Adapt And Die is an ongoing look at how works of film, television, and literature have been distorted in lousy games.
Fight Club (2004)
“The first rule of Fight Club is…you do not talk about Fight Club.” This is probably the most famous line in David Fincher’s 1999 film, and not just because it’s repeated moments later as rule No. 2. Fight Club is a club in which people fight, yes. But over the course of the film, it becomes much more. With the haphazard planning of Tyler Durden and “Jack” (the unnamed Edward Norton protagonist), it becomes a cabal of malcontents, sick of living in a world concocted by marketers and focus groups. Corporations made them want bigger cars, bigger dicks, and nicer duvet covers. They were becoming a product of advertising, rather than people to whom products could be advertised. IKEA shows up a lot in the film, and it’s the perfect metaphor for the conformism that the club subverted: Insert piece A into slot B, and you’ve got yourself the exact same TV stand everyone else has.
In Fight Club, when two guys are fighting, they can be individuals. The crowd cheers as they, the only two people who matter, size each other up. The fighters are no longer looking into a foggy mirror; they’re seeing, in their opponent, all the parts of themselves they hate (or love) and punching the hell out of those things. It’s a form of introspection—a form of therapy. So nobody talked about Fight Club. On the path to enlightenment and individuality, the fighting itself was all the talking you needed to do.
Of course, there are eight rules to Fight Club, the last of which is the focus of the maligned video game adaptation of the film (which was adapted from a Chuck Palahniuk novel): “If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.” And there is much fighting to do in Fight Club the game. You fight behind bars, in dingy basements, on airline runways. You fight against deities like Tyler Durden himself, and you even fight against Raymond, the convenience store clerk from the film who appears in one scene—a scene that doesn’t involve fighting. Like its Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat ancestors of old, Fight Club sticks one guy on one side of the screen, one guy on the other side, and throws a life meter above them. Let the battles begin.
Fighting was the ultimate expression of self in the movie, but the game provides no such means for any personal flair. It’s just one shirtless white dude punching another shirtless white dude. Sometimes they’re blond, or not, or they have big mutton chops. But they all punch and kick in exactly the same way. There are no special combos or signature moves. Not even the slightest hint of a “hadouken” fireball that gave Street Fighter characters such flare. Sure, Bob might have larger “bitch tits” than the rest of the characters, but his fighting style is a long way from Street Figher’s slap-happy sumo veteran E. Honda, despite the physical resemblance.
Well, actually, it’s pretty cool when that one shirtless white dude grabs the other shirtless white dude’s arm and totally snaps it. Then it happens again. And again. Because every single character has that ability.
Fights have all the choreography of a Bar Mitzvah dance party. The controls are relatively sticky, so there’s a window of a few seconds for one character to hit the other before the buttons all but stop working, giving the other character a chance to fight back. You punch; he kicks. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s like watching two Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots duke it out.
But at least in the film, there was some meaning behind the fighting: It tore people down so they could remold themselves into who they truly were. Conversely, the story in the game could not be more generic. You play as a to-be-named white dude who physically resembles Mac from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. And like Mac, this guy is eager to show off his physical prowess even when nobody asked him to. He travels from one abandoned lot to the next, interacting with movie characters just long enough for them to ask, “Who the fuck are you?” Then they fight.
You can utilize one of three “styles”, like choosing the way of the martial artist, but it hardly matters. Every fight is the same. You slog between brawls in a daze, barely aware of why you’re hitting this particular shirtless white dude over the head. Winning moves you higher in the ranks of Project Mayhem, the unspoken Fight Club undertaking to destroy corporate numbness and enlighten the masses. You become just another guy barking orders at faceless drones. Then, suddenly, you’re in the building with Tyler Durden and “Jack.” There’s a detonator in your hand and trucks full of homemade explosives inside every major credit bureau. “After this, we can all be individuals again,” you say out loud.
That is the myth that Fight Club participants had beaten into their identical, shirtless skulls throughout the film. Tyler Durden would shout, “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake” at his recruits as they set Project Mayhem into motion. He was a semi-benevolent god, flooding the world but letting his fighters onto the ark, two by two, so they could rebuild society as a cult of personalities. There was a disconnect, though. He saw everyone as sheep, but as we all know, the ark had two zebras, two elephants, two flamingos, and maybe even two velociraptors if Intelligent Design is your thing.
Not even the magnetism of Brad Pitt’s red leather jacket could suppress the individuality of his followers while they fought—entering the arena in pairs, excited to display their peacock feathers and marvel at the differences. But in the game, fighting is a binary construct. You win, or you lose. There is no glory in the moment when you break somebody’s arm, no primitive demonstration of personality happening. You’re just a shirtless white guy, patiently waiting your turn to hit another shirtless white guy, taking every punch just like everyone else. There’s nothing more to talk about.