Friday, June 29, 2012

Top Ten Memorable Video Gamers on Television

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

Guess what? We're getting a new writer! J. Adams will be joining TheTalkingBox's staff starting tomorrow. You might remember that, a while back, we looked at a few television technologies and did some writing about not just what you watch on TV, but what you watch TV on. Well, how about other things that you DO with your TV? The list is quite impressive at this point, but our new writer will be focusing on video games, as a vast majority of those are played through consoles connected to televisions. We'll be starting with a look back on some video game history, but you can look forward to game reviews, recommendations, retrospectives, and more.

So, in celebration of this new branch to our site, today we take a look at some of the most memorable instances of video gamers on television - did you realize just how many shows depict characters playing video games at one time or another? Sometimes they're single episodes (like the Scrubs gang playing Unreal Tournament III or Kovac's impulse buy on ER), but other times they are regular activities for the characters, so let's dive right in and take a look. If we missed somebody you think should have made the cut, let us know in the comments!

10. Frasier "The Apparent Trap" (S07E09): Now, Frasier's son, Frederick, plays both console games and handheld games when visiting from Boston, but this episode sticks out in my mind because Niles repeatedly dies in the intro level. It's not rocket science, but the sitcom has built both Frasier and Niles into being so deficient in anything "normal" kids did (remember the later episode where Daphne has to teach them to ride bicycles?) that the character just dies as soon as Niles takes the controller. 

9. Friends "The One Where Joey Dates Rachel" (S08E12): Yeah, okay, the "main" story may have been about Joey and Rachel exploring their feelings for one another, but the memorable plotline is that Phoebe's wedding gift to Monica and Chandler finally arrives. She decided to present them with a retired arcade game, Ms. Pac-Man. While Phoebe and Monica are fiercely competitive initially, it's unemployed Chandler who becomes obsessed, ultimately filling the Best Scores board with dirty words. The clinching moment of the episode, however, is a tie between Chandler realizing that his hand is now cramped into a joystick position and Ross's son Ben walking in to hear Phoebe's diarrhea-of-the-mouth when she loses.

8. Seinfeld "The Frogger" (S09E18):
This episode is remarkably close to the end of the iconic show, but it offers some great gaming moments. Not only is George obsessive about making sure his "top score" is preserved, but he also takes on the challenge of maneuvering the arcade game in traffic as if he were the frog in the classic game. Add in an overhead view and some cheesy sound effects and we've got ourselves an adult taking a game all too seriously. 

by pacman1990 at GIFSoup

7. How I Met Your Mother "The Third Wheel" (S03E03):
Barney and Marshall are so engrossed in a game of Wii Tennis that they're actually not going to go down to MacLaren's. But wait, it gets better. As the trash talk begins to mount, Marshall removes his pants for "freedom and mobility" and Barney switches into British mode, using words like "crumpet" and "bangers and mash" to distract Marshall. Lily comes home and is there when Ted calls to announce he's got a "tricycle" building, and everyone needs to clear the apartment. While it would have been funnier if the men had refused to give up their game for the tricycle, they honor the Bro Code and hide to give Ted and the ladies the apartment.

6. Step by Step "Video-Mania" (S03E06): This is really an episode about perfectionism, which may explain why I'm particularly drawn to it. See, Mark, the brainy boy in the family, receives an "A" on an assignment. Normally, that would be great, but for children accustomed to seeing "A+" at the top of their papers, it causes some alarm. Stepfather Frank thinks that playing a video game will help Mark with his stress. Unfortunately, Mark can't enjoy the game for what it is; he makes it a constant competition with himself - to get to the next level, to have the highest score - and is soon up all night mashing the buttons. Frank and Carol wind up taking him to a support group for video game addicts, and BAM! he's cured.

5. Futurama "Anthology of Interest II" (S04E03): The Professor's "What If" Machine allows Fry to see what life would be like if it were a video game. Well, in the sub-story "Raiders of the Lost Arcade," Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Mario, and Space Invaders are all showcased in one way or another. This episode is particularly interesting because Fry must personally battle the Space Invaders as if the world depended on it - and I think that a lot of us can relate to the endscene, where Fry admits that he could never get the final one... his brother always did it for him.
photo credit: Futurama and Matt Groening
4. House: The brilliant doctor plays anything and everything - Metroid Zero Mission, Metroid Prime Hunters, MX vs. ATV, Ninja Gaidan II, racing games, and a couple of handheld consoles come to mind. Oh, and that one with the apes - it looked cool, though I think SavageScape was fictional. House plays alone, with Wilson on the weekends, and with Taub at work. Taub and Foreman also played games together when they were roommates. While there aren't specific episodes that come to mind, video games were showcased throughout several seasons of the show, and I particularly liked how they infiltrated work and home. 

3. Clarissa Explains it All:
I may be wrong, but just about every episode I can remember had Clarissa DESIGNING her own video games. Yes, sometimes all she'd do is put her brother's head on something and kill it, but she was always creating thematic screens. But is was 1991-1994, and Clarissa was a girl, so Nickelodeon was really being a little edgy with writing her into being able to do such advanced stuff when she was 14 and the Super Nintendo was just coming out. Talk about girl power! 

2. South Park "Make Love, Not Warcraft" (S10E08):
Yes, the kids do play video games on a multitude of platforms throughout the series. BUT, I don't know how you could argue that their most memorable gamer episode is when Kyle, Kenny, Stan, and Cartman become obsessed with World of Warcraft and killing a specific player, who has become drunk with power. The references to guys doing nothing but playing games for 21 hours a day for months on end are ridiculous - the kids are all overweight and acne-ridden, they survive off of energy drinks and hot pockets, and they use words like "pwned" in real life. In the end, they're able to defeat the "Griefer" and are happy that they can "finally play the game." Hardcore, my friends.
1. The Big Bang Theory: The guys are all into video gaming and even Penny plays a few times, showing some great beginner's aptitude. They're big on Halo, RockBand, and Age of Conan, though others certainly make appearances. Heck, there's a whole episode about Sheldon's World of Warcraft account getting hacked and someone stealing his ostrich, leading our favorite physicist to call the police, though it's Penny who delivers a swift kick to the thief's groin and gets back Sheldon's stuff. It's also good to note that the guys believe in owning every geeky item out there, so they don't discriminate when it comes to XBox vs. PS3 vs. PC games, allowing them to fully embrace the many gaming options available to them. And, with this series still going on, you can pretty much bet that we haven't seen the end of their gaming episodes! 
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