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Game On, On Screen: 5 TV Shows With Video Game Crossovers

By Rob Manuel | Indiewire August 29, 2014 at 11:01AM

Fictional politicians, office drones and fathers alike are all united by their love of gaming.
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Halt and Catch Fire Arcade Games

"Are you coming to bed?"

His hands never leave the controller. His eyes never shift from the screen as he pulls the trigger. "I'll be right there" comes stumbling out of his mouth like drunken marbles.   On the screen, he fires off another couple of shots in rapid succession in the game. The light of the TV illuminates his determined stare as she leaves. 

It has all the hallmarks of a typical gaming scene: Darkened room, razor-sharp focus, ignoring the rest of the world. This could have easily been a 10-year old on the bed, with his mom telling him to turn in for the night. But this happened to be a scene from Netflix's "House of Cards" featuring Frank Underwood, a man not thought of as your typical basement dweller, wrapping his thumbs around the controller. The idea that Frank plays video games comes up several times throughout the series, but never with the connotation that such an activity diminishes his capacity to be the mastermind behind some of the biggest shake-ups in Washington. 

To figure out what people think, look at the stories that they tell. We might never get away from the image of Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory" breaking down in the middle of the store, not knowing which console to buy, but we can see in TV and movies how regular characters are more and more starting to play games. Not just now, but ever since video games have been on the scene, there are examples outside the typical gamer character appearing in stories. Often, these are just asides or simply one-off stories, but it demonstrates that the idea of what makes a "gamer" is slowly changing in the collective conscious of the public. Hopefully soon, the idea of playing a game will not be any less strange than going to the movies or reading a book.

Here are some examples of people in TV and movies who you wouldn't expect as being gamers.

"Seinfeld" and "Frogger" (1998)

"I used to be so into this game. Getting that frog across the street was my entire life."
"Yeah, and then you went on to..."

In the episode "The Frogger," George finds a classic "Frogger" machine in a local pizza parlor, and discovers that it is the very machine he used to play on when he was younger after finding his high score preserved at the top of the list. George buys the machine in order to preserve his score, but Jerry reminds him that the machine will reset once it loses power. A crazy situation erupts as George plans on keeping the power on, but of course, this doesn't work. In a last ditch effort to keep the machine running, George must navigate a busy street with the machine to a working outlet on the other side. A rather large truck crushes those dreams, as well as the machine. Too bad George didn't have another life or a quarter to spare.

Most of us grew up with video games in the household, either the original Nintendo in the living room or hording quarters for that trip to the arcade. And as time moves on, that line of nostalgia will keep moving forward where "Frogger" gets replaced with "Street Fighter 2" or "Resident Evil 4." The idea that everyone in their lives has played a video game is becoming more acceptable to the general audience. Now we just need to work on the idea that, even out of adolescence, that it's okay to still play.  

"The Office" and "Call of Duty" (2006)

"The game is over. I'm really going to shoot you."

In the show's third season, Jim gets transferred to a new office, a seemingly perfect one except for the "Call of Duty" matches during the work day. While many people would see this as a boon, Jim turns out to be a terrible teammate on the virtual field. He's running into the wrong areas, using the wrong gun, and often shooting the wrong people. If you have ever been in a multiplayer game, with a bunch of people mad at you for letting the other team win, then you know the feeling of never wanting to meet any of them in a dark alley – let alone a conference room.

What's really strange about the scenario is that they don't explain how the game works in order for the audience to get the joke -- but they don't need to, because we understand how a multiplayer game works -- at least, what it means to be on teams, the goal of the game, and most importantly, the kinds of people you often find yelling at you on the other side of a microphone. Part of the joke is that the people in the new office turn out to be like the worst people you find in online games. The writers of "The Office" knew that their audience would get the basics of a multiplayer shooter. Such a joke probably wouldn't have worked 15 years ago, but times and internet connection speeds have changed.

"Halt and Catch Fire" and Arcade Games (The 1980s/2014)

"Does it even matter what I want to do? God, this is an industry built on people ripping off each other's boring-ass ideas."

One of the newest series to hit TV happens to feature one of the oldest hangout spots, an arcade, where we watch Cameron rack up points. Beyond reflecting the times of the early 80's, we're also seeing a rise of the quarter crunchers now thanks to bars looking to tap into this nostalgia. For example, EightyTwo, a bar in downtown Los Angeles, specializes in both classic games and pinball tables from the past -- while sipping on a Zangief, vodka and ginger beer mix, you can try your hand at the original "Gauntlet" or "Double Dragon." "

"Halt and Catch Fire" hits the audience at the right point when the acceptability of going to an arcade has seeming swung back around. Ten years ago, nearly every co-op establishment was going out of business. So go easy on the laundry this week and save your quarters -- there's a galaxy to save out there.

"South Park" and "World of Warcraft" (2006)

"You can just hang around outside in the sun all day, tossing a ball around, or you can sit at your computer and do something that matters!"

In an episode that blended the animated series with that of actual gameplay, "Make Love, Not Warcraft" managed to not only bring the two worlds together but win an Emmy in the process. Our favorite kids from South Park, Colorado face off against a high level warrior terrorizing the mythical kingdom. In order to vanquish him for once and for all, they sacrifice their own personal lives to that of grinding out levels for their respective characters. What's absolutely amazing about this episode is that the writers include items and information straight from the game itself. All of the orders and spell commands the boys yell out can be found in "World of Warcraft."

We've been focusing on people who you wouldn't associate with games, and the shining example of that in this episode is Stan's dad. When he finds out that his son has been spending all of his time online playing the game, Randy decides to try to join the boys in playing, rather than kicking Stan off the computer. The plan fails since he's such a low level character compared to his son, but Randy saves the day in the end by delivering the ultimate weapon to vanquish evil once and for all. In the process, his character sacrifices himself and the two have an actual moment in the virtual world. The episode was such as success that the action of hugging a fallen friend made it into the game. No word yet if "WoW" has brought together other families.

"Defiance" and Its MMORPG (2013)

"Go ahead, get killed."
"Hey, I got no intention of dying today."
"Most people don't. It still happens."

How do you know Hollywood is getting serious about video games? They want to make one of their own. In "Defiance," the remaining humans on Earth, as well as alien species looking for a new home, find themselves settling for peace after a massive war desecrated the world and destroyed most of the alien ships along with it. The remains of both the human and alien civilization tries to live together while fighting back against giant mutated bugs. (Wouldn't you know it; they're all out of citronella candles.) "Defiance" follows the closer interaction with a group of survivors while the game lets you grab a gun to go bug hunting. 

The idea is rather similar to what Marvel is doing with "Agents of SHIELD" and the rest of the Marvel universe. Between major Marvel films, the show aims to tie in pieces, move the story along, and keep up engagement with the viewers. "Defiance" manages to do the same thing by keeping the show up to date with the game -- events and story elements can be first introduced through the game to tease fans of the series. It works the other way as well, since events in the game like the outcome of a battle or event can appear in the show.

Other great examples? Let us know in the comments? 

This article is related to: Video Games, Video Games, Halt and Catch Fire, Halt and Catch Fire, House Of Cards, The Office, Seinfeld, South Park, Defiance





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