I recently was given a part in The Game Station's 6-episode miniseries called "The Street Fighter," and I didn't even have to blackmail anyone for a role this time! Small victories.
The series revolves around a dad who loses his job and as a result, decides to become a professional Street Fighter IV player in order to pay for his son's school tuition. I play Camile, an awkward nerdy girl with glasses, which was a real theatrical stretch for me, because I do not wear glasses in real life.
One of my co-stars on the show was a 12-year-old kid named Gus. Gus and I goofed around off-screen: I'd often slap scripts out of his hand just to make him cranky and he'd ask me to mime shooting him with a sniper rifle so he could show me his best fake deaths. One day, while filming a scene where the two of us had to pretend to play Call of Duty, this conversation took place:
Lisa: Be careful not to mash the buttons like that.
Gus: (Gives Lisa the side eye) Why?
Lisa: Because people watching will know it's fake. I actually wrote an article on that exact concept. About how actors look like idiots playing video games on TV.
Lisa: Even Cliff Bleszinski liked it! He told me! So we have to do this right or everyone on the Internet will call me a ‘hypocritical whore!' …Which they usually do anyway. And turn your controller on, too.
Gus: I hate you.
Gus, of course, probably didn't hate me because of my obsessive need for video game believability; he probably hated me because my nickname for him was "Tiny Thor."
So, there I was: The girl who wrote extensively about how actors look like idiots playing video games on television for Kotaku in April 2010 suddenly found herself in a web show about playing video games. Piece of cake. Don't sporadically hit buttons, don't tilt the controller like a Wii steering wheel, and don't make any facial expressions that resemble Mick Jagger in the "Dancing In The Street" music video.
Following these simple steps, I thought Actor Lisa had everything under control… until the director handed me a fightstick.
To me, fighting games are like Dane Cook comedies—I realize a lot of people like them and they are typically well produced, but I cannot stand them. I've hated fighting games my entire life, with no valid reasoning aside from "I suck at them." In fact, in all of my attempts at Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs. Capcom, etc, I can honestly say I've never won a match. I have to memorize enough nonsense in my life, like my pin number, my mom's birthday, and all of the lyrics to Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego; I don't have the desire nor brain capacity to memorize elaborate button combos to block Dhalsim, who's just going to punch me in the nuts with his elasti-arms regardless.
Fighting game players, you rock. I have the utmost respect for you. I, personally, am just not a huge fan of watching both my onscreen character and my dignity get annihilated round after round until my competitor decides he'd rather play someone who's not brand new to dexterity. Good day to you, sir, I'll be in the corner playing Rune Factory.
With the above rant taken into consideration, I obviously had no idea how to correctly use a fightstick. This resulted in Layne (the director) having to ‘cut' in the middle of a scene in order to teach me how to look less handicapped. "Do two half-circles with the joystick, and then hit these buttons twice. Use sharp, precise motions, like the really good players. If you just mash buttons, the audience will know it's fake."
How embarrassing. A gamer being instructed on how to look more like a gamer. Whatever Layne, just because you have awesome hair and you're totally cute doesn't mean you can make me feel inadequate at my job! I spent the next few days of filming determined to learn combos and execute them believably to a blank television. I had no idea what moves went with these particular combos, but I assumed they were some kind of super-mega-turbo death moves, and if it had been a real game, I'd probably be winning.
As soon as I became a confident make-believe Street Fighter player, production decided to shoot the tournament scene like a real tournament, with everyone actually playing Street Fighter IV against each other on a huge screen.
Practically everything in the acting world is faked. Actors can't even pour a drink out of a pitcher in a scene without being told, "Fake it. We'll add the water in post." So, why now? Can't we play something else? Or, I don't know, jump rope? Dance? Fold laundry? Juggle? I can juggle!
The tournament started, and yes, it played out like a real tournament. Losers left the stage and winners kept playing, while the audience cheered and boo'd—and I stood in the back, preparing to be humiliated.
"Let's get Lisa up there!" yelled Lane over the chaos.
I let out a long Napoleon Dynamite-sigh and stepped on stage.
"Now, Lisa has to win this round, okay?" Layne said to my competitor.
Yes! It was rigged!
The round started, and my brain nearly melted out of my ear due to sensory overload: I was playing a game I sucked at, in front of an audience, while trying to look like I knew what I was doing when in actuality I was getting my face punched in BY A GIRL and I had to pretend like I was winning. All in a day's work.
Normally, I excel at acting and gaming, but at that moment I felt inadequate in both areas. Even after the tournament, Gus teased, "I thought you said you were a gamer," and then probably hit me on the head with his iPhone. (He does that.) Focusing on acting, reacting, and reciting lines is easy when you're also performing the action of something menial, like pouring the aforementioned glass of water. But as we know, even simple video games take up a huge chunk of brainpower. Most actors aren't familiar with every type of video game controller, so how can they increase believability when they need to utilize such items in a scene?
I'm glad you asked! I have a new life goal now that I've learned all of those Carmen Sandiego lyrics:
Hey People With Heaps of Cash Who Make Movies/TV!
Are you filming a project about video gaming? Do your hired actors look like chimps playing with their own feces when handed a video game controller? This is going to piss off real gamers! So much so, they might sick 4chan on you!
How do you avoid this fate?
Hire me! I'm Lisa the On-Screen Video Game Playing Consultant and, for a large fee, I'll make sure your actors don't look like flailing morons. Wiimote? Fightpad? Those idiotic Atari Jaguar controllers? Yes, even Steel Battalion! You name it, I'll teach it.
Make an appointment now and I'll even throw in a 2012 Gaming Smack Talk Dictionary! Call now, I'm certain my consulting time slots will fill up within the hour.
Kotaku columnist Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as an actress/web host in Hollywood and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.
The Street Fighter: Episode 1
The Street Fighter: Episode 2