During a recent review of the contents of a couple old USB drives that I had forgotten that I stashed away, I found a handful of articles that I had written for a gaming site that went defunct. Since I hate for words to sit unread (even those in incoherent, rambly sentences), I decided I might as well share them here. Here’s one from around January 2013 in which I mused over some depictions of games and gamers on the big screen.
It’s widely accepted among gamers and movie-goers that movies based on video games are never quite as good as the games themselves. But movies that contain references to video games…well, some of those aren’t that great as well; but many of them are perfectly enjoyable. These references range from large (Tron – the entire movie) to small (remember the NES Advantage controller from Ghostbusters 2?) to everything in between. While it’s unfortunate that Hollywood often invokes typical “gamer” stereotypes (as “they” do with just about any group “they” don’t fully understand), these references are testament to the fact that video games are an integral part of our culture. I love it when games, consoles, or gamers get in a little bit of screen time, so here are a few of my favorite video game references in movies.
I know I’m not alone in saying WarGames is a great movie. A mop-headed Matthew Broderick stars as a “hacker” who just wants to get his game on. Little does he realize that his quest to play “Global Thermonuclear War” will end in chaos, bringing the nation to the brink of disaster! As much as I love watching Broderick manipulate his way into the “game,” my favorite character is actually Joshua, the computer program that was created to run simulations of a nuclear attack. The lesson learned, through both repeated simulations (i.e. which nation begins the attack and how the others retaliate) and the game of tic-tac-toe, is that when it comes to (nuclear) war, no one wins. It’s ridiculously simple but still resonates today. As does the phrase, “Shall we play a game?”
The Last Starfighter
In the mid 1980s, there were lots of movies you just couldn’t escape. Return of the Jedi was still fresh in mind, Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ushered in a new movie rating, and some new film about busting ghosts attracted loads of attention. Meanwhile, I became entranced by a little move called The Last Starfighter, a sci-fi feature that involved a video game, a player, and a fantastical interstellar journey. At the heart of the movie was an arcade game called “Starfighter,” a vector graphics game in which the player, from the vantage point of a ship’s cockpit, shoots down alien fighters to save the “Xur and Ko-Dan Armada.” The main character, Alex, proved so adept with the game that he was sought out by the game’s creator to actually (and unbeknownst to him at the time) go in to space to save the actual Xur and Ko-Dan Armada. I can’t even tell you how much I wanted this game as a kid. I loved the movie, and I loved the idea that a video game could take you places you had never been before.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Why am I mentioning a movie that’s not at all about video games? Because it contains my most favorite scene of people playing video games. For some reason (and I’m looking at you The Big Bang Theory), so often in movies and TV, gamers are shown flailing about in the strangest of strange ways when playing games. Arms waving, fingers frantically pushing button in unimaginable combinations, herky-jerky body movements. What IS all that about? Well, in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, there’s a simple scene with Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd playing Mortal Kombat: Deception. Trash-talking aside, they aren’t jumping out of their seats, moving wildly, or looking like they’re about to have seizures. They look like two guys playing a video game like normal people. Why Hollywood feels the need to jazz up gaming with choreography, I’ll never know.
So what are your favorite (or perhaps least favorite) movies/scenes/TV shows involving games? Are you annoyed at how gamers are portrayed on screen? When does Hollywood get it right, or really wrong?