Thursday, January 12, 2012

Video Games in TV: Law & Order Criminal Intent

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

Do I really have to sit through another one of these? This episode was especially unbearable. It doesn't get a whole lot overtly wrong, but the whole thing is just so boring.

Season 3 of Law & Order: Criminal Intent had an episode called "F.P.S." that, surprisingly, wasn't about first-person shooters (or should that be "unsurprisingly," considering how little these shows understand about gaming?). A bunch of money goes missing and a young woman gets thrown off of her balcony. Somehow it all gets traced back to a team of video game developers; apparently one of them was jealous about how the other guy spent his time and concocted a convoluted conspiracy to eliminate a third party. Detectives Goren and Bishop rush to the scene of the awkward, yawn-inducing love triangle.

As usual, a run-down of the episode with pictures, video, and commentary awaits in the full article.

So the setup is that a bunch of people's bank accounts get hacked and they all lose a lot of money, around the same time that a young woman gets thrown off her balcony by a masked intruder. The detectives talk to various people and track down leads, finding out that an ATM had an illegitimate card reader installed and that a few people had some spyware on their hard drives. The first third of the episode is basically pointless and irrelevant to everything else that follows, so we can skim over it easily enough.

Things start to get interesting when the detectives hear from the dead woman's boss that he'd overheard a phone conversation where someone threatened over the speaker phone to "put her head on a stick." Using Goren's mad search engine skills, he types "head on a stick" into a police department search engine, and everything seems to point to a video game called "Blood Match." Except for the top search result which seems to obtusely reference Apocalypse Now.

So on a vaguely obscure hunch from a single phrase that coincidentally happened to be used in a video game, they figure out that they can use the game to track where people were and what they were doing. I wish real police work were as easy as typing a phrase into a search engine and then rolling with whatever comes up. 

So they go to some place and talk to some guy in front of a computer, trying to find out if the dead girl was online at a certain time. And, of course, the random dude behind the computer is quick to blurt out "players don't use their real names, they make up new identities called avatars." Yeah, thanks for that, I would've been totally lost without that bit of input that I hear in every TV episode that ever included video games in an episode.

The dude brings up a list of people who were playing Blood Match at a certain time (a whopping 55 in a one-hour period, which isn't a whole lot for a game that's supposed to be such a big seller that one of the designers can now afford a Ferrari), and Bishop starts reading the list of aliases with a dumbstruck, contorted look on her face. It's like this is a new concept to her, and she's astonished that people would use gamertags like "Nuclear72" or "Dragonbyte."

Notice how her FOV settings are part of her public profile. Why, exactly?

Looking at the list of names, Goren magically deduces that "ShilohAmy" is the dead woman's alias, because her father was a Civil War buff, and that "Taliesen" is the alias of one of the game's creators, who just happens to be Welsh (Taliesen is Welsh legend or something). How convenient that these people would have such predictable aliases and that Goren's spider sense would home in on that.

With a little more snooping they find out that ShilohAmy and Taliesen had battled each other 400-some times, and once again in a very convenient (and implausible) fashion, the game servers just happen to save replay recordings of every match, ever. They bring up a video from the time of the murder and Taliesen, who is supposed to be a top-ranked player, is getting his ass kicked by terrible animations and sound effects.

One dude describes it as such: "Taliesen was getting creamed. He normally average 96 frags per game. That night, he barely managed 23." How nice of them to use a gaming term like "frag" just to confuse the majority audience of this show who has no idea what video games are even supposed to be. And then immediately after that sentence, without even taking a breath or missing a beat, he blurts out "Woah, look at those gibs fly!" My brain is having an aneurism right now.

Goren wonders why Taliesen is doing so badly in the match and asks: "Could he have programmed some kind of automatic pilot for his avatar?" The one dude says "Yeah, it's called a bot." And then Bishop immediately buts in: "You mean a robot." This is the person who knows jack squat about video games, and she doesn't even say it like a question. Who directed this? Why would she be correcting the so-called "gaming expert" on the diction that he uses to describe the video game? But the dude's quick to shut her down "No I mean bot."

After explaining to the audience that bots are programs that run a character without a user having to control them, Bishop misses the point completely and says: "Computer geek who can clone himself. Scary thought."

Then, with a little more run-around, we get to the climactic confrontation. Goren has steadily put the pieces of the puzzle together, concluding that one of the developers (just call him "A" for convenience) had a dramatic lifestyle change after Blood Match became popular, and the other developer ("B") didn't like that the other dude was now spending more time away from him and away from the game. So "B" has a man crush on "A" with attachment issues, and Goren thinks that "B" killed ShilohAmy (who "A" had been spending so much time with online) in order for "A" to go back to working on Blood Match 2.

Which brings us to this culmination where everything falls into place and the one dude essentially confesses to his crimes. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, well, this video speaks ten thousand about the nature of this episode.

Weird, awkward, pedestrian, almost patronizing. Blech. In the full episode, this hallway manipulation scene has actually already been going on for several minutes before the start of this video, so it's even worse in the episode. 

It's a real shame you can't un-watch these things. Other episodes are at least fun to make fun of; this one is just sad and pathetic.


  1. I actually love this episode because it parallels how much Goren is missing Eames (who isn't in it because she's having a surrogate baby) and he realises just how much he needs her. When he looks at her vacant chair and says "it's about yearning........."

  2. Hahahaaa.... what a funny-assed write up. I just started this episode. Yah I was a trial attorney so I love Law and Order it's a fucking riot. They routinely depict Civil Rights violations too.
    Christopher King, J.D.