Welcome to Adapt And Die, where we examine seminal (or at the very least semi-interesting) works of film and television that have crashed and burned in the gaming world.
Grey’s Anatomy: The Video Game (2009)
ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, a primetime hospital drama about to enter its ninth season, is full of soapy and steamy cheese. When she was still on the show, Katherine Heigl’s Dr. Izzie Stevens fell in love with a patient, who died; then she continued to have sex with his ghost until it was discovered she had a brain tumor. “That’s a little far-fetched,” said the daytime soap operas to their evil twins.
Grey’s Anatomy: The Video Game attempts to translate these rollercoaster stories into a palatable, tangible format: a game that turns fans’ investment into interactivity. What it looks like is two games at once—one a bunch of cutscenes telling the story of a typical day at Seattle Grace Hospital and the other a series of embarrassingly simple mini-games. At various points you’re asked to swing the Wiimote to slice a picture of two doctors in half, or swipe wildly at dark clouds surrounding Meredith Grey to “flick away all doubt.” As those clouds disperse, it becomes clear that emotional states are impossible to commodify.
Written “in collaboration with show writers,” or so claims the box, the story of Grey’s Anatomy: The Video Game takes place over one day at the hospital, with all the sordid romance and backstabbing of the TV show. Diphtheria is running rampant, but whatever. Nobody ever watched Grey’s Anatomy for pharynx fluid levels. Meredith and Derek (a.k.a. McDreamy) are navigating their relationship, Cristina is vying for a fellowship, Alex is man-whoring around the hospital, and George deals with a crackpot patient who believes he knows the future. It’s the same schmaltz from any old episode of the show, with the drama rooted in our perceived interest in the characters.
Basically, this half of the game isn’t all that different from watching Grey’s Anatomy on television. The story unfolds through dialogue-based cutscenes that aren’t exciting or memorable in any way—not to mention how awful they look. Faces are bloated and rigid. The teeth make the characters looks like they’re constantly chewing gum. And Dr. Bailey’s eyebrows take on Peter Gallagher proportions. The animation’s not much better than those hilariously terrible Taiwanese reenactment videos, only it’s sadder in this case, considering the developers were presumably trying to capture some reality. Even by 2009 standards, Grey’s Anatomy: The Video Game is ugly.
The story is hard to follow, not only due to its Shakespearean length (by the time “Act 3, Scene 7” rolled around, I started to wonder when, you know, “Act 4” would begin), but also because it stops every few seconds to include a mini-game meant to somehow enhance the experience. So, for example, while Cristina is performing surgery, you are asked to make an incision or swab down the affected area using the Wiimote. Perhaps you suture a wound after inserting a needle for an IV bag, two actions that require extreme dexterity in real life and not so much in the Wiiverse. Animated as poorly as the rest of the game, these scenes are painful to watch both because you’re suctioning blood and because the blood looks like this:
The most mind-boggling parts of Grey’s Anatomy: The Video Game are when these gamettes reflect an aspect of the television show you wouldn’t think could possibly translate into a task-based video game: feelings.
In the first scene, for example, you must choose whether Meredith comes on strong with loveboat Derek or plays hard-to-get. So you piece together one of two puzzles by clicking on the floating pieces—a lustful Meredith portrait, or a picture of her looking dead-eyed into the distance. At another point, you choose one of two doctors to defend in an argument by “unwrapping” crumpled-up pieces of paper with one person’s face or the other (with plenty of unnecessary Wiimote wobbling).
In some cases, the games aren’t looking for such a binary outcome: To fire up Dr. Bailey, you must skillfully maneuver the cursor to absorb “anger” bubbles while avoiding “calm” ones. Who knew personality traits were quantifiable?
The whole thing reeks of desperation, seemingly confident enough the wildly popular ABC drama would coast in a Nielsen-proof medium, even when padded beyond sumo wrestler proportions. In adapting Grey’s Anatomy, developer Longtail Studios simply shoehorns a D-caliber story around a collection of mindless tasks.
It’s a cynical deconstruction of Grey’s Anatomy down to its core parts: Now is the time when the sterilization happens; now is the time when the empathy unit powers up. It’s as if a guy created the game without having ever seen an episode of the show, but his wife watched as he paid half-attention. That’s the exact scenario that happened to comedian Rob Corddry, who parlayed his newfound fascination with Grey’s faux-intensity into the spoof Childrens Hospital. The makers of Grey’s Anatomy: The Video Game heighten not the show’s intensity, but its robotic nature. It paints the characters as pathetic victims of an algorithm, not even granted the privilege to flick away their own doubt.