It Should Be a Game: FRINGE
Ahh, the mid 2000s. The aughts were something of a golden age for TV drama. At least for me, who was like 10-15 at the time. Breaking Bad, The Wire, Lost, House, all kinds of fantastic drama shows were finding their way into the public consciousness. Unfortunately, for the most part, these great shows never strayed far from reality. Other than Supernatural, most shows that attempted the strange failed to gain much traction. Most of these ideas were honestly not all that great, but some were unfortunately lost to the annals of TV time. Of course, every lame ~14 year old dork deeply mourned the abrupt cancellation of Firefly (myself included), but there was one forgotten show that I think needs revisiting: Fringe. Filling the void left by the then apparent end of The X-Files, Fringe reintroduced stories of weird spooky sci-fi back into my weekly television consumption. And for no other reason than my teenage nostalgia for a show that realistically is probably a lot less great than I remember, I think Fringe should be made into a game.
For those who haven’t watched it, here’s a brief synopsis of Fringe. The show follows the story of Agent Olivia Dunham being brought into the Fringe division of the FBI; the group responsible for investigating various spooky leads. It’s really just The X-Files but an alternate story where the Bureau wasn’t pretending Mueller was just a weirdo crank. Agen Dunham reaches out to Dr. Walter Bishop, the scientist conveniently responsible for like half of the spooky investigations that need investigating. Unfortunately, Walter is locked in a mental hospital and so they contact his son, Peter, to join the division in order to gain custody (as well as remember to give him his meds and change his diapers). And with that, the team is assembled and ready to go.
So you might be wondering why I think the significantly more obscure Fringe is more deserving of a game than its beloved predecessor, The X-Files. Well for one, The X-Files already has a few games and they’re complete shit. So there’s that. But there are some important differences too. For one, per the show’s namesake, the bulk of the episodes revolve around cases based on fringe science; the pursuit of unorthodox scientific theories. In reality, it’s just things a scientist watched on Star Trek and thought “damn, but what if.” Fringe features a lot of concepts that are teetering on the edge of reality, but realistically are probably bullshit. Stuff like parallel universes, genetic chimeras, passing solid matter through other solid matter (not a euphemism for defecating), drugs that make you spontaneously combust, stuff like that. Whereas The X-Files is more willing to use paranormal stuff, like ghosts and greys, (and if memory serves, maybe demons too?) Fringe prefers concepts that are—if only extremely tangentially—based on real theories. I mean who knows, plate tectonics and the heliocentric model were fringe science concepts of their time.
There is an overarching plot involving a terrorist group that wants to use Walter’s vast history of Rick and Morty-esque science experiments to… do something. I actually can’t recall. Not that it matters, the real premise is mostly about the Fringe division’s investigations into monster-of-the-week style incidents. The story of Deep Throat was never the most compelling part of The X-Files, just a reason to string these episodes together. The popularity of similar investigative shows, like CSI, are popular precisely because they are just a bunch of little stories that are solved within like an hour. Overarching plots are generally just about the lives of the characters involved. All too often, these shows get wrapped up in some grander narrative (Fringe included) and lose sight of what makes them great. I’m a busy man, I don’t have time for a 120 minute movie. Give me one hour long stories, then let me waste ten hours watching them consecutively.
A Fringe game made in the style of Telltale games could be fantastic. Telltale, the studio behind the extremely popular The Walking Dead and Tales from the Borderlands, specialize in games that rely heavily on storytelling. Gameplay for Telltale games usually amounts to no more than a point-and-click game, though in a 3d environment instead of 2d, and with the occasional quick time event during a cutscene. The simplified gameplay allows them to focus on creating incredible choice-based branching narratives, inspiring multiple playthroughs to see where you fucked up. A Telltale style Fringe game could revitalize the point-and-click genre (though not from Telltale studios themselves, they closed down and fired all their employees, only to reopen five minutes later with no obligations to the dozens of people they screwed. Fuck em).
The show’s serialized nature allows for scenes that have no need to be connected to any central narrative. A Fringe game based on an investigation of these strange crime scenes would make for some nice bite sized episodic narratives. Simply having the agents go around questioning witnesses, collecting evidence, and eventually confronting whatever monster or bad guy at the end is all they need. Games like The Witcher 3 have shown us that detective based games, even for cases that appear straightforward, can have incredible twists and turns.
A lot of games nowadays are either outrageously long, like The Witcher 3, or leaving me wishing it was way longer, like The Witcher 3. Games benefit from focusing less on grand narratives, and more on episodic stories. A serialized show like Fringe makes for the perfect premise for a collection of interesting investigations, and in so making these stories so short and loosely connected, they allow for a much wider and more varied range of topics. Having a game with a ton of sci-fi monster-of-the-week adventures would be pretty cool, and the series Fringe is the perfect example of just how fun it can be.