By: Amir Aschner
When a discussion about the movie and the game of Lord of the Rings (LOTR) comes up everyone always tries to compare the two and decide which one is better; better at narrating a story or better at immersing the audience in the fictional world of Middle Earth or better at any number of other aspects. I am of a different mind: Why can’t we all just get along? Neither media is better than the other but rather each has its distinctive pros and cons.
First let’s examine the movie: In Tolkien’s LOTR series he created a vast and detailed world for the reader to enter. Most of the audience for the movies already knew the plot for the books and had an expectation of what would occur in the movie. However, regardless of what they knew or expected to happen, the movies were in effect just a visual portrayal of what someone else imagined the LOTR’s tale to be like; that someone being the director. In that sense there was far more rigidity in the movie than any other media (ie book, game). We, as the audience, had no say in what happened, but rather we were ‘along for the ride’ so to speak as the director and actors took us through the story/plot. Getting this real-life sensory (visual and auditory) portrayal is both positive and negative. Positively, it gives us a greater sense of ‘real’ than if we just imagined what was occurring. A movie entails seeing actual people interact, being in actual environments (whether they be real places or CG backdrops is irrelevant) and hearing actual sounds. While these are nice and, more often than not, add to the experience of the stories development they can have the negative effect of taking away from our imagination and creative input to the story. For example, if you read the LOTRs books you may imagine a scene differently than what the movie forces you to see and if the difference is substantial it can detract from the enjoyment and even remove you from your immersion in the story all together.
Now let’s contrast what is said above about movies with LOTRO (Lord of the Rings Online). Game play excels where the movies lack. Although every game is by definition “fiction and rules” (Juuls), LOTRO is the same fictional Middle Earth of the movies and books but with fewer rules. By that I mean that the audience, or in this case the player, has far more control over the outcomes and the stories progression. Yes, you can only do what the rules of the game allow you to do but they allow you to have a huge say in what actions are taken. Loosely, you follow the plot of the ‘One Ring’ and the actions in the world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth but with far more available options and paths. For instance, as a character I don’t have to follow the path Frodo took to Mordor nor go join the battle for Helms Deep. Rather, I can walk from town to town leisurely or go hang out with other LOTRO players or if I choose do exactly as I previously mentioned. There is no agenda one has to follow. On the other hand, whereas in a movie perceives a real world the game is far less stimulating. Not to the point where one will not be immersed in the fictional reality but the graphics are not a life-like simulation, the sounds are limited to what the game can produce, and the action is limited to what the game allows the characters to emote – run, swim, fight, etc.
So to sum up: The movie puts you in the passenger seat of a reality and the game give you control of fiction. However, do not get the wrong impression about what I mean by that. I am neither challenging nor proving the superiority of movies over games or vice versa, but rather, qualifying both as useful tools. They simply do different things. And is different really so bad? Honestly, why can’t we all just get along?