Tell an actor to play the part of a butcher and what you see on screen will be a butcher, chopping slabs of meat as if he's done so his entire life.
But put a real butcher in front of a camera and what happens? He turns into a bad actor.
Good actors excel in their ability to perform tasks with which they are unfamiliar and portray the action in a believable manner as if it's second nature.
Oh, except for when they have to play video games.
I've seen it a thousand times. You hand a controller to an actor and tell them to pretend to play, oh I don't know, Quest 64. Before long they are hunched over, rocking the controller side-to-side like a Wii steering wheel and button-mashing wildly while biting their lower lip with intensity. This is, of course, absurd, since we all know if they were really playing Quest 64, they would be flipping over tables and punching through walls in a profanity-laden fanfare. (Been there!) Why? Why do TV actors turn into overly determined buffoons when pretending to play video games?
The Big Bang Theory is a long overdue comedy series about extreme geek and gaming culture. However, the characters, who so convincingly represent socially awkward uber-nerdom, seem to have an extremely hard time pretending to play video games. For example, in an episode where the boys gathered to play Halo 3, each recklessly pressed every button on their controller as quickly as possible before proclaiming their victory with something like, "Take that, suckers!" But that's not how you play Halo at all. If you recorded someone utilizing correct Halo 3 controls and then compared it to the actors on the show playing the same game, the result would be night and day.
Some would argue that it's because most actors are unfamiliar with gaming and are therefore unsure of how to portray a "gamer." But that's what actors do. It's their job to become a different person and accurately simulate their activities and occupation. I'm sure that a high percentage of loyal BBT viewers are also avid gamers, so isn't showing them such a poor representation of a gamer almost… insulting?
Okay, maybe not insulting. Maybe disappointing, since The Big Bang Theory certainly isn't the first or last program to show gamers as maniacal, screeching monkeys. Perhaps it wouldn't be such an outlandish idea to have the actors test out the games before acting the part as character research. Gaming is so mainstream these days that gamers deserve that level of authenticity.
Commercials for video games are even more inaccurate. While pretending to play a game on a blank TV without "over acting" is admittedly difficult, I've experienced the opposite, which also turned out to be difficult.
I did a series of commercials for Raving Rabbids TV Party, and it was a rare instance when my castmates and I actually did play the mini-games during each scene. Our controllers were on, the game was running, and the Ubisoft representative set up the levels before each take.
This should've made "pretending to game" easy since we were really playing, right?
NOPE. I got so into playing and kicking the butts of my castmates that I didn't look excited enough. I'd hear off-camera: "More jumping around!" and "Flail your arms more!"
See, the director didn't care that I was concentrating and looking like a real gamer. He cared that I was showing home viewers that this was the single most exciting moment of my young adult life.
What do I think is the most accurate depiction of gaming on television? Simple: GameFly commercials. They capture the true essence of an angry gamer and then take it to a level that turns it into comedy. Screaming, crying, and throwing things out windows… It's like I'm playing Quest 64 all over again.
Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as a graphic designer and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.