Back when they first announced their plans to produce their own content, dubbed “Netflix Originals” or “Netflix Original Series,”people were both skeptical and hopeful of Netflix’s ability to deliver. Thankfully, Netflix has proven many times over that they are quite capable of delivering quality programming, with hits like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Daredevil, just to name a few.
But what’s really impressive about Netflix is that it produces unique stories and shows that many mainstream networks could not or would not want to risk producing, for fear of them not being widely accepted by audiences. For example, Netflix Original Series Stranger Things has gained tons of fans and been hailed by critics for its unique storytelling, but was “rejected 15 to 20 times by other networks” before Netflix gave it a chance.
Netflix has shown that they can produce content from a niche topic or fanbase, and make it palatable to other viewers who previously may not have been interested in that kind of thing (see: Marvel’s Jessica Jones).
So, where the hell am I going with this, and how does it relate to video games?
As we discussed in a previous podcast episode about storytelling in games, video games are not really required to have stories to be enjoyable, but many games do focus a lot on story nowadays, and many of them do it very well. These stories are often quite unique, and would find a very comfortable home in Netflix’s library if they were to be adapted into, say, a miniseries or short film.
Specifically, here are 5 video game titles that I think would make excellent Netflix Originals:
Grand Theft Auto
This might seem like an odd choice to some, but the Grand Theft Auto franchise has made great strides in its storytelling capabilities since GTA 3 and Vice City, which were more focused on the standard “lose money, do crime, get money” plot structure. Specifically, GTA 4 and 5 — the latest titles from the franchise — have showcased just how much the games now strongly emphasize compelling narratives.
In GTA 4, you play as Nico Bellic, a Russian immigrant who travels to Liberty City to live with his cousin and make a living for themselves, leaving his dark past of crime and war behind him. As you progress through the game, you find it’s not just a series of crime sprees and Scarface references; Nico (and thereby the player) has to grapple with the choices he makes, and whether or not he can truly escape his history of anger, violence, and betrayal.
In GTA 5, you play as three very different characters and personality types: Michael (retired thief), Trevor (high-functioning psychopath), and Franklin (ambitious former gangster). This game continued the trend of providing compelling stories for the characters, examining the issues of betraying your friends, connecting with your family, and finding meaning in life vs. comfort and wealth.
These in-depth character studies, along with the sharp satirical and action-packed elements of the game franchise, would transition so perfectly into a witty yet touching crime drama series that could easily span multiple seasons with plenty of rich plot arcs and conflicts (both physical and emotional).
Metal Gear Solid
The Metal Gear franchise is so rich with complex plot and unique characters, it’s just begging for a TV show adaptation. For those of you who have not played Metal Gear, it’s a game series with a story spanning from the 1940’s to the 2010’s, primarily about international espionage and plots to gain power by using giant, nuke-launching mechs known as “Metal Gear.” It’s filled with political and philosophical commentary, and gripping action sequences like a one-on-one sniper fight in the jungle, or a CQC fight on top of a submarine (spoilers — see it here).
If Netflix were to get their hands on the Metal Gear storyline, we could expect to see a live action drama the likes of which we have never seen before. It’d be like Lost meets 24, with some House of Cards mixed in. It could also do very well as an anime series, but to be honest, I feel like it wouldn’t stand out as much, at least compared to many other anime shows out there.
[Insert Half-Life 3 joke here]
Half-Life is a beloved but slightly controversial game franchise — mainly because of the mysterious and sometimes outright confusing narrative behind it (plus the fact that the story remains unfinished). To sum it up: Half Life 1 & 2 are about a theoretical physicist, Gordon Freeman, who inadvertently helps open a rift to an inter-dimensional plane of existence called Xen, which leads to a violent encounter with an alien species and the eventual occupation of Earth by an alien force known as the Combine. Also there’s time travel.
Sounds kinda crazy, right? If you ask me, it’s exactly the kind of crazy that would make for a fascinating sci-fi mystery series, just like Stranger Things, X-Files, or even Doctor Who. With the right writing and director, Half-Life could be a smash hit for Netflix Originals in the sci-fi arena. Not convinced? Watch the intro to Half-Life 2 and imagine that as the first scene of a 8-episode miniseries, and you might just change your mind.
Transistor, following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Bastion, is a visually striking game set in a beautiful but terrifying world, with all of the protagonists actions narrated by an quasi-omniscient voice.
The story of Transistor basically consists of this: you play as Red, a famous singer who survived an assassination attempt by a group called the Camerata, who control a force of technological creatures known as the Process, who deplete people of their life force and consciousness. Red acquires a sword-like weapon called Transistor, which the Camerata want for some reason, and she sets out find out why — and defeat the Process along the way.
The adventure-type plot structure of this game’s story, along with it’s mind-blowing art style and amazing soundtrack, would fit so well as an anime series I almost consider it a crime it hasn’t been done yet. Netflix Originals do include anime — in fact, there are some very successful productions like Knights of Sidonia and Seven Deadly Sins — so a Transistor anime series would fit right in as another unique vision that Netflix has helped bring to the masses.
There are many reasons why The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was named Game of the Year by multiple organizations and critics; one of those reasons was its utterly fantastic storytelling. The basic premise of The Witcher franchise is that you play as Geralt of Riviera, who is a Witcher: a monster hunter with supernatural abilities. Geralt takes on quests and tasks from various folk that tend to involve dealing with some kind of monster or some other issue that normal humans cannot solve, like negotiating with a troll.
Aside from being a game series with a rich world and combat system, the Witcher franchise is also known for its compelling storylines, which often task the player with making meaningful choices that shape the path Geralt follows along his journey, as well as the ultimate outcome. The story is full of unique characters and elements like political intrigue, romance, and the nature of humanity. Part of the reason the games’ stories are so good is quite possibly because the games themselves are an adaptation of a real book series of the same name by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, but from what I understand the developer, CD Projekt Red, did take some creative liberties while designing the games.
The Witcher’s story provides the same intrigue as Game of Thrones with all the fantasy and action of Xena: Warrior Princess, if not more. If Netflix wanted to add another hit series to their Fantasy genre roster, The Witcher should be an obvious choice.
Imagine a live action fantasy drama, inspired by authentic Polish folktales and filled with witty banter, meaningful character development, and sword fights with griffons and trolls. Sign me up.
Was There Anything I Missed?
These are my top ideas for video game stories that Netflix could successfully adapt into Original series, but I know there are many other titles out there that also deserve to be on this list.
Leave me a comment here to let me know what other games deserve to be Netflix Originals!