Respect the source material


#1

So a new trailer was released for Shadow of War the other day:

This is pretty stupid. OK, it is totally stupid.

I kind of love it.

There is a thread on Neogaf at the moment, and lot’s of people are angry about this. A lot of debate revolves around the lack of respect for Tolkien’s original text. Obviously this shows no respect for the text at all.

Keep in mind a lot of people’s views are coloured by the various design choices added into this game. Loot boxes in a single player game for example. I agree it’s not a great look but there are shades of gray here, these things can be done well and not detract from the overall game.

Anyway, my question to you lovely lot, is this too far. Should we show some respect to the source material? How much respect is enough respect? As well as this example, are there any others you can bring to the table?

Personally, I would say this is so far removed from Tolkien’s work that it might as well not be associated. Sexy Shelob is stupid and far more worthy of scorn than a stupid promo video.

The films are revered but Tolkien’s son has distanced himself from them while making some excellent points about how venerable properties are treated. I honestly found the level of anger directed at this kind of funny and symptomatic of the gaming community’s tendency to tribalism. Company X is bad, Company X is good. Company X is against gamers, Company Y is for us etc.


#2

This is kinda like the situation with Death Note on Netflix is in. These reworks of recent properties feel very off in places specially since they don’t use what made the original so good.


#3

If it was presenting itself as a proper adaptation of the source material, or even a faithful extension of it, then I think there’s an issue there. I think context also comes into play a little bit - when was the source material made, was there a certain message it was trying to get across, how does this new adaptation change that context?

I think the “Shadow of” games aren’t trying to be anything other than a fun, weird, power-play romp through Middle Earth with a fan made character on a journey completely separate from that of the original story. Essentially fanfic. I don’t think the way in which they change the Middle Earth narrative detracts from the original story being told, because they don’t interfere, or don’t cover, the original stories or even really feature/change the characters from them (as far as I’m aware - I have yet to play Shadow of Mordor.)

Some examples of how not adhering to certain aspects of source material is bad? Superman in the DC Cinematic Universe or Captain America in the recent Secret Empire series. Both are bad adaptations specifically because they take SPECIFIC aspects of those properties (the characters) and disregard the things that made them popular (Superman being selfless) or the specific context of their creation (Captain America being a Nazi fighter created by a Jewish man in the time period surrounding World War 2).


#4

Artists can do whatever they want with a source material. There should never be limits to what they can change or do with the source, but like anything else, it’s open to criticism.

Sometimes being loose with the source material works out, like the Prisoner of Azkaban movie, or the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. Other times it’s Sexy Shelob and a bit shit.


#5

I’m very much into Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War completely disregarding everything about the source in favor of Overlord Meets WWE. I don’t think it’s so much a lack of respect as it is just not feeling obligated to keep in line when they could make something a bit different. Despite appearances DmC has a lot of respect for the original Devil May Cry series, but it doesn’t let that get in the way of changing stuff. And in the same sense I think Shadow of Mordor was pretty clear, at least by the end, that it was just going to do whatever as it’s own thing.


#6

The thing about Shadow of War in particular is that Tolkien’s work is pretty much the blueprint for modern fantasy so I’m not sure what the game gains by being set in Middle Earth that isn’t just the most baseline fantasy tropes of orcs and elves and magic and swords. it seems hard to believe that Lord or the Rings has a lot of cachet in the games space given the quality of previous licensed games and licenced games in general.


#7

shadow of mordor has always been Brand Recognition: The Game just in general, slapping as many money-making ideas together over the half-baked nemesis system and then trying to tell a power fantasy revenge story in Middle Earth long after Tolkein already did, multiple times. Tolkein always saw revenge as a dangerous and self-destructing act - Gollum’s entire character is basically about what the pursuit of single-minded selfishness can do to a person and acts as the representation of what could happen to Frodo if he fails, while Sam is the exact opposite. Meanwhile Shadow of Mordor just has you run around and kill people “for revenge” and then congratulates you for it. It never really cared to explore Middle Earth in the first place, it was just a convenient setting so they could make money off it.


#8

100% agree. The problem with the Shadow of Games is not that they disrespect the source material, but that the use of the source material is not much more than a business move and doesn’t impart anything significant on the game itself. It’s one thing to take a source and change it to further align with an artistic vision. But I can’t help but see the Shadow games more just being “well we own this licence, let’s make some money off it.”


#9

This is coming from someone who cares absolutely nothing about the lord of the rings in general, but I think the angle regarding these games as a sort of wild, elaborate fan fiction set in the LOTR universe is a good way of looking at it.

They’re pulling what they want from the mythology to work into their crazy action game and I don’t really see anything wrong with that. To me it would be a much bigger disrespect of the source material if they made a game with tons of elements and things taken ripped right from Tolkien’s works but just changed the names of everything and never acknowledged it was a lord of the rings game.

