9 Video Games That Should Be Made into TV Series
There is a belief by some that role-playing video games, which offer an immersive and unique experience specific to each player, don’t translate well into passive entertainment. Or maybe it’s that there’s too much going on in video games to be able to narratively focus on any one character. Some might say that in narrowing the story you risk missing out on the grand mythology at the heart of beloved titles and franchises. And while those reasons may hold up when it comes to explaining why standalone movie adaptations fail, they don’t hold water when it comes to adapting video game properties to television.
In fact, in this time of Peak TV where complex characters and stories play out in lavish worlds brought to life in high-quality productions, video games may just be the perfect source material for the medium. But let’s also define what kind of video games we’re talking about here. Some titles might still be better adapted as movies (if at all), like simple fighting games, racing games, or side-scrolling brawlers where the gameplay comes first and story is a distant afterthought. Let’s also not overlook the fact that cartoons based on video games have been a part of the TV landscape for a long time, though most of those 80s and 90s series are better off forgotten (“Well excuuuuuse me, Princess!”)
While there are some great ideas for potential animated adaptations (like a wishful-thinking Studio Ghibli Legend of Zelda), our focus with this list is, for the most part, live-action. When it comes to rich, world-building titles, there are some that are truly tailor-made for an epic TV series (Netflix has been one of the first to notice this with their upcoming Witcher series). Every single purveyor of original scripted content these days wants the next Game of Thrones. Well, here you go:
Red Dead Redemption
There’s every chance that a live-action adaptation of the Rockstar Games title could get off the ground before the game’s sequel itself ever hits shelves. I’m kidding, of course, but a Red Dead Redemption TV series might not actually be that far-fetched. Back in the day, Westerns were all the rage on the small screen: Look no further than Bonanza’s 430 episodes, or The Rifleman, Little House on the Prairie, or even Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Westerns have even made a minor comeback of sorts in recent years with the thinly veiled not-really-a-Western Westworld and the Netflix mini-series Godless making headlines. Perhaps they’ve paved the way for Rockstar’s adventure on the American Frontier.
The Red Dead franchise spans the years between 1880 and 1911, often following tough-as-nails protagonists of questionable morality as they use their bounty hunter skills to exact their vengeance while doing their best to avoid trouble with the long arm of the law. The mythology is about to expand in a big way with the prequel series Red Dead Redemption 2 arriving this fall, but there’s already a lot of story to mine, especially if an adaptation opts to focus on former outlaw John Marston. The charismatic character and his story have all the makings of a classic Western: In order to be reunited with his family, Marston has to track down his former gang members and bring them to justice, a quest complicated by him being shot and left for dead. But that’s just the beginning of Marston’s story that takes him all over the American Frontier, crossing paths with bandits, Mexican military officers, and down-home common-folk alike. Red Dead Redemption is already primed to be a long-running TV series, it just needs a creative team with the true grit necessary to bring it to life. – Dave Trumbore
Oh Skyrim, how many hours have you taken from us … but given so much in return! Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls gaming franchise is full of exceptionally rich stories that could very easily be turned into a TV series or multiple series, but given Skyrim’s huge and loyal following (one that includes even more people who are discovering it now via Switch), it feels like a good place to start.
Skyrim, like any fantasy RPG worth its salt, does give the player a fantastic array of choices for a playable character in regards to race, gender, and fighting style, but when it comes to a TV adaptation it feels like it makes the most sense to start with a sword-and-board Nord, who meets Argonians, Dark Elves, Orcs, and Khajits who are battle mages, stealth archers (of course), and more along the way (maybe with some nice practical effects just augmented by CG?) The possible quest lines within the game could fill up seasons worth of story, as the protagonist makes his or her way across Skyrim, discovering (or returning to) the various holds.
The overarching story of the dragon Alduin vs the Skyrim-saving Dovahkiin would be the backbone of the series, but as players know, there’s still plenty to explore not only with the Civil War storyline, but with all of the guild and hold quests peppered throughout. And while Skyrim provides an incredibly fully-formed world with a dizzying amount of lore, it does lack a little on personal relationships. In the vanilla version, you and your follower can go through a lifetime’s worth of adventure together, but their commentary to you never goes beyond a handful of phrases (the same is true for an in-game spouse as well). That could actually work to the advantage of an adaptation, however, where new characters could be introduced that players haven’t formed their own attachments to (or opinions of). Skyrim’s open world concept and replay-ability is a live-action TV epic in the making … if somebody would just make it. — Allison Keene
The last we heard about a Myst project on TV was in 2015, after Hulu gave the CYAN property a script-to-series commitment. At the time, Hulu was just starting to develop original content, something they have been doing a lot more of in the intervening years. But when it comes to Myst, there hasn’t been an update.
