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Don’t Play Me Like That! The Worst Depictions of Gamers in SciFi

In this column we’ve learned a lot about the tremendous impact video games have had on Hollywood, but what about the gamers themselves? You see, we gamers know what we’re actually like, but filmmakers are still a little unclear about how to portray our ilk. When they sit down at their typewriters, we usually come off as either more charming and interesting than we are in reality, or we’re condescendingly insulted. Need proof? Here are the most egregious offenders in science fiction.

The Movie: Stay Alive (2006)
The Gamers: Incredibly hot and stupid
With a cast made up of startlingly good-looking actors like Sophia Bush, Milo Ventimiglia, and Samaire Armstrong, much of this sub-par movie feels like a feature-length Nintendo Wii commercial — admittedly, one that’s full of decapitations and slit throats. The characters in Stay Alive are indicative of everything gamers simultaneously loathe and envy; we Cheetos-eating, over-or-underweight lot wish to be the type of people who could swap spittle with Sophia Bush, but we also never want to be the kind of brainless morons who get killed because we weren’t smart enough to stop playing a video game that decapitates its players. Decisions, decisions.

The Movie: WarGames (1983)
The Gamers: Geniuses
While Stay Alive may inspire ambivalence in those gamers who are asked to relate to the protagonists, I can confidently state that all gamers want to be like Matthew Broderick’s character in WarGames. Sure, his reckless video game addiction causes him to almost start World War III, but his MacGyver-caliber ingenuity also allows him to escape from the clutches of the government, stop the destruction of all human life, and make out with Ally Sheedy. WarGames is, if nothing else, a story of hope — hope that one day you too will become as cool as Ferris Bueller simply by playing video games all day. If only.

The Movie: Gamer (2009)
The Gamers: Immature gore-hounds
Of course, WarGames was created in a charmingly naïve time, when Space Invaders and Pitfall were the pinnacle of video game violence. Neveldine and Taylor’s Gamer, on the other hand, acknowledges the intense violence on which modern video games so pride themselves. Every time a senator passes legislation to limit video game sales, they’re thinking about the world of Gamer, where teenagers have become so desensitized to virtual violence that only real-life slaughter can sate their appetites. It’s all complete nonsense, of course, as virtual violence will always be different than the real thing. But try telling that to a 13-year-old’s mom who just unplugged the Xbox worrying over the possibility of Gamer‘s future.

The Movie: Tron (1982)
The Gamers: Cool as hell
For a flick ostensibly about nothing but video games, we really only meet one true gamer in Tron: Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges. Still, he’s more than enough — as the movie’s cool, cocky, Han Solo-esque figure, Flynn easily steals the show away from his co-stars. Tron is ultimately a story about how gamers see themselves — which can often be as distorted as Hollywood sees them. Even though a guy like Flynn would, in reality, probably be far too nerdy and antisocial to ever own an arcade and act as cleverly as Jeff Bridges, he’s still an alluring role model.

The Movie: The Wizard (1989)
The Gamers: Mentally challenged
A ninety-minute Nintendo commercial, The Wizard is one of the most pro-video game movies ever made. And yet its depiction of gamers is that we’re jerks at worst, and autistic at best. Only two characters in the entire movie are any good at games: Jimmy, the autistic brother who runs away from home to compete in a video game championship; and Lucas, the blonde, leather jacket-wearing, loves-the-Power-Glove-’cause-it’s-so-bad villain. While Nintendo currently has a much more inclusive stance on what it is to be a gamer (thanks to the Wii and its family-friendly accessories), they apparently didn’t have such a high opinion of their user base back in 1989.

But then again, maybe that’s too cynical a perspective. Do you think any of these movies portray gamers accurately? Does any movie? Hit the comments.


Anthony Burch is the features editor for and the co-writer and director of the video series Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’? He recently completed Runner, his first art game.

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