Saturday, February 18, 2012

Video Games in TV: Life

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

I've been writing these articles for several months now, and this is the first show I've come across to use a real, actual video game instead of making something up. I don't know which is worse; inventing a pathetically stupid-looking video game, or disgracing a real game. I can laugh with some sense of pity at the made-up stuff, but seeing the Prince of Persia like this only makes me sad.

The short-lived NBC crime-drama Life aired an episode in its first season called "A Civil War," in which police detectives have to reach "level 10" in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones to unlock some hacked files. For some reason. Don't ask me, because even though I watched the entire episode, I still don't get it. You can watch the whole scene for yourself and read my commentary after the jump.

A woman's son has been abducted and is being held hostage, seemingly involved in a drug trade. The cops take the kid's computer (which just happens to have a hardcore "gaming PC" case) to search for evidence linking him to the kidnappers. All they find on his hard-drive is "typical 20-year old" stuff like music and porn. One detective finds a reference to a file called "Farah level 10" but can't find the file anywhere on the hard-drive. She asks detective Crews if he's sure that was the only PC in the house, and then he has his revelation.

You can see for yourself how bad it is. Every single thing in it is either wrong or just stupidly absurd.
"He's a good son, he studies, he plays his video game." 
This is a minor error, but they've made a point throughout the episode that this kid and his sister are both gamers, and gamers play more than just one game. If you're obsessed with just one game, then you're really not a gamer at all. Was it so hard to write "he plays his video games" in a plural sense?
"A game console is like a computer, isn't it?" ~ "It's not 'like' one, it is one. It's just a hard-drive with games on it." 
The console in question is an original Xbox, which did in fact have a hard-drive in it. But back then, most people played directly off the disc, because the hard-drive was really only designed for storing game saves, media files, and other things downloaded off of Xbox Live. I think it only had 6 or 8GB of storage, which would've filled up after installing only a few games on it, and it doesn't have nearly the same functional breadth as an actual computer. 

But wait! They're playing the game on an Xbox, right? I mean, we clearly see Crews pick up the Xbox and then we see it hooked up to the TV. But if you look closely at the main menu in the lower right corner, you can see the input prompt asking you to press the X button on the PS2 controller. Hmm..... 
"The object of this game is to save the princess Farah."
That's really not the object of the game. There's a part where you do have to rescue her, but that's kind of a secondary goal in a larger quest. They just simplified the game down to a basic cliche so that they could explain it in five seconds to an audience who presumably knows nothing about video games. 
"You think you can get to level 10?" ~ "I'm 30 years old, I live with my mother, and I have a Captain Kirk costume in my closet." 
Here we go with the stereotypes. There are gamers out there that match those descriptions, but those qualifications do not make someone a gamer. Just because you have an unhealthy obsession with Star Trek and can't muster the independence to move out of your parents' house, doesn't necessarily mean you have mad gaming skills.

But notice how this guy implements his confident gaming skills: he furiously mashing away at the controller while only simple actions are being performed on screen. The Prince slides down a chute, and he's frantically spamming buttons, when in reality that would only require him to hold the joystick down, or it might even happen automatically. Then the Prince runs across the screen, and he's still mashing buttons. 

And then we get stuff like this. I don't understand why television shows keep doing this. Mainstream video games haven't had numerical levels like this since arcades were popular. There are no levels in Prince of Persia; it's a linear, continually-flowing game world. And there's the "You have died. Play again?" text that doesn't exist in the game, either.

Meanwhile, apparently no one else has any real work to do, because everyone else in the station is tensely watching this guy play. And he keeps dying and failing on level 2 or 3. Wasn't this guy supposed to be some kind of stereotypical expert gamer? Crews realizes that all hope is lost in Captain Kirk, and notices that the abducted kid's sister is watching the game through the window, mimicking the controls with her empty fingers.

So she's playing "air video games" to a guy playing Prince of Persia, which just boggles my mind. There are some games like Guitar Hero where you can actually play without a controller and get some kind of satisfaction out of it, but no person would be doing this while watching someone play Prince of Persia. There are just too many different input combinations that the actual player can freely perform; your own fingers are never going to sync up with what's happening on screen. Plus, she's a chick and we all know chicks don't play video games, anyway.

Captain Kirk shamefully lets the girl take the controller, and she's able to make it to "level 10" with relative ease. I would assume "level 10" is meant to represent the final stage of the game, because a guy hiding files in a video game would want them to be difficult to access. And if that's the case, then this girl was able to beat the whole game in what I guess is less than two hours, judging by the montage, in which no one shows any visible signs of getting tired or going off to do other things. 

And for that matter, if this is the one game that this kid plays, and Crews took his personal console, why do they even have to start a new game? Wouldn't that kid's save files be stored on the hard-drive, so that they could just load up a cleared game save, or a save right before level 10? Maybe the kid deleted his saves for some inexplicable reason. 

So we come to the dramatic finale where the Prince jumps off a careening carriage and lands on a horse, narrowly slipping through a closing gate. And then the gates open and reveal a series of Excel-style spreadsheets with several different windows opening up to display several different spreadsheets. Do I even need to go into how ridiculous this is? How was this kid able to hack this game to run Excel? How does the original Xbox have enough memory to run all of that on top of running the game? Ugh. I have nothing else to say about this. 

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