Tron: A Canonical Tale of Stories, Games and Us

Curator's Note

Tron: Legacy hits theaters on December 17, 2010, 28 years after the original movie debuted. As a geek, I'm giddy beyond comprehension. As a storyteller, I can't help think the name -- Legacy -- holds more than one meaning.

While this is a discussion about video games and not movies, it's hard to separate the two when we're talking about Tron. Let me explain:

Tron's origin story has been told often in the last three decades. Executives at Walt Disney Productions green lit the film -- a mix of live-action and computer animation -- in hopes of capturing the zeitgeist of the nascent computer culture slowly seeping into homes across the country. While the use of computer animation was groundbreaking, the story was not. In truth, the film came and went without much notice as movies oftentimes do.

For most films, that would be the end of the story. But not for Tron. Because games in1982 were reaching the zenith of popularity: video games in arcades and console games in homes. It's through these games Tron became a cultural force, one of the first transmedia properties that gestated in the geek game culture -- the one so often dismissed as simplistic and culturally devoid of artistic merit -- where fans, gamers and storytellers cultivated the world when Hollywood wouldn't. Where you could become the movie.

Bally Midway's video game Tron (the video clip on this page) hit arcades the same year as the movie, as did Mattel's Intellivision console game Tron: Deadly Disks. These two games placed players not within movie's universe, but some extended alternate reality. 

The next few years saw the release of an arcade sequel, Disks of Tron, and two more Intellivision games Tron Maze-a-Tron and Tron Solar Sailer. Those games, too,  faded from the mainstream. As rumors of a big screen Hollywood Tron sequel ebbed and flowed throughout the years, gamers continued to build out the world they'd grown to love. They built "pirate" versions such as the Light Cycle game Amegetron Advanced.

By 2003, Buena Vista Interactive released a first-person shooter computer game, Tron 2.0, widely considered the sequel the original film would never have.

Until now.

And that's the legacy of the games and geek culture that kept Tron alive when Hollywood and Big Media didn't. The saga is at beginning of a kind of storytelling that stretches across different mediums with different authors -- some professional, some not.

Tron is quite simply part of the foundation of the Geek Canon: a world that is part film, part game and part us.


I share your giddiness Brad. With so many extremely bad video game as film and film as video game adaptations over the decades, I have very high hopes for Tron.

Your take on "legacy" reflects what I think of as fan stewardship. Phenonemon like sharing and trading Star Trek tapes and attending annual ST conventions did more than keep the series alive. It cultivated new audiences that eventually signaled a viable market for films and new TV series. These "core audiences" are often the new film/show/game's biggest advocates, but more often are its loudest critics. For example, LOTRs fan response to the changes Peter Jackson made in the 3-part film series.

At Comic-Con and other hype fests, we often see directors/writers/producers trying to walk the line between fan service and the expectation that Hollywood blockbusters appeal more widely. How often have we heard, "Even for those new to the story...there is something in it for eveyone." But part of the relationship fans have with these cultural products, especially once-marginalized ones like Tron, ST and LOTR, is very much a protective stance and a feeling of specialized knowledge and access cultivated by sticking with the story, characters and world through all the unpopular years. As a geek and aca-fan, this past decade has been fascinating and, at times, frustrating as I have watched so many of my favorite games, comic books and novels find new life and new audiences.

It would be interesting case study to investigate through the Tron franchise how Disney has adapted to the nearly 30 years of changes in storytelling that you discuss above.

 What interests me about Tron -- in ways that I THINK I are different from ST/SW/LOTR (and Geeks can abbreviate those!) - is that it had no source material that was famous (LOTR) and it came in a time when the network/Internet allowed for the fan-dom to exist underground.

When I think of the Big Three, they are SO large and ingrained that their existence hardly seems questionable. But Tron: that exists as its own little geeky property.

I don't know if that's true or not. Simply my perception of it. (And ultimately, that may not make it any different from the Big Three.)

What REALLY fascinates me though is the ways in which people interacted with the TRON story over the years. Like HITCHHIKERS, which was always different in every iteration (at Adams' insistence), TRON has expanded without the normal continuity issues. It's spilled -- slowly and not very far -- across the transmedia landscape. It feels (to me) like a more inclusive world in that way than ST or SW or LOTR, which have a very set continuity (at least until JJ Abrams came along.)

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