I’ll be the first to admit that Myst TV series based on the original game may not be incredibly compelling — one of the things that made the game so beautiful and eerie was the fact that you were completely alone for the entire thing. It might be impossible to translate that experience without losing what made Myst so fascinating. However, there are a few other ways to go about it.
Firstly, the Myst universe is rich in lore, starting with a book series from co-creator Rand Miller that serves as a prequel to the game as it explores the literal creation of worlds — and how that can go awry. Myst’s gaming sequel, Riven (also from Rand and Robyn Miller) further expanded the mythology, as it not only added characters to at least see (if not exactly interact with), but an entire native population. There’s plenty there to work with, as well as potentially trying to save the “ages” that the original game had you explore (especially as Sirrus and Achenar seemed like they were destroying everything with their greed). In the meantime, it’s worth noting that there is a version of Myst for iPad called realMyst that also adds a new world. It’s astonishing how easy it is to get lost in the saga again, which means maybe it’s time to see it adapted in a new way. — Allison Keene
Secret of Evermore
Okay, here’s a deeper cut. If you liked the anachronistic aesthetic of Fallout with the classic fantasy style of more traditional RPGs, then Square’s Secret of Evermore should be familiar to you. This mid-90s Super Nintendo release, developed in North America (which explains a lot) was lauded for its graphics and gameplay but wasn’t up to snuff compared to earlier titles like Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana or even Chrono Trigger, which was released the same year. But for me, Secret of Evermore stands apart for its humor, its time-traveling story, and its unique boy-and-his-dog tale, which make it a great choice for a live-action TV adaptation.
Secret of Evermore starts off in a small American town in 1965 where a teenage boy and his dog end up crashing into an abandoned laboratory, which of course sends them on an adventure across space and time. The duo travel to a prehistoric jungle named Prehistoria, the classical Greek/Roman/Egyptian-inspired Antiqua, the Medieval Gothica, and the super-futuristic Omnitopia. Adding a dash of fun to the proceedings is the fact that the boy’s dog changes in each era, from a wolf, to a greyhound, to a poodle, and finally a robo-dog. It’s fantastic. And that time-traveling storytelling feels perfectly suited to seasonal breaks in a TV series, all with the ultimate goal of getting the boy and his dog back home to Podunk, USA while helping out lost time-travelers along the way. If you’re a fan of shows like Quantum Leap or Sliders, I think you can see how Secret of Evermore could come to life. – Dave Trumbore
As mentioned in our intro, one concern that has been brought up over adapting an RPG to the small screen is finding a way to create a compelling central character, since they’re usually controlled by the player him or herself. With Dragon Age, it’s less of a necessity since the BioWare franchise always surrounds that central character with a coterie of well-developed allies who players come to love (well, for the most part). You become invested in your compatriots in Dragon Age, and one of the most lauded aspects is the ability for those relationships to change and develop based on dialogue choices (which also include romance options and of course steamy cut-scenes).
There is also a heck of a lot of lore put into this franchise, which means that a TV adaptation could explore anything within the current Dragon Age timeline, or go beyond it (I would actually be very interested in a series focusing on Duncan, and his time before we meet him in Origins). There’s also a book series and comic spin-offs that a potential TV series could pull from. Using familiar characters or new ones, a Dragon Age series could be the kind of fantasy epic that a platform like Amazon has been desperate for (hence their developing of a Lord of the Rings TV series). There’s history, romance, adventure, and more already built-in — it’s really not a question of if someone should adapt it, but who and when. — Allison Keene
Little Big Planet
Though our focus in this list has otherwise exclusively centered on live-action adaptations, I do have one exception: Little Big Planet. The delightful puzzle platform game from Media Molecule not only has several easily adaptable storylines from its main series, but it stars a super adorable Sackboy (or girl) at its center. What really made me fall in love with LBP originally, though, was its design. There’s a very particular alchemy of the sinister and the cute that mixes together in this series to great effect. The dark but colorful worlds that the Sackboy must work his way through are full of wonderful details and memorable characters in unusual settings. It’s also not necessarily a kid’s game, despite its appearances; it’s just a compelling adventure. With Little Big Planet 3 adding in a group of allies for Sackboy, the mission aspect that dominated the first game in particular seems easy to adapt (even offshoots like Karting could add in something fun).
