Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Video Games in TV: CSI Miami

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

Season 4, Episode 9: "Urban Hellraisers" is as bad as they get. This episode follows the cliched "deluded gamers go on a killing spree because they think they're still playing a video game" premise, while the detectives use the video game as their main source of intelligence to apprehend the killers. Tax dollars at work. I think this episode may actually be more insulting to police detectives than gamers, just because of the team's over-reliance on coincidental logic. It's still rife with negative gaming stereotypes and fallacious misconceptions, mind you, so continue reading for the rest of the breakdown. 

The episode opens with three masked gunmen running into a bank, shooting out all of the cameras. They shoot the security guard and one of the tellers before loading up a bag with all of the money from a single register. One of the gunmen spots an attractive woman and starts unzipping his pants before being shot dead by Detective Delko. The gunmen take the bank manager hostage and flee with the bag of money, thus beginning our crime scene investigation.

The detectives review the eyewitness accounts and already begin to realize that the culprits aren't typical bank robbers. With some conventional detective work, they find a girl who claims to have found the bag of $18,000 in a Miami University laundry facility, her shirt covered in red paint from a security device that's supposed to explode when the money leaves the bank, but an outside guy from financing says her story checks out, probably because the robbers had the manager deactivate the sensors. They then find the bank manager tied up under a hockey rink, who informs them the robbers are about to heist a drop-off delivery from the federal reserve bank. 

Rushing to the scene, the detectives are able to stop the heist in time to capture one of the gunmen, who tells Detective Horatio "You better watch your grill, Johnny Law, we're still in play." This is the moment when they realize they're dealing with psychotic gamers; Detective Wolfe conveniently pulls a copy of Urban Hellraisers from the trunk of the vehicle and shows a bank robbery sequence (resembling the eyewitness accounts of the actual robbery) and the "Still in play" line to Horatio. 

With this piece of conclusive evidence, they begin to put two and two together. Their logic is that because players can walk into a bank, shoot one guard, shoot one bank teller, and take the money in this video game, their current culprits must be re-enacting the game in real life. 

This boggles my mind for two reasons. For starters, players in a video game have options to do different things at different times, so the scenario isn't going to play out exactly like it did every time. It's unrealistic for them to just randomly play the game and see the exact same thing that their current culprits allegedly saw and decided to re-enact. Secondly, the overlap between the game and the real shooting could just be a mere coincidence, because it's not exactly unique to this game for bank robbers to shoot armed security guards and demand money from a teller before walking out with it. That's the kind of thing that happens in actual bank robberies, so it's no surprise that you're finding it in a video game, too. 

But the kid did say they were "still in play," and that line does appear in the game, so of course they're obviously re-enacting the game and playing it for real. 

During the interrogation, we learn that the gamer/murderer/robber is obsessed with points, just like in the game. Doing things like shooting the guard is worth 500 points, and raping a victim is worth 1000, so on and so on, and the robbers all carried mechanical tally counters to keep track of their points. This concept seems totally stupid to me, because no one's going to sit there clicking out 1000 points in the middle of a bank robbery. Even if they made each click worth 100 points (so they'd only click 35 times instead of 3500 times), it still sounds stupid and seems like the writers just tossed it in there to try to tie the crime in with video games. 

So the dude doesn't want to rat his accomplice out (called "Demon" because of the red demon mask he was wearing), because that'd be worth -500 points and he's "already up on points." The detectives decide that "if Demon is still playing, he'll hit whatever's next in the game. Let's talk to the man who wrote the game." 

Horatio and Sergeant Tripp meet with the president of Trans-International, the developer of Urban Hellraisers. He brags about how the game sold 800,000 copies in the last quarter alone, and Tripp asks him for a "break-down of your game, where the player goes, what he has to do, when and how." And the president responds "I'm sorry but that's proprietary. You wouldn't ask Colonel Sanders for his seven herb recipe, would you?" What the ****? 

