Alex Garland: My Favourite Game

Your script for 28 Days Later brought about a renaissance in the zombie genre, which has infected games in a big way. Do you think there are any fresh stories left to tell about zombies?
Yeah, of course. Zombies is just a genre, like vampires or aliens. You can reinvent them and keep working them as long as you want. I would not choose to work on another 28 franchise movie. I would be very happy for someone else to do it. Because I’d get paid, I’d get some sort of passive payment. But I don’t want to do it. In terms of their life within games, I personally like Plants Vs Zombies very much, so yes, there’s still life in the old dog.

Has Danny Boyle approached you about getting involved in the 28 Months Later project?
He did, but I didn’t want to work on it. If he wants to go ahead and make it, that’s great, but I don’t want to do it.

Do you have any theories on why videogames ping-pong back and forth between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings?
Adolescent preoccupations. Without naming any names, I’ve pitched ideas to videogame publishers, which they’ve rejected on the grounds essentially that they’re not mainstream enough. I’ve been shown pie charts that show gamer interests, and all I can say is that I don’t think that’s a very good way to go about the business. And it’s not really how the big movie studios go about the business either. Warners would not have made Inception if they thought along those lines. And as a business proposition, that was obviously a good thing to do. I’m talking in very broad terms here, and I’m very understanding that the reason my ideas might have been rejected is that they weren’t any fucking good. Maybe they were just crap. I have no sense of entitlement at all.

If the pitches weren’t deemed viable, surely there’s no harm in sharing an example or two with us.
I’m happy to tell you off the record but not in the context of the interview. Because who knows, maybe I’ll be able to get them off the ground at some point in the future.

You’ve worked quite a bit in the sci-fi genre. What appeals to you about that narrative context?
I just love sci-fi. I like it because you can get big ideas in there and you’re allowed to do it without looking pretentious. I mean, I say that, yet there’d be plenty of people who’d say, hang on a minute, Sunshine is the most pretentious movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Maybe they’d say that with justification, but the fact that I may have failed to do that on Sunshine doesn’t stop it from being true.

Enslaved followed a fairly linear narrative compared to games with branching structure like the Mass Effect series. Do you think that, given their interactive nature, games have a responsibility to let players’ choices shape the narrative?
Nah, I don’t think that games have a responsibility to do it. I just think that it’s a great tool that’s at games’ disposal. They can use it or not use it, just as you might shoot a film in colour or black and white. I should say that with Enslaved, though, that was Tameem Antoniades’ structure and narrative. I arrived to that project late and was there to bring it together, not to come up with it. But you can have a completely valid game that does not have a branching structure, and often the branching-structure bit, as Mass Effect 3 found out to its cost, is the bit that can most piss people off or make them feel let down. In fact, one of the ideas that I’m trying to pitch as a game idea does not have a branching structure.

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