The (insulting) portrayals of games in film and TV

I started watching The Sopranos this past week, and during the fourth episode I heard one of the most familiar jingles from my childhood: the Luigi’s Circuit music from Mario Kart 64. Next thing I knew, Tony Soprano’s kid was zipping through the course’s tunnel, stuck in 5th place. Big Tony joined in soon after and played one-handed, just smacking the control stick around with no regard to the gas button. Rather than pointing out that Mario Kart requires two hands to play, Tony Jr. hit the reset button and by some miracle of 64-bit gaming, they had themselves a new Grand Prix race instantly. Big Tony continued to play with one hand and somehow came in 4th despite never pressing the accelerator. Authentic television, right?

I could nitpick all day over this scene and how inaccurately and pathetically it portrays gaming. I won’t because the purpose of the scene is to convey the relationship between Tony and his son, as well as his son’s reluctance to discuss his recent fights at school. Most audiences won’t care how the Sopranos play Mario Kart, but any gamer should find this scene jarring. Simply put, it’s bad acting and it spoils the show’s authenticity. Good screenwriters research meticulously, and clearly the minds behind The Sopranos studied up on mafia life. But if you’re going to such painstaking lengths to bring fiction to life, why portray a Mario Kart session so laughably? If Tony’s son was reading a novel, the director wouldn’t have him read it upside-down while flipping pages every two seconds. With that in mind, why is an awkward portrayal of playing a videogame forgivable?

This wasn’t the first time I’ve come across this in a film or TV series. The photo below depicts two kids playing Final Fantasy VIII in the movie Charlie’s Angels. The issue is that two kids are playing FF8 together. In the hundreds of hours I’ve spent playing FF8, I never managed to unlock this mythical multiplayer mode. These kids must be as dazzled as I am, because not even a naked Drew Barrymore can shake them from their trance.


It’s hard to blame these kids for ignoring naked Drew Barrymore in favor of FF8’s hidden multiplayer mode.

I used to watch House M.D. back when it shared FOX’s primetime schedule with 24. For as much of a genius as Dr. House is, he never quite figured out Metroid: Zero Mission. In fact, he died in the hands of a completely harmless Chozo Statue over and over. Then he’d quickly restart, jump into the the statue’s hands, and die again–an impossibility in the actual game. Any Zero Mission fan knows that balling up into a Chozo Statue unlocks a chunk of the map and heals you. Instead of showing Samus die at the hands of a Space Pirate, the show’s writers dropped the ball (literally) and fabricated a ironic death method.


Dr. House sucks at Metroid. He’s the only guy I know who gets Game Over from balling into in a Chozo Statue.

This Madden clip from The Break-Up is a real winner. Vince Vaugn and Jen Aniston’s date get a “real nail-biter” going in the amount of time it takes Aniston to flip her hair a few times in the bathroom. Are they playing one-minute quarters? Not likely, considering that the two guys take plenty of time to finish their “nail-biter”, much to Aniston’s chagrin. And while we’re on the subject of realism, what guy takes Madden over Jen Aniston when she’s looking like that. Yowza.

I understand that TV/film directors have to condense scenes for the sake of pacing. I get that. What I don’t get is why they invest so much effort into creating realism, then proceed to depict people playing videogames in ways that no human ever would. The worst part of all this is that these trainwreck portrayals could be avoided easily: 1) have Tony play with both hands 2) have one kid play FF8 while the other grows restless and nags him about giving up the controller; 3) have House run Samus into a enemy to trigger an actual game over; 4) don’t call Madden a nail-biter when the game started 30 seconds ago.

It’s really that simple. If you pay these actors millions to study and mimic human beings, why can’t they mimic gamers?


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