That's like selling someone a pizza and then telling them they can't actually eat it. Newsflash: anyone who plays your game is going to know "where the player goes, what he has to do, when and how." It's not a secret recipe, you can give the cops that much information. So instead of just consulting the internet to look for game guides that would tell them exactly what the next missions are, or asking on a forum where gamers would be happy to tell them, they task Wolfe with playing the game to figure out where Demon will strike next.

Wolfe starts playing and talks briefly with Delko about it, explaining that he stopped playing at home because rape is worth 1000 points. Alright, fair enough. (Though I still find it curious that he had the game on-hand at the crime scene to play it from the back of the police hummer.) He complains that he keeps dying in the shoot-out at the helicopter landing pad (the "mission" where they apprehended the drop-off heist), most likely because all of the gameplay footage is pre-rendered and he has no control over it. 

But then the game inexplicably shifts to "Sniper Mode," with Wolfe controlling a different character who snipes the cop. What triggered that sequence? Does dying five times bring that up? Because Wolfe was just complaining that he was stuck on level 2, and he didn't do anything to bring that sniping section up. Whatever. Doing this grants him access to level 3, in which the player raids a police HQ to reclaim the evidence against them. 

Cut to the CSI evidence locker, and two of the robbers are about to shoot an innocent woman while demanding she return the demon mask. Right as he's about to pull the trigger, one of the gunmen screams "NINE THOUSAND POINTS, BITCH!" and then he gets shot by Horatio. The other gunman escapes with the demon mask, but they keep Mr 9000 in custody. 

Turns out Mr 9000's glasses have a 3D virtual reality blueprint of the CSI building that gave him a heads-up map display of where to go to find the evidence room. Because we needed one more gimmicky video game tie-in to make this episode about video games. Mr 9000 gives up the location of "the scorekeeper," some dude at Miami U who keeps tracks of players' scores and pays out some kind of reward for everything.

Then we see gaming stereotypes at their finest. The scorekeeper---the only gamer in the investigation who's actually playing a video game---killed himself because he was too stupid to eat, drink, or sleep. Horatio and Delko find him slumped back in his chair with the game screen flashing "YOU ARE DEAD" over and over again with an annoying voice-over that would never appear in an actual game, bottles of urine tucked under the desk and dozens of empty cans of energy drinks on the desk. 

This guy is such a hardcore gamer that they show a flashback of him reaching out like a pro, grabbing a can, and chugging it down in the middle of gameplay, and crushing the empty can, his free hand still frantically hitting buttons on the controller. Most gamers would pause the game to take a four second drink of their beverage, but not this guy. He's too badass to pause. 

From here, the detectives track down an address that's been trafficking guns to the teenaged perpetrators, and find out that the president of Trans-International is behind it all. He defends his actions by saying that the "gaming business is competitive, I needed an edge." But like, they'd already sold over 800,000 copies, and there's been no mention of previous game-related violence, so was it really necessary for this guy to  generate such controversy at this stage in the game? Seems like it's already very successful without the stunt. I'm pretty sure no developer or publisher would ever do that, because they'd lose the entire business, get sued to high hell, and serve lots of jail time, which is just terrible for business.  

Delko then finally matches the molded facial structure of the demon mask with a Miami U athlete. They bring him in for questioning, and he says "No, no way, I'm not one of those guys you're looking for. I'm no gamer." As if he's more appalled at being suspected of being a gamer than of being a murderer. Playing games is more of a defining characteristic in a police investigation than being homicidal psychopaths. 

Anyway, one of the lab techs then finds out that the DNA from the saliva on the demon mask was from a woman, and with that bit of evidence they realize that "Demon" was the young woman who "found the bag of money in the laundry facility." In other words, we could've skipped everything else if we'd known this earlier. On the verge of tears, she explains that she only did it to fit in with the guys, because "they don't even look at you unless you're a gamer." She's no murderer, she's just a victim of wanting to fit in. And then, because she's so full of remorse for her actions, she starts bragging about how she had more points than anyone else. 

And that's "Urban Hellraisers." This one is almost as bad as that one X-Files episode. It might even be worse, just because of all of the stupid logic at play. It's hard to believe they can be as inept as this.

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