A Canadian development organization has acquired the exclusive rights to create video games based on Charlie Chaplin’s work and likeness. The filmmaker and actor wrote, directed and starred in dozens of films and his character The Tramp remains one of comedy’s most globally recognized icons. Chaplin is now revered by a film institution that once looked down on his work, and old clips and even entire films have found a modern audience for him on YouTube.
The news comes via a CBS report (opens in new tab) to Quebec-based company B Df’frent Games who, along with Chaplin expert Yves Durand, successfully pitched the idea to the Chaplin family. The conditions the family wanted were “No violence. No sexism. No racism. Tell real stories.” Which sounds like they thought they were served this thing in the mid-nineties, but we’ll let it slide.
“One of the fascinating things about Chaplin is that you show a Chaplin film to a group of young people who are 10-15 years old, you start to see people laughing, even today,” says B’Df’Frent co-founder Games, Robert Young. “What he did, how he did it, how he expressed himself, how he moved still makes people laugh. They still get a kick out of it… It just lends itself so well to a game.”
Hmm. Exactly how that translates into a video game remains to be seen, not least because the people involved don’t seem to have done much more than lay the groundwork. Young envisions each project as a “social impact” video game, co-developed with Indie Asylum, a Montreal-based “gaming cooperative.”
“It’s been a five-year process of talking to the family … and it’s been much more about aligning our values with the Chaplin family than negotiating royalties,” Young said. He later notes that the perception is that Chaplin films are only popular with older people, but “over 200 million people a year watch Chaplin films on YouTube and the age is somewhere around 15-35”.
“No one has ever made a video game using this intellectual property,” said Indie Asylum co-founder Christopher Chancey.
I’m afraid he’s wrong: there was an MS-DOS Charlie Chaplin game released in 1988 by US Gold. It’s a strange little thing (opens in new tab), almost a precursor to something like Lionhead’s The Movies: you played “scenes” as a well-animated Chaplin in his Tramp attire, then edited them together into films that an audience would approve or disapprove of. It was of its time, but it remains a curiosity: you can see it in action below.
Anyway. Chancey thinks the pandemic has created a hunger for games that don’t fit the traditional mold: “Life was so stressful for a while that continuing to play dark or adult-themed video games was more of a downer.” He adds that a possible Chaplin game could focus on the division between rich and poor.
Well, this is an odd man out, but oddly enough, that old DOS game shows that it’s far from an impossible task. What’s going to be hard is capturing the essence of the man’s movement (this is, after all, one of the greatest physical comedians who ever lived) and building a game that, whatever you do, is actually funny.
Unfortunately I also have bad news. While preparing this article I looked up Indie Asylum and B Df’Frent. The first appears to be a fairly simple collective of smaller development studios. In the case of B Df’Frent, however, the official website (opens in new tab) has this awesome sentence in the site’s meta code:
“B Df’rent Games, a software publisher of the Little Tramp Adventure Game for mobile devices. Available in the future, a series of NFT based on the game’s IP address.”
So yes. It’s not like I had high hopes, but I suspect the intent here may be more to involve the likeness of such an iconic figure in blockchain shenanigans than to actually make a great game based on his works. Violence may be the last thing the Chaplin family needs to worry about.