What’s imperative, though, is the style. A Little Big Planet story on the small screen would have to be as lush and visually inventive as Media Molecule’s gorgeously tactile initial vision. It would be easy to churn out some junk like we saw in the 80s and 90s with the Zelda TV series and others, but to really honor the original concept and make a LBP TV show successful — and it could be huge — it would need to be Laika-esque. (Ok now I very much want and need a Laika / Little Big Planet collaboration. Please someone make this happen!) — Allison Keene
If the success of The Walking Dead and its many copycat projects has taught us anything, it’s that folks love a good post-apocalypse tale. One of the best takes on this sub-genre is the Interplay Entertainment franchise, Fallout. This title features the best of both worlds: You’ve got a futuristic and post-apocalyptic Hellscape to play in, but its design is inspired by post-World War II 1950s Americana. If you’ve played or even just glimpsed a bit of gameplay, you know that Fallout is its own brand of S.P.E.C.I.A.L.
So why bring Fallout to TV? Well one thing it’s got going for it is an absolute treasure trove of mythology thanks to its five core games and multiple spin-offs, none of which are hard-wired into a named protagonist. The player takes on the role of either the Vault Dweller or the Sole Survivor, which clears the way for a creative adaptation of Fallout that focuses on the community in the Vault and the surrounding, scorched-earth landscape. Another thing that would make a Fallout TV series great is its fantastic sense of humor, something that is complemented by its anachronistic 1950s aesthetic. A final selling point for a live-action TV series adaptation is that Fallout comes with built-in spin-off or seasonal opportunities since the games’ settings bounce from Southern California, to Washington D.C., to Las New Vegas, to Boston. So while it might put a strain on the production team (and the budget), Fallout could refresh its look and its characters for years to come. And being honest, who doesn’t want to see a Super Mutant battle play out on TV? – Dave Trumbore
Fun fact: The live-action movie adaptation of Uncharted is supposedly in the works, but it’s been awhile since we’ve heard anything about it. The last update regarding Joe Carnahan’s script that has Shawn Levy onboard to direct came in May of last year. The movie version of adventurer/treasure hunter/rogue Nathan Drake will focus on his younger years, an interesting departure from the video game franchise where the playable character is in his 30s. This allows for plenty of romance, white-knuckle adventure, and heaps upon heaps of dead bodies along the way.
But like we mentioned earlier, the problem with a movie adaptation of a video game is that you only have a couple of hours to get the full mythology across, from origin story, to action-packed adventure, to a satisfying conclusion. For a title like Uncharted, which is about as close to an Indiana Jones video game as we’ve got, a TV series would be more suited to its exploration of ancient cultures’ mythology, religion, icons, and artifacts, all while taking viewers on a wild, globe-trotting ride. One season of an Uncharted show could accomplish the same thing a single movie sets out to do, but in a deeper and more rewarding way. And even budgets aren’t really an excuse anymore; you only have to look at original series on Netflix, Amazon, premium cable channels and up-and-coming streaming content providers to see that the money is already flowing. It’s time Drake got his cut. – Dave Trumbore
Arguably one of the best and most successful fantasy RPGs ever, the Final Fantasy title has no shortage of story or completely insane characters. With more than 30 years and 15 main series games, Final Fantasy offers up a ton of possibilities for adaptations. And though they may not easily intersect with each other, the standalone stories could make for an interesting anthology approach. This is such a no-brainer idea that animated movies and an anime TV series have already been produced, with varying success. But it’s a live-action series that this discussion is concerned with.
And to be honest, it’s probably the most far-fetched of the bunch. Whether adapting the story of the Light Warriors and their quest to defeat the Elemental Fiends, or following Cloud Strife and his mercenaries in their hunt for Sephiroth, or Crown Prince Noctis’ attempts to save Eos and restore the Lucian throne, Final Fantasy would be the absolute definition of an epic TV series. In an ideal world, I’d love to see each season adapt the video games in the order they arrived, giving audiences at least 15 seasons of Final Fantasy adventures to enjoy. Is it ever going to happen? Probably not, or at least not until some of the easier adaptations on this list (and others) have proven that it’s possible and lucrative to do so. Until then, we’ll just have to keep submitting our Final Fantasy pilot scripts and fan-fiction treatments. – Dave Trumbore