It shouldn’t be an insult to call something stupid. We’re all stupid when put in contexts we don’t connect with. What gives away a person’s true character is not their relative intelligence but the manner in which they deal with their implicit stupidity.
To wit, the recently released trailer for Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby is a blaring cinema horn of stupidity. The adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s slow-hewn elegy for a man having a doomed love affair is invaded by Luhrman’s self-conscious pastiche of consumerist tchotchkes. The clashing tones and textures fit well enough in Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet, an imperfect but complimentary embellishment to Shakespeare’s sex puns, fart jokes, and heroic couplets. But with Gatsby as source material Luhrman’s lust for histrionics seems incoherent.
Incoherence is a flaw in movies, but it’s a secret virtue in videogames. Last year a small team of game designers led by Charlie Hoey and Pete Smith made an 8-bit version of The Great Gatsby that indulged in jarring incompatibility of the novel and the new medium into which they crammed it.
The Gatsby game is a traditional side-scroller in the tradition of Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden, with players controlling Nick Carraway as he fights his way thought flappers, butlers, and a handful of metaphorical end bosses, including a hovering pair of giant eyeglasses that shoot lasers.
The game far outstrips Luhrman’s film in stupidity, but its developers seem aware of the impossibility of recreating the essential meaning of Gatsby in a genre that depends on jumping and shooting. So instead of trying to ape the emotional sweep, they chose to simply palate swap prohibition era aristocrats in for oozing space aliens and let players revel in the strange association of form and content.
Where the 8-bit Gatsby makes fun of its own limitations as an action game, Luhrman’s vision of Gatsby makes it feel like Fitzgerald’s novel is the one being made fun of.