daughter while my wife-a bona fide Harry Potter super fan since Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone arrived on Canadian bookshelves in 1998-fulfilled her own decade-in-the-making geek dream and watched it with her friends.

But I did see it on Saturday. And my decision to stop playing the game when I did was validated. The movie's opening adventures were tainted by my experience of them in the game, which made me all the more angry toward the interactive adaptation. However, the film's final half hour-which, in the off chance some readers aren't acquainted with Harry's fate, I wouldn't dream of spoiling here-played fresh and true, and was just as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be.

I love video games. I think they're capable of telling immersive and involving tales. But games based on films, almost without exception, simply haven't evolved along with the rest of the medium. What's more, they're often released several days before their cinematic counterparts, and have greater potential to ruin the stories they attempt to emulate than provide any sort of meaningful entertainment.

So, I think I've had it with game adaptations. If, through some terrible twist of fate, I found myself on my deathbed next week and someone from the future walked through a portal holding games based on Star Wars episodes VII through IX, I would refuse to play them. I now realize that I would rather die imagining the fates of beloved characters and worlds than having experienced a soulless video game reproduction of them.

 

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