Video games in crime-drama tv; please, just stop trying

What is is about television that insists that its viewer base is as stupid as their writers? I’m not talking about overly scientific data that might be misconstrued rather than interpreted as completely wrong; I’m talking about something as simple as every-day culture. Culture that you can witness with friends and family or even as you wait for your lunch. The title says “video games in tv,” so take a guess at where I’m going with this.

I’m sure you’ve seen or heard probably the most famous example of when you know the writers for a show are balding, fat old men that have only touched an arcade joystick back in the 1980s. I’m obviously referring here to the infamous “Prince of Persia” sequence in the short-lived NBC cop drama Life. In this sequence, the characters are sure that a drug dealer has hidden incriminating files on his Xbox. As one of the characters points out, “it’s just a hard drive with games on it,” so by the extension of this logic, if they beat the Xbox, then they will be able to access the files. Before you even try and analyze that sentence alone, check out the rest of the sequence.

These files have apparently been hidden in Prince of Persia: A Tale of Two Thrones. So, of course, to access these files they will need to beat all ten levels. Who do they enlist in this task? Why, one of the characters, of course. When he’s met with skepticism on whether he will be able to beat the game or not, he reassures other characters by stating that he’s thirty, lives with his mother, and owns a Captain Kirk costume. Well, I’m sold.

Unfortunately he’s not able to make it past Level 2, and even with the cast of characters looking on with dramatic tension, one of them spot a teen-something girl twiddling her thumbs behind a door. The character obviously recognizes the Mark of the Gamer in her dead-pan expression and enlists her to beat the levels instead. After nearly a minute of rapid button mashing with the character walking around on the screen, she finally beats Level 10. Immediately afterward Microsoft Excel sheets start rapidly opening up. She’s done it. She’s got the files.

By extension this really wasn’t just an affront to gamers, but rather to the whole tech culture—the apparent belief that files are “hidden” in a game or that they can only be accessed by beating the game. Or maybe it was the Windows screen at the end that really spoke out to the viewers saying, “Look, we’re not even going to try and cover this shot up. Just throw up some Excel sheets.” Remember folks, a gaming console isn’t like a computer, “it is one,” which means it acts just like the one you own.

I digress however. I’m not sure if I need to mention the stereotype of a gamer (we all are, of course, thirty-something, living with mom, and own the costume to forty-year-old sci-fi characters), nor the “levels” to Prince of Persia (the last time Prince of Persia had levels, the year was 1989). Nor do I need to mention the massive button-mashing when you can clearly see on-screen that the character is simply walking around. I mean, it’s not Assassin’s Creed, where you have to hold down like five keys just to run forward. The only thing missing from this sequence was the bag of Cheetos and everyone sitting in their underwear. That’s okay though. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has us covered on that front!

Edit (3/17/2011): [Sorry folks, looks like NBC finally took down the video from YouTube. I guess Dick Wolf got tired of getting repeatedly pointed out how he didn’t even bother with 12.2 “Bullseye.” Good luck finding it on the Internet.]

Here, instead of something misdemeanor-like such as drugs, SVU plays with popular Fox media suggestions that insists gamers are eco-terrorists that eat baby brains for breakfast. The two main characters of the show arrive to the gamer’s apartment, banging on the door. No one answers however, and after hearing cries for help, they kick in the door like Marines in Fallujah, running in guns drawn. They finally come to the source of the sound, finding two people, a fat unsanitary man in nightwear and a woman of the same description as well playing a video game. The characters yell at them to shut the video game off and get up but they are unresponsive. It’s not until one of main characters “pulls the plug” that they take notice that gun-toting strangers are in their house.

“Hey! Where did you come from!?” asks the fat gamer. “The real world! Join us,” fires back the main character. “Hell no! Plug us back in!” screams the fat gamer. The main character shoves the fat gamer out of his chair, who is rather irritated now. “Hey! This is level 20! This is the kingdom of Galagar!”

