It’s kind of funny when you think about it. We use television to watch television. We also use television to play video games. Is it so outlandish the the two entertainment mediums would occasionally merge into one to deliver joy unto us? Well, yeah, apparently. After all, gaming has been around for decades and aside from occasional references, gags, and insane cautionary tales about terrorist gamers raping women because girls are icky it doesn’t often get a lot of exposure on television.
But now and again, some shows break that mold and give us a full-tilt wonderland of virtual delights, nostalgia, and geeky references to treasure. A few shows have based their entire format around gaming, and others have gone far enough to adopt a video game format for a while. Here are four examples of television series that crossed over to the other side to pay tribute to gaming culture and the people in it just because they could. This is what it’s like when worlds collide.
Video Game References
Teen Titans Go! seemed like a bad idea at the time, taking the popular anime-influenced DC superhero TV series and remaking it into a complete farce while displacing the awesome Green Lantern and Young Justice shows in the process. But it turned out as a really unique and frequently hilarious cartoon series that can be enjoyed at any age.
Case and point: the recent video game episode, in which Robin takes the team to a virtual reality room where he claims to have prepared challenges for each of them. The challenges end up being classic-era video games that could only be truly appreciated by the old schoolers in the audience. Basically, if you know what was waiting for Starfire in the cave at the end of the above clip, you’re good to go.
In addition to the Zelda love, we’re treated to Beast Boy trying his hand at Frogger, Cyborg practicing good driving etiquette in a Spy Hunter spoof, Robin giving himself a concussion bumping coins from bricks in Super Mario Brothers, and Raven becoming one of the ghosts pursuing Pac-Man. I’ve got to give it to the writers, most of the vignettes were pretty inspired. But then again, this is a show that referenced Webster while detailing the Betamax-VHS wars so it’s safe to say that they appreciate a good 80’s reference like few people do these days.
Unlike the rest of these shows that only spent an episode as video games, Code Monkeys was designed and styled as an 8-bit video game and probably poured in more 80’s references per capita by itself while it was running on G4 than the rest of the other networks put together.
The plot revolves around intrepid game developers at Gameavision, who make Atari-era games. In one episode, they make a game in which players are tasked with shooting a world leader named Raygun to win Jodie Foster’s love, leading to the actions of one John Hinckley, who you may recall carried out an attempted assassination on a certain world leader named Reagan after watching the film Taxi Driver irl. Except in the show, he was inspired by the game and taken to court in an episode satirizing the insanity of the life imitating violent art argument.
The show’s random flailing humor hasn’t aged particularly well, but then again, neither have a lot of the prevailing attitudes and stereotypes Code Monkeys parodied. Be it dude-bros, corporate shark owners, basement-dwelling RPGers, and socially irresponsible stoners, they’re are still around so what’s a little dated humor between geeks?
Make Love, Not Warcraft
South Park decided not to go retro when they made a video game episode and instead went with the biggest current MMO on the planet. This is arguably the gold standard for episodes of this type as it really captures the silliness of virtual interactions and various headaches associated with multiplayer gaming while brilliantly satirizing the all-too-common hardcore gamer practices of game-breaking and griefing.
The story is about a gamer who becomes too powerful in-game to be controlled and spends all of his time ruining everyone elses’ experiences, chasing out all other players and threatening to end WoW. It’s a pleasing combination of tribute and mockery to gaming as a community with a message that amusingly suggests that the only way to beat an online troll with no life at their own game is to become as they are. But the cost, man. The cost.
Digital Estate Planning
When it was on the air, there was absolutely nothing like Community and it’s likely we’ll never see anything like it again. It was a rare live-action comedy that was unafraid to go anywhere and do anything no matter how geeky and weird, including paintball apocalypse season finales, claymation Christmas specials, D&D sessions, and, of course, a video game episode.
The plot here is that the father of Chevy Chase’s character, Pierce, has died and in his will he demands that Pierce and his friends play a video game to claim his inheritance. The entire cast assumes retro video game form and encounter the estate’s executor, who uses cheat codes to make himself invincible and sets out to steal the inheritance for himself.
In one particularly amusing development, geek auteur and fourth wall smasher Abed exploits the game mechanics and amasses endless in-game wealth, allowing the heroes to triumph and showing that a true gamer doesn’t need cheat codes to bend a game to his will and become unstoppable. Fans of the show have actually gone so far as to make an actual video game based on the episode, making Community‘s entry the king of video game crossovers.