Will TV shows and video games soon merge?

The transition to fully interactive television may only be a matter of time.

August 22, 2013

In a recent Newsweek/Daily Beast interview, Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff mused about the possibility of television shows like his thrilling HBO fantasy series becoming more like video games.

Benioff wondered if someday we’d “merge television viewing and videogame playing, so you’re taking control of a certain character and making decisions for her.”

Is this a pipe dream, or a soon-to-be reality? If current industry trends are any indication, the final push towards fully interactive television may only be a matter of time. 

Over the years, audiences have been treated to television shows born from video games, and ones that have spun off television shows. We've also seen TV series that revolve around the world of gaming or the video game characters themselves (for example: "GamesMaster," the first ever UK television show dedicated to computer and video games). Unfortunately, most of these shows have failed to connect with audiences (remember "Game Over?") and only lasted a season or two. 

But lo and behold, an exciting new web series about videogaming has caught viewers' attention. Video Game High School (VGHS), a smart, high quality show that blends gamer culture with classic TV storyteling, began with the support of over 10,000 backers on Kickstarter and is now gearing up for season two.

With each episode averaging over three million views, VGHS— which has been described by AdWeek as "two-thirds Harry Potter, one-third Scott Pilgrim sans 'the chosen one' stuff, with better graphics, and a pinch of 'The Big Bang Theory'"—is a perfect series for video game buffs who also enjoy the narrative throughlines and ongoing serial intrigue that TV provides. 

Meanwhile, the Syfy Channel has taken the fusion of television and video games one step further with "Defiance," a new science fiction franchise that has been triumphantly marketed as "the first videogame television show." The novelty of this endeavor lies in its virtually seamless execution: the linking of the show and the game together on an ongoing basis, with plot elements and characters from each crossing over to the other.

In April, gaming company Trion Worlds and the Syfy unveiled "Defiance," the first such crossover of a massively multi-player online game (MMO) and a TV show, to decidedly mixed reviews. But despite some critics giving the show flack for being kind of lame to "incomprehensible," "Defiance" has been renewed for a second season to premiere in June 2014; meaning that, at least for the time being, the burgeoning revolution of TV/video game hybrids will live on. 

Quantam Break, a transmedia action-shooter video game/television hybrid that is already garnering a flurry of industry excitement and positive advance buzz, is currently in development. Still, the overall disappointment of "Defiance" has led me to wonder: if already popular, high-intensity shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead or Boardwalk Empire took on the properties of video games, would they be more successful? 

Also, would a more futuristic model (viewers having the ability to control the characters' actions onscreen, in real time) actually work—not just technologically, but from the psychological standpoint of the viewer? After all, isn't the point of watching a TV show not knowing what will happen next; and in the case of high-octane dramas like Breaking Bad, indulging in spine-tingling suspense as you simply throw up your hands and go along for the ride? 

At this point, I think that I would rather see characters projected outside of my screen like in Minority Report (just not with scary movies—cue flashbacks to The Ring!) than be able to control the storyline by manipulation of character arcs. But who knows what immense satisfaction this technological advancement could bring? Imagine having the ability to save the people on TV shows that you actually like, or guide characters like Mad Men's Don Draper and the Doctor of Doctor Who along on their adventures. 

Would you like to see certain TV shows become more like video games, or should we keep them separate?

Leah Pickett is a pop culture writer and co-host of WBEZ's Changing Channels, a podcast about the future of television. Follow Leah on FacebookTwitter and Tumblr.