The episode goes on investigating child abuse for the two, with both showing some serious mental problems and cringe-worthy dialogue. “Me and Jeff met online last year,” says the fat gamer woman, “at an Xbox tournament hosted out of South Korea.” She smiles then, showing off Cheeto-stained teeth. “He had the cutest avatar.” It’s clear these two are gamers—they lock their daughter in a broom closest Harry Potter-style. She escaped, however, after apparently being raped. Neither of them apparently noticed this, however. They were probably too busy playing EverQuestEarth. Even the fat gamer guy is surprised at the accusations that he was the one that raped her, pleading, “Okay, wait a second, pause the game! I haven’t had sex with anybody for like six months!” Come on NBC, everyone knows gamers die virgins.

Instead of just hiding drug deal information in a video game, we have two video game criminals, decked out with the best stereotypes there are—fat, lonely, obsessed, unsanitary, and oblivious to one’s surroundings. I suppose it’s a little better than being thirty, living with your mother, and owning a Captain Kirk costume. And while the episode didn’t observe probably the obviously-worst community in the gamer circle, it did at least try to hint at it (because NBC is aware everyone plays every game on their Xbox, including their MMOs). Speaking of MMOs, let’s have a look at CBS’s CSI: New York’s take into Second Life. Everyone knows Second Life, right? The game you don’t play and where all the erotic role players gather?

This one plays a little different from NBC’s Life. For one, no one really gives a shit if they get stuff wrong when portraying Second Life. I mean, seriously. Nobody plays that crap. My only guess as to why they went with Second Life is because it’s free to play, meaning it didn’t cost them a dime to do all the sequencing. Anyway, the characters on the show are looking for a suspect, and apparently their only lead to finding him is to enter the world of Second Life and look for him visually. Things go astray for the characters, however, as the “owner of the game world” randomly challenges them to stand test in an arena battle against a bunch of baddies. The younger character takes over for the older character. “Dude, uh, I’m—I’m—I’m sorry, boss, uh, but with all due respect, you don’t stand a chance.” “And you do?” fires back the older character. “I got skills,” retorts the younger character. He’s handed a calculator and plays on the big screen, winning the battle.

As I said, no one really cares about Second Life’s portrayal. Still, handing someone a calculator for the gamepad to a computer game does make this much worse than even Life’s or SVU’s portrayal of video games—at least their gamers were actually using controllers. “I’ve got skills” is another obvious gamer jargon we like to throw around at the old water cooler. Other lovely sayings are, “You got raped,” “I’m gonna rape you,” and just the plain adjective use of, “RAPE.” The character rounds pi to the nearest tenth as he mashes the calculator, jumping around, twisting his body and sticking out his tongue in strain. This would, in fact, be quite an accurate portrayal of a Wii gamer though.

I’m sure by now you’re saying, “Alright, this is all ancient history though. This is 2011. Television writers have learned from their mistakes.” I assure you, they haven’t. Cue NCIS. If you happen to watch CBS’s crime drama that has recently been leaning more and more to teen comedy, you’ll probably know that one of the show’s characters is well-known for being a geek and a gamer. For the most part the series has actually played it well—the character isn’t some socially-inept kid living with his mother. In fact he’s a successful author who holds like five college degrees. However, the series made the mistake when an episode finally revolved around video games in the recent “Kill Screen” episode. Unfortunately there are no videos yet of the good stuff, so you’ll just have to settle for the promo.

Yeah, even from the promo you can tell how bad it is. Just allow me to hand you over some highlights from what is inevitably the worst video game sequence I have ever seen in television. Essentially the characters are investigating a video game developer in connection with not only to foreign arms dealers, but also because he apparently created a program to hack the Pentagon computers. Yeah.

