2009’s Ghostbusters Video Game – The Franchise’s Original, True “Third Movie”

No matter what you think about the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot–and as of this writing it hasn’t been released yet, so any thoughts you do have can only be about its potential (and hopefully aren’t just negatively directed at the gender of the cast)–there’s no denying the hype machine surrounding the movie. Like any big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, the movie is being promoted on every magazine, website, talk show, billboard, and TV commercial from here to the ghost world. And since it’s the latest installment in a hugely popular and highly beloved franchise, the buzz is extra strong, with much of the promotion concerning its connections to the previous films and how many of the original movies’ cast members are making appearances in the new movie. There has also been a lot of attention paid to how the movie has received the blessing of the (living) principle players from the original films. It’s a really big deal–I mean, come on, the long-awaited third Ghostbusters movie! There’s just one problem: There already was a third installment to the Ghostbusters franchise, only it wasn’t a movie–it was a video game. Therefore, the mainstream press (and most of the public) didn’t care.

Make no mistake: Ghostbusters: The Video Game–released in 2009 for PS2, PS3, X360, Wii, PSP, DS, and PC–had its share of hype leading up to its release. It was a Game Informer cover story, and was even the focus of a New York Times interview with Dan Akroyd. And in both of those stories and in much of the coverage about the game, there was a lot of focus on how involved the original performers and creators of Ghostbutsters were in the development of the game. All four lead actors were going to be reprising their roles, even the famously finicky Bill Murray, who at that point was doing very little of that type of comedic role anymore and was largely doing his understated indie movie work. The game was rounding out its cast with other returning actors from the film, including Annie Potts, Brian Doyle-Murray, William Atherton, and even Hollywood legend Max von Sydow to reprise his role as the voice of Vigo the Carpathian. On top of all of that, Akroyd and Harold Ramis–the writers of both Ghostbusters films–actually gave the game’s script their own passes in order to make various edits and improvements. To have the writers of a major Hollywood movie franchise have even the tiniest bit of direct involvement with its video game tie-in’s script is a pretty big deal, and to this day has hardly ever happened (with the Wachowski’s writing of the Enter the Matrix script being one of the few notable exceptions).

The story for Ghostbusters: The Video Game is also interesting because it is neither a retelling of either of the existing movies or a complete reboot. It actually picks up after the events of the second film, with the characters in the game making all the same direct references to the previous films’ events as they would have in a movie sequel. To make Bill Murray and Harold Ramis’ involvement even more impressive is that Akroyd had written several attempts at a third Ghostbusters movie over the years, but it didn’t elicit enough excitement from them (or director Ivan Reitman) to make them want to bother doing it. Ghostbusters III would’ve been a surefire hit and nice payday for everyone involved, so for them to pass on it meant that they weren’t content reprising their roles just for the sake of doing it. So to get Ramis and Murray interested enough to actually want to do voice work for a video game, still looked at as “slumming it” by a lot of big-name actors (and remains the pair’s sole video game credits for new voice work), was a much bigger deal than it was getting mainstream attention for.

Akroyd himself told Game Informer, “This is essentially the third movie.” And it should have gotten as much coverage as a third Ghostbusters movie would’ve gotten (and the reboot is currently getting). But despite being a direct sequel to a huge Hollywood franchise, starring huge Hollywood talent, having huge Hollywood writers credited for the script, and–probably most importantly–turning out to be a well-received game in its own right, the non-gaming press largely ignored the game. It seems that, at the end of the day, a video game is still just a video game, and movie-based games “don’t count” if they aren’t actual movies. The same goes for a lot of other well-received video games based on movies, such as the various great James Bond games that are original stories and not based on any of the movies or novels, yet you won’t see them acknowledged in the James Bond Encyclopedia or any other “official” compendium of Mr. Bond’s adventures. There are exceptions, of course–the aforementioned Enter the Matrix, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, et al–but more often than not, video games based on movie franchises are seen as non-existent spin-offs that don’t really count or matter to the actual movie series. Another serious blow to the few video games that have “counted” was when every single Star Wars video game ever made was deemed non-canon by the new gatekeepers of the franchise following its acquisition by Disney, meaning that critically-acclaimed games like Knights of the Old Republic and The Force Unleashed were now also relegated to mere footnote status.

When the mainstream ignoring of games like Ghostbusters really comes into focus is when something like the passing of Harold Ramis occurs, and there is zero mention of the game in any of the write-ups about his career that are written outside of video game-focused publications. What makes it so unfortunate that the game wasn’t mentioned is the fact that its both one of his final completed acting and writing gigs, being released literally in the same month as his final movie, Year One. Most obituaries about him mentioned that Year One was his final movie, and unfortunately, Year One was also pretty terrible. So there was the perfect opportunity to be able to say that he ended on a creative high note by instead saying how one of his final performances was reprising one of his most famous roles, as Egon Spangler in the Ghostbusters video game. But no, we wouldn’t want to mention a lowly video game when honoring a legendary writer, director, and actor, so instead we just settle for pointing out that he ended his film career on not the highest of creative points just so we can have something “real” to say for his final role.

The same goes for all the talk of the new Ghostbusters movie, and how it’s the first movie since 1989’s Ghostbusters II and is reviving the franchise after a 27 year hiatus. Yes, it is the first Ghosbusters “movie” in 27 years, but it’s not fair to say the franchise as a whole as been on hiatus for that long. Would it be so much work to add an extra sentence to a story about the movie pointing out that there was a game in between the second and third films that continued the story of the original series, featured the same cast, and so on? But that would involve the mainstream media even being aware of the game in the first place, and actually “validate” video games. Instead, for as far as video games have come, they still largely miss the radarand recognition of the overall mainstream media, and unless something comes in the form of a movie or TV show, it “doesn’t count.” If nothing else, comic book fans can certainly relate to how characters and stories aren’t taken seriously until they are made into movies and TV shows, eh?