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Video Games Are Getting the Star Treatment

Two years ago, Electronic Arts, the publisher of the Lord of the Rings video games, held a day-long workshop in its Los Angeles office. In a closed-door session, Hollywood directors and video game designers met to discuss how the two entertainment mediums are beginning to fuse. (Singleton didn't attend.)

"To the designers and directors in that room, games are a part of their vocabulary," says Henry Jenkins, head of the comparative media studies program at MIT, who moderated that day's discussions and noted that most in attendance where in their thirties.

'The Chronicles of Riddick' gave birth to a video game version. (Joseph Lederer -- Universal Studios)

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"Convergence Culture," Jenkins's forthcoming book, discusses "transmedia storytelling," in which films are turned into video games and video games are turned into films. Jenkins believes evidence of the cross-pollination is everywhere.

"In terms of structure, the slicing and dicing of the narrative, games have had a tremendous effect on movies," he says. "Look at the 'Kill Bill' series. Look at the 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.' "

But it doesn't always work in reverse. "Would 'Citizen Kane' ever be a video game?" he asks. The game version of "The Godfather," developed by Electronic Arts, is due out this year. " 'The Godfather' is so character- and dialogue-driven, I have a problem with it being in a game form," Jenkins says.

Still, he says, the narrative nature of film is pushing video game designers to give their product stronger story lines and not depend solely on visuals.

But such deep artistic discussion is moving slower than the interest in the bottom line.

Last fall, five family-oriented movies had licensed video games: "Shark Tale," "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," "The Incredibles" and "The Polar Express." This year, "Alone in the Dark," starring Christian Slater, Tara Reid and Stephen Dorff and based on the Atari video, leads the pack. "Spy Hunter," based on the racing game, is coming out this summer, directed by John Woo and starring the Rock (Dwayne Johnson); "BloodRayne," based on the sci-fi horror game, is coming out on Halloween, directed by Uwe Boll and starring Ben Kingsley, Kristanna Loken and Michelle Rodriguez.

"What's cooler than video games?" asks Rodriguez, who walked the red carpet at the second annual Video Game Awards in Santa Monica in December. Her voice was featured in Halo 2, but don't get her started about it because she won't stop. Rodriguez, who made her acting debut in the 2000 film "Girlfight," is a hard-core gamer. So is Vin Diesel, who picked up that night's award for best game based on a movie.

Diesel's film, "The Chronicles of Riddick," was a commercial and critical dud. But the game, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, is one of the few video games that's considered by die-hard gamers -- a discerning bunch -- to be better than the movie it's based on.

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