Free to Play podcast: Ninja and jacksepticeye on how Free Guy broke the video game movie curse

From the simply lackluster to the bafflingly bad, film adaptations of video games and even films involving gaming have a fraught history in Hollywood.

Bucking this trend is Disney's Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds and New Zealand's own Taika Waititi, which has so far garnered high praise from both film critics and the notoriously opinionated gaming community.

Free Guy tells the story of Guy (Reynolds), a background character in a massively popular online game who becomes self-aware and begins to reshape the world around him. Waititi takes a villainous turn as the game's creator Antoine, obsessed only with profit and crushing Guy’s newfound independence.

Despite an inherently ludicrous premise, Free Guy contains many tips of the hat to real life gaming culture, including cameos from some of the world's most influential content creators who play themselves within Free Guy’s fictional universe. 

Creators like Seán McLoughlin, better known as jacksepticeye to his millions of followers across Youtube, Twitch and Twitter. Speaking to Newshub's Free to Play podcast, the Irish streamer outlined where he thought Free Guy learned from the mistakes of the past. 

"Previously it's been a lot of talking heads in Hollywood seeing how popular video games are and then saying 'Well, we make movies - let's just slap a video game onto it!' But that's kind of all it is, it's usually just a coat of paint," he said.  

"Free Guy doesn't take an existing game, it doesn't take an existing franchise. It just does its own thing. And I feel like that works to its strengths the most because then you can just do whatever you want. You don't have to worry about pissing off the fans of a game that doesn't exist."

McLoughlin, 31, has been streaming and running a game-focused Youtube channel for almost a decade but says it's previously been rare to see his profession authentically represented in a mainstream film.

"It's easy to do a video game movie and have us cameo to be like 'Look! Funny internet man! But I think the fact that we play ourselves and it's us reacting to the game in that world feels like it integrates very naturally stuff that we already do.”

Not that streaming is anything but mainstream in 2021, with the internet's largest streaming website boasting 55 million monthly active users. Its growth was supercharged by a lockdown-driven boom in the gaming industry over the past year, with downloads of the Twitch app up 92 percent from 2019 to 2020.

"Even Snoop Dogg is streaming at this point," says McLoughlin. 

"In some ways, that's how a lot of people experience games for the first time these days. They either can't afford it or they don't have the system or they're just trying it out and they come to us as their avatar to experience the game for the first time. So it's cool to see it represented well."

Adding his credentials to Free Guy’s already stacked roster of content creator cameos is perhaps the world's most recognised streamer -  Tyler 'Ninja'  Blevins. 

"They have funny, awesome, hilarious people and actors playing these great roles of passionate gamers...and it's hilarious, it's just genuine. It's an actual, I think, one of the first representations of gamers in a Hollywood film," Blevins told Newshub.  

Free Guy is in cinemas now, with a sequel already commissioned by Disney.