Why Don’t We Have Any Good Stephen King Games?

In a world where adapting books into movies seems to be Hollywood’s go-to, it feels like no one has walked this path more than Stephen King. In The Shawshank Redemption and The Shining (both relatively loose adaptations), King has written the base text for two of the greatest movies of all-time, as well as the highest grossing horror in history, IT. Yet the world of video games has not been as kind to King, and as someone who has read a huge chunk of his seemingly infinite back catalogue, I don’t quite understand why.

I know that books don’t make the path to video games anywhere near as often as they do to movies, but it still feels like there’s a huge disparity. We have several games based on Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Sherlock Holmes, as well as The Witcher, Metro, and Stalker – that’s on top of the interpretations of novels (as opposed to adaptations) we see in the original Assassin’s Creed game, BioShock, Spec Ops: The Line, and Bloodborne. Books being turned into video games is more common than you think, even if it’s not as often as it is with movies.

The reason there are so many Stephen King movie adaptations – aside from how good and cinematic his back catalogue is – is because of how easy it is. There’s a revolving list of books constantly available on Stephen King’s website that belong to The Dollar Baby Club – if any film student starting out wants to adapt that work to a movie, it will cost them just a single dollar.

Frank Darabont, who went on to direct The Shawshank Redemption and another King prison novel in The Green Mile, was once a Dollar Baby. Darabont adapted The Woman in the Room through this method, and impressed King so much he was granted full distribution rights, and it made future collaboration significantly easier – the rights for Shawshank cost Darabont just $5000, with King framing the cheque and sending it back to Darabont “in case you ever need bail money.”

This isn’t just a funny story – it shows King very actively wants his work adapted into new mediums. Granted, he hates The Shining, but the Dollar Baby club is still active to this day, and Shawshank was some 14 years after Kubrick took us to The Overlook, so it clearly didn’t sour him off adaptations completely. Unfortunately, when it comes to games, it’s more understandable to think that King might have been scared off.

Stephen King’s F13 is based one how horrific it would be if keyboards had the dreaded F13 key… you know, like Macs already do. It was a series of truly terrible minigames that felt more like unfinished demos – the whole thing existed as a promotional tool for Everything’s Eventual, which was better than F13 but still only okay. Then there’s The Lawnmower Man, which I hunted down a few years ago out of morbid curiosity. I’d been told it was one of the worst games ever, and it somehow managed to slip under even those low expectations. It’s based on the – also terrible – movie rather than the book too, so it’s just a loser all around, I’m afraid.

The Dark Half is a decent point-and-click and The Mist is an okay text adventure, and then that’s it. All of Stephen King’s works have added up to an alright point-and-click from 1992 that pales in comparison to the source material.

King doesn’t write about games too much unless it’s arcade cabinets, but he writes about movies every other page. He loves movies (and music and television, the man’s a reference machine), so that may play a part in how readily he allows filmmakers to have a crack at his material. Games are a world he seems less aware of, and after some rough experiences, might have cut his losses and shut up shop.

That’s a real shame, as he has so many books rife for deeper exploration in a video game. Games wouldn’t need to trim material in the way films do, or turn themselves into two separate two hour plus movies including a long and laborious scene at a Chinese restaurant – as IT somehow managed to get away with.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon – his most underrated book, if you ask me – is all about a girl who gets lost in the woods, and wanders around trying to survive. At several junctions, she meets (or possibly hallucinates) a demon with a wasp for a face, and has to balance out surviving, conserving energy, fleeing from danger, and maintaining her grip on reality by listening to Tom Gordon pitch for the Boston Red Sox. There’s a terrific game hiding in there somewhere. Considering King has 80 books to his name, this is far from the only King novel that’s ripe for the picking, either – just read the plot summary of The Dark Tower and tell me it’s not a video game cosplaying as a novel series.

Even when his books aren’t actually being adapted, or even being used to shape the outlines of games, his ideas are so wide and creative that you can spot little kernels of them everywhere. I can’t watch the Life Is Strange: True Colors trailer without thinking of Insomnia. And of course, there’s Alan Wake, which isn’t quite the same as BioShock or Spec Ops (it feels based on the atmosphere of King rather than any specific book), but after how terrifying that could be when everything fell into place, it’s baffling that we haven’t seen more studios turn to King since.

Stephen King has moved beyond being ‘a famous writer’ – he’s so well known that even those who never read books would instantly know his name and his biggest hits. He’s The Beatles of horror. Part of that notoriety is because of how many successes his books have had on the silver screen, and that’s down to how cinematic, relatable, and fast-paced his novels are. They’re perfect for video games, and we need someone to take a chance on them… just not the people that made The Lawnmower Man.

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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey

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