Friday, September 2, 2011

Video Games in TV: Ghost Whisperer

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

In this season four episode of Ghost Whisperer, "Ghost in the Machine," Jennifer Love-Hewitt has to track down a sexual predator by playing an online game similar to Second Life. The ghost of a deceased player manifests itself to her, and she quickly becomes involved in an investigation to save a young girl by figuring out the real identity of an in-game character. This episode could be a lot worse, but like most every TV show, it goes for gaming cliches to set the tone, which makes it a little lame. 

I don't understand the appeal of this game that everybody's playing, "Alt World-2." The episode makes it seem like everyone is playing this game, talking about how all of the school-aged kids hang out on this game instead of hanging out in real life. One kid says he's meeting people at "the arcade" and it turns out they're all meeting at an arcade in the game. Practically everyone at the local internet cafe / coffee shop is playing. When in actuality, this game just looks like a crude version of everyday socializing. 

Most of what people seem to do in this game is just sit around talking and hanging out. I guess it's more convenient to meet online, dropping in and out on the fly, but this game seems a little too elaborate for such a simple premise. There's only so much you can do in a game, right? A lot of these people seem to be sitting next to each other in a cafe, not interacting at all except in the game. If you're right there, why not just talk in real-life? It's easier and unrestricted. I find it hard to believe that people would flock to this game to hang out online, instead of just using some sort of instant messenger or Skype or something. 

Um, wut?

There's also this strange coincidence that seemingly everyone playing this game is from the same town as Jennifer Love-Hewitt. This one girl says "I'm at the bookstore," and a guy in-game says "I'm here too!! Where are you sitting?" She just says "the" bookstore, and yet this guy knows exactly which one? Are they playing on a local server hosted for citizens of Whereversville? If so then tons and tons of people from Whereversville are playing this game. In the online games/communities I've been a part of, it was rare to even meet people from my same state, let alone from right down the street. 

And, of course, there's the dialogue, where people type in exaggerated gamer-talk. This one guy types "Hey! Give a Nu-b a break," while vocalizing "newbie." Who writes nu-b? I've seen newb, noob, n00b, nub, newbie, but never nu-b. After the guy gets pwn'd in the stupid DDR game, he complains to her "No fair, you have mad skills and a fast machine!" Ugh. Not to mention the girl appears to be playing on like a 22" Dell XPS or something, while smack talking "Take that sucka!" These are wonderful cliches, here.  

There are apparently a couple of games that people can play. We see two of the characters playing a sort of Dance Dance Revolution-style game, but it looks completely stupid. The two avatars dance around on screen while the one girl taps rhythmically on the keyboard, but the arrow icons at the top of the screen don't light up, notes don't slide past anywhere. It's obviously not a functioning game, it's just meant to look like one to someone who don't know what them there vidja games is all about. 

Highly sophisticated gameplay. There's apparently no user input required.

At one point the girl makes a comment, "I think you get to know who people really are more online. Barriers come down." She's saying that you get to know the real person online because people are less inhibited online. Well, that's a load of crap. Once you go online, barriers go UP because there's now a GUI in-between you. There's also the issue of anonymity, people can act differently in the game knowing full well that their real identities are protected. So she's clearly a deluded cyber-teen. Then she says that at least she can rely on the game to always be there for her, unlike her parents. Well then she obviously doesn't understand that the servers can crash, the game can go into maintenance downtime, the whole thing can go unplugged if it stops making money, or she could lose her internet connection. 

Oh, and the girl's father apparently dies playing this game. He started playing it so that he could keep in touch with her, because I guess there was some condition in the divorce that he couldn't see her, or that he felt more comfortable approaching her anonymously online than in real life. But what was he doing that got him killed? They actually show his corpse slung over the keyboard with the game still running. Was he just being a stereotypical gamer dumb-ass, playing the game 24/7 until he died from lack of sleep, food, and water? In their investigation, the ghost-whisperers research people who died from these causes, but they never explain what happened to the father. I find it hard to believe this guy would be that stupid. 

(Apparently he died of a heart-attack while playing the game. Meh)

Jennifer Love-Hewitt in cyberspace. Lots of neon.

Jennifer Love-Hewitt also, somehow, has the ability to move her consciousness into the cyber-realm of the gamespace. (Maybe it's some kind of a special ghost-whispering technique?) But when she's in the game, everything turns into this cyberpunk setting with neon lighting, and everyone's got crazy outfits and tattoos. It's weird, because I don't quite get that vibe from the actual game footage, where everyone looks fairly normal. I guess the cyberpunk imagery is fine enough to look at, but it feels out of place, like they're trying too hard to make the video game theme stand out.

That's mostly all there is to this episode. The rest of it's inconsequential pseudo crime-drama, just talking to people, putting two and two together until they can figure out how the predator is. I guess the whole "video game MacGuffin" angle is actually fairly mild in this episode. Except for the drawn-out cyberspace scenes with the cheesy special effects, the video game is a central figure in the cyber-predator premise. Which is itself not tacky, its sincere, in a kind of creepy "this is really a problem that we face in reality" kind of way. So I'm not insulted by the use of video games in this episode, but the depiction is still lame and cliche, as it is in virtually every TV show. 

1 comment:

  1. The move to cancel the show was a devastating blow for its fans, and even Jennifer Love Hewitt spoke out about the cancellation in January 2011 by issuing the following statement. “When you've taken people on a journey for so long, the least you can do is give them a goodbye. For a show that was about unfinished business, we didn't get to finish.

    “Ghost Whisperer” was recently named as the second “most missed axed show” in a Zap2It poll. I can see why. It truly was a show that had heart, soul, and spirit.