Before we get there, however, we’ll observe the gamer character in his natural environment as he “takes the lead” on this one, as this is obviously his forte. On the way through the investigation they obviously cross paths across hot gamer girl. You know she’s a gamer right from the get-go because she’s playing laser tag. Later on when he’s at her apartment, they geek out over her computer, which has “sixteen cores.” The gamer character later makes the connection that she’s kind of a big deal online, proclaiming that she “holds the high scores in multi-player-online-role-playing games.”

The investigation inevitably revolves around a game called Fear Tower 3, a game that is “installed on fifteen million computers.” Right from a page from Life, the video game developer apparently hid the “code” for his Pentagon-hacking program in (can you guess?) the game. The code can only be viewed when you score too high of a score for the game to handle apparently. The gamer character explains that this phenomenon is called a “kill screen” in gamer culture.

Eventually the episode climaxes with the video game developer found dead. Apparently, because dealing with foreign arms dealers isn’t nefarious enough, the video game developer implemented a fail-safe system that would execute the program to hack the Pentagon and delete all its files if he did not periodically check in to stop exactly that. The characters rush to the video game developer’s secret hideout that is more reminiscent of Doom-like corridors, equipped with fake walls and traps. The gamer character, however, is in the high tech room with computer screens and an overlay map of the facility. Using one of the main character’s guncam, he navigates the character in an armchair, realizing the scope of the situation by muttering, “This is a video game.” The character gets to the mainframe in time to shut down the computer from destroying Pentagon files.

I don’t even know where to start. Sixteen cores in a computer? High score in a “multi-player-online-role-playing game” (two things wrong in one sentence)? A video game developer that’s worse than Osama Bin Laden? This is, of course, ignoring the rest of the insults to tech culture (“It’s hidden in the game! It can hack Pentagon computers!”). It seems like CBS and NBC are in desperate need to one-up each other (take note here, balding fat, old men—that was an actual video game term) in “Who can misrepresent gaming culture better?” So far we’ve covered that gamers are obsessed, criminally negligent, mentally disturbed, socially inept, unhygienic, and live with their mothers. Video game developers, on the other hand, develop programs that can “hack” into probably the most secure information network in the world and planned on selling it to the highest bidder—but just in case he died, he planned on it accidentally the keyboard anyway just for laughs. To top it all off, he was the developer of a violent game as well.

I don’t know if Fox is funding these programs or what, but I simply have a plea to writers for crime drama shows that seem to not only portray video game culture incorrectly, but go on to villainize gamers to epic proportions. Here’s a hint for the writers who obviously did not do the research; DO THE RESEARCH. You want to know what happens when there’s a criminal investigation that involves gaming, especially online gaming, and information needs to be obtained? They go straight to the company. And guess what? Most of the time they just hand over the info and cooperate with law enforcement. Did any of the previous law agencies in those four shows attempt to do that? Nope.

I guess it would be too much work to represent video game developers as adults and gamers themselves as rational human beings.

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

4 Responses to Video games in crime-drama tv; please, just stop trying

  1. LeQuack147 says:

    Son of a…. Dear god. Even if you could hide files in a game, playing through it to get them back would be the most ridiculous way…..

    And stop showing gamers as fat losers guys! Damn!

  2. RevReese says:

    I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at these insults.
    The worst thing is that the vast majority of viewers will take it as Gospel truth!

    *sigh*

    • Agamemnon says:

      It’d be ten times better if all but one of my videos weren’t pulled off thanks due to the lovely “copyright violation” nonsense YouTube likes to implement for one-minute video clips. Yes, CBS, I’m sure you’re losing out on millions of dollars for people missing out on your broadcasted reruns because they saw 1/64th of the episode in a YouTube clip.

  3. RevReese says:

    I noticed that. Seems more and more common now to have videos removed. Seems most sites I visit now have videos to support the article, yet the video or account associated with it has vanished.
    I will keep an eye out for this to be reaired though, I cannot believe this is what they actually believed! files hidden in a game? I would laugh my way through it! love your comment about Fox, may be something to that! 😉

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