The LOTR name has a lot of pull for quite a lot of people, so I think it makes total sense why Monolith thought it would be a good idea to launch a franchise that would have huge name recognition from the start. If Monolith had just launched a new game back on 2014 just called “Orcs and swords” I don’t think it would have piqued nearly as much interest, even with the nemesis system to spice it up. I can only hope the devs are truly being allowed to make the game they want and that they’re ok with how it’s being marketed to potential players.


#10

IMO conversation’s on Neogaf’s gaming community are always going to be framed from a lens of unchecked consumerism, which is something I’m glad Waypoint and its forums are mostly free from. It’s just not interesting or helpful discourse.

I don’t think the association to LOTR helps the game at all? Sure in terms of brand recognition, but it doesn’t really do anything narratively interesting that they could only do in that setting. And it begs comparison to the source material when the gameplay loops and story themes morally justify the pursuit of revenge, use of outright torture, and obsession with power; which all contrasts heavily against the work it’s based on.

I didn’t finish the first game, but I’m guessing it doesn’t ever challenge those concepts since it never seemed to even hint at doing so in the first half that I did play through. I had a kinda heated debate with a friend about how the game justifies these things coz “well they’re just orcs so y’know”, and we came to the conclusion that this series would be a lot better if it was an origin story for a villain rather than a vindicated “heroic” power fantasy.

Unless the second game suddenly decides to be a subversion on the first (which uuhhhh, not looking likely there), I’m probably just gonna pass on it.


#11

The problem with questions like this (“Should we show some respect to the source material?”, “Can a new work based on existing work detract from the original work?”, etc.) is that I feel like these questions suppose that the source material has as much, if not more, influence on the new work as the new creators themselves. I guess ultimately I’m one of those auteur motherfuckers - I don’t subscribe to that supposition.

Tolkien had a story to tell, he created a universe in which to tell it, and now some other people have taken that universe and used it as a vehicle for their own story. The new story doesn’t shape the universe, it’s shaped by the universe, but more importantly, it is very much not being told by Tolkien. I don’t feel like respect is a necessity in any regard.

Adam Wingard got a bunch of shit recently for his adaptation of Death Note on Netflix, as @Metalsnakezero mentions. His film is not tonally similar to the anime or, I assume, the manga, in any way: the main character, Light, is an anxious, submissive, expressive dick; his partner, Mia, is domineering; and his antagonist, the detective L, is significantly smarter and more cunning than him. Additionally, the movie abruptly shifts from silly to horrific very frequently, whereas the anime is extremely self-serious and willfully dense throughout. These traits are frequently cited as ‘flaws’.

However, when viewed through the scope of Wingard’s previous work (The Guest, You’re Next, VHS), all of these traits - the main character’s angsty anxiety, the sharp shifts in tone from silly to horrific - are Wingard’s signature. He used the Death Note template to make a Wingard film, and within that scope, he succeeded. Wingard’s Death Note is a ton of fun, and is super gross. But, if you strictly judge it on the merit of its respect for the source material, it’s arguably a failure.

This is specifically why I don’t like these questions: the new work inspired by the source material is not strictly the product of the source material, it is, most often, primarily the product of the people who make it.


The Newest Netflix Anime Original "B: The Beginning"
#12

“Respect” is pretty bad as a load-bearing concept. You could take a wide range of actions “out of respect” for something / someone, history is full of sectarian conflicts that revolve around the proper methods of common respect, arguing about who respects something more or less isn’t going to get you very far.


#13

I think it has to do with the context of how it’s used. If the original creator of something gives someone else permission to do something with their work but asks that they follow certain guidelines and those guidelines are not followed then yeah I think that’s shitty. If you created a universe and characters then asked people to not make sexualized fan art or stories of them and people did so anyway that’s IMO very disrespectful to the original creator. If the original creator is dead though, such as the case with Tolkien, how can you offend them?

If the question is should you respect the source material because of the fans I have to wonder why you should need to. They may like the source material and some may see it as something they define themselves as like other people do with Star Wars and Star Trek but they don’t have creative control of that franchise and that’s something they are going to have to learn to live with. Once you cave in to the demand of the fans on something like this you stop having creative control and are just doing what the community wants you to do.


#14

All interesting responses, and glad to see some level headed discourse after that previous thread.

I think a lot of this comes back to weird arbitrary guidelines that communities (especially gaming) impose on creators.

You must pay X amount of respect to a work, you want to make too much money from your creation, game costs too much for my liking.

It’s all comes back to the tribalism. Warner Brothers is a disliked company, so every action they take is set upon by a vocal group of “core” gamers (I use core here as how they would describe themselves). They then work backwards from their anger to a logical reason why they don’t like it.

I don’t want to suggest that some people aren’t genuinely annoyed by this silly trailer. I can see how it could rub some serious fans the wrong way but there is a definite undercurrent of consumerist frustration.


#15

So I have a bit of an issue with brushing a broad stroke over consumerist frustration as always a bad thing.

