Some things are obvious picks for adaptations. Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s opus The Lord of the Rings yields nothing but cinematic images and imagined sweeping shots across Middle-Earth vistas, while JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is almost inextricable from its movie counterparts. The same is true of video games; one can hardly imagine the Batman universe and divorce it from the common childhood fantasy of wanting to be said Caped Crusader, so Batman videogames are pretty much a given. With that said, perhaps it’s time to turn our attentions to the lesser-appreciated pantheon of video game adaptations in waiting. Batman, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have had their time in the sun. The real untapped potential here, the golden goose, the cash cow waiting to be milked for all it’s worth, is EastEnders.
Of course, this game wouldn’t exist without precedent. Sketch comedy show Little Britain got its own game back in 2007, a by all accounts execrable collection of terrible minigames and risible dialogue. Okay, maybe that’s not the best springboard. Perhaps we should look instead to better analogues, games set in a gritty police-procedural version of London like The Getaway and Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments. These titles seem to yield a little more fruit when we’re thinking about what kind of game EastEnders would be, but they’re still not quite there, because The Getaway is way more violent than EastEnders (occasionally) and Sherlock Holmes is set in the Victorian era, where they don’t even have TVs. Before we proceed, let’s set some ground rules: no playing as existing characters (they’ve got their established personalities, and let’s face it, it’s more fun to imagine yourself as a newbie), nothing completely outside the realms of everyday life in EastEnders, and no visual novels, because they’re too easy.
Perhaps an ideal initial reference point, given the talky, dialogue-heavy nature of the show, is a Telltale-style Walking Dead-alike. Players would control a new arrival in Walford, where the show takes place, and quickly do the rounds introducing themselves to the locals and ingratiating themselves with important families like the Mitchells, the Beales and the Fowlers. How the player chooses to interact with these characters influences how they’re seen in the town, so when somebody gets murdered (it’s a video game, something needs to happen), all eyes are on the newbie and their relationship with those around them becomes pivotal to earning trust and proving innocence. Maybe there could be quicktime events, but I think they’re of the devil, so perhaps best avoid them (by pressing Q quickly). This style of game seems the most ideal fit for EastEnders, but it’s not particularly creative. Let’s broaden our horizons a bit.
Back in 2007, there was news and rumour surrounding an Eastenders video game, see here. Seemingly, nothing has materialised since.
Another avenue we could explore is cyberpunk bartender simulator VA1-HA11A. In our EastEnders game, which would be inspired by this visual novel-style barkeep-’em-up, players would take control of a new arrival at the Queen Vic pub, tasked with learning the regulars’ favourite drinks and remembering them for extra points and kudos. Over time, a background story would unravel through snippets of dialogue, which the player could choose to needle if they felt confident enough, or just leave alone. There’d be a drink-pouring minigame, probably, so if dialogue ain’t your bag, there’s still plenty to enjoy in Vic: Get Into My Pub.
Still not quite there yet? Alright, final suggestion: Dead Rising, but EastEnders edition. Players control a newly blooded journalist, out on their first assignment to the back end of nowhere (or Walford, as it’s otherwise known). The player’s task is to snap as many images of provincial life as they possibly can, whether it be Phil and Grant getting into a fight, Ian turning into a blubbering wreck again, or Dot Cotton lecturing somebody about the Bible (she still does that, yes?). Bonus points are given for engineered situations; if the player manages to get Phil and Grant fighting while Dot lectures them both, that’s a bonanza. Walford is presented here as a sandbox environment where anything is possible, as long as “anything” is taking pictures, getting into fights and having incredibly dramatic things happen to you around major holidays.
Maybe you don’t feel like my vision for EastEnders: The Video Game works. Maybe you want to weigh in with your own idea for a post-apocalyptic Dark Souls-style journey through the ruined pubs and market stalls which once were Walford. I’d love to hear your ideas, as long as you shout them at me in a thick Cockney accent.