NEW YORK — David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” is very familiar with TV’s dramatic potential — but he’s not so sure about video games.
The pioneer behind one of the most praised TV shows in recent memory recently took a seat on the Queens soundstage where much of “The Sopranos” is shot to discuss next month’s video game based on the show. He sat in Tony Soprano’s office between a pool table and Tony’s desk, in a room that, in the show, is in the back of fictional New Jersey strip club the Bada Bing.
“It wasn’t my idea to do a game,” Chase told MTV News. Executives at HBO made the game happen, he said, and its story evolved from an idea he had when he was a young writer: “an action/comedy about a regular Joe from nowhere who decides he wants to be in the Mafia and how you go about joining.” In the PlayStation 2 game “The Sopranos: Road to Respect,” a new character — the illegitimate son of whacked former “Sopranos” mobster Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero — tries to join Tony Soprano’s professional family (see “Whack Or Be Whacked In ‘Sopranos’ Video Game” ).
“I hope it would be fun and entertaining and engrossing,” he said. “I hope people have a good time playing it.” He thinks it will be funny too: “My real hope is that people actually find it amusing and that it’s sort of like watching the show.”
But he also had some thoughts that probably won’t make the back of the game’s box. “What I didn’t want to have happen was that the game and the show bleed together, that any of the stuff in the real story arcs that we have [on TV] — or any of the real narrative we have — was in the game or had anything to do with the game.”
And why would that be? “I think [they are] two separate experiences. Playing a game and watching a drama are two completely different things. And I certainly never wanted to sell the game on the show or do any cross-pollination.” Characters introduced in the game would never appear in the show? “No way, shape or form,” Chase said, shaking his head. “That will never happen. In fact, we don’t even have New York [in the game]. We don’t even talk about New York mobsters. The other people in the game are from Philly. We tried to separate it completely.”
Chase is a purist. And for all “The Sopranos” cookbooks and bowling shirts — and now a video game — that are out there, he’s keeping his show separate from the spinoffs. He hits a rarely heard note in an age where the “Lost” online games bleed into the TV show and the “Star Wars” marketing machine extends its movies’ story line through novels, games and comics.
Chase isn’t interested in overlap — or at least he doesn’t think the mob fiction he has cultivated for nearly a decade would benefit from it. He’s happy for people to play the game; he just doesn’t think it will do much to enhance their understanding of his characters and his show. “It’s certainly not going to teach them anything about ‘The Sopranos,’ ” he said.
This is just not how people talk when they are promoting products these days. Games are the new frontier, the way to enlighten an audience and immerse them. How can a guy like Chase be so disinterested in that?
Well, he’s not a gamer, he admits. In the ’80s, he used to go to an arcade in Sherman Oaks, California, on his lunch break and play “Pong” and “Donkey Kong.” “Then a bar opened up, and so I stopped going there.” Years later, he bought his daughter “Super Mario” games, but at age 4 she was whipping him good. He wasn’t good at games, so he gave up on them. He’s never played “Grand Theft Auto” or held a PS2 controller.
Still, Chase is a smart man. He knows about games. He’s confident that the game’s writer, Allen Rucker — who also wrote “The Sopranos Family Cookbook” — immersed himself in the world of games enough to put together a strong product. He said the game developers he’s met are smart folks. And he offered enough feedback on the game’s treatment to feel good about it: “I just wanted to make sure the characters were true to the characters.”
But as far as he’s concerned, games have limits.
“Games have a function,” he said. “It’s a physical function. The character has to go from here to there, has to shoot that, has to drive this, has to knock that down, has to jump up here. … That’s how a game works. So cooking dinner, going to Lamaze class, there’s no way to figure that into a game at this point. Maybe somebody else can do it and maybe somebody will, but that wasn’t really what this game was about. It was supposed to be a story about a kid who wants to be a gangster — a punk who wants to be a gangster — and so that’s what we did.”
Chase said he doesn’t want to make games in the future. “It does not pique my interest to work on them.” Why? “It really isn’t — well it is a narrative, I suppose, in its own way — but the act of watching a movie or a TV show or reading a book, God forbid, is you’re seeing someone else’s story and you can go through their story and learn from it or feel with it or laugh at it without having to go through any of the pain or the adventures. The game is different: There is no identification, really, any emotional identification.”
Maybe he’s got a point. Maybe a gamer who’s inside the head of a character, figuring out what to do next, has no time to really care about what’s going on the way they would if they could just sit back and be the audience. Maybe “The Sopranos” video game could never be what “The Sopranos” TV show is.
And maybe, as far as Chase is concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that. He still hopes people enjoy the game.