"You hold the high score in virtually every massively multiplayer online role-playing game!"

According to crime drama NCIS, not only do MMOs have high scores but there's someone who holds nearly all of them. Meanwhile Life imagines a criminal hiding an incriminating spreadsheet on an Xbox 360 and making it so that somehow it's only unlocked by beating Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones in a Rocky-style montage. CSI: New York envisions Second Life as a place where cops chase gun-toting furries on hoverboards. Actually, that one's about right.

It's easy to get frustrated when visual media portrays gaming inaccurately, but visual media routinely screws over all niche interests: cooking, comic books, whatever.

It's easy to get frustrated when visual media portrays gaming inaccurately, but visual media routinely screws over all niche interests: cooking, comic books, whatever. It's been 50 years since Medic and doctors still put on stethoscopes backwards. Gaming isn't special and we shouldn't be surprised when visual media makes mistakes that we're the only ones spotting.

Nor should these point-blank inaccuracies lead us to assume TV and film writers are unable to be incisive about gaming, no matter how great the gaffes or unlikely the source of insight. For example, no-one would expect Hackers to say anything particularly astute. The 1995 film is fondly remembered for visualizing databases like Tron, hackers as pretty teenagers boldly garbed in Day-Glo, and modems as running at the "insanely great" speed of 28.8bps. It was not entirely precise.

What Hackers gets no credit for doing, because maybe it didn't mean to, is aptly conflating hacking with gaming. The film hints at their common ludic and cyberpunk themes, themes that 90s hackers like David Troup and Craig Nerdorf talked about: competitive exploration, puzzle-solving, divergence, and futurism. The scene in which Dade beats Kate's Wipeout score, an event that preludes their hacking rivalry, is what best underlines this commonality but the conceit is carried throughout the film.

Maybe this interpretation is a stretch. In any case the observations are benign; the film romanticizes gaming just as it does hacking. Often with inaccurate portrayals of gaming, it's not the errors themselves that rile us but the vitriolic agenda from which they come. Law and Order's infamous tripe about obese, addicted, socially inept gamers is laced with political rhetoric, while CSI regularly plays to games-cause-violence headlines. 2009's Gamer has a potentially smart plot about players controlling humans in real-life shooter and social games, but takes both genres to absolute extremes in a feeble excuse to glorify violence and depravity rather than comment on it. When non-fiction bias spills over into fiction, the inaccuracies are the easy targets for us to shoot down first.

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