Yes, consumerist thinking can often be ridiculous and leads to people critiquing games as if they were reviewing a vacuum on Amazon. But a lot of consumerist issues (and especially the frustration centered around Shadow of War) are just as easily criticized artistically and mechanically.

With Shadow of War for instance, the microtransactions for loot boxes can be criticized from a consumerist perspective (“Warner Brother’s is trying to take all my money! Aaah!”), but they also effect the game mechanically at the expense of the player’s enjoyment of the game (in this case, perhaps a steep grind built into the games systems). And artistically, they don’t really add anything to the game. They don’t impart any meaning on the game other than reminding the player that they aren’t just playing a game, but Consuming a Product, and that plays back into the hands of consumerist criticism.

The anger over the use of the lotr source material covers all of these things too. Yes, people may be working backwards from their anger to make logical reasons why they’re angry, but sometimes that’s how forming an argument works. Sure, people are initially mad because a story they love is being used as “a cashgrab” but it turns out when using a source material for not much more than brand recognition - which seems to be the case here, as Monolith’s interpretations of the lotr are at best basic references (I guess Gollum’s in some quests, that’s cool), and at worst blatantly bad and cynically focused (shelob) - it can reflect poorly on the game from an artistic perspective as well.

So yes, consumerist frustration is often a ridiculous disregard of artistic or mechanical merit of a game (“why should I pay $60 for a 6 hour game with no replay value?” and the like). But when a game goes out of its way to remind the player that it is a product, it can’t help but bring up some consumerist frustration, and just as often it’s justified criticism from an artistic and mechanical view as well.


#16

When it comes to Middle Earth stuff I always see people say Tolkien wouldn’t like this and we should stay true to his vision ect ect but all I have to say about that is: Fuck J.R.R Tolkien. That guy was an old racist fascist and I don’t give a shit about his opinions because he’s dead.


#17

I wouldn’t say that looking at a work through the lens of its consumerist appeal is verboten, it’s just that discussions around games in the usual spots like GAF/Reddit are absolutely dominated by that kind of framing.

That kind of cynical business-centric development mindset does bleed into games and often make them a worse experience overall, but it’s exhausting when the most visible conversations are “grr I really hate this publisher practice!” followed by 500 posts about the economics of gaming.


#18

Something a lot of people forget (or don’t bother mentioning) is that Tolkein himself always saw Middle Earth and its stories as his way of creating a new mythology - and as such, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that he probably would be quite tickled by the idea of people telling their own stories using the setting.

But also he’s dead and who cares? This game looks dope and also dumb as hell and therefore I am gonna play the heck out of it.


#19

If you feel like Tolkien would be tickled by Monolith’s use of his creation then let me present to you some of my game ideas:

-Tom Clancy’s George Orwell’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands: Air Strip One. You play as Hubert Smith, out for revenge after the government killed your brother Winston. With an elite rebel force known as the Brotherhood at your back you will scour a next-gen open world the size of the British Isles looking for the elusive Big Brother! Single player, or online with friends lead assaults on Big Brothers’ various ministries in order to arm your crew for the final showdown.

-Lord of the Flies, the next online battle arena hit. Combining PUBG’s intense battle royale style gaming with intricate survival mechanics you will compete with other players to determine who is the ultimate Lord of the Flies before the rescue shops arrive! Gameplay is kept fresh with rougelike style traits for each character such as “asthmar” or seizures.

And finally, Slaughterhouse​ Five, a Telltale style adventure where you guide Billy Pilgrim as he is unstuck in time. Travel on an epic adventure from the battlegrounds of WW2, to the planet Tralfamador, and even 1950s America in a quest to advert the Dresden bombing!


#20

you’re not really illustrating here how not respecting the source material is bad so much as u are like, presenting obvious cases where the resultant message of the new work is at odds w the source material

so like i’m a pretty big philip k dick fan and i’ve been mad as hell for pretty much ever that there exist vanishingly few good adaptations of his work. bladerunner, thematically, bears very little resemblance to Do Androids Dream…? but u know what. it’s still a good film. on its own merit. it still does something beautiful even if it does not take what i consider to be the right message from the source material

starship troopers also does a total 180 on the source material in terms of message and like it’s not… perfect, but politically and artistically i consider it a whole lot better than the original novel

generally speaking unless we’re talking stuff that is oppressive i am pro there being More Art, Not Less and if ppl wanna dick around w ~the literary canon~ as their source material then let em. if the results are bad they are bad but the source material remains untouched they cannot like, retroactively fuck up the book

edit: like just to be clear here i’m not like “clearly Titty Shelob Game is going to be beautiful and meaningful” but like i bristle a lot at the idea that reinterpretation is Innately Bad bc that leads into like, a very specific kind of conservatism especially when u start looking at what books, and by whom, get considered classics and therefore sacrosanct??

ps george orwell maintained a list of jewish ppl, poc and feminists on behalf of the english government so like i’ve been trying real hard for this whole post not to echo jonny_anonymous re: tolkien and just be like “fuck that guy” lmao